Thursday, April 16, 2015

Workshop Espresso, Sydney

I realize that I don't often review coffee.  But I sometimes make exceptions, particularly when I can do double duty, reviewing both coffee AND the baked goods a cafe offers.  And in this case, Workshop Espresso just holds a special place in my heart.

As you've likely gleaned, I've spent a fair amount of time in Sydney, including a 3 month stint a few years ago.  My recent visit was only 3 weeks, and I was determined to hit up as many of my favorites from previous trips as possible.  While this mostly focused on dining, I also needed to re-visit my favorite coffee shops!

Workshop Espresso, on my previous trip to Sydney, was the first place I ever found good coffee.  I was coming from San Francisco, and was a complete coffee snob at the time.  I drank only Blue Bottle.  I had a specific single origin blend that I liked from a region in Ethiopia.  I had exactly 3 baristas I trusted to make my coffee.  Um, yes.  I was a serious snob.  When I arrived in Sydney, I really struggled with the coffee.  Until I found Workshop Espresso!  I was eager to return.

Of course, many things have changed since then, mostly because I mostly stopped drinking caffeinated coffee for health reasons.  But ... I had to give Workshop Espresso a chance at decaf!

Workshop Espresso is located right in the CBD, and is easy to find: just look for a long line stretching out onto the street outside the Galleries on George St.  Chances are, that is Workshop Espresso.  The queue always looks intimidating, but moves quickly.
The Seating Area.
There isn't much seating, just several stools along a counter that are not really used.  Most people just grab their coffee and treats for takeaway.
Busy Baristas.
The menu is written on a chalkboard.  Along with a listing of drink options and a few sandwiches, they highlight the single origins being offered that day.

The line of beverages queued up ahead of me was daunting, but these guys are pros.  I was seriously impressed with the speed at which they churned out drinks.  Another staff member handled the register, efficiently moving the line along.
Decaf Long Black. $4.50.
So, I tried a decaf long black.  Not a single origin.  Not a piccolo like I did on all my previous trips.  It was ... fine.  A bit sweet tasting, but not decaf "funky" at least.  It was not particularly notable though.

$4.50 seemed high for a simple long black.  A regular long black at Workshop Espresso is $4, the extra $0.50 was for decaf.  Most other places I visited were a full $1 cheaper.
Regular Long Black. $4. Sugar Donut. $4.
On my next visit, it was earlier in the day, so I went for a regular long black, rather than decaf.  I wanted to really give them a chance to show their stuff.  It was better than the decaf for sure, no strange sweetness, and it was quite strong.  But again, it really wasn't that special, and $4 was higher than most of their competition for a simple long black.

Sitting next to the register is a display case of pastries.  You know me and baked goods.  I managed to resist the donuts on my first visit, but the next time around ... I just couldn't do it.  They had massive, and I mean massive, sugar coated donuts right there in my face.  And slightly smaller jelly filled ones.  Baked fresh on site.  How could I resist?

I was powerless.

It was a serious donut.  Fried, very fried.  Greasy, oily, in all the best ways.  And totally coated in sugar.  It reminded me of the old school donuts that I grew up with.
Oh So Greasy.
Did I mention it was greasy?  Within moments the bag was soaked through in oil.

The donut was good, but given its massive girth, and high level of oil, it really should not have been consumed by one person.  I had about 70% of mine, and pretty soon regretted it.  It was good, and the sugary goodness went perfectly with my black coffee, but man, I felt this in my gut.  A bomb for sure.

I probably would have enjoyed it more as a small donut hole, or if I had someone with me to take the other half and make sure I didn't have more.  I'm glad I tried it, as I would have been tempted on every subsequent visit, but, ugh, oily bomb!
Workshop Espresso on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sailor's Thai Canteen, Sydney

On my very first trip to Sydney, years ago, someone recommended Sailor's Thai.  It was the first actual good thai food I had ever had in my life.  I fell in love with the place, and have made a point of eating there at least once every time I visit Sydney.

Sailor's Thai is located in the Rocks, not quite as deep into touristville as Circular Quay, but certainly not in the "real" thai areas of Sydney.  On this visit, we did also spend a lot more time in the Haymarket area, and checked out the more authentic Sydney institutions of Home Thai and Chat Thai too.  I still prefer Sailor's Thai.
Long Communal Table.
Sailor's Thai is actually two different facilities.  The main Sailor's Thai restaurant is a formal, fairly pricy, affair, located downstairs (we went there a few night's later, so, stay tuned for that review too).  There, booking are essential.  But we usually opt for the Canteen, the casual part, located at street level, walk-ins only.  The entire restaurant consists of one long communal metal table.  There is also a tiny, and I mean tiny, balcony that has exactly two tables, each for two people only.  Once, we got one of those tables, and it was quite a treat.

