Saturday, 24 November 2012

Shanghai Stories 1938, Chatswood

I'd been meaning to check out Shanghai Stories for a while ever since The Concourse was completed, as I was curious as to how it stood up against its New Shanghai competitors. However, I never quite got around to it until recently.

So I made a booking and attempted to navigate myself to the restaurant, which was a slightly awkward ordeal. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Shanghai Stories takes up both the top and bottom storeys (Get it? Storeys??) - despite the bottom resembling a Chinese fast food diner - and I had made my way directly towards the stairs, not realising that the podium that they very inconspicuously placed on the side of the entrance was intended to be the first point of contact for patrons. I was eventually ushered to my table, which was squashed into a corner.

The style of the restaurant is in between your typical dumpling house and a 'proper', more expensive, Chinese restaurant like Kam Fook or Fook Yuen. I think the picture below of the plastic fans and the unattended collection of dirty crockery amidst the neat decor summarises this fairly accurately.

Upper storey

Anyway, on to the food:

The meat dishes are largely proportioned (think Chinese restaurant banquet sizes) so we decided to order 3 items off the menu and refrained from having rice.

First up was the salt and pepper calamari, which was garnished with dried chilli and deep fried onions. The texture of the calamari was a bit hit and miss - there were some very tough pieces but there were some also fairly tender bits, too.The fried onions gave the calamari batter an extra crunchiness which was greatly appreciated. Though salty, the calamari was not too salty - though we would probably have been better off eating it with rice to balance out the flavours.

Salt and pepper calamari ($22.80)
The next to arrive was the Taiwanese three cup chicken. It was presented in a steaming clay pot and served with plenty of chopped onions. The sauce was tasty and the chicken was tender - though I recall there was also a lot of fat, but some people prefer that. Overall it was not bad.

Taiwanese three cup chicken ($18)
The last to arrive was a chilli oil dumpling dish. I would have liked more sauce - and perhaps for the chilli oil to contain actual chilli flakes rather than just... oil. It wasn't bad, but you have to eat the dumplings really quickly, or else they get cold, dry and a little tough.

Poached pork and vegetable dumpling in chilli oil x 10 ($8.80)
Conclusion: Hit and miss

Shanghai Stories 1938 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Jamie's Italian, Wynyard

Having heard good things about Jamie's Italian, I finally decided to brave the queues and pay a lunch visit. Since it opens at 11.30am, we were sure that there would be a line when we decided to arrive around noon but were pleasantly surprised to find that the lunch crowd did not hit the restaurant until around 1pm.

Bar on lower ground
 The name "Jamie's Italian" boasts two obvious things:

1. Jamie Oliver's name:

Known for his cooking shows and generosity with herbs, it isn't surprising that he expanded his reach to Sydney. Despite his noted absence from the premises, the decor consists of shelves of Jamie Oliver books, clusters of dried chilli, and garlands of garlic.

Bar on upper floor
2. Italian food:

Unfortunately, the adjective 'rustic' is thrown around so glibly that some restaurants claiming to produce such seem to force it, charging fine dining prices for countryside inspired cooking. Jamie's Italian is more affordable than that, but  my experience makes me question whether the quality of the fare justifies the prices.

Hand-made pasta
Jamie's Italian has a system where patrons are greeted at the front and asked to wait until another member of staff can take them to their table. It was slightly awkward but we didn't have to wait for too long, as the restaurant was only about 1/3 full at the time, and the staff are pretty friendly.

We were seated at the top, which gave us a pretty nice view of what was going on below. From my vantage point, I could observe yet another showcase of cookbooks. The bread made everything feel a lot cosier though!

View from the top
We were allowed to take our time ordering and when we did, the waiter served us with a complimentary bucket of bread, consisting of thin slices of turkish pide, a bit of bread stick, a thin crispy 'music' bread, and some sort of white bread (which I couldn't specifically identify). It was accompanied by balsamic vinegar and olive oil, which is just the way I like my bread!

Balsamic vinegar and olive oil

Next came the polenta chips, crunchy on the outside and squishy inside, with a bit of cheese and herbs sprinkled on top. As is usually the case with polenta, it quickly gives you a 'full' carby feeling, and after a while it seemed to taste quite bland. There was quite a lot of polenta as well - too much for two people to stomach.

Polenta chips ($8.50)
Our second antipasti dish was the baked mushrooms - Swiss brown mushrooms with smoked buffalo mozzarella. I was expecting to receive a whole baked mushroom with cheese on top, but a dish resembling a pie came to us. The bottom of the dish was lined with flat music bread that emerged over the sides. Sliced mushrooms were laid over the top with dry melted cheese binding them together. Though it looks and sounds tasty, everything (including the mushroom and cheese) was very dry. This limited the flavours that could have been extracted by the palate and I was pretty disappointed.

