REVIEW: Mary’s Kebab’s at Cliff Dive

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

It seems like it was yesterday that we were proudly announcing that Darlo late night drinkateria The Cliff Dive had opened a kitchen selling grilled things on sticks. It seems even sooner that we were joining the hordes praising the burger gods that Mary’s had opened a CBD joint, home to the best brekky burger we’d ever eaten three of before lunchtime at least twice.

As it turns out, the fellas at Cliff Dive and Mary’s like to keep themselves as busy as they do drunk and tattooed, as last week saw the Mary’s team move into Cliff Dive to open, of all things, a kebab kitchen. Could they work the same magic on the late night kebab that they had on the cheeseburger? There was only one way to find out. We had to eat all four of the kebabs on the menu.

Kebab one was the closest thing to a regular kebab, something similar to the chicken roll at El Jannah (a big compliment!), a chicken x garlic x pickle combo that you can turbo-size by adding chopped chicken hearts and livers to. Kebab two is the spicy one, the name ‘Devil Pork’ acting as a warning for the firey chilli kick folded in between the thin slices of pork and lettuce.

Kebab three let the team down a little, the promising combination of lamb and XO sauce being a little on the bland side, offering little in texture and bite, something easily fixed with a richer XO sauce (or maybe the addition of lamb hearts and liver?). All letdowns were forgotten after one bite of kebab four, the pumpkin and corn kebab stealing the show with the additional crunch of roasted chickpeas and a creamy garlic sauce. In all seriousness, my favourite of the kebabs might be this vegetarian option. What have I become?

If the only thing missing from Cliff Dive’s tiki and tinnie fest was a hairy man in a singlet making a shitload of kebabs in the corner, put your hands in the air. Mary’s have delivered again. As in, they’ve delivered another hit food spot. Mary’s don’t actually deliver yet, the bastards.

Where
The Cliff Dive, 16-18 Oxford Square, Darlinghurst

When
Thu-Sun from 7pm

How much
$9 – $12

REVIEW: Mary’s CBD

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Beloved Newtown burger spot Mary’s wowed Sydney’s online burger eating ‘community’ when they announced that they’d be opening a franchise in the CBD. It was possibly the first time in history that anyone was excited about something from Newtown moving closer to their workplace. The productivity of human resource workers who worked within 10km of Pitt St Mall was down 75% for a solid 3 months. Every day they checked Broadsheet for news of Mary’s CBD opening, hoping to tag their co-workers in the comments before they were tagged themselves. “Omg, lunch date soon? This needs to happen! When.are.we.going?”

The wait ended last week when Mary’s CBD opened their doors on Castlereagh st, neighboured by numerous cafes which nobody you know has ever gone inside. The Mary’s crew warned everybody in the lead up – this city location was not going to be the dark, rock n roll dive bar that people have politely tolerated in Newtown. This was just going to be a simple takeaway joint, no seating, no Jack Daniels, minimal tattoos – and heaps of burgers, including their cheeseburger, veg burger and Mary’s burger, staples from their Newtown menu which are widely agreed to be the best burgers in Sydney.
Joining these burgers are two new ones, exclusive to the CBD store – the breakfast burger and the chicken burger.

The chicken burger is there to appease the fact that Mary’s CBD isn’t offering the baskets of fried chicken you can get in Newtown – instead you get a big hunk of fried thigh with a few bits of vegetables and some sauce. The chicken is crunchy, the bun is soft, it’s a good chicken burger for sure. But, it is completely overshadowed by the best thing on the menu – the breakfast burger.

Served at any time of the day, the breakfast burger is what starving yourself for a month then eating a Sausage’n Egg McMuffin must be like. A sausage patty, a hash brown, bacon, an optional egg and HP sauce in between a super soft bun. It’s messy, gooey and will make you shout expletives with every bite, which is a problem if you’ve opted to take your Mary’s burgers to the Westfield food court to devour. The breakfast burger is the kind of meal that will encourage you to get brutally hungover just so you can appreciate it even more.