On this visit, we were a large group of 7, and were worried about being able to get space for all of us together, so we arrived on the earlier side.  We were in luck, as we were the first to be seated for the night.  Private dining!

The table was already set with plates and napkins.  Everything is served as it is ready, family-style.  I appreciate this, thai food is the best fresh out of the wok.  Forks and spoons are located in metal boxes on the table that you help yourself to.  This is indicative of the level of service to expect, fairly nonexistent, but, this is the casual restaurant.
Kitchen.
The kitchen runs along the entire length of the room, open, but with a high divider so it is hard to see into.  You can see the chefs, but don't really get a sense of what they are doing.

Service was what I'd call typical Australian ... fairly lacking.  It took FOREVER to get someone's attention enough to bring us the bill.  And even longer to pay once we had it.  The service wasn't very friendly either, nor efficient, as I watched dishes dying in the pass without being brought to tables, even though the server wasn't doing anything.  A stark contrast to Home Thai , where the servers literally never stopped moving!

That said, I still like Sailor's Thai more than anywhere else in Sydney.  Home Thai and Chat Thai are probably more authentic, and are certainly located in the real thai area rather than the Rocks but ... I just liked the food far more at Sailor's Thai.  Of course, Sailor's Thai, even the Canteen, is far more expensive, with main dishes running $25-30 (and downstairs starters are $25-30, with mains going up to $48!  This is pricy for thai for sure).

One criticism however is the lack of desserts.  You know me and desserts, they are an essential component to a good meal for me.  The only item on the dessert menu at the Canteen is coconut ice cream.  In fact, the entire menu is fairly limited: only 3 appetizers, 9 mains, and a single side.

I looked forward to trying the full restaurant, as the cuisine is far more varied, and, they actually have a dessert menu.
Crown 490. $20.
"Aperol, manzanilla, pink grapefruit and lime."

Like the rest of the menu, the cocktail list didn't have much selection, only 4 drinks, and I went for the one that seemed most likely to be refreshing with some spicier food.

The Crown 490 was a decent drink, well balanced, not too sweet as I was hoping, with a nice bitterness from the grapefruit.  Fairly refreshing.  Not remarkable, but it went well with my meal.

Unfortunately, the person making the drinks was much, much slower than the kitchen.  We received all our food before the drinks came, and, since the food was hot, we didn't wait to eat for the drinks.  A bit unfortunate, as I would have appreciated the pairing, and, actually, would have appreciated settling in a bit with drinks before the onslaught of food.  But I can't be upset at the kitchen for being fast!

$20 for a cocktail at a casual canteen seems high to me, but I haven't really found cocktails under $20 anywhere in Sydney.
Poh Pia Sod. $12.
"Fresh spring rolls of pork sausage and cucumber with a tamarind and peanut sauce."

We began with one of the three choices for a starter, the spring rolls.

They arrived within what seemed like only two minutes of ordering.  I guess, we were the only table there, but it was still ridiculously fast.

The spring rolls were topped with crab, which strangely wasn't listed in the menu description.  I saw this as a bonus, since I love crab, but if I didn't eat crab, or was allergic, it was certainly an odd, major component to omit.  The crab came in large chunks, and looked great, except it turned out to be really fishy and I didn't like it at all, and pushed it aside.  Is that just how Australian crab is?  Or was it not fresh?  I'm not sure.

The spring roll wrapper was the same style that we've seen elsewhere, but this time, it was much better than other places, and I liked it the best of all the spring rolls we had on this trip.

Inside was chunks of pork sausage, tofu, cucumber, bean sprouts, and large pieces of sharp green onion.  I appreciated how fresh and crisp the vegetables were.  I thought the filling gave the rolls a pleasant crunch as I bit in, and appreciated the slight chew from the sausage and the sharpness of the green onion, as it contrasted nicely with the slightly sweet sauce.

The peanut and tamarind sauce was also better than the other tamarind sauces we had on this visit, like the tamarind sauce I really didn't like at Chat Thai.  This was a bit sweet, but balanced, and it went well with the roll.

So, besides the fishy crab, this was nicely done, and I'd get it again, and it blew away the version from Chat Thai, that had all the same ingredients, but just really paled in comparison.  My third favorite dish of the night, but Ojan's least favorite.
Som Dtam. $24.
"Green papaya salad with peanuts, dried shrimp, spicy & sour dressing, sweet pork."

Moments later, the papaya salad appeared.  The papaya salad is considered a main dish, not a starter, for good reason.  It is massive, and comes with a large serving of pork and a scoop of rice!

It is also the reason we always go to Sailor's Thai.  Papaya salad is just papaya salad but ... this comes with candied pork!  So really, we come to Sailor's Thai for the candied pork.

