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The Best of the West (so far)

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Six months ago I made a promise to both you and my stomach that Two Thousand’s EATDRINK section would widen its reach (while widening my stomach). For every review of a new restaurant opening in the new restaurant thunderdome that is the stretch of Newtown to the CBD, we would write about an incredible institution out in the suburbs. Specifically, the Western Suburbs.

Now, maybe I’ve lost my way in the last few weeks, writing about Vegemite pizzas and Maccas cafes when I should’ve been in the burbs, but here are some of the best meals I ate in 2014, all out west where the miracles happen. Plan a day trip and see how many can eat at in 12 hours. Less than six and you’re soft.

2015 UPDATE:

For the last six months we’ve made it a bit of a mission statement to expand the reach of our restaurant write ups. For every brand new Merivale mansion or CBD based fusion hot spot, we’ve featured a classic eatery from the true heart of Sydney: the Western Suburbs.

Some would call it a pilgrimage to find the realest food Sydney has to offer, others would call this Parramatta based editor too lazy to go to the city every week, but one thing is certain: listed below are 20 of the best joints in town, all of which are worth visiting, preferably all on the same day.

Consult these articles before roadtripping out west for some outrageously good Vietnamese in Bankstown and Cabramatta, supremely satisfying Lebanese in Granville and the best African food you can find in Merrylands. You see those little red dots ten centimetres from the city in our directory? That’s real progress, people. Delicious progress.

Cabramatta

The best meal in Cabramatta

“Let’s call this the Cabramatta Happy Meal – consisting of roast chicken banh mi from KK Bakery, a large fries from Red Lea Chicken and a sugarcane juice from Thu Phung N. If you want the complete package you can buy a cheap knockoff toy from one of the variety stores nearby.”

Phu Quoc

“I love a good spring roll, and would say that Phu Quoc is where you’ll find the best ones in Sydney. The cha gio come long and thick, stacked on your plate and surrounded by herbs. They’ve spent a nice amount of time slowly deep frying, the layer of rice paper developing an impressive and golden crunch.”

Que Huong

“Que Huong keeps things crunchy, even after a prolonged swim in the spicy fish sauce. Make sure you get a plate of banh khot, cute little deep fried cakes with a school prawn sitting proudly on top. Like banh xeo, the cakes are eaten with herbs and lettuce, but their insides are gooey and coconutty!”

Tan Viet Noodle House

“Tan Viet Noodle House is probably the most popular and famous restaurant in Cabramatta. But nobody goes there for the noodles. They go there for the fried chicken.”

Granville

El Jannah

“If you have leftover garlic sauce do not take it home – you will eat it with a spoon and have nightmares for a week.”

Abla’s Pastries

“The real Abla’s magic happens at 1am on a Sunday, there’s always a few families and friends enjoying a coffee and some baklawa, like it’s the most normal thing in the world to do at 1am.”

Afran Lebnan Bakery

“The plain manoush goes through the oven with a thick smear of za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice mix with sesame seeds and olive oil. When it comes out you can cut it up like a pizza, or roll it up with tomatoes, mint and olives.”

Auburn

New Star Kebab

“I’ve eaten the mixed shish plate from New Star Kebab at 11am, 3pm and 12:30am. It’s a thing of beauty. Three skewers of meat (chicken, lamb and minced beef, all expertly cooked over charcoal for all to see) sit atop a pile of various salads and a stack of freshly made Turkish bread.”

Fairfield

Lao Village

“Nam Khao is the Laotian take on fried rice and they don’t mess around – balls of rice are deep fried, then busted into bits and served with pieces of sour pork, coconut, peanuts and herbs. As soon as you sit down you should order two plates of it, planning to order one more later in your meal.”

Ashfield

Sky Mountain Hand Made Noodle Restaurant

“The highlight of the meal is a giant plate of multi-textured plants, meats and miscellany (delicious miscellany), carefully arranged around a bowl of ‘family sauce’. The dish had a great name, but all I can remember about it is the family sauce, a vaguely vinegary satay-like liquid that was poured over the other parts of the dish.”

