Monday, March 30, 2015

Rabbit Hole Bar and Dining, Sydney

During my time in Sydney, I arranged a slew of meals, for groups of varying sizes, catering to all different styles.  We ate a lot of casual Thai food at all the Sydney classics (Home Thai, Chat Thai, or our favorite, Sailor's Thai), we went for mid-range cuisine at Lumi and Sokyo, and we visited a lot of cafes for brunch (Trio, Devon Cafe, Bill's).  But I also arranged a few far more casual outings, more focused on the drinks than the food, for larger groups.  We had fantastic bar food at Pocket Bar.  We experienced a full on tiki bar at The Cliff Dive.  And ... we also went ... down the Rabbit Hole!

Rabbit Hole Bar and Dining is located in the CBD, quite convenient for our large group staying at a slew of hotels around the city.  It is located, truly, down the hole.  You enter on street level, and immediately go downstairs.  Rabbit Hole isn't just a bar, it is ... a molecular gastronomy bar!

The space is broken up into two rooms.  The first is a large bar and lounge, which is the focus of the establishment.   The cocktails are all high quality, using tons of fresh produce, house-made syrups, spices mixes, and flavored sugars.  But they also have fun with molecular gastronomy in the bar, incorporating foams, jellies, spherification, and even using sous-vide to infuse some liquors.  The food isn't quite as molecular, but this is no normal bar food.  Yes, there are fries, but they are hand cut chips coated in truffle oil and parmesan.  The burger is made from wagyu, served on a brioche bun, topped with brie, and housemade tomato relish.  Instead of wings, you can munch on crispy pork belly bites.  I had seared scallops for my main, and someone else in our group had roasted lamb shoulder.

I think you can see why we wound up here.  It sounded like the perfect fit - fun drinks for the large group, and potentially good food for me.  And, even better, they were easily able to accommodate our large 20+ person reservation, same day!

The drinks were indeed fun, and it worked well for our group, but the food wasn't nearly as good as I was hoping.  I'd go back for drinks, but wouldn't really be excited to eat there again, even though the menu sounds so tempting!
Second Bar Area.
The other side of the space is the more formal dining area, with classic tables and chairs, and a second bar.  It wasn't that busy when we were there, so the second bar wasn't ever used.  I imagine during peak times it is used for drinks to service the dining room?

We were seated in the dining area, since we indicated that we wanted a full meal, not just snacks.  The same menu is available in both rooms.

Since we arrived on the early side, we had the entire dining room to ourselves for the first 20 minutes or so, but it quickly filled up.  Since our party was more than 20 people, they broke us into two tables, to help control the ordering.  Service was fairly good, our needs were mostly met.

Water was provided on the table in old gin bottles, a cute touch.
Interesting decor.
The decor in the dining room is ... different.  Crazy mirrors, candlesticks, and assorted other trinkets were strewn about everywhere.  We did have a mishap with one diner knocking over a candle (yes, a real candle with flame) that was perched on a ledge, spilling hot wax all over himself and his brand new shirt.  Doh.  But um, I can't really blame the restaurant for this, he DID run into the ledge.
Doug Laming’s Margarita $14, Jellied G&T $11.
We started with the most ridiculous sounding drinks, listed on the menu as "shots".

First, the uh, "margarita".  This is the "drink" that I think makes them most famous, and is certainly the most showy of all the cocktails.  Yes, that is it, little pearls, served inside a finger lime.  The full description: "We start with carefully prepared, spherified pearls of Souza Gold tequila and simple syrup matched with Cointreau Caviar. Finger limes add the sour and a small dusting of salt completes this take on the classic. "

I didn't actually try the margarita, but went straight for the jellied gin & tonic instead, because, well, it sounded way too fun.  Basically jello shots?  No better way to get the evening started ...

They describe it: "Eben Freeman of NYC created the original recipe for this. We use No.3 gin to elevate this recipe and serve it on burnt orange oils with candied citrus zest. Take a bite and let this solid alcohol fizz on your tongue like its original namesake."

It was indeed quite fun, and there was something strange about having a jello shot-esque item in a restaurant.  I thought I left these behind in my college dorm!  The flavor wasn't great though, and it was pretty watery.  I think we were all a bit disappointed by this, but were glad to have tried it.

We moved on to some of the more normal cocktails next.
You’ve Gone Nuts. $19.
"Tonka bean infused Sierra Millenario Gran Anejo tequila is shaken with Disaronno amaretto, lemon and our house made peanut and cashew syrup. This drink is finished with Fee Brother’s Walnut bitters and fine strained into a nutty cocktail glass. "

I went for the "You've Gone Nuts" because it sounded unique, but also filled with things I really like.  I've been on a tequila kick lately, not really sure why, but I really wanted a tequila based drink.  Peanut and cashew syrup sounded fascinating, as did the "nutty cocktail glass".

It arrived in a martini glass, with a piece of gold painted chocolate sitting on top, with what I think were shimmery blue coated tonka beans delicately perched inside.  Points for the artistic presentation.

Overall, the drink was fine, but a bit too sweet, and I didn't taste the tequila as strongly as I wanted.  Probably in general, you don't want to taste tequila very strongly, but given that I was craving it, I wanted to.

$19 was right in line for hand crafted cocktails in Sydney.
P B & B.
"Mt Gay XO, peanut brittle, banana, vanilla & lemon"

I also tried a few sips of one of my fellow dining companion's P B & B because it sounded totally amazing.  Peanut brittle? In a drink?  Yes!

This drink was more complex than mine.  The banana was really quite strong on the nose, but the finish was all boozy.  But, like mine, it was also a bit too sweet.  My second favorite drink of the night however.

Interesting drinks for sure, but I wasn't quite happy with them.  I imagine if we'd been at the bar, we could have expressed the desire to have them less sweet, and our asks would have been accommodated, but since we were in the other room, we had no relationship with the bartender.
Hand cut fat chips with house made tomato relish. $10.
We started with a bunch of appetizers, all designed to be shared.  The first selection? Chips.

Australians seem to eat a lot of potatoes.  My potato consumption went up drastically during my time in Sydney.  Thin fries, thick wedges, mashed potatoes, etc, it seemed like potatoes were part of nearly every meal.  Not because I picked them, but because it seemed impossible to everyone else to not order the potato product.  Maybe this was just my peers, or maybe it is an Australian thing?  Some classic meat and potatoes British influence still around?

