REVIEW: Brooklyn Social

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Neon lights. Deep fried everything. Old tour posters on every wall. A jukebox blaring out a mix of rock classics you’ve never heard before and rock classics you never need to hear again. Welcome to the tried and true combination that you’ve experienced fifty times in the last few years, but it’s hard to be upset when it’s presented as neatly and as cheaply as it is at Brooklyn Social.

Surely to become the number one destination for awkward first dates, Brooklyn Social is a dive bar without any dive whatsoever, instead offering a huge clean space, colourfully lit by various neons in each corner of the room. The cocktail list is massive, divided into sections named after the different boroughs of New York. The cocktails range from “a slight improvement on a classic” to “this is not a gin sling”. Opting for a big cold pint of Brooklyn Lager might be the better option.

The menu is put together by Chur Burger chef Mikey Canavan and is typical American fast food fare. Onion rings, fried chicken, and a cheeseburger bigger than the SLR that the guy next to me is using to take a picture of it with. No huge surprises – except for how cheap everything is. A big basket of perfectly fried chicken tastes even better when it’s ten bucks.

Brooklyn Social is one of those spots you could take almost anyone, and in this weird area around Central that’s a great thing. Did I need to hear ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ as I ate my curly fries? No more than I needed to be eating curly fries in the first place. Come have your next awkward first date here soon.

REVIEW: Afran Lebnan Bakery

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Pizza for breakfast. When you live out west, every day could potentially begin with those three glorious words. My place in Granville is within walking distance of five Lebanese pizza spots – and another ten are a short drive away in Merrylands or Guildford. Lebanese pizzas (aka manoush) are thin, crispy and typically eaten early in the morning. Most of the spots that sell them open at 6am and close before 2pm.

I’ve eaten at every single manoush joint I’ve come across and while the differences between each spot are subtle, they all have their signature touches – or their signature fuck-ups – and after carefully adding and deducting points for each delicious signature or unfortunate fuck-up, I have come to the conclusion that the best manoush spot is Afran Lebnan Bakery in Granville.

Names aren’t really that important to spots like these, making them near impossible to google. The sign outside says ‘Lebanon Bakery’, one of the chefs tells me this place is called ‘Brothers Pizzeria’ and a sign on the outside of the huge pizza oven reads ‘Afran Lebnan Bakery’.

Nobody who eats here cares about the name. They come here for the consistency. They come for the perfectly crispy base on the lahm bajeen manoush, slightly blackened and covered in a thin layer of minced lamb, onions and spices. The plain manoush, a staple of every good manoush joint, 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.

The spinach triangles are great too, the dough both soft and crunchy depending on where you take your bite, but greatest of all, and this is consistent across all manoush joints, is the price. A plain manoush will set you back two bucks and a spinach triangle is three-fifty. The most expensive thing I order is the lahm bajeen, which is five bucks. Chase it with a fruit juice from a bottle with a loud Arabic label.

Manoush is as delicious as it is mind-blowingly cheap. In this tough post-recession world where a one bedroom apartment costs twice the total of what you and your partner earn over the course of your entire lives, it’s good to know that important childhood dreams like ‘pizza for breakfast’ is a very achievable reality.

Where 29 Good Street, Granville
When Mon-Sun 6am-4pm
How much $2-$5 per manoush
Contact 02 9760 2099

Three Williams’ spring breakfast menu

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

“Oh yeah, the mushrooms are sick!” exclaims our waiter, after being asked how the mushrooms were. It’s the exact answer I needed to hear, as all morning I’d been wanting to put something truly sick in my mouth and marvel at its sickness. Obviously we were ordering the mushrooms.

The apparently sick mushrooms are one of the new-ish options on the recently updated breakfast menu at Three Williams in Redfern. The mushrooms are marinated in balsamic and a little bit of truffle oil (which thankfully does not overpower everything else in the entire cafe) and are served on toast with a big dollop of ricotta. After a few bites it’s clear that our waiter knew his stuff – the mushrooms were pretty sick.

Things heated up when a plate of french toast was placed on the table. A massive piece of crunchy fried bread, surrounded by caramelised bananas, hazelnuts and belgian chocolate. It was decadent, it was rich, it was… sick. Much sicker than the mushrooms. Why didn’t our waiter tell us that the french toast was also sick?