Harris Park

Taj Indian Sweets & Restaurant

“Taj’s is one of the few places in Sydney that serve puri – an amazing south Indian snack that comes in different variations. At Taj’s you can get pani puri; small crunchy balls filled with chickpeas, potatoes, chutneys and tamarind water, bhel puri; puffed rice with chickpeas, vegetables, tamarind and mint sauce and sev puri, crackers topped with all of those aforementioned ingredients.”

Bankstown

Pho An

“The meat at Pho An in Bankstown is incredible. Thin, raw and abundant, it’s just one of the supporting actors in a bowl of pho tai. The star of the show is the broth, a rich, hearty and slightly sweet stock that will effectively ruin every other bowl of pho you eat in Sydney.”

THY Vietnamese Eatery

“Banh cuon is Thy’s signature dish. Freshly steamed rice pastry, rolled loosely around minced pork and chopped mushrooms. On the side there’s thick slices of Vietnamese ham, a pale processed meat with a sponginess that goes well with the wet rice pastry, broken into pieces with your hands and stuffed into your mouth after a brief dip into the sauce bowl.”

Nhu Y Juice Bar

“Eating avocados is just one of the many things they do better than us in South Asia. Never will you see a thin smear of avocado hidden beneath a few layers of cheap ham. Instead an avocado is a decadent dessert. In the Philippines it’s common to slice one in half after dinner and fill the hole left by the seed with condensed milk. Simple, sweet and rich – this combo is made even better when blended with ice and poured into styrofoam, as is done on the streets of Vietnam, Thailand and Bankstown.”

Bay Ngo

“Everyone’s got their favourite banh mi spot. That magical place that can feed you a football’s worth of meat, carbs and vegies for less than five bucks. For mine, the best pork roll can be found at Marrickville Pork Roll and the best chicken banh mi is at KK Bakery in Cabramatta. But the best all rounder? Is that something that any sane person should care about? Probably not, but I will fight anyone at my height or shorter who tries to tell me that Sydney has a better overall banh mi spot than Bay Ngo in Bankstown.”

Merrylands

El Shaddai

“El Shaddai specialises in West African cuisine – you can tell this when you walk in due to the smell of ginger and hot spices, plus the Nigerian dancehall videos showing on the TV. It looks like a humble takeaway joint from the outside – and those looking for humble takeaway food will find cheap fish and chips on the menu – but the rest of the fare is proper sit down knife and fork stuff.”

Aaboll Cafe

“So excited was I when I found out about the existence of Aaboll Cafe that I didn’t even curse the heavens for learning about a restaurant just ten minutes from my house from a fucking Broadsheet article, instead cancelling plans so I could go for dinner there that night.”

Parramatta

Boom Chicken and Bing Master

“Boom Chicken and Bing Master is one of the many fast food options in the underground strip that connects Westfield to Parramatta station. They offer two things: Taiwanese fried chicken (aka Boom Chicken) and jian bings, which their name states they are the masters of. Where Mr Bing’s menu inspires you to sample as much of it as possible, here your eyes are drawn to one thing only: The Boom Chicken Bing. Taiwanese fried chicken wrapped in an eggy crepe. Have Good Food Guide ever given somewhere four hats?”

Burwood

Mister Gee Burger Truck

“By night, Burwood Deluxe Car Wash is home to Sydney’s newest food truck, Mister Gee Burger Truck. Pulling up on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 7pm, Mister Gee offers a burger, fries and shake on a menu that changes week to week. Last week’s burger was the ‘Truffe’ burger, with beef, cheese and truffle mayo, their fries were ‘dirty fries’, covered with cheese, salsa and mayo and the shake on offer was a baklava flavoured. We ordered all three and took a seat on a milkcrate in the parking lot. It was a tremendous vibe, surrounded by 30 others taking advantage of said milkcrates and vibe.”

REVIEW: Tan Viet Noodle House

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Tan Viet Noodle House is probably the most popular and famous restaurant in Cabramatta. But nobody goes there for the noodles. They go there for the fried chicken. Can you imagine if everyone went to KFC for noodles?

