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.
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