Oxford Tavern, Petersham – Jelly Wrestling Redux

Oxford Tavern

The Oxford Tavern in its prime (photo courtesy of Newtown Graffiti)

I have to admit that I actually did catch the jelly wrestling at the Oxford Tavern. It’s one of those places that’s impossible to miss, situated on the corner of Crystal Street and New Canterbury Road and a direct shot from Leichhardt to the Portuguese chicken shops of Petersham. I was always curious about the place, but never took the initiative to visit until an English girlfriend of mine decided to hold her birthday party there. Gorgeous girls inviting you to drink with them and watch other gals slug it out in Jell-O in the wrestling arena. I went in the name of friendship. Obviously.

The birthday girl had promised to get in and actually do a wrestling match, but she chickened out at the last minute. Her loss. The wicked ways of the Oxford are now officially gone. As of this week, it is now the newest hipster bar from the Drink ‘N Dine  folks who’ve brought us The Norfolk, Queenies, Santa Barbara and House of Crabs. There may still be some wickedness about, but it will certainly be more respectable. Possibly. You can still pretend to be naughty if you order one of the “Swinging Tit” cocktails (if you guessed that’s pisco, sage, hibiscus and pineapple, you’re a better man barman than me).

Here are the full press deets, folks. Pool tables, pulled pork and, yes, even a ladies night. Hey, at least they didn’t go all schmick on us. But if Petersham is on the cool-kid map, the rest of the dominos in the Inner West are sure to follow soon. Expect your next Twothousand bar reviews to come from Sydneyham, Tempe and Ashfield.

After that, the only logical place left for the fringe will be out West. Time for you real estate guys to start sniffing out Auburn and Lakemba. The ‘Outy’ (outer inner west) is now officially the new underground. You heard it here first:

The Oxford Tavern

The Oxford Tavern opens on December 13th, 2013. Previously infamous for all the wrong (right?) reasons, it’s Drink N Dine’s first foray into the Inner Wild West. The strippers have gone, so have the pokies, but the food and booze is back with a schnitzel-fuelled vengeance.

It’s a neighbourhood boozer. Beer barn with sports and plenty of taps out front, while out the back Rita’s Lounge is a late night honky tonk open till 3am. A grand piano, jungle beer garden and the worlds longest* bar alsoawaits.

On the menu are Asado Steak Tacos (with house made tortillas), a Hickory Burger, Buffalo Cauliflower & Chook San Choy Bow (yes). But it’s not all fancy pants, the pub staples are stage side too- stadium sized Double Dogs, Sausages & Sauerkraut, Steaks, and Schnitzels. From the beer garden the Tavern’s custom steel drum smoker will also serve Smoked Brisket, Pulled Pork, Brontosaurus Ribs, Smoked Sausage and lots more.

Pull up a stool and get busy drinking. There is a huge beer selection. If you don’t like beer, that’s cool. There’s plenty of beer and there is also some beer to choose from. Do you cocktail? Take a Slow Dazzle (Black Strap Rum, Campari, Lime, Pineapple), wear a Black Velvet (Stout & Champagne), relax in a Banana Hammock (Sugar Cane, Rye, Banana, Lime), or witness A Swinging Tit (Pisco, Sage, Hibiscus, Pineapple). Plus a throwback wine list to help you reek of the sexy seventies.

There are weekly specials like steak night, ladies night, $3 tacos and $10 burgers as well as pool tables! Something for everyone, all the time.

The Oxford Tavern is open seven days a week, from 12pm till late with Rita’s staying open til 3am Fridays & Saturdays. The BBQ opens on Australia Day and then every Friday to Sunday from midday till it runs out.

Drink ‘n’ Dine was started by Jaime Wirth, Michael Delany and James Miller in November 2010. Together they have opened The Norfolk, The Abercrombie, The Carrington, The Forresters, Queenies, Santa Barbara, The Californian and House of Crabs.

The Oxford Tavern
Cnr of New Canterbury Road & Crystal Street
Petersham NSW 2049



Guillaume Brahimi announces post-Bennelong restaurant

Guillaume Brahimi

Chef Guillaume Brahimi

Pre-empting his well-publicised push exit from Guillaume at Bennelong next month, chef Guillaume Brahimi has already announced his sequel to his French fine-dining restaurant, which this year received a top-rated Three Hats by the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide (whether the extra hat was deserved, or just a pity vote by his food journo peers, is worthy of another blog discussion).

Brahimi’s follow-up to his iconic Sydney Opera House restaurant will move to Paddington, at the stalwart Darcy’s Restaurant site. It looks like a fantastic move for Brahimi. Darcy’s has long been an iconic Italian restaurant to the Eastern Suburbs’ moneyed set – a seamless fit for Brahimi’s upmarket French cuisine – but for years has floundered in terms of public image and critical reception (I never ate there, nor was ever inclined to, so I can’t comment about the food). Brahimi will be giving a greater seasonal focus to his skilled French cooking to a very cosy corner of Paddington that’s crawling distance that other hatted local, The Four in Hand.

So what do you think of the move? Is it a face-saving lateral shift, a more intimate improvement, a downgrade for a chef who’s presided over the highest-profile restaurant space in Sydney, or something entirely different?