The papaya salad contained the standard shredded green mango, green beans, cherry tomatoes, and tiny shrimp.  It was fresh, light, and nicely dressed.  The dressing was spicy and sour, with a bit of fishiness to it, but in a good way that added depth.

The salad was a tiny bit spicy, but not much, I would have probably liked even more spice.  Again, much better than the papaya salad we had at Chat Thai .  The salad is served on top of a huge wedge of cabbage, which Ojan always eats after the salad is gone, and of course, he did the same this time too.  I followed suit, and I must say, it is really satisfying munching on the crispy cabbage, the perfect palette cleanser.

On the side was also a scoop of rice, I'm not really sure why.  They always serve it this way, and it always seems strange to me.  But I also just don't like rice, even where appropriate.

And ... the crispy sweet pork, the reason we got the dish.  It was good, crispy and chewy, like beef jerky, and nicely sweet, but it didn't quite live up to my memory, or, as you'll soon read about, another candied pork dish we got this night.

Overall, it was the best papaya salad I had in Sydney, but only my 4th pick of the night.

$24 is a high price for a papaya salad though, even one with all these goodies.
Pad Thai. $17.
"Stir fried rice noodles, peanuts, egg, bean curd, bean sprouts and dried baby shrimp".

There is only one noodle dish on the Canteen menu: Pad Thai, available with dried baby shrimp, or vegetarian.  We got one of each.

The pad thai was ... well, pad thai.  It wasn't much different from pad thai you'd get anywhere else, noodles, crisp bean sprouts on top, lime wedge to squeeze over.  I thought it was overall too sweet.

It was my 6th pick of the night, and one other diner's least favorite.
Moo Grab Wan. $26.
"Crispy pork belly in a sticky sweet and sour sauce."

Next, pork belly.  I didn't really expect to care for this.  Now, I have had some great pork belly at Alexander's before, but in general, pork belly tends to be slimy, fatty, and underwhelming.

It turns out, Sailor's Thai just does really good candied pork dishes!

It was crunchy and crispy, yet moist, far more moist than the more jerky-like candied pork in the papaya salad.  It was chewy, but in a good way.  And the sauce ... mmm, sticky sweet candy sauce!  There wasn't much else to this dish, but, I'm not sure what I would have wanted in addition.  Just delicious pork belly is really all you need.  Veggies would have just seemed strange here.

Of all our dishes, this was hands down my favorite, and the favorite of one other diner, but interestingly, it was the least favorite of two others (including Emil, who obviously hated the sweet sauce).
Geng Keaw Warn Nue. $29.
"Green curry of slow cooked wagyu beef, served with roti."

Now, moving on to curry.  I'm never a big fan of green curry, and this was no exception.  The sauce also seemed really oily.

The beef however was really nicely cooked, tender, and pulled apart easily with a fork.  I don't generally go for stew meat, but for this style of meat, it was really quite good and the quality was evident.  The flavor of the beef itself was good.

Amusingly, this was the only dish Emil liked all evening.  The curry itself was my 5th favorite of the night, a very distant 5th to the papaya salad, spring rolls, and pork belly, and the least favorite of one other diner.

But, it came with roti.

OMG, the roti.  It looked so unassuming on the side.  It looked flat and oily.  I don't even like bread.  Yes, it was all of these things.  But it was also hot and fresh, and I loved the flavor, even though it was oily.  It was delicious on its own, but even more delicious when used to soak up all the remaining sweet sticky sauce from the pork belly dish.  OMG.

I devoured my share of the roti, and the roti no one else claimed (the fools!  They didn't even try it!).  After it was all gone, one other diner who loved it decided to attempt to order just a side of roti, because he liked it that much too.  It wasn't listed on the menu as a standalone item, but the staff hesitantly obliged this request, and soon, much more roti was had.

So while the curry was one of my least favorites, that roti totally made up for it.  It was my favorite aspect of the entire meal.  I'd go back for roti (and pork belly sauce) alone!

$29 was pricy for the portion of curry, but I guess it was quality wagyu.
Gang Panang Moo. $24.
"Panang curry of pork tenderloin with lime leaves and peanuts."

And finally, after we had received, and finished, almost all our food, the group decided to add one more item to our order.  Since no dish took more than about 6 minutes to arrive, it wasn't really a problem to order more.  Plus, my fellow roti loving friend was now able to order his side of roti too.

I was stuffed and didn't try this, choosing to finish with something I knew I liked, but everyone raved about how great it was.  In particular, the pork was thin slices of pork, not what they were expecting at all.  Ok, I did try the sauce, but it was really too rich and oily for me, particularly at this point in the meal.