Anyway, the chips were huge wedges, ridiculously crispy, kinda too oily for me.  The other table also got an order of the parmesan and truffle version ($12), which I greatly preferred, as they had a lot more flavor.  Both were fine, and more exciting than soggy limp regular bar fries, but I was pretty sick of potatoes, and it was my second to least favorite dish of the night.
Crispy, twice cooked pork belly bites, maple syrup & pomegranate. $19.
Next up, pork belly bites, another appetizer.

The plating was impressive, served on a slate, with the maple and pomegranate sauce in puddles, and pomegranate seeds strewn about.  But the pork was really fatty, which I know pork belly is obviously, but normally I like pork belly.  This just wasn't cooked well, so the fat wasn't rendered down at all, and it was just flabby and off-putting.

It also was a bit difficult to serve and share.  We were instructed that all the dishes were intended to be served family style, but we were not brought any serving spoons, and, how do you share something that has sauces on the plate like this?

Anyway, my least favorite dish of the night.
Seared halloumi, pomelo, caramelised lemon, tomato & basil salt. $17. 
Another appetizer: halloumi!

I adore halloumi, and really wish it were available more places in the US.  Luckily for us, we were in Australia, where it was everywhere, apparently including bar menus.

The accompaniments were a bit odd, although, I guess somewhat like a caprese salad, with halloumi in place of mozzarella?

The tomato was the weakest element.  It looked decent, but really wasn't ripe at all.  Since we were visiting in the middle of Sydney summer, this was surprising.  They should have had awesome tomato!

The pomelo was really quite tart, and quite strange to pair with tomato.  I'm not really sure what they were thinking with this, although it makes sense to have some acidity with the cheese?

And finally, the halloumi.  It was fine, but I preferred the grilled halloumi I had at brunch at Trio Cafe a few days prior {LINK}.  This halloumi didn't have quite the sear on it that I like, and it was overly salty.

Overall, just not great, and out of balance.
“Rabbit Hole” wagyu beef burger on brioche with brie cheese and house made tomato relish. $19.
Ok, moving along to main dishes.  Ojan went for the burger.  Apparently it has been ranked in the top 5 burgers in the world by ... someone, I forget who, but it was on a list somewhere.

This had all the makings of an awesome burger.  Wagyu.  Brie.  Brioche.  But ... it was cooked well done, was rather dry, and the brie was just a big clump, and didn't melt at all.  Several others also ordered the burger, and were equally not impressed.

A few people also opted for the lamb sliders instead.  They were slightly better, topped with emmenthal that did melt a little, and a flavorful beetroot and onion relish, plus creamy aioli, but, no one was thrilled with the sliders either.  Likewise, the charcuterie platter didn't draw any rave reviews, although I enjoyed the caperberries plated alongside.

Finally, one person opted for the roast lamb shoulder.  I somehow didn't get a photo, but it was a massive, massive serving.  Which the waiter warned, saying it was meant to be shared by several people, but still, one guy ordered it.  It was the last dish to arrive, long after the others, and since we had so many assorted appetizers, and everyone ended up sharing their other dishes too, everyone was pretty stuffed with this ridiculous hung of meat showed up.  The server said it was 1.2 kg on average.  I don't like lamb, so I didn't try it, but everyone seemed to like it.  What I did try was the caponata on the side, which turned out to by my favorite thing, besides the drinks, all night.  Crazy flavorful.  At $42 though, this was a bit of a pricy dish for "bar food".

Seared scallops, pancetta caramel and green apple. $24.
And finally, the dish I was most excited for: scallops!  Sure, I've never had scallops in a bar before, but this was clearly not a regular bar.

The scallops were technically an appetizer, but, given how many other dishes we were sharing, I knew I was fine just ordering the scallops as my main dish.  After fries, halloumi, pork belly, a few bites of burgers, and assorted other bits from everyone sitting around me, I was totally right.

Sadly, the scallops, like all of the food, weren't great.  Everything looked pretty good, but just wasn't.  The scallops were barely seared.  I really like a hard sear on my scallops, and these didn't really have any crust or coloration whatsoever.  Each scallop was perched atop a slice of apple, which I really didn't care for.  Mushy apple under scallop?  Why?

I did of course adore the pancetta caramel, because it was sticky, sweet, and slightly bacon-y, but overall the dish was a flop for me.  I somewhat wished I'd just eaten more of the chips instead.  $24 for 4 scallops was reasonable I guess.
Elder Mother's Elixir.
"No. 3 gin, St. Germain, coconut, malic acid & orange blossom."

For my final drink, I decided to go for a gin based drink, because, besides tequila, I've also been really into gin lately.  I blame my trip to Tokyo with a few co-workers a few months prior.

Anyway, this drink turned out to be the real winner.  My tasting notes just say "holy crap delicious!"  I could leave this review at that, but, I'll give you a bit more detail.

The most remarkable aspect was the foam, coconut flavored.  It was so light and frothy.  I adored it.  The whole drink was infused with orange blossom, which gave a depth from the slight orange flavor.  The drink was sweet, but not nearly as sweet as the others, and with the froth, the sweetness made more sense, more like a dessert drink than something I'd have with my meal.  And since the only desserts available were cheeses, I did exactly that.
See review on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 27, 2015

Smith's Chips Australia

By now, you likely know that I love to eat snacks, and, in particular, chips.  I just love to munch on things, the crunchier and saltier the better.

On my recent trip to Sydney, I obviously had to try an assortment of "exotic" chips.  I was particularly excited, as I recalled the Australia has some of the most unique chip flavors ever, and eagerly dug into the offerings from Smith's.  Smith's was an independent company, but of course has since been sucked up by Frito-Lay, who's America offerings I've reviewed before.

Sadly, on this visit, my office didn't have that many crazy flavors.  I still tried the offerings, but sadly, there was no "Honey-Glazed Ham" or any of the crazy chicken, or seafood, varieties that I recalled.
Twisties - Cheese.
Twisties come in several other flavors, like chicken and "wicked cheddar", but the office had only classic cheese.

They looked just like Cheetos, so my brain was confused with every bite, as they didn't taste anything like Cheetos.  The simple "cheese" name did not indicate that they'd be so zesty and spicy!  Much better than their American counterparts.

And of course, they did still leave cheesy fingers.
Grain Waves Sour Cream & Onion.
Next up, the healthy sounding "Grain Waves".

They reminded me of Sun Chips, which, not shockingly, are also made by Frito-Lay.

They were hearty from the multi grains, and shaped in a wave.  Yes, "Grain Waves".  Aptly named.

The sour cream and chive flavor was strong, and I actually quite liked these.  Somehow, an entire bag disappeared before I knew it!

I also tried the Sweet Chili flavor.  They again reminded me of Sun Chips, but I was disappointed by the sweet chili flavor, it was too subtle.
Salt & Vinegar.
Next, a simple offering: standard salt and vinegar chips.