For more on the move, here’s today’s press release:



After much anticipation, chef and restaurateur Guillaume Brahimi has announced that he will open a new Sydney restaurant in early 2014.

Brahimi and his team will move into the beautiful and historic Darcy’s Restaurant site in Paddington, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, and will reopen as guillaume by Easter 2014. The new restaurant will see his award-winning team continue the high standard they have become known for at the iconic three- hatted Guillaume at Bennelong.

The restaurant will reflect Brahimi’s philosophy of high quality produce-driven food and will serve an ever-changing menu focused on the seasonal produce of the day.

Brahimi said “My team and I are so excited at the prospect of this new restaurant. It is a fresh start for us in a wonderful venue, full of character and history, a real Sydney institution. We have some ambitious plans that I believe will raise the standard of what we do to a whole new level. I believe it will make the perfect home for my team and me to create something very special.”

Guillaume said “Attilio Marinangeli is one of Sydney’s notable restaurateurs and Darcy’s has been an iconic restaurant for more than thirty eight years. I am grateful that Attilio is giving me the opportunity to establish my new restaurant in that beautiful restaurant space.”

“Like many Sydney- siders I have a strong sentimental attachment to Darcy’s. My wife and I dined there to celebrate the birth of our first daughter and we loved the intimate and elegant atmosphere. We have since had many happy occasions there and we now look forward to many more to come.”

The team at guillaume will include Bennelong’s talented head chef of 12 years, Jose Silva, as well as head sommelier and former Sydney Morning Herald Sommelier of the Year, Chris Morrison.

Having served over half a million diners since 2001, Brahimi’s current restaurant Guillaume at Bennelong will mark its last service on December 31st, New Year’s Eve, to be followed by the move to the new premises in Paddington.

Brahimi has operated some of Sydney’s most acclaimed restaurants since the early 1990s when he moved from Paris where he worked for Joel Robuchon. His restaurants have included two–hatted Pond in Potts Point, Quay, which earned three hats, and finally, since 2001, the three hatted Guillaume at Bennelong.

His restaurants have won the title of Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the Year and The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best New Restaurant as well as numerous other accolades, and in 2013 Guillaume was awarded the Vittoria Legend Award for outstanding contribution to the industry.

Brahimi currently operates two other restaurants, Bistro Guillaume in the Crown Entertainment Complex in Melbourne, and Bistro Guillaume in Crown Casino in Perth. He was appointed Culinary Director of Crown Resorts in May 2013. He is also ambassador for Tefal and Samsung.

Following Council approval, renovations will begin at the Paddington site in early January and guillaume will open prior to Easter 2014 at 92 Hargrave Street, Paddington, Sydney. 

Vote for a Blogger Turned Baker! My Seedy “Shoot The Chef” Photo

Shoot The Chef entry for the SMH of Michael Shafran of Brooklyn Boy Bagels

Soooo, I’ve been holed up in the bakery for the past few months, frantically scurrying around trying to get my Brooklyn Boy Bagels business off the ground. It’s an obvious statement, but starting up your own business is damn hard work. I reckon the sleep deprivation and stress of being a baker is perfect training for having kids. I’m not there yet (sorry, Mom!), but at least I’m pretty confident now that I can survive it.

And amid all of the 1am baking starts, fist-tight money issues, unproductive stressy sleeps and infinite Murphy’s Law moments, I decided to have a little fun –I entered in the Sydney Morning Herald’s prestigious “Shoot The Chef” photo competition. I’d wanted to do it for years, but being a food writer always seemed like a bit of stretch for a “chef” competition. Now that I’m actually producing food for a living, it finally feels right

With that in mind, I paired up with talented professional photographer Connie Chan, and we went through dozens of my ridiculous ideas until this last one popped up at the very last minute. “How about we completely cover me in bagel ingredients?” I asked Connie, fully expecting her to raise another concerned eyebrow at yet another quirky idea from my always-spinning brain. She surprised me by loving the idea. So before she came to her senses, I scampered around for a make-up artist and off we went.

Well, Murphy’s Law arrived as usual, and the make-up artist didn’t. Connie and I wanted to freak out and rail against the bagel gods, but we didn’t have a backup option, so we zipped off to a make-up and special effects shop in Newtown, did a quick consult and then sped off to the Chemist for some black eye shadow to boot. A mere five hours of latex application – and heaps of poppy and sesame seeds in my eyes, up my nose, in my ears and through my mouth – we were nearly there. All it took was a finishing touch of flour in my hair (which just made me look old, so we cropped it) and a moustache schmear of cream cheese, and off we went. Cream cheese, by the way, lasts for about five photos before it flops off in a messy schmear onto your pants.

I hope you agree that the end result is pretty awesome. And now that we’ve submitted the photo for consideration, we need YOUR HELP! The competition has a people’s choice award, and we’re going to do our damnedest to get over the line. So if you can spare five seconds, please grace us with your presence at the following link and simply click the like (thumb’s up) icon to the left. We need hundreds of likes, so your vote is crucial, nay lifesaving! (Probably.) And if you can share this on Twitter, Facebook or your favourite blog, we’d love you that much more. It’ll take about three blinks, we promise!

