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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Chinese New Year Banquet at Makan at Alice's, Thornleigh

Course #1: Yee sang

It's a bit of a hike to Thornleigh, but with the promise of a Chinese New Year banquet at Alice's, I didn't require much convincing.

We dined here last Sunday on the final day of their special 17-day banquet offering. The banquet dinner for six involved six dishes and cost $268; the one for ten involved eight dishes and cost $428.

We went for the latter of course.

Alice explains to the table what to do

Proceedings commenced with the Yee Sang salad, a colourful platter of grated carrot, cucumber, Chinese radish, ginger and curls of green onion. Following instructions from restaurant owner and kuih extraordinaire Alice, we added the dish of raw salmon slices, the bowl of sauce, the bowl of oil and then a party of square crunchy noodle bits.

The red lucky packets (which are usually given to children and containing money) were passed around the table, allowing everyone to help scatter the sesame seeds inside onto the salad.

Everyone helps to pour on the sesame seeds,
bringing good luck for everyone

Tossing the salad involves a merry clatter of chopsticks and shrieks of laughter as everyone sees who can toss the highest, without spilling the majority of it onto the table.

Ready. Set. Toss!

The higher you toss the salad, the greater the luck

The yee sang is delicious, a gorgeous combination of fresh vegetables with the richness of salmon and the crunch of both noodle and sesame seed. It's a favourite dish with everyone.

Course #2: Butter soft shell crab

Butter soft shell crab is a happy jumble of deep-fried crab (a little oily) with a tangle of yellow shreds later identified as deep-fried egg. The egg is rich in flavour, slightly salty and rather addictive. The secret, Alice tells us, is the addition of butter.

Course #3: Basket of Prosperity (Fatt Poot)

The Basket of Prosperity is my favourite dish of the evening. The basket is made from yam, a starchy mash that is shaped into a shallow bowl and then deep-fried. Huddled inside we find a delicious mix of scallops, lotus roots, mushrooms, black moss, sugar snap peas, carrots, corn and whole macadamia nuts. A nest of deep-fried vermicelli noodles is balanced with the undeniable health-giving properties of lettuce.

Course #4: Teowchew Loh Ark (braised duck)

Teowchew Loh Ark is a blackened mass of duck that is lightened visually by the bright green discs of cucumber and happy slices of tomato. The duck is amazingly tender, its skin slightly caramelised, each mouthful faintly scented with five spice, galangal and black pepper.

Course #5: Nien Nien Yau Yee ( Whole Fish)

Nien Nien Yau Yee is the traditional Chinese saying that wishes "you will have surplus every year". The "yee" of surplus sounds like the "yee" of fish and there's plenty of fish leftover despite our best efforts.

The fish is moist and succulent, deep-fried whole and then flayed open and filled with a tangy mix of lemon rind, chilli and a sweet and sour sauce. It's a little sweet for some, but I find this dish growing on me, the sweet and tangy sauce helping to offset the heaviness that comes with deep-fried food.

Course #6: Salt and pepper prawn

I'd been looking forward to salt and pepper prawns, but these are a little disappointing. The prawns have been beheaded but retain their shells, deep-fried until crisp and covered in Szechuan pepper, chilli and green onions. It's not as peppery as I'd hoped and the prawns themselves are a little lacking in flavour.

Course #7: Braised Pork Leg

By course number seven, everyone is starting to struggle. The braised pork leg is another mass of deep indistinguishable brown but one poke of a fork reveals a pink tender succulency that melts in the mouth. Whole shiitake mushroom caps are meaty with the flavour of stock, and to one side we find decadent slices of wobbly yet firm sea cucumber.

Course #8: Lu Yee Mein noodles

Long noodles represent a long life in Chinese culture, and the Lu Yee Mein noodles are exceptionally long, a tricky dish to transfer to our individual bowls. The noodles are thick and springy, doused in a thin gravy and smothered with beef, prawns and slices of mushroom.

Course #9: Dessert - Kuih talam and kuih serimuka

We conclude with Alice's famous kuih: kuih talam reminds us of mah-jong tiles, a thin layer of salty coconut cream contrasting with the dark green layer of mung bean jelly beneath. I prefer the kuih serimuka, a stickier starchier mouthful that layers a pandan coconut custard over coconut sticky rice.