I liked the texture and wavy shape.  They were crazy salty, and super vinegary.  They certainly made you pucker up!

Still, just classic chips, but a decent version of classic chip.
Burger Rings.
Ok, these sounded more fun. I'm not sure what I was expecting exactly.  What does burger taste like?

These just tasted like ... something.  I really don't have words for it.  Not really something I'd identify as burger though.  Not beefy, nor cheesy, nor the flavors of any toppings like tomato, lettuce, ketchup ... just a bit zesty?  The rings themselves were kinda like air puffs, not particularly interesting.

[ No Photo ]
Cheetos Cheese & Bacon balls.

How do you not try these?  Bacon!

These were like cheese puffs, light and airy, with a somewhat addicting slightly salty taste, which I guess was supposed to be like bacon.  Pretty good, and better than a simple cheese puff.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pie Tin, Newtown

Pies, glorious pies.

In Australia, pie isn't just for dessert.  And no, they don't break the "rules", rather, savory pies are a thing.  In fact, they are more common that sweet pies.  For the uninitiated, savory pies are like individual pot pies, with all sorts of fillings.  They are sold all over the place, generally as a fast food-like item, and even grocery stores are loaded with them, fresh or frozen.  Traditionally they are served topped with mashed potatoes, mushy peas, and gravy, and folks tend to add tomato sauce (ketchup) too.

While I don't necessarily care for most savory pie fillings, I do love flaky pie crust, so I'm generally game to check out a pie place if others are so inclined.  Particularly when the pie place is not only known for their savory pies, but also for their sweet pie selection.  You know me and desserts.  I'll "suffer" through any main course to get to dessert at the end!

So when a couple co-workers joined us in Sydney, on their very first night, we made a voyage all the way to Newtown, to a pie place I had read about: Pie Tin.  Pie Tin carries about 25 types of savory pie and more than 30 sweet pies.  ZOMG.

Sadly, I think we liked the savory pies more than the sweet ones, but I think that was largely due to the choices available that day.  I won't venture back to Newtown just to get more pie, but if I was in the area, I'd certainly swing back in.
Communal Table.
Pie Tin is not a fancy place.  Most seating is at a large communal table in the center of the room.  There are a few small tables on the side as well.  Silverware (sporks!), water, and condiments are self-service.  Orders are taken at a register, you are given a number, and a few minutes later your number is called, and you must get up to fetch it.  Pies are served on metal plates.  Not fancy, but who needs fancy for pies?
Savory Pies.
The savory pies are all displayed in a case near the register, and are then warmed up once you order.

The pies available change daily, an on our visit, for savories, we had the choice of classic beef mince,  slow roasted smokey beef brisket & mushrooms, slow roasted southern style shredded pork with apple and bbq sauce, chunky steak and stout, chermoula mutton with eggplant and red capsicum, butter chicken with green beans, sweet roasted duck with cointreau and maple flavoured syrup, and even two vegetarian selections, cauliflower & zucchini with cheesy white sauce or lentil with sundried tomato pesto.  There was also a lamb roll with spinach and pine nuts and vegetarian roll.

Individual pies are $5.90 - $8.90, or available as a meal for $11.50 - $14.50, with up to two sides.  The sides to pick from are classic mash and gravy, mushy peas, chips, baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad, leaf salad, and greek salad.  For an extra $1, you could pick sweet potato fries.

After ordering, we were given a number, and went to take a seat.
Sweet Pies.
Of course, I stopped to admire the sweet pies.  I was actually a bit disappointed, as I had read the menu online in advance, and even though I knew they wouldn't have all 30 varieties listed, I hoped some of my top picks would be there.  Alas, no brown butter pecan, pumpkin, apple and mixed berry, lemon brûlée, passionfruit cream pie, mixed nut and caramel, or, the one I really wanted, banoffee, were available.  In fact, all were in tart shells, rather than flaky pie crusts, and most had chocolate crumb crusts.

The selection was almost all chocolate based, and since Ojan and I try to avoid chocolate in the evenings, this was a bit unfortunate.  The only non-chocolate choices were coconut cream (which Ojan doesn't like) or whipped lime (which I don't like), so, we knew there would have to be chocolate involved, if we wanted sweet pie, and, obviously, we did.

The pies were all a sight to behold, and I'm glad we had time while waiting for our savory pies for me to drool over the sweet pies.  If I had visited just for sweet pies, I would have been an annoying person standing there gaping rather than ordering.  This gave me plenty of time to select.  And then change my mind.  And select again :)

Many of the pies were candy inspired such as Snicker's, Mars bar, or Maltesers pies.  Others were cookie inspired, such as Oreo or Tim Tam.  Others were just pure decadence, like the chocolate peanut butter, gooey caramel & chocolate ganache, ‘noelines’ triple chocolate, maple soaked strawberries with belgian chocolate, and baked banana & belgian chocolate.

The blackforest meringue pie was the most eye-catching, with a layer of meringue that was about 3 times taller than the pie itself.

Slices range from $7.90 - $10.90, with a dollop of cream for an extra $0.50 or scoop of ice cream for $1.
Slow Roasted Southern Style Shredded Pork with Apple & BBQ Sauce, Mushy Peas with Gravy, Coleslaw. ~12.50.
Ojan and I decided to split a meal, since we knew we wanted room for sweet pies.  I let Ojan pick the pie flavor, since I didn't care much about the savory.  He went for the pulled pork.

The pie was served nice and hot.  I'm impressed with how well heated it was, given that it didn't take long.  There was a generous amount of pulled pork inside, slathered in a not too sweet bbq-style sauce, and ... slices of apple.  The apple was a bit strange, but I liked it, as the slices were tender and warm, and with the crust, it was almost like eating apple pie.  Which really is what I wanted anyway.   The crust was quite good.  It was thick, flaky, and buttery.  Ojan wasn't into the crust, and I wasn't into the filling, so we made a good team.

For sides, I really wanted the coleslaw, since I love slaw.  Ojan thought it didn't look very good, but I insisted, and I'm glad I did.  It was creamy, super flavorful, and crunchy.  Sure, perhaps a bit overdressed, it certainly wasn't healthy, but come on, we were there eating pies for all courses, healthy was given up long ago.  I did notice that many patrons ordered the simple green leaf salad, perhaps a wiser choice.

Ojan picked the mushy peas.  I didn't like them, as they reminded me of split peas.  He really liked them though.  The gravy was tasty on top, and I dipped my crust in it.