Yes, it’s still just a fucking burger, but what sets Mary’s apart from most of Sydney’s other burger joints is their acknowledgement that a burger should be greasy, fatty and generally bad for you. The owners fell in love with a Macca’s cheeseburger and tried to do it better without fucking it up too much. While other burger chains are announcing new super low carb burger buns that look like wooden plates, Mary’s are embracing everyone’s favourite ‘sometimes food’ and ensuring that their offerings are as delicious as possible.

 

Where
154 Castlereagh St, Sydney

When
Mon-Sun, 10am-10pm

How much
$10 a burger

Images
Al Naturale

REVIEW: Burger Project

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Restaurant reviewing can be a dangerous game. Wait, not dangerous – stupid. Everyone rushes to the newest food spot, desperate to get their review up first, or at the very least, before Simon Food Favourites gets his review up, complete with an exhausting photo essay on what the men’s toilet looks like. By the end of a new restaurant’s first week of business some 20 reviews will pop up on blogs or food websites, either praising or slandering the food they ate, delivering an ultimatum to their readers and then never returning, instead slogging their way through the long list of restaurants that are making their grand opening the following week.

One of the main problems with this ME FIRST ME I DID IT FIRST ME attitude of reviewing is that for most restaurants, the first week is a complete and utter debacle, a festival of mistakes compared to the what the restaurant will grow into over the next few months. This applies to a young couple making their break into the food world with their first jaffle popup or for a seasoned veteran with more Good Food Guide hats than he probably has regular hats, opening his latest offering, a fast food spot called Burger Project.

Man, for the amount of hype surrounding Burger Project over the last few weeks, you would think that ebola was opening the restaurant. But as you know, the figure behind Burger Project is not a terrifying virus that originated in the African continent, rather it is the ponytailed Sydney super-chef Neil Perry, of Rockpool and Spice Temple fame. Burger Project was announced in June this year, with a website that boasted ‘Where the taste and the purity begins’, amidst pictures of cows and an admirable message about sustainability – the essential ingredient to a good burger.

Having eaten Neil’s $24 wagyu burger at Rockpool and being outraged that he would even attempt to make his own ketchup (possibly the whitest outrage I’ve ever experienced), I decided that maybe Burger Project would not be for me. But the months rolled on and it became evident that Burger Project would be aiming for a cheaper price point. Pics from the launch event made their way onto Instagram and by god, things were looking pretty good! The hype started taking ahold of Sydney and when Burger Project opened two weeks ago there was a line stretching out to the escalators of World Square, and waits of up to an hour for a burger. Can you even begin to put yourself in the minds of these poor bloggers, waiting an hour for food that they don’t even get paid to write about?

After four days of being open the reviews were coming in thick and angry. People weren’t happy about everything on the menu except the thrice cooked fries, posting reviews with the level of utter disdain that should only be reserved for Neil Perry’s Qantas in-flight menu. When I went in earlier this week, Burger Project had just 48% likes on its Urbanspoon page. The hate for Burger Project had overpowered the hype. I ordered my burger cautiously, worried that I was about to unwrap Neil Perry’s fist between two buns, smearing rancid cheese on my face as he delivered an uppercut. But instead I unwrapped a burger. I took a bite and it was a burger. Just a fucking burger.

Those thrice cooked chips are great, crunchy and covered in vinegar salt. My mandarin soda was refreshing and the ice cream is cold. It all seemed to be in order. The staff were friendly and helpful – I asked one worker what the pavlova dessert was like and she said “ice cream” – and it’s cute to see Neil working behind the counter in his sweet little uniform, glaring at my photographer as he stood on a stool to get that important aerial shot of his milkshake.

So my review for Burger Project is the same advice I’ll give anyone who was emotionally scarred by dining there: It’s just a fucking burger. It’s ten bucks and it’s not bad. They appear to be listening to diner feedback too so if you wait a few weeks before heading in the burgers will probably be even better. But no matter how much better they make it, it will always just be a fucking burger. Relax.