As I finished my impressively pink raspberry and coconut smoothie, I opened my Yelp account and told my fellow Yelpers to beware of the waiter who’ll only tell you that the mushrooms are sick when there are clearly other sick options on the menu too.

REVIEW: Hawker

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

The Summer of 1998. 4:30pm. Gerringong Beach on the South Coast, home to about twenty swimmers, four of which are myself, my Dad and my sisters. I was probably wearing a rash vest. Said twenty swimmers suddenly drops down to five swimmers, who have stopped swimming and started walking towards the shore as quickly as possible. Dad’s ushered his daughters to the sand but left his son Home Alone in the water. Just call me Levin McAllister. I slowly make my way towards them, ignoring their urges for me to hurry with a loveable pre-teen attitude that I’d just developed over summer. Ten metres to go and I step on something. Something, big, slimy and strong. I lift my other foot up and put it down on the same big slimy strong thing. It’s a stingray.

The Summer of 2015. 1:15pm. Chinatown in Sydney’s CBD, at Hawker, the new restaurant by the Malaysian team behind Mamak. Where Mamak serves Malay/Indian eats by way of rotis and curries, Hawker pays homage to the hawker street markets of Malaysia. The best part of a visit to Mamak was watching through the open kitchen at the roti’s being made, and Hawker’s kitchen side views include bread bubbling away in oil-filled woks, pancakes stretched over a griddle and huge wings of fish on the grill. What kind of fish? Stingray.

Hawker condenses the fun and noise of a night market into a clean and open dining space, surrounded by photos of a fun and noisy night market. There’s no rice, but plenty of noodles, found swimming in the sour, fruity Assam laksa or surrounded by prawns and cockles for char koay teow. KL hokkein mee appears on the menu, making Hawker one of the first places to offer it in Sydney. It comes to the table looking promising, the noodles dark with soy sauce and hiding a handful of wok fried treasures within, but is unexciting to eat, a surprisingly bland concoction featuring blackened cabbage as the only standout flavour.

The real treats on the menu are all listed as snacks, the sweet yam bean filled, fresh popiah spring rolls with chilli paste is an absolute must get and the lor bak – a selection of deep fried pork sausages, prawn cakes and taro fritters is as fun as it sounds. The snacks section is also home to the ikan bakar – a.k.a the reason I was terrified and excited to visit Hawker – grilled stingray.

To call it a snack is underselling the ikan bakar by a mile. The bright red triangle of stingray, the size of your plate, is quite daunting at first, and quite difficult to begin eating with chopsticks. It’s best to tuck the sticks behind your ears (ladies LOVE it) and get stuck in with your fingers, tearing into the charred sambal crust to reveal long lines of milk-white tender meat. It’s the kind of spicy fish that goes great with a can of beer, which you can pick up at the bottl-o around the corner. Try to eat it all before someone at your table makes a Steve Irwin joke (if they bring Bindi into it they have to cover the bill).

While the best savoury option is easily the grilled stingray, the desserts at Hawker are definitely worth your time, especially the apam balik, a shell of crispy pancake with crushed peanuts, butter and a small smear of creamed corn, which takes you by pleasant surprise each time you bite into a piece. If you forget to get beers, a jug of cold milo or barley water and syrup is almost as good.

While not as immediately appealing as Mamak, Hawker is worth the visit just to try the grilled stingray. It’s such an unexpected hit that I can’t recommend enough. Before this meal I didn’t realise you could do anything with a stingray besides awkwardly run away from it while wearing a rash vest. Who’s up for a trip back to Gerringong?

Sweet lamb buns at Din Tai Fung

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Depending on who you ask, 2015 is either the year of the sheep, the goat or the ram. Whatever woolly can-eater you choose to honour this Chinese New Year is fine by us, but we’re putting our faith behind the sheep, only because of these super cute sheep buns Din Tai Fung are selling over the next two weeks.

Anyone who’s eaten a xiao long bao dumpling from Din Tai Fung will understand our decision to trust them with our zodiac year. The little sacks of soupy perfection are a gift from god – and after you’ve swallowed a good 12 of them, there’s no better dessert than an adorable spongy sheep bun.