So hit us up below, and big hunka bagel love for lending a hand:




Bringing Real Brooklyn Bagels to Sydney


You know when I go underground, there’s always a good reason. This time it’s for something that I’ve been very proud of – Brooklyn Boy Bagels.

After 12 years of complaining that every bagel I’d ever seen in Australia was nothing like a real New York bagel – they were always too bready and fluffy, and rarely boiled – I decided to do something about it. I spent the past year learning how to make proper, artisan and handrolled bagels,  including a couple of trips to New York and a surprisingly productive trip to San Francisco, working with a couple of top bagel-makers who were, naturally, transplants from the New York metro area. I spent a day with the No 1-rated Schmendricks, and I particularly have to thank Dan Graf of Oakland’s Baron Baking, who took me under his wing and showed me every single detail of his bagel-making process, which blends traditional techniques with some modern thinking.


I finally opened up my own pop-up in February, taking over one of my favourite small bars, Darlie Laundromatic in Darlinghurst, on Sundays. The opening day was insane and a complete surprise: before we’d even opened our doors, we had a line around the block down Palmer Street, and again down Foley Lane. If I was ever wondering whether Sydneysiders would take to authentic NYC bagels, I needn’t ever wonder again.


So what makes Brooklyn Boy Bagels so special? Well, they’re done the traditional way, using the same techniques that the Polish-Jewish immigrants did when they first brought bagels to New York in the late 19th Century, and then to the rest of America. My great-grandparents and grandmother were part of that immigration wave. They came through Ellis Island, lived in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and then found more space in Brooklyn. That’s where I was conceived – Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay. So you could say I was born with a bagel in my mouth.


So it’s not just a matter of New York pride, but also with a mind towards preserving my heritage that Brooklyn Boy Bagels are made using the following methods:

  • Hand-rolled: We form each and every bagel by hand, which produces sore shoulders, but also a tight dough that tastes like nothing any bagel-shaping machine can achieve
  • Boiled: Boiling is what makes a bagel a bagel, giving it its unmistakable crunch, flavour and texture. Don’t trust anyone who says a bagel tastes just as good steamed
  • Malt: We use top-quality malt for our bagels, which gives them their distinctive taste
  • Organic Stoneground Flour: Back in pre-industrialisation days, the original bagel makers didn’t have to worry about flour made with harsh pesticides. And thanks to our sourcing of top-quality organic stoneground flour from New England’s (New South Wales, that is) Wholegrain Milling, neither do you. Oh yeah, and the flour makes the bagels taste awesome, too!
  • Bagel Boards: We bake our bagels on both sides, flipping them over via handmade wooden bagel boards, which produce a fully rounded bagel from above and below. Next time you have a bagel from anywhere else, check out its flat underside. Ours have nice, rounded bums

Following up the success of our first pop-up, Brooklyn Boy is now back at Darlie Laundromatic for an extended run. So if you’re hungry any Sunday this month and fancy an authentic NY bagel, I’d love you to come by and have a taste of my native city. Here are the deets so you can find us:

Brooklyn Boy Bagels @ Darlie Laundromatic
304 Palmer Street
Darlinghurst, NSW
Sundays, 9am-2pm

Best Days to Post Food on Facebook


Here’s one for my fellow food bloggers, journalists and hospitality friends. LinchpinSEO’s newly released infographics provide some interesting insights into the days that specific industries gain their greatest levels of interaction on Facebook. As it turns out, the weekend makes up the wide majority of responses for the food and beverage set, so if you’re out surfing, drinking, gorging on fish and chips, rewatching Season One of Girls, or avoiding the laptop in favour of a good book, you’re missing out on the peak times to reach your gluttonous public.

The top-line data also shows that there are higher response rates for post made between 8pm-7am. Being based in Sydney, I’m not sure if that holds true, or maybe it’s a sign that Aussies are doing their part to add to Facebook stalking while their Northern Hemisphere contemporaries are asleep. Or maybe it means we’re all avoiding going to bed by Facebook-liking all of our friend’s eat/drink happy snaps.

It’s also interesting to see that people who post more than seven times a week (which would, ahem, include your humble author), show a 25 percent decrease in interaction rates. Mind you, that can still work out in your favour if you’re allowing opportunities for 50 interactions per week, rather than just seven.

So what do you think of the graph below? Is it a clear sign to shift more posting activity to the weekends, or have you seen conflicting date or found your own Facebook-engagement stats to show a different story? Your fellow Facemongers want to know.

Announcing ‘The Melting Pot’

This may seem like an odd post to write, since some of my faithful Twitter and Facebook follows will have known about The Melting Pot ever since its launch in early April. But for those who are coming directly to Gosstronomy and noticing that the blog content has slowed of late, I wanted to let you know that my food writing work is well and truly alive, except that you’ll find most of my work over here instead.

So here’s a formal announcement of The Melting Pot, Australia’s first major crowdsourced cookbook. I’d merely say first, but I’d have to admin that there have been a few other half-arsed attempts thrown out there, then shut up shop before you even noticed they existed. This isn’t one of them – The Melting Pot is a dedicated project for Australia’s multicultural food community that’s in it for the long haul.