Where
Shop 11.06, World Square, 644 George St, Sydney

When
Mon-Sun, 11am-3pm, 5pm-10pm

How much
From $7.90

Related links
The taste and purity begins here

Images
Al Kalyk

REVIEW: The Cliff Dive does food now

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

It’s late and you’re drunk. Actually it’s not all that late and you’re not all that drunk, but at 1:15am that sense of panic sets in among your crew and the race to get to your last party venue before the lock out kicks in begins. There’s arguments, tears and genuine terror as half your squad tries to sprint down Oxford St in heels. There’s not enough time to make it to Goodgod, hell, there’s not even enough time to make it to the Burdekin. You charge into The Cliff Dive as the clock hits 1:29am, waving your IDs in the air. The relief is short lived. You haven’t eaten since brunch, tricking your body by promising yourself dinner and then punishing it with drink after drink. At 1:31am, the tropical air hits you like a piña colada bath-bomb to the face and you can already picture the cold sweats of tomorrow’s hangover as you contemplate the next 90 minutes of empty-stomach drinking.

Good news! The above nightmare no longer applies. Yes, we still live in a city with party destroying lock out laws, but the good folks at The Cliff Dive are serving food now. Fun, tasty, cheap food! No longer will we consider eating the pineapple our drink is served in – instead we will feast on sticks. Sticks of delicious grilled meat!

Wedged behind the bar, behind a pane of glass that bears the glorious word ‘SKEWERS’, is a small and simple kitchen. Manning that kitchen is Tin Jung Shea, an old friend of The Cliff Dive’s owner Jeremy Blackmore. Shea, better known to all behind the bar as ‘Honky’, had been working as a mechanical engineer and running a yakitori stall at Crows Nest Market. After stumbling across Honky’s stall one weekend, Honky was convinced to quit his engineering job and make the switch from Japanese to Thai.

Honky’s menu is short and simple. There are five sticks to choose from: pork, beef, chicken, octopus and tofu. Each stick is $3, or you can ball out with the outrageous deal that is ‘The Hungry Honky’ – all five of the sticks with a side of pandan coconut rice and fresh pickled vegies.

The kitchen is open late every night – making this a great option for those of us who forget about the lock out every single night they’re out.

Where
The Cliff Dive, 16-18 Oxford Square, Darlinghurst

When
Wed-Sun 6pm-1:30am

How much
$3 a stick or $16 for one of each stick with sides

Lao Village, Fairfield

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

Fried rice is a dish that deserves to be a stock standard response to the question “what’s your favourite food?” – right up there with pizza and burgers. The response that you just blurt out without any thought whatsoever, especially when it’s the fried rice they serve at Lao Village in Fairfield.

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. It’s insanely good, and the best Nam Khao in Sydney is the star of Lao Village’s menu. As soon as you sit down you should order two plates of it, planning to order one more later in your meal.

Which isn’t to suggest that the rest of the menu is disappointing in the slightest. The Lao pork sausages are fatty, delicious and served with a selection of herbs and leaves that make for a combo so wild that you’ll almost regret ordering that third fried rice. The papaya salad comes two ways: the classic Thai style, sour and spicy, or Lao style, dank with salty anchovies. Also worth trying is the crispy quail and the ‘Lao beef jerky’: a plate full of gloriously greasy and surprisingly sweet pieces of deep fried beef.

Enjoy your feast with an egg soda (soda water + condensed milk + an egg yolk = delicious science!) and marvel at the many bizarre artworks adorning the walls, which include a few dogs playing poker, and a picture of a massive weed bud with the caption ‘SAVE THE BRAINFOREST’.

Where
Lao Village, 3 Anzac Avenue, Fairfield

When
Mon-Sun 12pm-10pm

How much
Almost everything on the menu is $10

Photos
Al Kalyk

The best meal in Cabramatta

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

OK, I realise that this article is subjective, and really, it should be called ‘My favourite meal in Cabramatta’. But in this world of attention grabbing clickbait, you’re lucky this isn’t a top ten list of Cabramatta related hashtags and GIFs that will inspire and shock you.

Cabramatta is one of my favourite places to visit in Sydney. It’s the first place I’ll try to take visitors to, and some friends who have come with me multiple times will groan when they get there because they know that I refuse to sit down for just one meal. I can’t do it. Every visit to Cabramatta is like a strange three hour long holiday where I need to walk up and down John St, stopping to eat, drink and shop along the way.

Over the next four weeks I’ll be highlighting some of the spots that I eat at almost every time I’m in Cabramatta. There will be some obvious picks (Tan Viet is coming up) and others less so, but I thought I’d kick this off by writing about three small spots that collectively contribute to my favourite 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.