My least favorite dish, but the top pick for 3 diners.
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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Qantas Business Class Lounge, Sydney

Ahh, the Sydney Qantas lounges.  As you read about last week, I really, really enjoyed my time in the Qantas First Class lounge.  If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend spending as much time there as you possibly can.  The food is better than most restaurants in Sydney itself, the spa actually offers real massages, the seating is comfortable, the staff is friendly ... my accolades can go on and on.

But of course, I'm a curious girl, so after having lunch in the First Class lounge, I needed to go on a journey to check out the business class side, just to compare.  I didn't spend all that much time in the business lounge though, so this is mostly just a photo tour with a slight narrative, for informational purposes, rather than an in-depth review.

Overall, it is a nice lounge for sure, although not nearly as premium as in the First Class lounge.  The salads in the buffet were particularly impressive, and, just like the First Class lounge, compared to the Qantas Business Lounge in LAX, the Sydney one is a league above.

Seating

Lounge Style Seating.
The seating was not nearly as plush nor fabulous as the First Class area, but was still comfortable.
Workstations.
Apparently some strange creatures exist who travel without computers, so there is a row of workstations set up, overlooking the runways.
Long Bar.
The center of the room contains a long bar with seating all along it, plus a barista station, where they make fancy hot chocolate, using real chocolate, garnished with fancy marshmallows.
Gelato!
Right next to the barista station is ... a gelato shop!  Yes, seriously.  I obviously would have gone for this, except I was planning to return to the First Class area to order at least one, if not two, desserts from the restaurant there, so I had to use restraint.  The placement next to the barista however is perfect for an affagado, a trick I discovered with glee in the British Airways Galleries lounge at Heathrow.
Meringues.
The bar also had meringues set out, but they were the hard style, and not something I've ever tempted by, even when I'm not anticipating other desserts.  One point for me resisting a dessert!
Spa Water.
The very far end of the bar houses spa water, self-serve, which I really appreciated.  Hydration during travel is very important.
Self-Serve Beverages.
For other sorts of hydration, a self-serve beverage station is at one end of the room, with several beers on tap, a handful of wines and spirits, and a soda machine.

The alcohol selection here was obviously greatly reduced from the rather impressive full bar and nice wine list in the First Lounge, but even just the soft drink selection was lower quality, with a soda machine rather than individual bottles, and no sparkling water.  The horrors.
Hot Drinks.
A robot coffee machine and tea selection completed the drink offerings.  The decaf coffee was pretty decent, the machine ground it to order, but of course, you could order from the barista with the full espresso machine too.

The tea selection, like the drink selection, was again lower-tier, here they just had Dilmah brand tea, and not a large assortment, whereas in the First Class lounge they had T2 tea, our Australian favorite.
Assorted Composed Salads.
Next came the food. The salad line-up was impressive, with 8 salads, fresh and not limp looking, with all sorts of interesting ingredients.  This really put the basic potato salad and brown lettuce from the Qantas Business Lounge in LA to shame.  Also, unlike the LAX lounge, everything here was clearly labelled.  The salad lineup:
  • Rocket and parmesan
  • Bean salad dressed in hazelnut and orange
  • Poached chicken pasta salad with olive tapenade
  • Cos lettuce with proscuitto
  • Panzanella with mozzarella
  • Beetroot and mint with cherry dressing
  • Potato, pea, and egg with cashew pesto
  • Spinach, feta and quinoa
  • Roasted pumpkin with chickpeas and preserved lemon
I had just eaten a full, wonderful lunch in the First Class lounge, but I couldn't resist trying a few things.  The beauty of buffets is that I could try just a bite!

I started with the panzenella.  I love panzenella, which is funny because I don't really like bread that much.  But make bread soggy, or turn it into bread pudding, and I'm sold!

The panzenella was quite good, perfectly soggy bread that soaked up all the tomato juices, plus fresh, ripe tomato, and quality mozzarella.  It was nicely seasoned too.  If I was looking for some food, I would have been quite happy with this.

I also had proscuitto and cheese from the cos salad, and it was salty and tasty, again, good quality, and really satisfying for lounge food.
Desserts! Fruit salad, flourless chocolate cake, lamingtons.
And of course, there were desserts.  I know, I know, I was just saying that there was dessert waiting for me next door in the First Class lounge, but ... dessert!  I had to try something.  I don't care for lamingtons and the fruit salad contained watermelon, so it was an easy choice: chocolate cake!

It was a decent flourless chocolate cake, very rich, very fudgy, particularly the top layer.  But chocolate-loving Ojan wasn't very impressed.
Hot Foods, Soup.
The hot dishes of the day were Hungarian beef goulash and butter and herb pasta.  The soup of the day was potato and garlic, with crusty rolls on the side.

We didn't try any of this, but I saw a number of people with big bowls of goulash, who really did look quite happy.

