Angie Hong is in the kitchen. The food is coming out thick and fast. If you've always lusted over the Instagram pics that are #mondayhongdinners, this is a dream come true. It's all part of the new dinner service at White Taro commencing quietly last week. Minimal fanfare and muted publicity meant the dining room was only half-full when we visited on the weekend. Don't expect that to last. The food is far too good for word not to spread like wildfire.
Complimentary black sesame rice crackers and prawn crackers
Angie is behind much of the night time menu, twinkling with hard-to-find Vietnamese classics like deep fried rice paper rolls and grilled betel leaf rolls wrapped around minced beef. It's a rare opportunity to eat her food again, after she sold the last of her Thanh Binh restaurants (still trading in Cabramatta and Newtown) in 2012.
The restaurant business was one she fell into after her husband bought Thanh Binh in Cabramatta. Angie's background was in chemical engineering (she studied at UNSW in the early 1970s) and she formerly worked as an interpreter for the Australian immigration department. To the general public she's perhaps most known as the mother of Dan Hong, executive chef of Mr Wong and Ms G's.
Deep fried pork and crab meat rice paper rolls $12
There's plenty to like across the entire menu, many of which come with vegetarian options. Fresh rice paper rolls come with pork and prawn, soft shell crab or tofu and mushrooms. Australia's national dish, salt and pepper squid, comes in tofu or mushroom form too.
We immediately zero in on the deep fried rice paper rolls. Ours come packed with pork and crab meat. A vegetarian version is also available. There's a contrast of bubbled crispness and chewy inner layers to these, courtesy of the rice paper sheet wrapping caramelised to a golden hue. It's generously packed with pork mince and crab meat. Grated carrot and black fungus shreds add textural crunch.
Bo la lot $18
Char grilled betel leaf rolled with lemongrass minced wagyu beef
Bo la lot is the prettiest assembly I've seen, garnished with micro leaves and edible flowers. Betel leaves (lolot) are used to roll up mini cigars of lemongrass beef mince. Here it's minced wagyu, accompanied by a pungent dipping sauce of fermented shrimp paste, chilli and pineapple. The chargrill imparts a gentle smokiness, while the betel leaf keeps everything juicy.
Green papaya salad with soft shell crab $22
One of our favourite dishes of the night is the green papaya salad with soft shell crab. It's a huge portion for the price, with two whole golden-fried soft shell crabs resting on a bed of zingy shredded green papaya. We revel in the crunchfest, especially the puffy shards of black sesame rice crackers.
Vietnamese fried chicken wings $15
Forget KFC. Angie's VFC or Vietnamese fried chicken wings are the business. The chicken is marinated and then dusted in flour before hitting the deep fryer. They're so tasty I'm happy to eat them on their own, but a tamarind dipping sauce on the side will add a sweet and tangy stickiness if you prefer. We also love that the platter of six is all mid-wings - every Asian's favourite deep fried chicken piece.
Bo luc lac $34
Shaking beef with grass fed scotch fillet
Bo luc lac means "shaking beef", a reference to the way cooks must shake the wok as the beef cooks. Grass fed scotch fillet is a terrific way to elevate this dish, the cubes of beef richly intense in flavour yet tender. Dunk them in the little pot of lemon pepper sauce on the side, and alternate mouthfuls of beefy goodness with juicy slices of tomato fanned across the plate.
Canh chua $34
Hot and tangy soup with barramundi, okra, elephant ear stems, tomato and fresh pineapple
Our final dish is canh chua, described on the menu as shareable between four but we manage to polish this - and everything else - between three hungry females. This is just the kind of thing you need on a cool evening, a tangy tamarind soup sweetened with fresh pineapple. Traditionally it's served with fatty belly pieces of perch but the barramundi version here is a lovely nod to local produce. You can also order it with king prawns or get the vegetarian version.
Barraumndi, okra and elephant ear stem
The smell of fried garlic hits us as soon as this steaming bowl lands on the table. It's a treasure trove of goodies in here. The spongey slices of elephant ear stem, swollen with soup juices that squelch with every bite, are the highlight. Fossick for okra, tomato, bean sprouts, fresh pineapple and thick chunks of barramundi. The soup is addictive, a balance of salty, sour and sweet. Ladle the soup over plain rice for a hearty finish.
Jimmy's jaffa mousse $14
Burnt orange, hazelnut cocoa sable, Grand Marnier cream, candied orange peel and chocolate twigs
Desserts are fancier than you'd expect. Jimmy's jaffa mousse is a collaboration with ex-MasterChef 2016 contestant, Jimmy Wong, assembled in a shallow glass like an edible terrarium. We dig past the dollops of Grand Marnier cream and hazelnut cocoa sable "soil" and hit the ethereal fluffiness of chocolate orange mousse. There's an impressive level of detail here, including thin chocolate twigs pushing up from the soil and blowtorched segments of dehydrated orange.
Citrus pannacotta $14
Dehydrated cumquat, cardamom coconut crumble, raspberry sorbet and passionfruit curd
The other dessert offering of the evening (of course we ordered one of each) is the citrus pannacotta. This too, has an elaborate assembly of components. The pannacotta is layered with a citrus jelly, served alongside a swoop of passionfruit curd littered with cardamom coconut crumble. The supporting cast member, the raspberry sorbet, is the real star of the show though. It's wondrously smooth, intensely red, and just the right level of sweetness.
Angie's dinner pop-up will run at White Taro for a minimum of three months. That means you have until early November to live your #mondayhongdinners dream. I'd go early. And go often while you can.
67 Albion Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9211 0108
Angie Hong's pop-up menu will be available Wednesday to Saturday from 6pm until early November 2016
The cafe will continue to trade Tuesday to Sunday 7am-4pm
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Mr Wong, Sydney
Thanh Binh, Cabramatta
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8/15/2016 01:41:00 am