The heart of this Happy Meal is the banh mi. I’ve eaten rolls from all of the banh mi joints in Cabra, and most of Sydney. In my banh mi adventures thus far, I’m yet to find a pork roll better than the one you find at Marrickville Pork Roll, but my overall favourite banh mi in Sydney is the roast chicken banh mi from KK Bakery. KK Bakery is hiding inside one of the many arcades that stem off John St. Each of these arcades houses a fruit market, a fish monger, a butcher and fabric store, but only one has a bakery!

What makes the roast chicken banh mi at KK special is the meat. Usually a chicken banh mi means dry chicken breast that’s been sitting in the fridge all day – at KK they only use marylands, roasted in a masterstock and then kept warm. They shred the super soft chicken to order and stuff it inside a fresh bread roll, with a huge spear of pickled daikon, carrots, pate, mayo, chilli, coriander and maggi seasoning. It’s a bold combo that burns its way through its flimsy paper bag faster than you can eat it, and will only cost you $4.

Next, walk over to Freedom Plaza where you’ll find Red Lea Chicken, the Cabramatta outlet of a franchise mostly found out west. You’re not here for the fried chicken though, you’re here for the best box of chips in Sydney. I was first recommended these chips by Dan Hong, who grew up smashing boxes of them after school, on his way to Thanh Binh, the restaurant his mother opened down the road. The crunchy Red Lea chips are covered in a bright red seasoning that’s a little spicy, very salty and will stain your fingers. How much can I write about a box of chips? They’re crucial to the Happy Meal and an easy inclusion at just $5 for a large.

Completing the Happy Meal is our drink, which can be acquired about 100 metres down Park Rd at Thu Phung N. There are a lot of places offering sugarcane juice in Cabramatta, but Thu Phung N does it best. The long sticks of sugarcane are juiced as soon as you order, flowing into a pit of ice and cumquats, which give the juice an awesome citrus kick. Cold, creamy and insanely refreshing, Thu Phung N’s sugarcane juice is also the cheapest, with a regular setting you back only $3.

Take your sandwich, fries and drink to a bench near the Friendship Arch (if you didn’t bring friends to share lunch with you’ll be at the best place to make some new ones) and enjoy your Happy Meal in the sun. It’s a great introduction to the incredible (and cheap) Vietnamese food on offer in Cabramatta. If you go get it within seven days, you can spare some room for the other essential meals from Cabramatta I’ll be writing about next week. See ya then.

Images
Al Kalyk

Where
KK Bakery, 2/85 John St, Cabramatta
Red Lea Chicken, 57 John Street, Cabramatta
Thu Phung N, 49 Park Road, Cabramatta

When
Mon-Sun, 8am-7pm

How much
Roast chicken banh mi, $4
Large fries, $5
Regular sugarcane juice, $3
Happiness = $12

REVIEW: Bay Ngo, Bankstown

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

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.

There are three factors that give Bay Ngo the edge over the competition, and will present those factors now like a passionate public school debater. Factor number one is the range. You could visit Bay Ngo ten times and still not have tried the extent of their banh mi menu. There’s almost ten kinds of pork on offer alone, plus chicken (hot or cold), meatballs and hot fish, something I’ve not seen anywhere else in Sydney. They’re all top notch, thanks in part to the second factor, vegetables. Too often a banh mi is brought down by an uninspired mess of grated carrot, onion and, at the worst of spots, iceberg lettuce. You can see Bay Ngo’s counter from outside, a colourful collection of fresh slices of cucumber, sping onions and coriander. Best of all is the mix of pickled carrot, daikon and red onion, which do their best to outweigh the chillies that you’ll toughly agree to when asked if you want them on your roll, before cowering in pain and getting white boy hiccups. Totally worth it.

Overlooking equally important factors like a well stocked drinks section and some impressive takeaway desserts, the third factor that really lets Bay Ngo kick the dick of the competition is the price point. All their sandwiches are $3.50. Next time you wanna spend $100 on a fancy lunch, get a Silver Service cab (ooh la la) to Bankstown and back. You’ll have just enough left over for a banh mi and drink.