Baked mushrooms ($14.50)
We also ordered two entree sized pasta dishes to share. The wait in between the entrees and the pasta was quite long - more than half an hour. We asked one of the waiters to check on our order and he said it would only be a few minutes more (leading us to suspect that they had forgotten about us).

 The first pasta dish I tried was the black angel spaghetti, consisting of squid ink pasta and scallops. The menu also says that it includes garlic, chilli, anchovies, wine and capers. I probably detected garlic, but all else eluded me (I certainly didn't taste any chilli!). The scallops were done pretty well - moist, not too dry. The pasta, however, was undercooked - part of it was very doughy, while the rest of the time, it was hard and crunchy. The accompanying sauce was strangely very sour - I'm not sure if it was the wine or if they added lemon juice.

Black angel spaghetti ($14.00)

I had a similar experience with the second pasta dish - buffalo ricotta ravioli with creamed ricotta, lemon, parmesan and mint - in that the ravioli was hard and chewy around the edges. The flavours were more faithful to the ingredients listed in the menu - and yes, the sauce was sour.

Buffalo ricotta ravioli ($14.00)
Moving on, I ordered a flat white, having heard that their Musetti coffee is superb. The flat white had a very thick layer of foam (an amount closer to a cappuccino) - correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought flat whites were supposed to have less foam?

Flat white ($4.35)
For dessert, I had the peach and almond tart - a frangipane tart with preserved peaches, whipped cream and honey, which was not bad, although a little heavy. There was a strong almond meal flavour and they were generous with the amount of strawberries in the cream. It would have been nicer if the whipped cream was chilled more (it felt like it was sitting at room temperature).

Peach and almond tart ($9.00)

I also sampled my friend's tiramisu. It had a strong coffee flavour, which I quite liked, but it contained more cream than cake.

Tiramisu ($9.00)
Overall, I think Jamie's Italian is overrated. The food is interesting but a bit of a let down, and for the price, you're better off eating elsewhere.

Jamie's Italian on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 18 November 2012

It's Time for Thai, Kingsford

It's Time for Thai is one of the many casual restaurants on Anzac Parade - except slightly nicer than the myriad of Chinese takeaways in the area, with its funky multi-coloured lights and wooden benches. Having eaten lunch at this restaurant various times throughout the past few months, I can definitely say that it fills up quickly but also has quite a high turnover of customers (though be forewarned that the timing of dish delivery is hit and miss).

As with a lot of other 'Thai' restaurants, there is a tendency for the food to be made sweeter to accommodate the local palate. It's Time for Thai is no exception. The pricing of the lunch specials, however, is excellent, resulting in value for money where everything chicken and beef is $10, lamb is $13, and... well... the list goes on.

The lunch menu

When ordering one of their curry or soup dishes, you can choose between rice or roti canai. I've had both their green and red curries, which taste pretty much the same - they're both milky and sweet. The massaman curry is full of potato and meat (beef, in my case), has a fair bit of sweetness, but is also quite spicy. The roti canai is dense but flaky, and, despite being quite small in diameter, is quite filling as they give you two pieces of it (though I'm a fairly small eater).

Beef massaman curry with roti ($10)
I've also tried their noodles stir fried in chilli and basil sauce. Not limited to just rice, you can request both rice noodles and egg noodles! The portions are generous, with plenty of meat and vegetables. The flavour isn't bad and it makes a satisfying lunch.

Beef chilli and basil sauce egg noodles ($11)
Other dishes:

Chicken pad thai ($10)

Crispy chicken with rice + fried egg ($12)
Chicken pad kee mao ($10)
Overall: Value for money

It's Time For Thai on Urbanspoon

Friday, 16 November 2012

New Shanghai, Chatswood Chase

In my previous post about New Shanghai in Lemon Grove, I vowed to also review the one located in Chatswood Chase. Nevertheless, I will try to make the post brief, as I do not wish to sound repetitive.

Although they belong to the same franchise, the two branches of New Shanghai are operated quite differently - made evident by their overall presentation. The Chatswood Chase branch is more upmarket, playing on ambience and (of course) higher prices.

We were a fairly large group and wanted to have dinner around 7.30pm. They don't take bookings, so when we found that it was already full, we had to wait for about half an hour.

Waiting for a table...
Just as with the staff in Lemon Grove, the English spoken is very basic - we had someone with peanut allergies who wanted more information, and it was quite difficult extracting whether or not they use peanut oil (no, they don't. They explicitly state which dishes contain peanut).