Overall, neither Ojan nor I loved our pie selection, but both of us agreed that it was a really well made pie.  The sides were a bigger hit.

As I mentioned, they only had sporks, so no knives even, and it is encouraged that you just eat the pie with your hands.  I had a fun time observing different techniques.  One kid sat down next to us, removed the pie top completely, and placed it under his pie, eating it along with the bottom crust.  Another woman took of her pie top and discarded it.  She ate the filling out of her pie, and discarded the entire bottom crust too.  Yet another took off the top, and broke the pieces off one by one and dunked them into the filling.  I had no idea there were so many ways to eat a pie!

Anyway, the serving size was quite large when you added sides, and the price was quite reasonable.  Two people can easily split a meal if you intend to get dessert, which, how can you not?
Cauliflower & Zucchini with Cheesy White Sauce, Chips. ~11.50.
Our vegetarian dining companion was happy to have not one, not two, but three choices!  I think he expected one token vegetarian offering.  I didn't try a bite, but he seemed quite happy with his choice, and in particular, like me, he really liked the flaky crust.  The fries, er, chips, looked pretty basic.

Another companion got the sweet roasted duck with cointreau and maple flavoured syrup, along with mashed potato, mushy peas, and gravy.  He really liked his, and commented that the balance of duck to sauce was perfect.
Hot Chocolate. $4.
Finally, it was time for dessert!  Back up to the register we went.

To go along with his pie, Ojan also ordered a hot chocolate.  It looked quite pretty, but he said it tasted like it came from a powdered mix.  We appreciated that it was served with a little marshmallow on the side, but he only took a few sips.  We later saw these exact same marshmallow show up at several other places, so they must be a local thing? Notable to us in that they are a totally different shape than we are used to for marshmallows.  Ojan tried to give the hot chocolate to the others, and they all agreed that it wasn't very good.

Not worth the $4.
Decaf Long Black. $4.
Since I knew we were about to get a bunch of sweet pie, I decided to order a decaf coffee to have something bitter.  Just like I try not to have chocolate in the evening I certainly try not to have coffee, even decaf, but, black coffee and pie just go together so well.  I couldn't resist.  And since I was having chocolate anyway, who cared right?  I was already breaking all the "rules".

The coffee comes from Double Roasters of Marrickville, and was really, really good.  Definitely one of the best decaf I had in Sydney.  No funk, no strange sweetness, just complex and really quite good.  And indeed, definitely the right thing to go with my sweet, sweet pie.

A regular coffee is $3.50, decaf an extra $0.50.  This is normal for Sydney prices.
Black Forest Meringue Pie. ~$7.90.
As I mentioned, none of the pies I really wanted were available.  My biggest disappointment was that none had pastry crusts.  I liked the flaky pastry dough so much in the savory pie, and was looking forward to more.  Alas, tart shells were the only option.

My first choice was the black forest meringue pie, partially based on looks alone.  Seriously.  Look at that meringue!  And it was the soft, sweet, fluffy style of meringue, not the hard type of meringue used in pavlova that is more common in Australia.

We did not add a dollop of cream, nor a scoop of ice cream, even though it was offered.  While I love both those items, and normally always serve my pie with one, if not both, I'm not sure how how either would possibly go with the pie.

Anyway, the pie.  Sadly, it looked far more impressive than it tasted.

The crust was a thick, hard, chocolate crumb crust.  It was fine, but not the style of crust I like.  Above that was sweet chocolate pudding, with a few cherries in it.  I was pretty disappointed with the scarcity of the cherries, and would have really liked more.  Isn't that what black forest is all about?  And ... the meringue.  I did like the meringue, don't get me wrong, it was fluffy, it was sweet, but wow, there was actually just too much.  Impressive, yes, but not what we wanted.  I think this pie would have been better as just the bottom layers topped with some whipped cream.  Don't get me wrong, I love meringue, but it would go better with a different type of pie.  The topping just didn't match the base very well.

One of my dining companions doesn't really like dessert, so he took only one bite.  The other took one or two bites, and quickly moved on.  Ojan managed perhaps three.  And then, there was me.  And this massive, massive slice of pie.  I didn't like it very much, but they were all clearly not going to eat it.  How can you possibly let pie go to waste?  So, I took one for the team.  And kept eating.  And eating.  And eating.  Now that I see the photo, I realize why I felt so sick afterwards.  That was a massive, massive slice of pie, and I can't believe I took it down, fairly singlehandedly.  Or, stated more accurately, I guess I can believe that it took ME down.  Doh.  It actually makes my stomach hurt just thinking about this again!

This pie was better to look at that to eat, but the price was reasonable for the massive size.  Warning: do not attempt to get a slice by yourself!
Mississippi Mud Pie (fudgy chocolate, caramel, and pecans). ~$7.90.
But you didn't think that we possibly just got ONE slice of pie, right?  Not with me involved!  Our other dining companion selected this one, Mississippi Mud Pie.  We again declined cream or ice cream.

It had the same chocolate tart crust as the black forest, which I again didn't really like.  On top of that was thick caramel, with a few nuts in it.  I found that layer to be fairly sweet and one dimensional, but appreciated the nuts.  On top was a layer that looked like it might be cream cheese frosting, but was just thick sweet icing.

I liked this pie even less than the other, as it was really, really too sweet for me.  I know, I know, I love sweet things, but, they need balance.  The others claimed this pie was less sweet than the blackforest, but I think they are crazy.  It was also another case of the topping not quite matching the rest of the pie.  Why did it have the sweet frosting on top of the already sweet caramel?  Also, it wasn't really a Mississippi Mud pie ... isn't that normally a chocolate pie, topped with whipped cream?

Once again, the diner who doesn't care for dessert took one bite.  The person who ordered this pie took a few bites.  Ojan took one or two.  So yet again, another huge slice of pie, that I didn't really like, left for me to deal with.  I'm so bad at throwing out food.  Did I mention that I felt awful when I left Pie Tin?

I liked this one the least, yet ate most of it too.  Doh.  I actually think it would have been better with ice cream to cut the sweetness, which I said to my dining companions, who all thought I was even crazier for suggesting adding a sweet thing to it, but honestly, I think it would have helped.
The Pie Tin on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chinatown Noodle Restaurant, Sydney

On one of my first visits to Sydney, a co-worker brought us to a tiny Chinese restaurant that he called “Hole in the Wall”.  This was not actually the name of the restaurant, but it turns out, he didn’t even know the name of the place.  Hole in the Wall it was, and, the name was apt.