The chicken at Tan Viet isn’t battered or soaked in hot sauce. It’s fried whole, on its own, until the skin is crispy and golden, then cut into pieces and served with a side of noodles. You can get the noodles in soup, which you shouldn’t do (You get a little bowl of chicken soup on the side anyway, plus some sauce), opt instead for the dry option, tossed with garlic, coriander, lettuce and chives. .

The chicken is crunchy, the thin skin cracks under your teeth and gives way to the juicy flesh underneath. Have a piece of chicken, eat some noodles, repeat. If you’re still hungry, order more chicken and noodles. I’ve been to Tan Viet a bunch of times and I have never ordered anything but chicken or noodles. Maybe the rest of the menu is great, I’ll never know. The chicken is just too good to even begin to care about whatever else they serve. I have enough trouble ordering a drink without accidentally ordering another chicken instead.

Tan Viet gets busy and you’ll find a big line out the door onto the street during lunch and dinner hours. The best time to go is at a time when you probably shouldn’t be eating fried chicken. Try 4pm on a Tuesday? Perfect.

Over the last four weeks I’ve written about my favourite meals in Cabramatta. First there was the perfect banh mi / chips / sugarcane combo. Then there was Phu Quoc and Que Huong, and now Tan Viet. Confession time: I ate all of these meals in the same day over the course of about three hours. This is pretty much how I ate the whole time I was on holiday in Vietnam. One night I was in Hanoi, drinking a beer. A man came up to me, killing himself laughing. He wrapped his hands around my left thigh and then wrapped those same hands around his own waist. My thigh was the same size as his waist. He then pointed at himself and motioned with his hands that he has been busy working his whole life, before pointing at me and then putting his hands beneath his head, suggesting that I was lazy and slept all the time. It was the best compliment I’ve ever received.

Where3/100 John Street, Cabramatta
WhenMon-Sun 9am-7am

Phu Quoc, Cabramatta

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Spring rolls. Not the frozen ones that come out for special occasions like your second cousin’s wedding reception at Hornsby RSL, vaguely crispy and filled with a mix of potatoes and sea water, drowning in a sauce as sweet as it is inexplicably red. Vietnamese spring rolls (not to be confused with the cold rice paper rolls served at your second cousin’s outdoor engagement party) are an improvement on their dull fried counterparts in every way. They look better, they taste better and you better order two plates of them when you visit Phu Quoc.

Last week I wrote about the best meal in Cabramatta and this week I’m going to do the exact same thing. There are a lot of best meals in Cabramatta and I love a good cop out. I also love a good spring roll, and would say that Phu Quoc is where you’ll find the best ones in Sydney. The cha gio come long and thick, stacked on your plate and surrounded by herbs. They’ve spent a nice amount of time slowly deep frying, the layer of rice paper developing an impressive and golden crunch. The pork inside is juicy and fatty, which is nicely balanced by wrapping the spring roll in herbs and lettuce, then dipping in nuoc cham dressing.

Phu Quoc (and Cabra in general) is a great place to visit if you like using your hands to eat (personally I would put hands at the top of my overly complicated hierarchy of eating utensils, which will no doubt be outlined in coming weeks). There’s no shortage of dishes here that are to be wrapped by hand in herbs, lettuce and rice paper (to varying success depending on your complete and utter whiteness). The sugar cane prawns here are some of the best in town and make sure you don’t go past the fresh rice pastry (banh uot). For those of us desperate to use chopsticks to eat, you have the option of consuming pretty much an entire duck in a salad that’ll only set you back $15.

After your meal, the bill is sent to your table with a Mintie for each of your dining partners. While “we just smashed an incredible Vietnamese meal in a super friendly restaurant” is hardly what you’d call a moment for which you’d need Minties, the gesture just cements Phu Quoc as one of the spots in Cabra you’ve gotta visit again and again.