What is it, you might ask? Well, it’s a place for dedicated home cooks and unheralded, neighbourhood chefs to share and immortalise their family and cultural recipes. I like calling them ‘heirloom’ recipes – you know, the kind that you’d expect to hand down to your kids, or recipes you might have already inherited from your mum, uncle, grandmother or a distant cousin. It’s that amazing family dish that you rarely seen done as well away from a family dining table.

With all of Australia’s waves of immigration, our comfort food has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Ask someone what Australian food is, and they’re invariably tell you something clichéd like a meat pie, sausage roll, lamington or fish & chips (except for those who like to content that Australian cuisine doesn’t exist). All of which are food that are terrific when done well, but the reality is that, for most of us, our comfort staples look vastly different. Our comfort meals are more likely to be plates like Thai fish cakes, Chinese dumplings, Turkish pide, Italian(ish) spaghetti bolognese, Malaysian roti canai, Indonesian beef rendang, Spanish paella, Moroccan tajines, Mexican tacos, South African ribs or Greek moussaka.

Thanks to inspiration from such multicultural American cookbooks as Molly O’Neal’s New York Cookbook, and crowdsourced ones like Amanda Hesser’s Food52.com, it seemed to be the right time for Australia to have its own version. There are already wonderful places like SBS to get multicultural food content, and recipe sites like Taste.com.au, so I didn’t want double up on what they were doing. Instead, we’re creating a place to open up the content decisions to the community, and allow home cooks and readers like you to submit and elevate your own recipes and stories.

The Melting Pot is about you, your neighbours and your fellow Australians. I’ve met some fantastic cooks already, and look forward to uncovering and collaborating with more amazing people like them. More importantly, I hope you enjoy the site and share one or two of your own family or cherished recipes. This is a meeting place for us to share and swap recipes, and expose each other to our unique cultures via food and personal stories. The best of this will be elevated further,  culminating into a printed cookbook of the best Melting Pot recipes to be published by Murdoch Books in 2013.

So why am I only talking about this on Gosstronomy now? It’s simple. I wanted to keep it to our core social audience and see how well the site functioned before I spread the word. And there are still one more round of enhancements I’m planning to make before we take this to the broader Australian food community out there. And does that mean Gosstronomy is going away? Definitely not. I’m still as active on Twitter as ever, but expect the blog posts to be less frequent these upcoming months as The Melting Pot takes up the lion’s share of my time.

I really hope you visit and enjoy the new website, and I also hope you’ll get involved and contribute. Each month on The Melting Pot there’s a different competition (for June, we’re seeking your best soup recipe), and our top recipe submissions each month win coveted cooking schwag – so far that’s been some killer cookbooks featuring recipes by the world’s top chefs and a handful of Japanese Tojiro knives beloved by Heston Blumenthal.

And please let me know what you think. We’re already working on our second round of enhancements to the site, and I hope to continue our steady evolution, for which your feedback is invaluable.

So please enjoy The Melting Pot. It’s an exciting cooking and cultural journey, and I couldn’t do it without you.

Kind regards,

Chief Epicurial Officer, Gosstronomy
Author & Recipe Whisperer, The Melting Pot

There’s a roaster in them (Surry) Hills. Reuben Hills, that is

Surry Hills needs another café like it needs another old-school Lebanese eatery on Elizabeth Street, cheap-and-cheerful Indian on Cleveland, vintage clothing store on Crown, or red-light terrace… well, all over.

That is, until Reuben Hills arrived on New Year’s Day. Ever since, it’s been the café and roaster that we Surry Hillbillies never knew we needed.

I recently did a story on Reuben Hills on Agenda, so consider this an update. In the weeks following, I’ve been four more times – not the usual habits for a food journalist who seldom goes back to the same place twice in a year. There’s just too much good eating to do.

But I’m currently having a love affair of Reuben Hills. Unlike Sydney’s penchant for copycat café menus, there’s not a single Bill’s ripoff in sight: no creamy eggs, no ricotta hotcakes, no corn fritters. And there’s no big brekkie, either, or a single bit of toast. Everything on here is something original for Sydney. And it’s all cooked by Megan McCulloch, an almost too-talented chef for a café, who previously worked for Heston Blumenthal at his The Hinds Head, which the Michelin Guide deemed the UK’s 2011 pub of the year. Here she’s created a Latino-dominated menu that’s inspired by the places of origin of Reuben Hills’ coffee beans, which right now means Latin and South America. Will we eventually see Kenyan dishes here, I wonder?

The two types of Honduran baleada (bali-yay-duh) are a great way to have an inspiring brekkie. You’ve got a folded corn tortilla filled with pimenton-spiced pulled pork, chimol (an El Salvadoran salsa made with radish) and crispy-fried onion. The other is a mix of egg, queso fresco (a soft white cheese popular in Mexico) and black beans that will make you forget about those half-hearted breakfast burritos floating around town.

I first share a baleada with my dining companion, as we also tuck into terracotta-baked eggs with shaved Jamon Serrano, spinach and ranchero sauces, as well as a brioche with dulche de leche (its also comes with mascarpone, but I found it to be a second-fiddle accompaniment).