Looking like a Pokemon that so very few of us could be bothered levelling up, the sheep buns come steaming hot, their puffy bodies releasing a river of molten chocolate when bitten into, with a nice chunk of taro in the middle. There’s a small amount of guilt as you bite through its little face, but if you ever wanted to eat a beanie baby, this is as close as you’ll get without actually ingesting cotton.

The wool-less sheep buns are available at most the Din Tai Fun locations for dinner and lunch, from now until the 5th of March. After then you’ll have to wait until next year’s Monkey buns.


Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Everybody’s had that passionate argument before, screaming at their mates as they drunkenly stumble down Cleveland St, furiously scrunching at the paper bag encasing their longneck. Friendships have been lost over the endless quest to figure out which kebab store is better: Fatima’s or Abdul’s? Which dirty oil, dusty carpet, microwave using Lebanese institution is superior?

Those wishing to avoid that argument in the future can head around the corner, where Zahli recently opened on Elizabeth St. Zahli is clean, bright and modern. It’s like Fatima’s and Abdul’s had a baby who; went to finishing school, got rich and built a mansion next to mum and dads to rub its successes in their faces. The menu boasts ‘modern middle eastern’ but really this means ‘the same food you can get at most Lebanese restaurants but served very nicely on a plate that’s quite lovely’.

All the classics are here – the colourful pickles are great, the hommos and baba ghannouj nice and rich, the fried bread in the middle of the table as addictive as it is immediately replaced once you’ve finished it. The only misfire is the fattoush, which was too chunky and had too much capsicum. The mixed mezza plate more than made up for the fattoush, the ladies fingers, falafel, kibbeh and sambousik are all fresh and light, without that dank, old oil aftertaste.

Mains are where you’ll find a lot of dishes that aren’t found around the corner, among the mixed grill options are mjadra (lentils and rice), samki harra (grilled barramundi with nuts and tahini) and garlic prawns for some reason.

If memories of sitting on the floor at Fatima’s and awkwardly avoiding the gaze of the belly dancer as she knocks your tabouleh off the table have scarred you from returning to Fatima’s or Abdul’s, walk that extra hundred metres and spend that extra ten bucks a head at Zahli.

Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai Grocer

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Like a gremlin doused with water, Chat Thai has been multiplying over the last few years – with locations popping up in shopping centres and food courts. While each new location has stayed true to the O.G.’s mantra of Thai classics done extremely fucking well, their latest venture breaks all the rules (and still does things extremely fucking well).

If you’ve ever eaten a Chat Thai curry and thought ‘this would be insanely good on a sandwich’, sing your praises to the Lord of Holy Basil, because Chat Thai has been reading your mind and has opened their take on a typical Australian cafe. It’s housed inside their brand new grocery store, Jarern Chai Grocer, itself worthy of a long review praising its colourful collection of produce, both local and imported. A stroll through the aisles is the perfect distraction as you wait for your bowl of crab pasta.

What’s that? Crab pasta? At a Thai joint? It’s all par for the course at Boon Cafe, nestled in the middle of the grocery store. By night the cafe offers a traditional Isaan Thai menu – beautiful soups, noodles and curries as good as you’ll find at the first Chat Thai around the corner – but breakfast and lunch is way more fun, when the mother/daughter team of Amy Chanta and Palisa Anderson present a selection of sandwiches, salads and pasta that feature Thai flavours while avoiding tacky fusion label.

Between thick slices of sourdough from Brickfields Bakery, you’ll find thai sausage, pork larb, fermented rice cakes, smoked eggplant relish and a shitload of chilli. These decadent sandwiches immediately stake their claim for the best in the city – and before you start uninviting your friend who pretends to have a gluten intolerance, don’t worry! The sandwiches can be served as rice bowls too!

Swing by for a sandwich at breakfast, then return for a few bowls of pasta at lunch. The pasta comes fresh from Porcorosso and provides a good chew, a nice contrast to the soft rice noodles typically used in Thai food. The kamut fusilli is a highlight, the yellow twists of pasta turning even yellower as they soak up the spicy oil from pork sausage and slide through raw egg yolks.