WhereShop 11, 117 John Street, Cabramatta
WhenMon-Sun, 9am-9pm


REVIEW: Sky Mountain Hand Made Noodle Restaurant, Ashfield

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

It was a well planned day. Inspired by my recent week’s worth of meals over the course of one afternoon in Cabramatta, former Two Thousand editor Alex Vitlin got in touch and asked if I wanted to do the same thing in Ashfield with him, making our way through the best of the many incredible Chinese restaurants on Liverpool St. We enlisted the help of wives, sons and best mates and agreed to meet at Eaton Chinese Restaurant, Ashfield’s cheaper version of Golden Century, only to find it closed when we got there. Instead of moving to the next restaurant on our list – most likely a dumpling joint, we threw our plans to the wind and randomly selected our lunch spot from the long line of potentially life changing Chinese restaurants that take up most of Liverpool St, each one calling to your soul with faded photos of noodles and dumplings taken decades ago.

One of the ‘risks’ with travelling out to the suburbs for a meal is that the one spot you were mad keen for might be closed. Sometimes great food in the ‘burbs goes hand in hand with being unable to answer a phone or stick to your opening hours. If this happens in Ashfield, you’ll find the closed restaurant sandwiched between two open restaurants, both of which look appealing. There’s extremely little risk of eating something shit. We took a chance with (and a few longnecks into) Sky Mountain Hand Made Noodle Restaurant.

Sky Mountain is a good representation of most of the restaurants on this strip. The menu is huge, the service is fine, the chairs are plastic and the food is awesome. Our table fills with huge servings of food about one shared longneck after ordering. Small pieces of chicken, still on the bone, fried and hidden under a mountain of sichuan pepper and chilli. A pool of sour soup with pickled cabbage and non-descript ‘fish’ (only there for texture). A tofu dish flecked with the first pieces of meat that our photographer has had in about five years. Whoops.

The highlight of the meal is a giant plate of multi-textured plants, meats and miscellany (delicious miscellany), carefully arranged around a bowl of ‘family sauce’. The dish had a great name, but all I can remember about it is the family sauce, a vaguely vinegary satay-like liquid that was poured over the other parts of the dish. It was then poured over every other dish we ordered with a joy only known by foreigners in a Chinese restaurant who don’t know any better.

We leave Sky Mountain happy, even though we’ve thrown our ‘let’s do a guide to Ashfield’ plans to the wind. Instead our plan reverts to ‘let’s drink a bunch of beers and be grateful that Ashfield exists’. Eventually we got takeaway from a restaurant down the road that looked almost identical to Sky Mountain.

Where355b Liverpool Road, Ashfield
WhenMon-Fri 4-10pm, Sat-Sun 11am-10pm

REVIEW: El Jannah

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

When my now father-in-law suggested to my now-wife and I that we move to an apartment that he owned in Granville, we laughed it off. Thanks for the offer, John, but Granville? Way too far away. We’ll stick to paying $600 a week for an apartment we hate in Paddington, surrounded by nothing but shit cafes and dogs we can’t own because our head of strata is about 200 years old.

John brought up his offer a few times in the following weeks. In every conversation he’d tried to sell us on Granville as a suburb. His main argument was El Jannah, an incredible charcoal chicken spot near the station. It was a successful motivator, but it wasn’t the chicken that convinced us to move. It was their garlic sauce.

You could smell the smoke from El Jannah from the balcony of our new place. We were excited to make it our local – but so were our families and close friends, who visited us throughout the first fortnight we were there, insisting they bring us El Jannah for lunch. After less than a month of living in Granville, we never wanted to eat ‘the reason we moved there’ again.

We broke that promise to ourselves a good hundred or so times in the almost three years we’ve called Granville home. Charred pieces of El Jannah chicken made appearances at picnics and parties that we couldn’t be bothered to cook for. I regularly walked home from the station with a chicken roll in my hand and garlic on my breath. We made our way through the various skewers on the menu, which take about ten times longer to serve than the chicken does.

We’re moving out of our Granville apartment tomorrow so we went for one last big feed at El Jannah while we still lived around the corner. It’s the best way to eat there, get a crew, sit outside and order big. We got a whole chicken, which comes with Lebanese bread, pickles and garlic sauce, plus a side order of hommous, babaganouj and tabouli. And some chips and falafel. We ordered big.