This experience was years ago, but I still remember it vividly.  Swarms of people.  Huge wait for a table.  Ridiculously cramped.  Plastic grapes hanging from the ceiling.  Awesome dumplings.  It turns out, the place is called “Chinese Noodle Restaurant” and there is a sister establishment, “Chinese Noodle House” just a few doors down.  They are both packed all the time.

On my recent trip, we wanted to get good noodles and dumplings, but didn’t want to deal with the craziness that is these locations.  But we heard rumors that there was another branch, in Pyrmont … just a few blocks from our office.  And, even better, it wasn’t supposed to be crazy busy.

We had to check it out.  So, one day for lunch, we sought out “Chinatown Noodle Restaurant” (yes, the names of these restaurants are amazing).  The dumplings were indeed great, and we returned a few days later.
The decor was more modern than the Chinatown locations, and sadly, no grapes were hanging from the ceiling.  It was spacious, light filled, and airy.  Fans were set up around the room to provide some airflow.  A very different ambiance from the Haymarket locations!

But, definitely the same place.  Service was pretty awful, once our original order was taken, we weren’t ever paid another moment’s attention.  I wasn't able to order more water.  I was never able to get a share plate.  But the food was delivered immediately as it was ready, piping hot, as it should be.
Chinatown Noodle Restaurant is a very casual place, complete with a plastic menu.  They are cash only, and you pay at the register when you are done.  Simple.  And, it turns out, delicious.  The menu is Northern Chinese, and fairly extensive, but we had eyes only for the dumplings and noodles, the two famous items.

Condiments on the table were soy sauce, vinegar, and chili, to make up your ideal dumpling dipping sauce, which I of course did.

Silverware was real chopsticks, not flimsy wooden disposables.
Pan-fried Pork and Chive Dumplings (half order).  $6.
We started with the signature dumplings.  Available in 4 varieties: pork and chive, pork and Chinese cabbage, beef and shallots, or egg and chives.  Then you have the choice of preparation: steamed, boiled, or pan fried.  We started with the classics, pork and chive, pan fried.  Go big or go home.

They were piping hot, delivered immediately out of the pan.  Even after a few minutes, biting into one squirted liquid that would burn you if not careful.

The dumplings were fantastic.  Doughy, but in a good way.  Perfectly crispy on one side.  Yes, they were oily.  No, they weren’t healthy.  But wow they were satisfying.  The filling inside was generous, minced pork and tons of chives, probably about in equal proportion, which made them quite flavorful.

We returned a few days later, and ordered the pork and Chinese cabbage and the beef and shallot, also pan fried.  Except, they gave us pork and chive again instead of the beef and shallot.  The pork and cabbage were nearly indistinguishable from the pork and chive, except the flavor was more muted since cabbage isn't as sharp as chive.

I really enjoyed these, and would certainly get more, and would love to try another variety, perhaps even the veggie ones?  I’m curious how the healthier steamed or boiled options are, but, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be nearly as delicious.

Available in a half order (6) for $6 or full dozen for $9.80, very reasonable.
Steamed Pork and Chive Dumplings (half order).  $6.
On our return trip, we decided to get the same pork and chive dumplings, but steamed this time, to compare the styles.

The filling was the same, the wrapper was the same, but, because they were just steamed, the wrapper was a bit gummy, and I didn't really care for it.  Yup, it turns out, crispy and fried is really just so much better.

I'm glad I tried these to see how the cooking method effects the taste, but I'd certainly go for pan-fried in the future, unless I was really wanting a lighter, more healthy dish.
Steamed Northern Style Pork Buns (half order). $6.
We also ordered pork buns.  Available steamed or pan fried, we went for steamed.

I was expecting something entirely different.  It turns out, all I know of Chinese buns is BBQ pork buns.  These were pork, but ... not BBQ!

Pork Buns: Inside.
The dough was fluffy and light, but not sweetened like I am accustomed.  The filling was … porky.  It was just pork.  Overall they were fine, but really not what I was expecting, or, wanting at the time.  Maybe the pan fried ones would be better?  I really can’t picture what those would be like.

Ojan and the other diner both said that these were fairly authentic.

Available as a half order of 5 for $6 or a full order of 10 for $9.90.  Again, reasonable price.
Bejing Spring Pancake, beef. (half). $6.60.
"w/ egg, sprouts, Chinese cabbage, and beef"

Next up, Spring Pancakes, available in chicken or beef.  Ojan and the other diner picked beef.

I didn't actually have this, as I was stuffed at this point, but it was also totally not what I was expecting.  For starters, I thought that a pancake would be ... flat.  Like a pancake.  Ojan summed this up quite nicely as a "Chinese burrito".

I did try a bite of the pancake wrapper, and thought it was like a thinner version of naan. It had a nice sweetness and chew to it.  I could imagine liking this, if they had non-chicken or beef options.

Price was $6.60 for this "half" order or $9.90 for a full order, which seemed quite good, as these were sizable wraps.
Stir-fried Handmade Noodles w/ Pork. $10.80.
And finally, noodles.  I don’t really care for noodles, so I opted to just split Ojan’s and have a few bites.  He had the choice of chicken, beef, pork, lamb, veggie, or seafood.  He went for pork.

The noodles were hand cut, all assorted sizes and shapes.  They were well cooked, soft and tender, not gloopy, etc, but as expected, not really my thing.  The dish was fairly oily in my opinion, but Ojan said it wasn’t quite authentic, as it wasn’t oily enough.  I did like the variety of other ingredients in the dish, including cabbage, onions, peppers, celery, and tomato.  The tomato is super strange to me in a stir fry, but Ojan said that was authentic too.

The noodles, like everything, were delivered piping hot.  Ojan’s dish of noodles came several minutes before our dining companion’s, which can be awkward etiquette-wise as you want to dig in and not let your noodles get cold, but not be rude, but really, this is how it should be.  Wok to table in seconds can’t be beat.

I think that these were good, if you like this style of dish. I don’t, so it wasn’t my thing, but Ojan said he was very satisfied.  Price was $10.80, which was fine for a huge dish like this, although he pointed out that in China, this would be $0.50.
See review on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Westin Martin Place, Sydney, Executive Lounge

During my recent trip to Sydney, I stayed at the Westin for the first part of my trip.  We ended up moving hotels for several reasons, to the Sheraton on the Park down the street (stay tuned for that lounge review next!), but for the first 8 days, the Westin was home.

The Westin is a lovely hotel, located in Martin Place, inside the historic General Post Office.  They offer two styles of rooms, historic rooms inside the GPO, and more modern rooms in the newer tower building.  We had a suite in the tower building, and as always at a Westin property, we greatly appreciated the Signature Westin Heavenly Bead and Shower.