The level of heat in each dish is a welcome difference from your average cafe, and if you find it a bit much, suck down on one of the house made tisanes – a sweet herbal tea that changes flavour throughout the week. After trying one flavour, you’ll want to return a few times to make sure you get through them all. Add Boon Cafe to the top of the list of restaurants that we’d be perfectly happy eating at for breakfast, lunch and dinner – leaving with a bag of groceries to take home.

REVIEW: Belly Bao at Goodgod Small Club

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

The third restaurant to take up the kitchen space inside Goodgod Small Club might be the best yet. Stepping in hot on the heels of Jonkanoo’s short and sweet tenure and following three years of The Dip, whose head chef was about as good at cooking as he is at righting.

The opposite of Caribbean and cheeseburgers might be Taiwanese food, but Belly Bao are serving up one of the greatest Taiwanese creations, bao! The soft, pillowy fold-over bun things with delicious braised meats inside. Bao have appeared randomly on a few menus across Sydney over the last few years, most famously as Momofuku’s pork bun, but Belly Bao is Sydney’s first dedicated house of bao, with eight varieties on the menu.

All of the food groups are covered – pork, chicken, crab, beef, tofu and ice cream. I was expecting to love the slow braised pork belly bao the most, a classic bao available at a few Taiwanese restaurants around Sydney, however it was a little disappointing, the usually melt-in-your-mouth belly fat was on the thick and chewy side. Instead the king bao of the menu is the roast pork belly with crackling, pickled radish and mayo. It’s juicy, crunchy, salty, sweet and delicious. So are the other savoury baos, but the roast pork belly bao is the juiciest, crunchiest, saltiest, sweetest and most delicious. All hail king bao. The crispy tofu bao was my second favourite, which will be good news to vegetarians sick of eating fast food vastly inferior to the meaty options.

There’s (thankfully) no mock meat alternative to the other star of Belly Bao’s menu – fried chicken. Combining the best parts of Taiwanese salt & pepper chicken and sticky Korean fried chicken, this fried bird is immediately some of the best in town. Don’t go overboard ordering every single bao in one sitting – make sure you leave room for an entire fried chicken to yourself, best eaten while sitting in the middle of the Goodgod dancefloor with your eyes closed.

The fluffy white bao wrappers are deep fried until crunchy and brown and stuffed with ice cream for dessert, which is a sentence probably far more effective at getting you down to Belly Bao as soon as possible than this entire review. Hop to it.

McDonald’s ‘Create Your Taste’

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

I know, I know. Another McDonald’s review? We were just there last week! Why would I do this to myself again? Who cares about McDonald’s whacky schemes to appear to be less evil? Is TwoThousand just going to become a collection of smarmy McDonald’s reviews now?

Last week I was rather unkind about McDonald’s much hyped new attempt at a cafe, The Corner. But did you know that just a few weeks before the launch of The Corner, McDonald’s launched another, infinitely better new stupid thing at two of their suburban franchises? It’s called ‘Create Your Taste’ and it allows you to punch a machine until it gives you the stupidest burger you can think of. Welcome to the future.

McDonald’s in Waitara is the Macca’s I used to come to when I was in high school. I definitely ate an Oreo McFlurry in the boot of my mates car here once, and that is not a euphemism. Along with the Castle Hill outlet, Waitara McDonald’s is now the home of ‘Create Your Taste’, which is a huge touch screen computer to the side of the ordering counter. The computer gives you options for every step of making your own burger. You want a brioche bun? Punch it in. Two beef patties? Tell the computer. Beetroot, tomato and an egg? The computer can make it happen.

I decided to make two burgers. First, a classic cheeseburger, to see how it stacked up against some of Sydney’s best cheeseburgers. Brioche bun, beef patty, American cheese, crispy bacon, caramelised onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard. Easy. I also decided to make the stupidest burger I could think of, just because I could. Lettuce wrap bun, beef patty, crispy bacon, colby jack cheese, grilled pineapple, guacamole, jalapenos, tortilla strips, red onion, tomato, chipotle mayo, extra lettuce, mustard. Very complicated.