I’ve been back for lunch, for the fantastic reuben, a pairing of wagyu salt brisket, pickled slaw, manchego cheese and horseradish cream. Technically it’s not really a reuben – my New York deli rulebook says it has to be made with corned beef – but it’s stellar notheless. The brisket is brined for three days and slow-cooked for a good portion of another. When’s the last time you had that many man-hours go into your sandwich?

I’ve later been back for dessert, especially after discovering the salted caramel milkshake, which I have craved ever since. And where else does your café menu start with sweets? Atop the list is the Doggs breakfast, a housemade ice-cream sandwich with a cake-like chocolate exterior and a pour of salted caramel sauce. And while we’re talking sweet things, I also like the small touch of the sugar on your table: it’s panela, a brown sugar made from evaporate sugarcane juice and especially popular in Colombia.

That I’m focused on the food is an extra testament to Reuben Hills, since its main line of business is, in fact, coffee. Owner Russell Beard is the coffee dude who started tiny Mosman roastery, The Source, and he was a shining light in a North Shore coffee scene that has few heroes. But the space proved to be too small, so he upped stakes and took his spare cash to Surry Hills.

At Reuben, Russell is doing some serious bean biz. He’s built a spacious boutique roastery on the floor above the café, which can be seen through cut-out glimpses in the ceiling below (or you’re welcome to merely climb the stairs for a perve). He’s reconditioned a 30kg Probat and 6kg Giesen, German roasting machines that are a step up from the Turkish variety – for coffee snobs, it’s like upgrading from a Toyota to a Mercedes. And like some of my other favourite coffee folks, Russell is travelling to the source of his beans and meeting directly with farmers. In fact, he’s been tagging along with Mark Dundon of Melbourne’s Seven Seeds and Heath Cater from Coffee Supreme, making their way to Honduras, Columbia, Brasil, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Russell doesn’t order through a coffee broker – he chooses his beans by the single lot in a face-to-face transaction.

Even with the caffeine dedication, there’s nothing pretentious about the coffee here. They do Clover and Aeropress filtered coffees, but never flaunt it, nor the artfully designed, dual Speedster and Mirage espresso machines from the Netherlands’ Kees Van Der Westen. Russell also holds free weekly coffee cuppings on Fridays at 10am, trying out beans that he roasts within small micro-roasting machines that allow for experimentation.

My favourite thing about Reuben Hills, though, is how the coffee and café community have treated this hot new start-up as a new addition to the family, rather than unwanted competition. Josh Nicholls from Café Ish, whose business is merely blocks away, excitedly told me about Reuben Hills when it launched on New Year’s Day. On a recent visit there, I founded the owners of Marrickville’s Coffee Alchemy, Randwick’s Kurtosh coffee and pastry house, Erskineville’s Shenkin café and a top barista from Mecca Espresso all happily dining and caffeinating here.

If you’re wondering about the name, it’s taken from a San Francisco-based pioneer in roasting equipment circa the early 1900s. Come here and you’ll also notice the menu’s striking black-and-white photo of roads, hills and a bridge – it’s simply a photo of Brazil, somewhere outside Sao Paolo, that Russell picked up in a market in Argentina.

I’d blabber or about the garage-like opening to the rear laneway, flouro lights, brick and cement industrial fit-out, but just go and soak it up yourself. And while I’ve nearly had the whole menu now, Russell says chef Megan is starting some specials this week. So the next time you’re here, look for a guy banging away on a laptop, putting a healthy teaspoon of panela into his latte, and ordering off the menu… and make sure to say hi.

Reuben Hills
61 Albion St, Surry Hills, NSW
(02) 9211 5556
7 days, 7am-4pm

The Best for Last – Jackie M

It was a bit of a mad dash for the final week of the Malaysia Food Kitchen’s blogger summit. I’d just landed at Sydney International yesterday after 10 days travelling and eating through China, so I did as any good explorer does: I beelined for home, staggered into my apartment, and passed out on the couch.

I finally woke up bleary-eyed in the late afternoon, and through the jet-lag fog, suddenly realised that I needed to reconfirm dinner plans at Concord’s Jackie M restaurant. Luckily, some of my friends had already emailed me, including Leila from underground dining scene Tablenosh, and a mutual friend, Nikki. I also rounded up my Malaysian food expert Eunice, a long-term Sydney resident who’s a Malay native from the northern city of Ipoh.

I’d been hearing lots of good buzz about Jackie M’s midwest Sydney restaurant, and event Jackie herself had been quite active on Twitter when I was asking people for their top Malaysian eateries (even better that she talked about other people’s restaurants, rather than simply plugging her own).

So the four of us did something we never do – we went to Concord for dinner. That’s no mean feat when you’re pairing a couple of Surry Hillsbillies with two entrenched Inner Westies. There’s always a bit of inertia to overcome when escaping the comforts of central Sydney living.

Most of the drive down Lyons Road, as it eventually changes into Majors Bay Road, is residential, so the lights of Concord’s downtown strip appear like a nighttime oasis. As we enter Jackie M, the first thing that hits me is how small it is – there are just a handful of tables in a moody space with dark tables and splashes of red.