But this isn't Julie's Hotel Review Club, is it?  You are here to read about food.  Perhaps not normally what you focus on when staying in a hotel, but, for me, it matters!

Our suite came with access to the Executive Lounge, which served breakfast and evening canapés daily, and which we obviously had to check out.

I failed to take any general photos, but the lounge was pretty small, although it was never crowded.  They also didn't have the standard security on the doors requiring a keycard, so anyone could just walk in.  I quickly understood why, it really wasn't that great of a destination, and not up to par with most other executive lounges I've visited.


Breakfast is served Monday - Friday 6:30am - 10:30am, and Saturday - Sunday 7:00am - 10:30am.  I appreciated that they served until 10:30am, since it meant that those of us having trouble adapting to the time zone could still get breakfast, or, it was possible to eat a little, get in a workout, and then go back for more.  Most hotel lounges only serve until 10am during the week, so this was most welcome.

Breakfast is mostly continental, with a few hot buffet items.  There is a coffee machine that makes espresso drinks, but every time I approached it, I was intercepted by staff who wanted to make the drinks and carry them back to tables.  They did this to everyone.  Given that the machine is just a robot machine, this was unnecessary, and honestly, a bit annoying.  I wanted to just be able to push the button and get my drink.  I appreciated that they did have real decaf coffee however, not just instant.  They did not have any togo cups though, so coffee was only for consumption while inside the lounge.  Sparkling water came in glass bottles, which were also only for consumption inside the lounge, even though they were small individual sized bottles.  If you tried to walk out with one, you were chased down, as no glass was allowed outside the lounge.

Overall, service was fine, but not particularly friendly, and in general, was more invasive and took away from my experience than added to it.
Hot Food Buffet.
The hot foods buffet always had scrambled eggs, plus two other items that rotated between hard boiled eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, and green beans.  I mostly avoided this stuff, but Ojan said it wasn't horrible.  There was also toast, a toaster, and an assortment of jams (Hank's brand) and butter.

At one point I got desperate after trying everything else in the lounge and not really liking anything, and tried the scrambled eggs.  They were a fresh batch, and didn't look that bad ...

The eggs were really, really strange.  Watery and moist in a strange way.  I honestly wouldn't have known they were eggs.  I'm not sure how Ojan managed to eat these every day.  I certainly didn't try them again.
Cereal, Baked Goods.
Moving on to the safer, continental zone.  There were little boxes of Kellog's cereal (Coco Pops, Sultana Bran, Just Right, Weet-Bix, Nutri-Grain, Special K, and Cornflakes).  I never had any cereal, as I'm really not a cereal fan.

And then, the area I always look forward to in breakfast buffets: baked goods!  You know how much I love my baked goods, particularly for breakfast.

The baked goods didn't look good.  And they weren't good.  They didn't seem remotely fresh.  But I kept trying them, day by day, assuming I'd find at least one that was ok.  They were all awful.
Blueberry Muffin.
The first morning I wanted to just grab a muffin and coffee to bring back to my room, as I was really jetlagged and didn't want to be around people, so I went for a blueberry muffin, as it looked the best.  The danishes and croissants looked horrible.

The muffin was moist on top, but in a damp way, not in a good, moist, fresh muffin way.  It was dry inside.  The flakes of oats on top made it even more dry.  The base didn't have an interesting flavor.  The blueberries were fine I guess.  This was not a very good muffin, and certainly didn't seem remotely fresh.

A few days later I tried the almond raspberry muffin.  It had the same gummy top as the blueberry, with bits of raspberry inside.  The base flavor was even worse, my notes just say "nasty flavor'.  The only thing I liked was the almond slivers on top.

I never tried the third option, chocolate.

I guess I give them credit for almond slivers on top of the raspberry almond, and oats on top of the blueberry, a little touch of flair?  But wow, not good muffins.
After giving up on the muffins, I tried several assorted danishes.  Some were this style with a crust on top, others were round open ones you can see in the earlier photo.

They all had really horrible pastry.  It was stale and dry.  It wasn't buttery.  It was even somewhat ... spongy?

I never figured out what kind this one was.  Nor did I figure out the type of the round one I tried, with a center filled with a reddish paste (jam?) and a single blueberry.  I thought it might be quince?  But I really have no idea.  Again, the pastry was horrible, just really not good.  The sweet filling was ok, and I actually extracted it to add to my muesli, but I wouldn't get another of these.

I never tried the plain croissants, since the basic pastry wasn't good.
Jelly Donut.
On my very last visit, they had a new baked good: jelly donuts!  Even though I had sworn off the pastries, I eagerly dug in.

Like all the baked goods, the donut was clearly not fresh.  The dough had a staleness to it, and the top was all crispy, perhaps due to the powdered sugar coating, but more likely due to not being fresh.  But it wasn't entirely unpleasant, and it wasn't too oily.

Inside was a nice jam.  I'm a sucker for jelly donuts.  What can I say?

Was this a good jelly donut?  No way.  But, it was certainly the best of the baked goods, and I did somewhat enjoy it with my coffee.  If I had stayed at the Westin longer, I probably would have tried another donut, if they ever showed up again.
Bircher muesli, greek yogurt, assorted yogurts.
Moving along to the more palatable options, the chilled items.

First, packaged yogurts: Chiobani Greek yogurt, Yoplait and Nestle flavored yogurts.  Like the Kellog's cereals, all were just regular yogurts you could buy in a grocery store.

The bircher muesli was the item I was most looking forward to. On my first visit to Australia, I absolutely fell in love with bircher muesli.   I loved it everywhere I went - hotel breakfast buffets, fancy restaurants, even on flights.  I got addicted.

This muesli came in individual little jars, topped with dried fruit.  But ... it wasn't great.  It was just cold soggy oatmeal, with some raisins and dried fruit sprinkled on top.  I added fresh fruit as well, but it still was never quite right.  I observed others around me also adding fruit, or jam, or anything after a few bites, so I clearly wasn't alone in finding it too plain.

I also tried the "natural unsweetened yogurt" jars.  These were much better, and the winning thing from the entire buffet.  The yogurt was rich and creamy, and they were topped with a little sweet compote and a few bits of granola.  I really wished there was more granola available to add, but none of the boxed cereals seemed quite right.  The yogurt jars were not great as presented, but I added a lot more fruit and actually somewhat enjoyed it.  It became my go-to breakfast, but I wouldn't rave about it.
Fresh Fruit, Meat.
And finally, the fruit I keep mentioning.  Besides the yogurt, the fruit was perhaps the best part of the buffet, although it also wasn't great.