Bathrooms

Bathroom.
I poked my head into the shower suites, just to see.  They had a sink, large counter, and toilet, along with a rainfall shower.
Shower.
Just like in the First Lounge, they provided Aspar products
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Monday, April 13, 2015

Snag Stand, Sydney

Snag Stand is a "haute dog" shop located in the Westfield Mall in Sydney.  And yes, I went there.  And no, it wasn't because they serve amazing dessert (like the other hot dog place we visited, Chanoma Cafe, that I most certainly went to just for the matcha ice cream).

Partially the reason was simple: laziness.  We were staying close by the Westfield, and the food court made for a very easy meal, which we took advantage of many times, including going to Din Tai Fung for dumplings, Chatime for bubble tea, Bécasse Bakery for cronuts, and Chat Thai for lots of desserts.

Our visit to Snag Stand was also inspired by how easy the food court makes it for everyone to get different things from different vendors, and then just meet to sit in the communal dining together.  But, I'm obviously still an opinionated food snob, and just convenience will never get me to visit somewhere.  The food has to be good!

I researched everywhere in the food court in advance, and I was intrigued by Snag Stand.  Snag Stand has several locations throughout Australia, just this one in Sydney.  They are a hot dog shop obviously, but they take pride in the quality of the products.  They list the names of the butchers they work with, boast the fact that the dogs are all made in small batches, they use natural casings, and don't gunk everything up with artificial additives.

The menu revolves around the dogs, dubbed "haute dogs", each named creations.  They use all different bases (wagyu sausage, chorizo, German bratwurst, or frankfurters), several types of bun (poppy seed, rustic, or brioche), plus tons of crazy toppings (garlic mashed potatoes, coleslaw, goat cheese, sundried tomatoes), veggies (baby rocket, sautéed onions, pickles, sports peppers, sauerkraut, rosemary mushrooms), and are finished with sauces (smokey bbq, truffle aioli, herb aioli, sweet relish, beetroot relish, sraracha mayo, herbed gravy).  The menu does not imply that you can create your own, or even omit an ingredient in a pre-defined creation, although it may be possible?

All dogs can be made vegetarian, and gluten-free rolls are also available.  Snag Stand also offers a few types of burgers (beef or chicken), plus only two sides: fries and onion rings.  If you are looking for something besides a burger, hotdog, or fries, then, go elsewhere, which is easy, since it is a food court after all.  But if you want the best fries ever, look no further!
Snag Stand Ordering Counter.
The shop is a classic food court setup, order at a register, get a number and wait, eventually out comes a plastic tray with your food on it.
Regular Size Chips. $3.90. Smokey BBQ, Sriaracha Mayo. $1 each.
"100% Tasmanian russet potatoes cooked in cholesterol free oil and seasoned with natural sea salt".

I read a lot of rave reviews about the chips (fries), which is the only reason I wanted to try them.  We ate a lot of fried food in our time in Australia, and a lot of potato products, including really disappointing fries the day before at Watson Bay Beach Club, and fried prawn toasts the day before that at Ms. G's, after which Ojan and I both declared we weren't eating more fried food for a while.  But if the chips were THAT good, maybe we needed to try them?

Best. Decision. Ever. The chips had a super crispy exterior, yet were soft and fluffy inside.  Yes, they were oily, but not in a gross way.  They really were some of the best fries I've ever had.  The thickness was particularly notable, not quite as thick as a wedge or a steak fry, but much thicker than standard fries.  They did something magic with these fries, and I'm not sure what it was exactly.  Also, they were piping hot.  Even as I tried to slow down and stop devouring them, they stayed perfectly hot.

There were six dipping sauces to choose from: house gravy, smokey bbq, fresh herb aoli, truffle aioli, chipotle mayo, or sriaracha mayo, all used on the dogs too.  I had Ojan pick the sauces, and he went for the bbq and sriaracha mayo.  I probably would have picked either of the aiolis, but any creamy mayo generally works for me (also, why did they have both aioli and mayo?  Were they really different bases?)

The bbq I didn't like, it was just too sweet for me, and I didn't really taste the promised smokiness.

The sriaracha mayo however was great, just enough heat to it to be interesting, and it definitely jazzed up the fries.

I told Ojan to just order the smaller snack size, and he got the larger one, and uh, I'm glad he did.  Let's just say I had no problem polishing these off, no matter how much I'd sworn off more fried food.  Fried potato dipped in mayo can be a thing of glory, and Snag Stand does it right.

The other choices for sides are onion rings and chili cheese fries.  I'm now tempted to try the onion rings!

[ No Photo ]
"Australia Fare". $8.90.

Of course, Snag Stand is known for their "haute dogs", not the fries, right?  They were unfortunately sold out of many of the dogs that day, for reasons I don't really understand.  It was only lunchtime when we were there.  I didn't go for a dog and opted for other food from another stand, but, Ojan was there for a hotdog!