The scope of menu caters to westernised taste-buds - as seen below, they offer dishes like spring rolls and salt and pepper squid.

Tea is not free, unlike the one in Lemon Grove. Since it just felt wrong paying for Chinese tea, I opted for the taro milk tea, which was thick and refreshing - quite a novelty as I don't recall the Lemon Grove branch offering a wide range of drinks.

Taro milk tea
 One of the first things to arrive was the string bean dish. It was pretty salty, contained a lot of garlic and the beans tasted slightly old, but when eaten with the other dishes made a good garnish. The Shanghainese noodles were (as usual) somewhat tasteless and lacking in something (like chilli oil). The rest of the dishes were fairly standard,

Stir fried string bean with dried shrimps and soy sauce ($12.80)

Salt and pepper calamari

Pan fried pork buns x 8 ($9.90)
The pan fried pork buns are fairly similar in taste to the one in Lemon Grove, but these ones were soggier and not as crisp.
Spring rolls

Fried chicken
They gave us the bonier parts - there was plenty of meat, but it meant that it wasn't as dry as what you would expect from chicken breast.

Overall, New Shanghai in Chatswood Chase bears strong similarities to the Lemon Grove branch. However, they charge you for tea, the dishes are pricier, the quality of the food (based on making comparisons between dumplings) is lower, and the menu is less 'Asian'.

New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant  on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Chinese Dumpling and Noodle House, Kingsford

I'd heard from a few people that there are a couple of fabulous dumpling eateries in Kingsford, and that the Chinese Dumpling and Noodle House ('CDNH') was one of them - that, in fact, Kylie Kwong recommended eating there. Just like the other Asian eateries around the area, CDNH is extremely casual and pretty much like your local Chinese takeaway shop. The portions are generous, the prices very low, and the flavours a bit hit and miss. CDNH's facade itself is pretty inconspicuous, blending in amongst its competitors, so look out for the big red sign.

The waitresses' grasp of English is limited (I've experienced a mix-up of our order), but their service is polite and attentive. If you go there at lunch time on a quiet day, you'll probably see the staff (cooks included) laying out a banquet for themselves and chatting amicably.

The dumpling prices range from $4.50 to $11, depending on the type of dumpling and the portion. If you're looking for big portions, the boiled and steamed dumplings are the way to go - with plates of 14 - 16 dumplings for $8 - $10. Personally, I'm not a big fan of their dumplings. There's something lacking in taste - the fillings seem to consist of the same meat (despite ordering dumplings with different fillings) and they lack salt, consequently making them taste quite bland. On the plus side, they seem to add very little or no MSG, since I don't feel thirsty after each visit.

Menu - dumpling section
 I'll commence my dish-by-dish break down with the pan-fried three fresh delicacies dumplings. The filling is firm, quite patty-like, and somewhat dry - unlike other Shanghainese dumplings that I've had, there is no hot soup stock inside to tantalise the tongue. The dumpling skin is thin, soft and resembles boiled wonton skin. I would have preferred a more caramelised bottom - as you can see, they aren't very golden brown. As mentioned before, it lacks flavour, but it tastes and feels homemade.

Pan fried three fresh delicacies dumplings [pork, prawn, egg] x 12 ($9.50)
We tried one of their steamed dumpling dishes with a chicken filling, and apart from the limp texture of the dumpling skin, it was pretty much identical to the pan fried dumplings above. We suspected they got our order wrong, but we didn't know for sure.
Steamed dumplings [Northern style/ chicken] x 7 ($4.80)
Surprisingly, the pan fried bun tasted significantly better than the other dumplings. - probably because they contained more salt than the previous two. There was no soup inside (again), but the bottoms were a bit more toasted.
Pan fried bun x 6 ($8.00)
 I've also tried a few of their noodles. Their black pepper noodles with capsicum and onion are outstanding, particularly if you choose to have them with udon noodles (as opposed to rice noodles). There's a choice between beef and chicken, and both meats are cooked well - tender and succulent.

Stir fried udon noodle with beef in black pepper ($8.80)
Stir fried udon noodle with chicken in black pepper ($8.80)
I've also tried their Hokkien noodles with beef, which tastes similar to the black pepper noodles. Though tasty, the black pepper noodles are still the best.
Stir fried Hokkien noodles with beef ($8.80)
In summary:
- Cheap
- If you must have dumplings, eat the pan fried buns
- The black pepper noodles are recommended

Chinese Dumpling & Noodle House on Urbanspoon