I was initially quite excited to see halves of kiwi and passion fruit, since tropical fruits are more rare where I was coming from.  But the kiwi was mushy.  The passion fruit was a bit dried out and fairly mediocre, but for someone who doesn't have easy access to passion fruit normally, it was nice.

The fruit salad had a lot of great ingredients, including mango, strawberries, figs, and blueberries, but again, none of the fruit was particularly good.  The mango was probably the best, usually ripe, but not all that flavorful.

On another visit the fruit salad was jazzed up a bit with dragonfruit and starfruit.  I give them credit for including interesting fruits in the mix, but besides the mango, it was never that great.

The stewed apricots were just sweet and mushy, but I liked to add them to my yogurt.

Evening Canapés

Canapés are served every night from 6pm - 8pm.  While I appreciated the breakfast hours, I didn't feel the same for canapés.  I wanted them as a little snack in the evening, before heading out to dinner.  But not starting until 6pm made that a bit hard.  Were these really supposed to be pre-dinner snacks?

Anyway, on paper, the canapé service sounded better than most lounges.  There was a basic buffet of cheese/crackers/dried fruit, but then each night a set of 5 made to order bites was brought to you at your table once you settled in.  In practice, these plated canapés were some of the worst food I've ever tasted.  After trying it on two separate occasions I decided to never ever return in the evening.  No wonder the lounge was always empty!
Crackers, dried fruit, nuts.
The buffet started off a bit boring, with basic crackers, one type of nuts (hazelnuts), one type of dried fruit (pears), and a few soft drinks.  On the other side was a small selection of wine.
Cheese, meat, dips, antipasti.
Next was an antipasti platter, with marinated peppers, artichokes, eggplant, and olives, which I didn't try, as they aren't really my thing and didn't look very good.

Next were dips.  I was excited for the trio of dips, until I realized I had nothing to dip in them.  No crudite nor chips to be found, were we supposed to use the crackers?  I tried to awkwardly put dips on my cheese, and then eventually just ate some by the spoonful.  The taziki style one was my favorite, but none were very good.

The cheese platter had several cheeses, including a rather flavorless gouda, a blue cheese that was a bit too stinky for my liking, and a decent triple cream.  There were also nuts and dried fruit cubes.

Ojan went for the "dried beef", but didn't take more than a bite or two before declaring that we needed to just go elsewhere.
Canapés, night one.
The first night, I was thrilled to see this platter arrive.  Look at the plating! And delivered to our table!  No buffet canapés here!  But wow, this was really not good.  And clearly not made to order, they were just hiding around the corner somewhere, as nothing was hot.

From right:
  • Consume: I never like consume.  It was too rich for me, with an oil smear on top.
  • Fried barramuni ball with sweet chili sauce: Now we were talking! I love fish, I love sweet chili sauce.  But this was horrible.  Lukewarm, fishy, and super oily.  Spongy-oily.  Not good at all.
  • Tomato and mozzarella: I tried this before Ojan, and didn't get to warn him how bad it was.  His facial expression as he bit in revealed that he agreed with me completely, and that he wished I had stopped him from even trying.  How could a little tomato and mozzarella bite be that bad?  Well, the little piece of bread on the bottom was soaked in olive oil, the tomato was mealy, and I honestly couldn't identity the mozzarella as cheese, let alone mozzarella.
  • Grilled beef over mixed vegetables: Ojan tried this before me, and told me to not even bother.  Normally I *still* try everything, but given how awful everything else was, I took his advice for once, and just skipped it. 
  • Chocolate petit four: I'm still not sure what was inside here.  Ojan first thought it was nougat, and then he declared it was marzipan.  I'm not convinced it was either.  But there was something creamy, and something cake-like.  I never eat chocolate in the evening, but since everything else was such a disappointment, I finished this bite, even though it wasn't anything special.
Canapés, night two.
I never intended to try the canapés again.  But another night I visited the lounge, just for a drink.  I forgot to say that I didn't want any awful canapés, and the next thing I knew, this platter showed up.  I tried them out of morbid curiosity, and wow, they were just as bad as the first night.

From top left:
  • Salmon mousse on a cucumber slice.  The cucumber was soggy, and the mousse was awful.  It had a nasty fishy taste, and the mouthfeel of pure Crisco.  I think it probably was cream cheese based?
  • Carrot (?) soup.  It was thick, it was warm, and that was about all I can say about this.  I guess better than the consume from the prior night.
  • Mixed shredded veggies with soy gelée.  These were mushy, and awful.  Why were they even trying with gelées?
  • Lamb over pumpkin puree.  I don't like even good lamb, so I didn't try this, but the pumpkin puree had a nice flavor.
  • Chocolate: A thin chocolate shell, with strawberry cream filling.  Something sweet to cleanse the pallet from the rest of it, but, again, not good.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Pocket Bar, Darlinghurst

One night on our recent trip to Sydney, we were looking for a place to hang out, have a few drinks, and nibble on some food.  It had been a day filled with eating, so we weren't looking for a huge meal.  Of course, I had done research into just about every category of meal possible, and had a list of interesting sounding bars to check out, ones that would serve great cocktails and have good food.

I quickly selected Pocket Bar, located just a few blocks from the hotel I was staying at.  It seemed like the perfect fit for the evening - convenient, casual, but promised to satisfy our tastebuds.  And indeed it was.

The cocktail menu was several pages long, encompassing all different styles of drinks.  The drinks were on the pricer side, about $20 each, but they were all well crafted and made with fresh ingredients and garnishes.

The food menu is themed around "street food from around the world", so it spans just about everything from fish tacos to ceviche to tamales to gyros, all appropriate finger food, but far more interesting than your standard bar menu, so there was certainly an appeal for me.

The service was friendly, although a bit lacking.  We often ran out of water, or fresh drinks.  The food came out as it was ready, which is great, as it was all very hot when it arrived, but the timing was a bit crazy.  One dish arrived, then it took at least 10 minutes for another, then perhaps 20 more minutes for the next, and our final dish, though it had been ordered right when we first sat down, took well over an hour.

The vibe was certainly hip, and the servers were some of the trendiest people I saw in Sydney.  I tried to get interior photos of the unique space, but the low lighting made it impossible.  Although it was full, it was never annoyingly crowded, and our group was able to set up shop on a large couch, a thrown-like armchair, and assorted stools, a comfortable semi-private area.  It really was perfect for lounging, which is what we needed after a long day.

Overall, it was perfect for the night we wanted to have, and both the food and drinks impressed.  Not fine dining obviously, and everything was pricey, but I'd return.
The Ginger Scot.  $22.
"From the isle of skye we take talisker 10yo, full of dried fruit, pepper & smoke, and mix it with apricot brandy, lillet, & a touch of lemon juice."