My guess as to why you use a computer to order instead of ordering at the counter is so the staff don’t cause themselves bodily harm by rolling their eyes too far into the back of their head when you order such dumb bullshit. The computer sends your order to the kitchen and after a short wait your burger gets brought to your table on a wooden paddle.

The list of things that wooden paddles should be used for begins and ends with ‘rowing boats’, but the cheeseburger on the paddle looks pretty good! It tastes pretty good too, the brioche bun is grilled to a buttery crunch, the cheese perfectly melted and the pickles are big enough to be tasted with every bite. The ‘100% angus’ beef patty is no better than your average Macca’s beef patty though and lets the burger down a little by being the only thing that doesn’t taste that fresh. But it’s still a really decent burger.

Then the stupidest burger I could think of comes to the table, a big green lump of idiot on a wooden paddle. Once I’ve stopped laughing at it, I take a bite and holy shit, it’s actually not even kind of terrible. Like eating some weird pineapple nacho burger. Crunchy lettuce, crunchy corn chips, even the meat tastes better because of the spice from the chipotle mayo and jalapenos. Hopefully Macca’s put this on the menu in the future as the McStupid.

Enjoyably silly, pretty tasty and not a top-knot in sight. You shouldn’t go out of your way for this experience, but if you ever find yourself at a McDonald’s with a ‘Create Your Taste’ computer set up, have a crack. It’s fresher than regular McDonald’s and presumably healthier, without stooping to the cringeworthy levels of The Corner cafe. ‘Create Your Taste’ is pretty good, but you know what’s fantastic? While McDonald’s are trying strange new ways to make their menu appeal to the more health conscious, KFC are applying for a liquor license. There’s a fast food outlet that knows what its audience wants.

The Corner by McCafé

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

“I’ll pay you more if you get a photo of the server with the top knot in front of the menu board” I say to our photographer, who accepts this challenge with the vigour you’d expect from a freelancer in his early 20’s who never gets paid on time. We’re at The Corner, the latest million dollar experiment by everyone’s favourite ginormous international corporation, McDonald’s. A spokesperson from McDonald’s will tell you that it’s a lab for them to experiment with exciting new and healthy food items, but The Corner has already been labelled by writers all over the internet who hate trying too hard as ‘the hipster McDonald’s cafe’.

But you can’t blame them. The Corner is almost a parody of the Australian cafe in 2015. It feels like McDonald’s have used one of Miranda Devine’s annual rants about what a hipster is as a checklist for what The Corner needed. I wanted to check if the whole cafe was powered by a fleet of skinny men on unicycles, but instead I had to use all of my brain power to figure out how to order before running to the hospital next door so they could remove the other half of my appendix.

You order your drinks, pastries and breakfast items from one counter and your actual lunch items from another. Drinks include random words thrown together and carbonated, like the balsamic strawberry soda and the mango coconut iced tea, one of which was sold out and the other of which I wish was sold out so I didn’t drink it. They take a lot of pride in their coffee at The Corner, which is cold drip, and the cafe is emblazoned with the slogan “EAT GOOD FOOD, DRINK GREAT COFFEE”. So their coffee is great, but their food is just good? Let’s find out.

Once you’ve ordered your drinks, you make your way over to the lunch counter where you begin the fun voyage of choosing what protein you want and whether you want it with salad, with rice or on a bun. At The Corner, meats are referred to as proteins, which I assumed was because there were proteins you could choose that were not meats, however the only proteins available are meats. Why didn’t they call just call them meats? It gets especially confusing at the end of the counter when you are given the option of ordering a ‘protein ball’, which is not a meatball, rather a dry-textured nut-sphere, perfect for throwing at a photographer or complaining about in a review.

The meats and salads themselves aren’t bad. McDonald’s have used all their trillions of dollars to make a one-of-a-kind food lab, capable of serving food that you’d be pleasantly surprised to eat at an airport. I’m sure at least a million dollars was spent coming up with the genius idea of removing “Mc” from the front of all their menu options (McProtein does have a nice ring to it though).

As you leave The Corner, smiling back at the 30 staff members that just seem to walk around smiling for their entire shift, you’ll think about the salad you just ate, happy that you’ve saved a few calories and been a part of a fun experiment. Then you’ll realise that you’ve never felt like eating a Big Mac more in your life.