You tear a piece of bread, smear it with hommous (which I think is the best hommous you can get in Sydney, it’s so thick and rich with tahini), then add an additional extra large smear of the garlic sauce, an addictive creamy paste that’s made from just garlic and olive oil (if you have leftover garlic sauce do not take it home – you will eat it with a spoon and have nightmares for a week). Next you rip into a piece of chicken (the thigh is always best), placing pieces of charred, smoky skin alongside the juicy meat. Top the meat with a couple of pickles, both green and pink. The pink ones are white turnip spears, turned pink by adding a piece of beetroot to the pickling jar. Sneak in a few hot chips, covered in chicken salt, next to the pickles because you’re an adult who can make their own decisions. Spoon some tabouli over the top, roll it up and eat it, spilling half the roll over your pants. Try your hardest to save some room for something sweet from Abla’s up the road.

El Jannah is a Granville institution, one that is slowly branching out and opening stores in Punchbowl and Blacktown. There are other charcoal chicken stores in Granville but I refuse to go to them (unless the line is REALLY long). I’ll miss being five minutes walk from a perfect chicken roll, waking up and smelling the glorious charcoal smoke from my open window, using everything in my power not to smear the half finished tubs of garlic sauce in my fridge on every carbohydrate in the house. No matter how far away I live from Granville, it’ll only take having severe garlic breath to remind me of being neighbours with my old mate El Jannah.

REVIEW: Abla’s Pastries, Granville

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

The outside of Abla’s Pastries is pretty underwhelming, its brown walls and dark tinted windows taking up one of the busier corners in Granville. It almost doesn’t look open – but it’s actually open for 18 hours of the day, from 7:30 in the morning until 1:30 at night. You can walk in and risk getting diabetes from a single visit whenever you like.

Past the (also tinted) automatic doors Abla’s is a different story – fluorescent lights illuminate every millimetre of the always decorated store. Towers of Lebanese sweets wrapped in colourful foil line the walls and are stacked on top of the long counter that stretches from the entrance right down to the kitchen, and within that counter is the reason you should go to Abla’s.

Abla’s hours are long because they are continuously baking an unbelievable variety of Lebanese pastries. Some of them are easily recognisable, like one of the ten varieties of baklawa, rolls of crispy pastry stuffed with pistachios or cashews and soaked with sugar, others I’ve not seen anywhere else in Sydney, like the magnificent karbooj, a huge semolina and pistachio pie topped with a beyond generous slab of white meringue.

You can sit in at Abla’s and enjoy a way too big slice of sweetness with a coffee, or you can order takeaway sweets by weight, making your way from one end of the counter to the other, pointing at various displays and mangling the Arabic names of each sweet as you order. If you’re sitting in, make sure you try halawat al jobn, a crazy concoction of slow cooked mozzarella cheese in sugar and semolina, topped with ashta, a clotted cream. For takeaway you’ve gotta get a few fresh lady’s arms (znoud el sit), deep fried pasty filled with ashta, soaked in sugar syrup. My favourite sweet of all is ballorieh, a simple take on baklawa with pistachios between two sheets of kataifi pastry, which looks like vermicelli noodles!

Pop into Abla’s after a meal at El Jannah down the road and get some takeaway – a plate of about 10 sweets will set you back less than $15 and makes a great little gift to anybody that doesn’t already have diabetes. The real Abla’s magic happens at 1am on a Sunday, there’s always a few families and friends enjoying a coffee and some baklawa, like it’s the most normal thing in the world to do at 1am. Enjoy it before they impose a lockout (yes I am slightly concerned about ending this article with a barely topical joke that probably won’t make any sense a year from now THE END).

REVIEW: Coogee Pavilion

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Pizza. Burgers. Juice Bar. Ping Pong. We’re only at the entrance to Coogee Pavilion and we’ve already read the first of many strange combinations we’ll experience during our one hour visit. Before the recent Merivale refurb, Coogee Pavilion was known as the Beach Palace Hotel, where the strangest combination you’d find, repeatedly, was backpackers and vomit.