My first drink, selected because, well, I wanted whiskey, and the ginger sounded refreshing.

It was good, but not nearly as smokey as I was hoping.  It was quite drinkable, nicely balanced, but I wasn't in love with it.  I appreciated the huge slice of ginger as garnish.  $22 seemed very pricey though.
Mocktail. $10.
Ojan asked for a non-alcoholic drink, and the server asked what flavors he liked, and this appeared.

We aren't really sure what it was, and when he asked the person who brought it to us, she had no idea.  It was fruity, and we were worried it might have watermelon, so I didn't try it.  The garnishes were sure impressive.

His next drink was much better, another mocktail, and that time he asked for something grapefruit inspired.  It came with a huge slice of grapefruit and a sprig of basil on top.  It was a bit too sweet and fruit-juicy though; it would have been a great brunch drink, but wasn't quite right for the night.  A little more soda water, or perhaps ginger beer, and it would have mellowed out nicely.  I think the bartender was used to having alcohol to cut the sweet better.
Two others ordered this, I didn't catch the name.  It had gin and cucumbers, and came served in this huge vessel.  They were asked how many glasses they wanted, told that it could easily serve 1, 2, or 4 people, depending.  2 seemed just right, as they were both able to have a couple glasses.  I didn't try it, but they loved it.
Crispy Mac n' Cheese Balls with housemade bourbon and bacon jam. $12.
The first item to arrive, before the drinks even: crispy mac n' cheese balls.  With bourbon and bacon jam.  Fried. Cheese. Bourbon. Bacon. Yes.

This is the sort of thing that sounds like it should be amazing, but generally never is.  It was ordered by one person, who intended it to be his meal.  But, it arrived so much ahead of the rest of our food, that everyone else ended up uh, helping him eat it.

It really was quite good.  Inside was very creamy, oozing mac and cheese.  Far more successful than I ever imagined.  The outside crust was cripsy, crunchy, and although very oily and fried, it worked.  This was heavy, and cheesy, and fried, in all the best ways.

As you can imagine, the balls were gone in seconds, and a subsequent order was aptly placed.  Everyone agreed they were far better than expected.

The star however was the bourbon bacon jam.  OMG.  Again, something that SOUNDS like it should be good but never lives up.  But in this case, it lived up.  And then some.  Super bacony, loaded with chunks of bacon.  Slightly sweet and mapley.  It was, hands down, the best thing we had that night.  I wish they'd bottle it up, I'd certainly buy it, and slather everything in it.
Cassava Chips with Salsa Huancaína.  $9.
I have a thing for cassava, so I was thrilled to see cassava chips on the menu.  They arrived piping hot.  As in, one person claimed he burnt his finger tips in picking one up.

The "chips" were Australian chips, aka, thick fat fries, not thin crispy chips.  They were clearly quite fresh, but they didn't have quite the starchiness I was hoping for.  Somehow not really enough cassava flavor for me, they really just seemed like large fries.  And, they were quite oily.  Good bar food, yes, but not quite what I was wanting.

The huancaína salsa wasn't the right accompaniment.  It seemed like just slightly spicy cream cheese.  I would have liked a rich aioli, or a thinner mojo sauce perhaps, but just not this.

Luckily, we had plenty of bacon jam, since we ordered multiple rounds of the mac and cheese balls, and we had vegetarians amongst us.  The cassava chips dunked in bacon jam were tasty, but still not exactly what I wanted.  But a great excuse to eat more bacon jam.

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Brioche Grilled Toastie. $18.

"Slow cooked beef short rib, blue cheese sauce, sesame, chives, sriracha, rocket and caremelised onions, served with fries"
Another dinner ordered the brioche grilled toastie, which came with a generous serving of fries.  We all devoured the extra fries, dunking them into the bacon jam.  Really, I dunked just about anything into the bacon jam.  And once I ran out of things to dunk, I just ate it by the forkful.  Did I mention that it was seriously tasty stuff?  I was addicted.

Anyway, the fries were thin style, not really that crispy, a tad bit soggy, and somewhat reminded me of McDonald's fries.  I don't mean that in a bad way, just in that they were thin and salty, and although they didn't seem like anything special, they were tasty enough.

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Pork Steamed Buns: caramelized pork belly, cucumber, hoisin, and shallots. $16.

Another dinner ordered the pork steamed buns.  For some reason, these took forever to arrive.  We had consumed everything else, and even ordered, received, and finished another order of mac and cheese balls, and his buns still hadn't turned up.  We enquired about them several times.  Finally, they appeared, a large order of 3.  Since he had been munching on everyone else's food, he wasn't all that hungry at this point, and offered them up to the table.  He said they were good, but they didn't taste like they looked.  Ojan had a few bites, and agreed.  They both kept saying how they just didn't taste as expected.  Finally, even though I was stuffed, I tried a few bites too.

Indeed, there was something strange here.  The bun was soft, fluffy, good enough.  There was something that seemed like an onion tomato jam.  And some other strange sauce that I couldn't identify.  And there was a lot of baby spinach.  And the "pork belly" didn't seem crispy, nor fatty really.  Since I didn't order the buns, I hadn't read the description, and didn't realize how off it was.  I pulled out the menu to re-read it, confused as to what I was tasting.  Where was the hoisin sauce?  There was a sauce, but it certainly wasn't what I'd think of as hoisin.  And cucumbers?  Hmmm.  And why was there spinach?

About this time, I saw another item on the menu: Vegan Tempeh Steamed Buns.  The description: bourbon tempeh, smoked vegan cheddar sauce, baby spinach, shallots and tomato chilli jam.  Doh.  We clearly had the vegan buns.  The "pork belly" was tempeh, and all the other toppings matched up.  Within moments, a server came rushing over with a new set of buns, saying "those are the vegan ones!"  Doh.  The strange sauce was the "vegan cheese", and even once I knew what it was, I kept trying it to figure it out, and never liked it.

So now we had 6 buns, and everyone was stuffed.  Yet we had to try the new item too, right?  The new ones had the same fluffy buns, but this time, were actually filled with crispy pork belly.  Nicely prepared.  Smothered in hoisin sauce, perhaps a bit too much, but, it seemed fitting.

We all liked the pork ones more, but agreed that the tempeh ones were tasty, and both Ojan and I said that it was probably the best tempeh we ever had, generally being tempeh haters.

Of course, you can probably guess what I did with the extra buns.  Yes, I removed the tempeh, and stuffed them with bacon jam.  Now THOSE were the winning buns!
See review on Urbanspoon