We wait for menus, then realise that they’re already splayed at the far end of the table. Even so, the service is fairly sluggish. When our server does arrive, though, she’s friendly, relaxed and helpful with suggestions. And we definitely need some advice to narrow down our all-too-greedy selection of shared plates.

We start with the ‘deluxe’ laksa nonya and the Hainanese chicken rice – the latter always being a good benchmark for a good Malaysian restaurant, and additionally listed as one of Jackie M’s signatures. The chicken arrives first, and it is beauty. The chicken slices are tenderly poached with a subtle fragrance, the chicken broth gives all the right notes for adding moisture and flavour to the rice, and the chilli-ginger sauce gives just enough kick. It’s the best example I’ve seen in Sydney to date.

Next comes the laksa. It’s a solid version, a comforting bowl of thick broth with large tofu cubes, half a boiled egg, fried shallots, bean sprouts and a mix of vermicelli and Hokkien noodles. The stock is a bit thicker than I’d like, and doesn’t have the same vibrant complexity of the beautiful laksa I discovered at Kensington’s Kaki Lima the other week, but it’s still enjoyable.

A mere minute later, the beef rendang and roti canai arrive. The beef is exactly what we want it to be: rich and fall-apart tender. In fact, the sauce is so thick and the beef so pliant, it’s often hard to figure out where one starts and the other begins. It hardly matters: the beef is delicious. And it’s perfectly paired with the roti. I’ve had few good versions aside from the wafer-light renditions at Mamak, but this is an exception. Jackie’s version is buttery and flaky – not as waif-like as Mamak’s, but with a richer flavour that keeps everyone at the table coming back to pull off more pieces to dip into the rendang sauce.

Eunice’s choice is the har meen: a noodle soup with a prawn stock with large prawns, chicken, egg, assorted greens and a generous sprinkling of fried shallots. The reviews at the table are mixed, but it’s likely a cultural thing. Eunice thoroughly enjoys the soup, while myself and the two other Westerners find the prawn stock’s fishy flavour too strong.

The top highlight of the meal arrives next: the chai tow kway, aka fried radish. The stir-fry features squares of shredded radish cake that are as tender as a fried square of silken tofu, and they come in a sweet-salty sauce clinging to preserved radish, garlic, beansprouts, Chinese chives and a scattering of egg. Groans of joy ensue, and we need to negotiate who eats the remaining pieces on the plate. It’s worth coming to Jackie M merely for this.

We polish off the night with dessert, sharing the ais chendol and a dessert roti with coconut. The chendol arrives with a sweet milky ‘soup’ swimming with teardrop strands of pandan, with a couple of icebergs of the still-frozen liquid floating in the centre. It also comes with a customary bowl of palm syrup, which we ladel into our bowls to take the dessert to even sweeter heights. The roti is nearly as uplifting, with a sweet coconut paste giving a stealth sweetness to the blankets of bread.

After a month of traversing the city’s Malaysian restaurants, this is the best meal I’ve had. I sneak into the kitchen to express thanks to Jackie, who’s rolling out dough for curry puffs. She’s a striking woman, with a platinum flash of short-cropped, youthful hair – not the staid nonya mama that I had envisioned in my head.

Then it’s time to call it a night. My fellow diners and I stagger back to our cars, bellies fully expanded, and weave our way back to our inner city confines, but happy in the thought of escaping our respective hoods for one excellent Malaysian feed.

85 Majors Bay Rd, Concord, NSW
(02) 9743 0390


Jackie M Malaysian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Seeking Sydney’s Best Laksa – Kaki Lima

I’m sure that finding the top laksa in this city is about as easy as choosing the best pizza place. And instead of the thin-crust vs pillowy crust debate or traditional vs gourmet smackdown, here we’re talking varying degrees of Malaysian: Chinese-Malay (nyonya) style, sour style, Malacca style, Assam style, Johor laksa and Sarawak laksa, curry laksa, etc.

I’m probably even repeating myself. I can’t yet call myself a laksa expert, but today I’m doing some dedicate research.

A bit of Google fossicking and Twitter soliciting, and I get the nod from a number of food people I respect – the Sydney International Food Festival’s Joanna Savill being one of them – that cite Kaki Lima in Kensington as the best laksa joint in Sydders. So I pack up the laptop, hop onto the Vespa and beeline there for lunch to survey the stock for myself.

And what I discover isn’t what I expect of a place that’s potentially making our best bowl of Malaysian soup – aside from another solo diner, it’s empty. I spend half of my meal wondering if there’s no day trade in this stretch of Kensington, until a chat with my friendly server helps illuminate me. “It’s Ramadan this month; that’s why it’s so quiet,” she explains.

Apparently everyone else, aside from a nice agnostic Jewish boy like me, is fasting for the holy month. Mariam – yes, my server and I have now been formally acquainted, as we’re two out of the only three people in the room – directs me to the evening’s paper-inscribed special: a Ramadan feast with a choice of main, dessert and drink, all for for a whopping $15. It looks like I can afford to come back in the evenings, when the hungry hordes come out after 5.30pm to have their post-fasting fill.