A fistful of millions later and Coogee Pavilion stands proudly over the beach, defiant in the face of a miserably overcast August afternoon. It looks incredible inside. Was the Beach Palace Hotel this enormous, or did Merivale spend those millions on warping space and time itself so they could fit everything inside here? Each slight turn of your head reveals three entirely new vendors within Coogee Pavilion – on your left there’s a cocktail bar, a flower market and fresh sushi, directly in front of you is fresh organic juice, a coffee stand and a pizza oven, to the right is a bar, a barber and whatever the hell a theatrette is. It’s like Justin Hemmes wrote down every single thing you could buy in Coogee and made sure you could get it in the Pavilion.

We take a seat in the middle of this nautically themed David Jones food court and realise there’s also a games area for kids up the back, with ping pong, a small library and a giant Scrabble board. What Coogee Pavilion lacks in good beers on tap it makes up for in literally everything else, and we enjoy some incredible fresh oysters with our drinks, freshly shucked by the someone someplace over there (the barber?) who brings them over to us after getting a triple word score for C O L L O S A L.

It’s a common complaint of visitors to Coogee that there just isn’t anywhere that you can get fresh sashimi followed by traditional wood fired pizza, but Coogee Pavilion offers both. The pizza is fantastic, thin, crispy and perfectly charred. The Coogee Diner burger also gets the thumbs up, reminding us of a Shake Shack burger, however the secret sauce contains a dollop of hot English mustard which made us wonder if it came to us via the sushi bar and received some accidental wasabi. The ‘roll’ part of our mini lobster roll dominated the ‘lobster’ part, and was far from bad, but at $18 it only further confirmed that Australian menus just shouldn’t include lobster rolls – leave it for other parts of the world where ten bucks gets you a whole lobster on a hot dog bun.

We left Coogee Pavilion happy and will return again for some more weird combos. We barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer – and this is just the beginning, there’s still two more levels of Coogee Pavilion which won’t be open for a few more months. Our guess is that they’ll include an IMAX cinema, an Olympic-size swimming pool and an international airport.

REVIEW: Bar De Thé

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Darlinghurst’s newest venue Bar De Thé can be pretty accurately summed up by one of its off-menu cocktails: the gold leaf martini. It’s a standard American martini, but for 20 minutes, head bartender Ana Page will carefully wrap your martini glass in gold leaf. It doesn’t affect the taste at all, but it does cost $100.

‘Style over substance’ is hardly a new concept when it comes to eating and drinking in the Eastern Suburbs. Bar De Thé’s style is hilariously extravagant, from the bow ties on the bar staff to the floor-to-ceiling marble (has anybody tried to rack up on the wall yet?), yet the substance behind all the extravagance is quite good.

Martinis make up most of the drinks menu, and the classics are excellent – dirty, wet or with an olive wrapped in delicious gold leaf (for the paltry sum of $40 it’s a much more affordable way to waste your money). The signature martinis range from acceptably adventurous to kale-infused, the ‘Six Bébé’ with Vietnamese mint and lime being the standout.

The bar menu (and full dining menu downstairs at Salon De Thé) is French-Vietnamese, which means some of the dishes have the word ‘Vietnamese’ in their menu description. Our jasmine rice chips were delivered to our table looking like polenta fries, but are thankfully ten billion times tastier than polenta fries – crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Just another “this might have been shit but it’s actually really good!” moment that Bar De Thé may become famous for.

REVIEW: LUXE Woollahra

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Queens Court used to be home to Bills of Woollahra. Every Sunday morning, tourists would flock to the cafe to see Woollahra residents in their most natural habitat, ordering Bills’ famously overrated scrambled eggs and the obligatory plate of fries for the table as they complained about their fat sons losing their rugby matches that morning.

Last year Woollahra got a lot less Woollahra-y when Bills shut its doors. In its place we got Luxe, the little franchise that could, who years ago was just a sandwich spot in Bondi Junction. Now Luxe has two Bondi locations, a cafe in Newtown and this new Woollahra bar and cafe.

Fill your plate from the mountains of salads at the bar, then order some meat from the kitchen. The lamb kebab, skewered with rosemary, looks great, but isn’t big on taste. The kingfish comes grilled and surrounded by veggies, couscous and harissa in a proud bowl of excellence.

At the end of the mostly healthy menu sits an awesome surprise – the deep fried apple pie, an absolute must for anyone who has ever dreamed of a Macca’s in Woollahra.