"Honestly I'd just love to go somewhere with something like papaya salad... and then put all energy into dessert, dessert, dessert."
Sydney's bustling food scene beckoned, but Hannah - in town for just one night from Canberra - knew exactly what she wanted. And I liked her way of thinking.
We head to Home on Sussex Street. Arriving at 5.45pm means we are able to waltz right in, but within twenty minutes the restaurant is full, and a queue has quickly formed outside.
Longan juice $3
It's hard to ignore the similarities between Home and Chat Thai. Everyone thinks they must be related, with the strikingly similar lemon yellow logo, open kitchen out the front, and deep fryer of pah tung goh donuts on the go. And then everytime I sent an email about Home, I kept typing House by accident, another Thai restaurant specialising in street food run by the crew who own Spice I Am.
We perch ourselves on heavy square wooden stools and a waitress is upon us before we've even had a chance to glance at the menu. She whips out an iPad from her custom issue Louis Vuitton shoulder bag and taps out our order with a well-manicured finger.
Som tum green papaya salad $8.90
The last time I'd met Hannah was over a Vietnamese meal at My's Restaurant in Canberra. We'd ordered a prawn and pork paw paw salad, lighter and sweeter in flavour than the Thai version of this dish, which only led me to crave the dark fishiness of som tum even more.
Two giant mortar and pestles are used at Home, and they are used constantly to freshly pound the ingredients together for papaya salad. Crunchy strips of papaya arrive tangled together with green beans, roasted peanuts and a smashed up mess of cherry tomatoes, garlic, dried shrimps and chilli.
There's a welcome rush of stinging garlic, fiery chilli and freshly squeezed lime juice, all sweetened with palm sugar. There's only a little bit of raw cabbage on the side, but we've ordered two servings of sticky rice on the side - perfect for calming our chilli-ravaged tongues.
We'd only meant to order one savoury dish, but we're easily sidetracked and request the banana flower salad as well. The peeled prawns on top are a little bland, but there's plenty of life in the shredded banana flowers beneath, mixed with grated coconut, cashew nuts, fried shallot and chilli jam.
Pad Pik Khing stir fried crispy pork belly $13.90
And okay, yes, we ordered crispy pork belly too. The nuggets of fat-ribboned crackling pork are smothered in a thick curry sweet paste that is lively with lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime. The crackling has plenty of crunch but it's hot, providing a deliciously mouth-tingling rush of adrenalin.
Papaya salad, crispy pork belly, sticky rice and banana leaf salad
Red rubies water chestnuts in coconut milk $5
Suze, on the other hand, struggles with the chilli, and seeks cool relief in the drink/dessert of water chestnuts in coconut milk. Red rubies are one of my favourite desserts, chunks of water chestnut soaked in red dye, dusted with tapioca flour and then boiled to create a red-tinted dumpling skin.
It's the contrast between the chewy gelatinous skin and the crunchy chestnut inside that makes this such a textural marvel. The coconut milk is icy cold and shreds of jackfruit and palm seeds add sweetness.
Fried green sticky rice with banana $5
For dessert we move onto fried green sticky rice with banana, arriving as luminous green logs coated in a thin shell of batter. They look not unlike plutonium fuel rods, and cutting into them is a little tricky with the provided spoons. The banana is sweet and firm, but the rice is a little on the hard side of chewy.
THEY LOOK LIKE GOLDFISH
"They look like goldfish," Suze shrieks, when our steamed rice dumplings arrive.
Pak Mhor steamed rice dumplings with peanuts $5
The skins for these dumplings are steamed fresh on muslin cloths stretched tight over simmering metal pots in the window. Smooth and slippery, the elongated ends of these dumplings do make these look like goldfish but it's the filling inside that surprises us most.
We expect peanut and coconut but find a mouthful of savoury filling instead. It's explosive with garlic, and we keep scooping up golden shards expecting to taste coconut or peanut but encountering a mouthful of deep-fried garlic instead. These would make perfect sense as an entree but as a dessert it is all too much confusion for our senses to handle.
Chefs in the kitchen
We pause by the kitchen on our way out, first mesmerised inside the restaurant, and then again from the windows outside. There's steam, smoke and the occasional burst of flames from the giant wok burners. The space is tiny and yet everyone moves effortlessly around the open kitchen like it's the size of a football field.
The open kitchen
Making noodles at Chefs Gallery
We head up to the road to our next dessert stop, loitering outside the windows of Chefs Gallery for a look at the noodle making. Sightseeing in Sydney is all about the food, I say, and the live window theatre of cooking is the best show you could ask for.
Stretching noodle dough
We continue on to Azuma Cafe for frozen yoghurt and chiffon cake. Just as we step into the shop, we run into dessert-hunting food bloggers with the same idea.
Green tea chiffon
Azuma Cafe is now a haven of chiffon cakes, with different flavours lining the top two shelves. Along the bottom shelves are individual desserts, available for eat-in or takeaway.
Strawberry layer cake
White peach mousse and white wine jelly
But we only have eyes for the chiffon.
Vanilla soft-serve yoghurt with [clockwise from bottom left]: chiffon in cinnamon, black sesame, Earl Grey tea and cheese
The chiffon cakes are wonderfully light and fluffy, and seem larger than they appear, with each mouthful. Cinnamon is the strongest flavour by far, with black sesame probably the mildest. The Earl Grey tea chiffon is pleasantly fragranced with bergamot and the cheese cake isn't noticeable in flavour (perhaps just a faint aftertaste of cream cheese) but markedly different in texture, with a density more similar to a Hokkaido cheesecake.
Vanilla soft serve yoghurt is quite sweet and handily acts as a light version of cream to our forkfuls of cake.
Our final stop is at Meet Fresh. The queue is out the door at 9pm and there's a sense of chaos inside the shop with people waiting on desserts swelling into the line of customers yet to order.
Signature herbal dessert $5
We get ours takeaway, a signature herbal dessert that Hannah loves instantly. Chewy balls of sweet potato and taro dough are a squidgy complement to the coolness of herbal jelly. At the bottom is a bed of shaved ice drowned in sugar syrup.
Ahhh Sydney - you always satisfy.
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Shop 1-2, 299 Sussex Street, Sydney
13 Goulburn Street
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Chat Thai, Haymarket
Chefs Gallery, Sydney
Meet Fresh, Haymarket
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4/13/2011 01:33:00 a.m.