Feeling inspired by our location, he went for the "Australia Fare", described as "grilled wagyu sausage on a toasted brioche roll with sautéed onions, cheddar cheese, & smokey BBQ sauce."

Once he received it, he realized it wasn't really what he wanted at all, and he was just feeling overwhelmed by all the choices, and picked it without really reading the description.  I unfortunately did not get a photo, as I was a bit too busy devouring the fries.  This should give you some idea of how good those fries were, as I rarely get distracted enough to forget to get a photo!

While I agree that this was certainly not the dog I would have ever picked, I think there is hope for Snag Stand.  The flavor of the wagyu beef was really good, although it reminded me more of a hamburger, just a hotdog shaped one.  The onions were generously applied and nicely cooked.  But since I really disliked the bbq sauce, the fact that the whole thing was smothered in the sauce really ruined it for me.  The cheddar cheese was just shredded cheese, totally unmelted, which I didn't care for at all.  The bun didn't seem all that "brioche-y" to me, but, it was soft and slightly sweet, and I thought was pretty nice.

Overall, there was quality here, even if neither of us liked this particular dog.  It was also huge, and ridiculously messy, but they wisely include silverware with it.  The price might be a bit high for "just a hotdog", but, it really was a complete meal.
Snag Stand on Urbanspoon
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Friday, April 10, 2015

Be Natural Bars, Australia

Last week, I wrote about my discovery of tasty breakfast bars, er, "muesli slices", from SuniBrite.  SuniBrite's parent company is Mother's Nature Ltd, the same as Be Natural Bars, so I was excited to try the Be Natural line up.  Spoiler: it turns out, these folk make really good bars, just when I was starting to think no such things existed! 

Be Natural makes two lines of product, basic Nut Bars, or Premium Macadamia Nut Bars.  The macadamia bars, particularly the honey and carob coated ones, sound interesting, but I didn't run into them anywhere in Sydney.  Instead, I only found the standard nut bars, described as "a delicious combination of Top Quality Nuts (including Almonds, Brazils, and Walnuts), they have the finest of fruits and a hint of honey - an irresistible snack with a delectable flavour."

The nut bars are available in a slew of flavors, such as "Nut Delight", with peanuts, almonds, brazil nuts, and walnuts, "Fruit & Nut", with peanuts, almonds, walnuts and a bunch of dried fruit (sultanas, apricots, dates, and apples), "Almond Apricot", with, you guessed it, almonds and dried apricots (plus coconut!), "Sunflower & Pepita", which also has sesame seeds, and "Sesame Nut Split", with peanuts, sesame seeds, and ... chocolate.  But I went for the yogurt coated bars, available only in almond apricot or fruit & nut.

I only got to try one variety, but I can't wait to try more on my next visit to Australia.
Almond Apricot Yoghurt Coated.
"Be Natural Almond Apricot Yoghurt Coated bar combines together almonds, apricots and coconut, covered in a smooth yoghurt flavoured coating."

This was shockingly good.  Not a granola bar, as it has no oats in it, rather, the base is mainly almonds and dried apricots, joined by peanuts, coconut, and puffed rice.  It was slightly soft, and absolutely loaded up with coconut, nuts, and apricot bits.  No other fillers.

It was pleasantly sweet from both the natural sweetness in the apricot and the coating.  The nuts added a great crunch.  The coating, nutritionally questionable "yoghurt flavoured coating" made primarily from sugar and palm kernal oil, was actually pretty pleasant, and the bar was well coated.

I enjoyed this more than any other bar in recent memory.  I'd love to try more of their products.
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Thursday, April 09, 2015

Madhouse Bakehouse, Australia

Madhouse Bakehouse is a commercial bakery in Australia.  They produce goods for cafes, hotels, airlines, caterers, etc country-wide, including Qantas.  Although they are a large commercial bakeshop, they do not use mixes or preservatives, and make everything from scratch.

Their products range from cookies and brownies, to "slices" and cakes, plus granola, muesli, and breakfast breads.  Each product line has a large variety inside of it, like the brownies, which includes interesting flavors such as ginger with caramelized white chocolate, and a large selection of gluten-free options.

 My office in Sydney stocked a few of their cookies, so I was able to try several of those, but I never encountered any of their other products, so I can't evaluate those.  The cookies were great, and I'm not a cookie person at all, so I would really love to try some of the other items, like the slices, in particular, the honeycomb slice!  I love honeycomb (another Australian discovery)!
Raspberry, Coconut, & White Chocolate Cookie.
Ok, like I said, I'm not a cookie person.  Sometimes I enjoy a cookie, but in the realm of desserts, I will never pick a cookie.  But, my office cafes, while wonderful for the savory cuisine, really, really didn't make very good desserts.  After a few weeks in Sydney, I was seriously needing good dessert.  I was getting desperate.