Service, as always, is warm and friendly. And just like the folk song, sometimes it feels like you can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant.

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makan@Alice's on Urbanspoon

Makan at Alice's
Shop 3, 262 Pennant Hills Road, Thornleigh, Sydney
(turn into Bellevue Street and it's on your left)
Tel: +61 (02) 9484 8288

Lunch Tuesday to Sunday 11.30am - 2.30pm
Dinner Thursday to Sunday 6.00pm - 9.00pm

Related GrabYourFork posts:
Makan at Alice's, Thornleigh (CNY Banquet 2009) and (lunch 2007)

Malaysian -- Kopitiam, Ultimo (Dec08), (Apr07) and (Apr06)
Malaysian -- Malay Chinese, Sydney (26 Apr 07) and (3 Apr 07)
Malaysian -- Mamak, Haymarket (Nov07) and (Oct07)
Malaysian -- Mc Lucksa, Haymarket
Malaysian --
Temasek, Parramatta (Jan09) and (May08)
Malaysian -- The Malaya, Sydney
Malaysian -- Tan's Malaysian, Ultimo
9 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 2/23/2008 11:36:00 pm


  • At 2/24/2008 12:20 am, Blogger Rachel said…

    Gorgeous pictures ... made me very homesick for Singapore. I always get homesick at Chinese new year *sigh* glad that there is somewhere else in Sydney that does yee sang besides Temasek which is a bit pricey at $68 for the yee sang. Not sure about their banquet prices.
    I agree that salt and pepper prawns looked odd. The yam basket and braised pork looked yummy. What was missing I think was the ho see fatt choy (black moss vegetables stewed with dried oysters) which is classic in a CNY banquet. Also the chicken seemed MIA. Glad you had a satisfying meal! I must try makan at alices sometime!

  • At 2/24/2008 11:05 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    wow - looks like worth the trip. That salad looks incredible (and I love how a salad can bring you good luck!!)

  • At 2/25/2008 10:40 am, Blogger Terri @ A Daily Obsession said…

    where did yee sang originate from, i've always wondered? it seems to be very malaysian singaporean. i find it quite the yukky dish, full of fried color processed stuff binded by a sticky sweet dressing.

  • At 2/25/2008 9:05 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Rachel - You will definitely have to make the trip. It's worth it :) And funny you mention Temasek, we've been meaning to head there soon too :)

    Hi Kelly - I love the whole tossing aspect of yee sang. It's a great ice breaker. Should be a mandatory start to every dinner party, I think!

    Hi Terri - I believe it did originate in Malaysia/Singapore with businessmen who were entertaining clients. Fried and sweet are two of my favourite food groups, and salad just makes everything better :)

  • At 2/26/2008 11:13 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    mmm i loved alices' yee sang it has pomelo! glad you made the hike out west hope your cny was awesome

  • At 2/26/2008 10:56 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi chocolatesuze - Ahh I forgot to mention the pomelo! It was great, and yep, def worth the hike :)

  • At 2/26/2008 11:41 pm, Blogger Rachel said…

    I found that Temasek had very authetic flavours but everything was a bit oily. They have a weekend rotating special on top of their usual menu. The oyster omelette and mee goreng are quite exceptional there. Can't wait to see your post on it ;)

  • At 2/27/2008 11:10 pm, Blogger Terri @ A Daily Obsession said…

    i was a little disappointed we didn't agree (i find most of what u like i like too) on yee sang--until i went back to your pic n saw tt it was made up of fresh veg n only the topping were fried crisps. in malaysia, yee sang is made of cheapskate ingredients, like fried flour noodles n radish dyed dark green n ang pow red, with very little yee (salmon usually), so u r okay, i still trust ur taste :0

  • At 3/02/2008 3:57 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Rachel - Thanks for the advice. We'll have to organise something soon.

    Hi Terri - That does sound rather oily. I usually do prefer fresh lively flavours but even I have a soft spot for deep-fried goodness :)


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