For now, it’s all about the laksa. And what’s curious is that the laksa isn’t even on the main menu, but rather on the specials board. Still, it is the first thing Mariam suggests when I ask her for some favourites, and I’m offered a choice of chicken, seafood or prawn. I go with the chicken, plus another plate of nasi lemak with beef randang for a bit of variety.

The laksa is as good as advertised. It’s rich but not overly creamy, the broth a vibrant orange from sambal paste, with blood-orange droplets from the coconut and vegetable oils. It’s filled with spongy triangles of rehydrated dried tofu, thin rice vermicelli noodles, camouflaged bean sprouts and two diagonal slices of green chilli. There are also cucumber batons that aren’t always cut through, so they’re sometimes joined together and look like fat Freddy Krueger fingers. Hey, it might not pass a TAFE knife skills exam, but with so much flavour in my bowl, I can overlook finesse.

There’s also a complexity in the broth that I can’t quite taste, so owner/chef Aida later informs me that it’s got a subtle layer of lemongrass in there. It’s probably why there’s enough acidity that I ignore the lemon wedge that floats on the far edge. Other ingredients include garlic, dried prawn and tamarind juice. “It’s not like a nyonya laksa,” Aida says, noting that the Chinese often use evaporated milk instead of coconut. “It’s more like Malacca style.”

Yes, the laska is a stunner, and true to its reputation. In fact, the only rival I can think of thus far is an old favourite from Melbourne – Blue Chillies in Fitzroy.

The nasi lemak, however, is simply serviceable. The coconut rice is fine, and a sprinkling of fried red shallots on top are so pungent, I nearly think they’re ginger… in a pleasing way. The paired beef rending is tender yet mild and undistinguished, while the halves of hardboiled egg have plenty of green around the yolk, a sign of overcooking (or, more likely, a lack of quick cooling afterwards). It’s also hard to distinguish the beef from the similar-hued ikan bilis, or dried anchovy sambal – the latter is chunky with whole anchovies, also mild and conjures childhood smells of fish food (for the guppies and angel fish, not me). With the rending and sambal, I’m craving some chilli heat.

As I tuck in, the sound of passing buses on Anazc Parade consistently hums behind me, slightly offset by Pearl Jam politely playing on the speakers. There are old black-and-white photos of Malaysia grouped together on a wall, while tiny faux birds dwell in half cages surrounding lights – switched off while the afternoon sunlight radiates through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The tables are covered in clear plastic, protecting colourful tablecloths endowed with flower patterns. it’s a kaleidoscope of tables that ranges from violet to lime, midnight blue, black and rose.

Two dishes mean that I’ve already overeaten, but I can’t pass up dessert. There are a handful of sweet offerings in a glass display by the counter, so I peruse the pandan- and tapioca-dominated serves. I go for the baked pandan custard, a Kermit-green square of spongy goodness. It’s a delicate taste, an intermingling of coconut milk, sugar and pandan flavour. Just as much taste comes from the sesame seed topping, but my favourite part are the browned edges that have a whisper of custard about them.

The laksa and dessert are enough to make me want to return, so I listen to Aida as she recommends I come back for her satay, her Indian Muslim-style northern fish curry and for her teh tarik (Malaysia sweet tea). Until she tells me she started the restaurant as a Malaysian coffee house, I hadn’t even considered that the drinks were a specialty. Plus there are several other sweets to try, so I’m determined to have enough repeat visits to get through them one-by-one. As you do.

Kaki Lima Restaurant, Shop 3/228-230 Anzac Pde, Kensington, NSW, (02) 9662 6868

Kaki Lima Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Gosstronomy dined at Kaki Lima courtesy of the Malaysian Kitchen, a group blogging initiative that encourages unbiased opinion.

Ayam soooo hungry – Malaysia Kitchen Blogger Summit

I hate it when bloggers talk about how they haven’t posted for a while. It’s not like you’re hanging on every word I say, anxiously waiting for the next update. You’ve probably got heaps of blogs in some RSS feed, so if someone isn’t posting, them you’re just reading other people’s stuff. Readers don’t notice if anyone’s been quiet – only the blogger notices (and if they’re lucky, maybe their sponsors).

So while I’m certain you’ve just been overloaded with Google +, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, BranchOut, email, RSS feeds, blogs, MMS, SMS and those strange people who actually ring you over the phone, I’m going to make a weak statement. I’ve been busy, and the blog hasn’t gotten the usual love.

Enter the Malaysian Kitchen Blogger Summit, an initiative to help spread awareness and know-how about Malaysian food and cooking in Australia. I was recently asked to be part of 13 (my lucky number) of the top food bloggers in the country, and try a different Malaysian restaurant every week and write about it. On their dime. No questions asked. I can write whatever I want: praise, indifference or aggravation.

Easy choice. I love my Malaysian food anyway, and there’s nothing like a good challenge to get a blogger back into the swing of posting regularly. (Of course, if you’d count MasterChef Magazine, the SMH Good Café Guide, OutThere and TheAgendaDaily.com, among others, I’m basically ‘posting’ constantly – just for other media outlets).