So I tried a Madhouse cookie.  Now, back to my general lack of interest in cookies.  The only cookies I ever like are soft ones (or, perhaps, ones coated in icing), fresh out of the oven, still warm.  I never like hard style cookies.  I never like packaged cookies.  Why on earth did I try this?  Again.  Desperate.

But, I was rewarded for trying.  It was really, really good!  Yes, it was a hard, crispy style cookie.  But the base was buttery and sweet, really pleasant, loaded with coconut for a bit of crunch.  There was a generous amount of little bits of dried raspberry, super flavorful.  The only disappointing part was the white chocolate, there were only two chips in the entire cookie!  I wanted more creamy, sweet, white chocolate.

Anyway, this was a complete surprise.  I loved it, and devoured it.  I wish I had discovered these earlier on in my visit.
Dark Chocolate, Pistachio & Sour Cherry Cookie.
I also tried the chocolate, pistachio, and sour cherry cookie.

It was again a hard style cookie, a bit too crumbly for my taste.  I did like the bits of dark chocolate, the crunch of the pistachio, and flavor from sour cherry.

But, not my sort of thing at all, and I handed it off to Ojan.
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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Home Thai, Sydney

When I was recently in Sydney, I ate a lot of thai food.  I love thai cuisine, but, San Francisco has never really impressed me in this area.  But Sydney?  Now, that is another story.  While Sydney surely isn't the place to go fine dining, proximity to Thailand serves it well, and there are many choices of thai restaurants.  We were determined to try as many as possible.

When you ask Sydneysiders to recommend thai restaurants, two names come up over and over: Home Thai, and Chat Thai, which I reviewed a few days ago.  The two restaurants are shockingly similar, although completely unrelated.  They are located only a few blocks apart.  They are both crazy popular, and always have lines out front.  The servers at both take orders on ipods/ipads.  The menus are fairly similar, although Home Thai has a more extensive savory menu, Chat Thai a more extensive sweet menu.

The food was fine, but I definitely do not recommend the dumplings (which, makes sense, as this is a Thai restaurant).  Prices are good, service is fast, but I don't really see a reason to return here, when there are so many other great thai choices in Sydney (stay tuned!).
Queues outside.
Just like Chat Thai, Home Thai is known for the lines.  Even arriving on the earlier side at 6pm we had to wait.  The system is very efficient, identical to Chat Thai - you put your name on the list, take a number, and wait on the sidewalk.  Good thing the weather is nice in Sydney!
Open Kitchen.
I didn't mind the wait, since I loved watching the chefs.  Chat Thai has just the dessert kitchen in front, and the main kitchen is in the back, but at Home Thai, the whole kitchen is in front, and is open, so you can watch all the fun.

It was crazy busy.  Watching the staff here was incredibly impressive.  They were constantly moving.  When they had a moment of downtime, they started drying dishware.  Seriously, no one ever stopped moving.

Service was fine, efficient beyond belief, but no extra attention was given.  Order taken, food delivered, and that was that.
Inside.
Inside is rather small, with basic wooden tables and chairs.  Crammed in as close together as possible, since they clearly always have a wait.

On the table was a bottle of tap water, so we could help ourselves to water throughout, and staff weren't ever needed to serve us.

Our order was taken quickly, on an ipad.
Longan Juice. $4.
Ojan decided to be adventurous and order a longan juice.  We weren't really sure what longan was.  When he received it, we thought "wait, is longan just another word for lychee?"  Floating in the drink were certainly things that looked like lychee.

But, the taste wasn't sweet like lychee.  It was slightly smoky even.  It turns out, lychee and longan are in the same family of fruits, but no, longan is not lychee.

Ojan enjoyed the drink, and found it to be quite refreshing, particularly alongside spicy Thai food.
Kui Chay (Garlic Chive Dumplings). $6.90.
"Steamed dumpling stuffed with garlic chive."

Our first dish arrived within what seemed like at most 3 minutes of placing our order.  Like I said, these folks were busy and efficient!  It also seems like having the ordering system on ipads allows orders to go to the kitchen immediately, so there is no delay in having a server bring the order to the kitchen before it starts getting prepared.

Dumplings seemed a bit strange for us to order at a Thai restaurant, but the menu had many different types of dumplings, so I figured they might be good.  Plus, I was just really craving dumplings for some reason.

The wrappers of these dumplings were not very good.  They were pasty, and somewhat disintegrated.  There were four dumplings, two slightly darker than the other two, but the taste wasn't distinct.

The filling was generous, garlic chives, which were crazy garlicky.  The sauce was a sweet sauce.

I wanted to love these, but between the pasty wrapper and the too strong garlic flavor, I just didn't.  Price of $6.90 was fine for 4 dumplings.
Kao Kreab Pak Mhor, Vegetarian. $6.90.
"Steamed rice flour with sweet peanuts, palm sugar and pork minced."