Where
49 Old Town Plaza, Bankstown

When
Mon-Sun, 9am-5pm

How much
$3.50

REVIEW: Nhu Y Juice Bar, Bankstown

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

“I remember when I drank my first avocado”, I’ll say to my grandchildren 30 years from now, sipping a cold green beverage through a gigantic straw from styrofoam cup. “Back in my day most of us used to only eat avocado in guacamole, or we’d pay nine bucks for half an avocado smooshed onto toast with a bit of lemon drizzled over the top! Nobody even imagined it could be a dessert.”

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.

An avocado shake is one of the smoothie options available at Nhu Y Juice Bar but if half a litre of thick green caramel seems a bit much, maybe selecting four different fruits to be buzzed until they become a fun shade of browny pink is more appealing? My go-to fruit combo is strawberries, rockmelon, lychees and pineapple, and you’ll be pleased to see that there’s no kale in the mix. They keep smoothies fun at Nhu Y.

Where
45 Old Town Plaza, Bankstown

When
Mon-Sun, 9am-5pm

How much
$4.50

REVIEW: Yang’s Malaysian Food Truck

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

I’ve whinged about the state of Sydney’s food trucks before. Something that should’ve been so easy was made to be so hard, life sucks, woe is us etc. The only food truck we’ve written about in the past year is in the middle of Burwood, surrounded by darkness. On the rare occurrence that I hear about a new food truck in Sydney, my immediate reaction is “ugh! Too hard!”, then I crawl under my desk and eat an entire box of Jatz.

Yang’s Malaysian Food Truck must’ve been reading my LiveJournal, because they’ve started parking out the front of our office and sending alluring laksa smells directly to my desk. You win this round, food trucks.

Where most food trucks offer a bakers trio (four) items, Yang’s tiny truck is a clown car that pumps out ten different dishes and six different drinks. Taking your entire office with you and insisting they each order something different so you can try everything is highly recommended.

Make sure you start with the Hainan hot wings, battered and fried with a side of ginger, cucumber and ginger. Move onto a roti dahl which can be eaten like the messiest taco of your life. Six dollars is an absolute steal for the nasi lemak, a hot box of rice, egg, sambal, peanuts and crisp anchovies. Avoid the Ramli beef slider, a little burger that tastes more like an old sausage and egg McMuffin than it does Malaysian. Everything is cheap, cheerful and served in nutritious styrofoam boxes. Best enjoyed on the grass in Harmony Park while dogs look on with jealousy.

If only all food trucks would make an effort to operate next door to where I am most of the week. Instead of the hard to navigate Sydney Food Trucks schedule, can I suggest the City of Sydney put up our own weekly schedules so that the food trucks have to find us?

Where

Throughout Sydney CBD, see their schedule here

How much

From $5

REVIEW: Mr Gee Burger Truck

Remember food trucks in Sydney? We were all so excited about becoming a food truck city! At the beginning of 2012 I made a pact that I would stop eating at restaurants like a gross old person and exclusively eat meals sold to me from a moving vehicle. Then Sydney council decided to set the dumbest parameters imaginable and my food-truck-only diet was dead in the water before the year had barely started. While there are a gem or two (shout out to the Nighthawk Diner!), a majority of Sydney’s food truck ‘revolution’ offered disappointingly average food or ginormous pictures of Masterchef hosts emblazoned on their walls.

In some of America’s best food truck cities, you can buy a taco from a truck parked in a car wash that’s closed for the day. The car wash washes cars from 9-5, the sun goes down, a truck drives up, sets up some stools and sells tacos until the sun comes up again.

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.

The Truffe burger was somewhere between a classic Aussie and a classic American, in a soft bread roll, cheesy, meaty and thankfully not overpowered by truffle flavour – instead the truffle added richness to the whole package. On the opposite end were the lightness of the fries/salsa combo, but then we were back in rich town again for the super caramelly baklava shake, sweet and milky with little flecks of baklava crunch. Really awesome.

Do you own a car wash? Get in touch with a homeless food truck and give them somewhere to live. You’ll be doing Sydney a great service, just like Mister Gee Burger Truck.

Where
55c Shaftesbury Rd, Burwood

When
Thu-Sat, 7pm till they sell out

How much
$10 for a burger