Yesterday way my personal kickoff, so I started with a no-brainer: Mamak in Chinatown. I first came here in 2007, just days after the place opened, heeding a hot tip by a Malaysian-born friend of mine. It’s long been a favourite (as it is with so many others), even if I haven’t been back in a while.

Mind you, back in the early days, Mamak’s food did seem to have a bit more personal attention and spark; the flavours were a little more complex before the restaurant doubled in size, followed by the expansions to Chatswood and Glebe. But you could say that about a lot of great restaurants. I still relish my meal sitting in front of Shannon Bennett’s pass at the original, intimate Vue de Monde in Carlton. Shannon remains a great chef, but that upstart space and experience was special – like seeing your favourite band at a pub before they broke the big time – and it will never happen again.

So my flatmate, Candice, and I hoof it from our geographically desirable Surry Hills loft, and meander down Goulburn Street. And, amazingly, the lines at Mamak still haven’t abated after all these years. It flows back past the restaurant front and that of the adjoining Taiwanese dessert place. Still, I’m a native New Yorker. I’m happy to wait in line if I know I can get in (at Manhattan hotspots, waits can be measured in days or months). And I know the line wil move fast.

In the meantime, we watch the roti makers roll out their dough behind the glass frontage, flipping and smacking it into paper-thin layers. Even after all these years, it’s still a treat to watch the edible theatre and nonchalant prep work.

Candice and I chat, text and Tweet for 25 minutes, then finally get the call: “Michael, table for two”. As we enter, the place is pumping – as it should when there’s such a long queue. The crowd is more Asian than not. We spy one young male entertaining what looks like two female backpackers, and we gossip like schoolkids.

Regardless of the crowds, our waitress rocks up quickly, all service-with-a-smile. It’s a big grin, seemingly genuine. Menus come quickly, as do drinks, and glasses of water.

The usual menu negotiations ensue. I’m partial to the fluffy, angelic roti canai, but Candice prefers the flatter and more buttery roti planta. Candice wins. In any case, it still arrives on its tray with the usual, lovely, dual dipping curries, one spicer than the other, plus a dollop of spicy sambal. Let’s face it – fresh roti is fantastic in any form: stretchy, steamy and flaky.

I’m a bit under the weather, so I’m hankering for some comfort food. I order two pieces of the ayam goreng, or Malaysian fried chicken. Two thighs arrive. They’re moist and hearty, but the skin isn’t all that crispy and the seasoning errs on the bland side. It’s my most anticipated, but ultimately least favoured dish of the night.

I want to vary my old routine, so I order our agreed plate of nasi lemak with an untried side of sambal calamari. My ever-chirpy Malay waitress crinkles her nose. She says that the sambal prawns are much better. I let her talk me out of it. Good thing – the prawns are lovely and on the upwardly side of spicy hot, which is a plus in my book. I eat the prawns first, then my half of boiled egg and cucumber, then use the remaining sauce to mix with the mound of coconut rice, roast peanuts, restrained additions of the crisp-fried baby anchovies for salt. Ahhh, nasi lemak – I love a sure thing.

The rice-sauce mixture is good enough to get my cheeks misty, but the heat-threshold doesn’t rise higher after I’m saved by my spice-slaying mug of teh tarik – that classic Malaysian sweet tea mad of condensed milk and ‘pulled’ by pouring from a highly held pot (or kettle) into a low-dangled cup. Earlier, I’m tempted to try the ginger-laced version or the Milo tarik, the Malaysian ‘hot chocolate’ that pairs that classic ‘energy’ drink with condensed milk, but at the last moment, I change my mind. I’m not inspired enough to deviate. The tea is tasty as usual, but erring further on the sickly side of sweet than I’d like. In fact, I’m not sure what’s sweeter: my tea or Candice’s cup of Coke.

Next is the kari kambing, the spicy lamb curry stew – although ‘next’ is misleading, since all of the dishes are crammed onto our tiny two-seat table like an intimate buffet. Which I don’t mind at all, even if it makes for some creative table shuffling at times. The kari kambing is Malaysia’s counterpart to Indonesia’s beef rendang and Thailand’s beef massamam curry, and it falls apart in similar, ever-pleasing fashion.

We’re playing it safe with the menu tonight – probably because both of us are fighting off winter colds – so for dessert we keep the safety thread consistent and go for the sweet roti pisang. It comes fused with thinly sliced bananas and two scoops of vanilla ice-cream, which are relatively bland but let the caramelised bananas shine. Anything with bananas feels like backpacker food to me, conjuring memories of drunken late nights in Bangkok gorging on banana pancakes near Khao San Road. I joke with the waitress that, considering the astronomical price of bananas right now, this has to be the best-value dish on the menu. She giggles, and agrees, then struts off in her Mamak-uniform Croc clogs to the next table.

We’re stuffed, and happy. Mamak seems to have settled into its size, and the food is more consistent than my last couple of visits. We stagger out the door, and I bid the new round-up of queue bystanders a mental good-luck. We’re off to home, and if my nightcap of Panadol Cold & Flu doesn’t fully put this cold to rest, I’m hoping some of that hot sambal sauce has killed off a good lot of those germ invaders.

Gosstronomy dined at Mamak courtesy of Malaysia Kitchen Australia.

Mamak on Urbanspoon