Our second type of dumpling arrived about 30 seconds later.

Since we had a vegetarian dining with us, we ordered these vegetarian, so in place of the minced pork was tofu.

The wrappers were really slimy, but not chalky and pasty like the previous ones.  The flavor of the filling was really quite strange.  I can't describe it.  I really disliked it.  There were a few crushed nuts on top, and a very sweet sauce underneath.

The textures were bad, the flavors were bad, and I pretty much hated this dish.

The only thing I liked was the fact that there were two different colored wrappers, the purple ones were quite pretty.

No one really liked these, but the others found them better once wrapped with some lettuce.  Again, price was good, this time for 6 dumplings.
Pad Thai Woon Sen (Glass Noodle Pad Thai), Vegetarian.  $11.50.
"Wok tossed glass noodles with tofu, egg, pickled radish, garlic chives, bean sprouts, chilli powder,
tamarind sauce, palm sugar and fish sauce."

Next up, more of a classic Thai noodle dish: pad thai.

Our vegetarian diner selected this.  I'm quite familiar with pad thai, but had never actually had glass noodle pad thai before (Home That has regular pad thai, and a wonton noodle pad thai, on the menu as well).  The flavors were all similar to what I'm used to with pad thai, but it used smaller, thinner glass noodles instead.  Not what I'd pick, but, it was interesting to try something new.  Loaded up with lots of assorted veggies, including mushrooms, snow peas, and baby corn, garnished with all the traditional accompaniments of fresh bean sprouts, chives, and chopped peanuts.

Overall, this was fine, and the $11.50 was good for the large portion.
Gang Dang Ped (Red Curry With Duck), Medium.  $14.90.
"Roast duck in red curry paste with coconut milk, cherry eggplant, apple eggplant, basil, lime
leaves, long red chilli, pineapple and lychee."

Ojan and another diner selected the red curry with duck.  I tried a few bites, stealing their token lychee and a crunchy cherry eggplant.  While I don't like duck, I loved the sauce.  It was definitely a bit spicy, just the right amount to really feel it and feel alive, but not kill you or make the experience unpleasant.  It was balanced by coconut milk and a sweetness from the fruit in the mix.  I gladly finished off all of their sauce, eating it by the spoonful like a soup.

The priciest dish we got, but still reasonable.
Mango and Sticky Rice.
Well, you know me and dessert.  We obviously needed desserts.  Home Thai only had 6 desserts on the menu, a stark contrast to the extensive selection of 32 at Chat Thai, but totally normal for a regular restaurant.

We started with the classic thai dessert: mango and sticky rice.  While perhaps a bit boring, mango in Australia is just so much better than in the US.  We really wanted to get as much mango in while we were in Sydney as possible, and ate it at least once a day (including as part of the stunning breakfast buffet at the Sheraton on the Park).

The mango was ripe and clearly sliced to order.  A generous serving, a full half of a large mango.

Home Thai really seems to like serving multiple colors of things, just like the wrappers of the dumplings, this time the color came in the rice.  There were three types of rice: one was green and I think pandan infused, one was just regular white sticky rice, and the other was purple, I think taro?  The purple one was my favorite, but all were just basic sticky rice.

Everything was drizzled with coconut cream, sweet, good, and I thought at first that there was too much, but it somehow ran out.  We would have preferred to just have this on the side.

We all tasted a few crunchy bites.  I think the orange things on top might have been the crunch?  Or maybe some rice was just crispy?  Not sure.

Overall, this was fine, and we appreciated the fresh mango, but, it wasn't particularly interesting.
Par Tuhng Go (Fried Bread Sticks) with Pandan Coconut Sauce. $5.
Since we couldn't possibly be satisfied with just one dessert, we also got the fried dough.  Because, um, fried dough!  This is only available in the evening, although Home Thai is open for lunch as well.

The dough was clearly fried fresh to order, delivered piping hot.  There were 4 pieces, but each was made up of two sticks attached in the center.  The dough was basic fried dough, although Ojan thought it was more like a donut, since it wasn't as greasy as fried dough.  Others said it was like funnel cake.  I still thought it was like state fair fried dough.  Anyway, hot and fresh, with a crispy exterior, doughy interior.  I really wanted it to be sugar coated though!

The sauce on the side was a creamy pandan sauce, plus some coconut milk.  It was super sweet, it reminded me of icing actually.  I like icing, so this wasn't a bad thing exactly, but a bit strange to put on my fried dough.

Overall, nothing was wrong here, but the components didn't go together exactly as I was hoping.  Fried dough is good, but I wanted a different topping.  The pandan cream sauce was good, but I wanted it on something else.
Home Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon
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