Asian

Night Noodle Market 2015, Sydney

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Another year, another Night Noodle Market, another chance for me to empty my wallet on various Asian street foods.

The annual Night Noodle Market kick started last (last) week, lighting up (or fogging up with all the furious meat sizzling) Hyde Park once again from Thursday 8 October to Sunday 25 October. As a part of Good Food Month, Sydney, the Night Noodle Market brings together Asian restaurants from all over Sydney and Australia to bring us an experience that we sorely lack in Australia, night markets.

The joys of late night food runs, where you’re not just stuck with fast food chains or kebabs (don’t get me wrong, I adore kebabs), where you can wonder down the streets at 11pm on a weeknight and it’s bustling with people sizzling skewers, ladies scooping piping hot soup noodles or icy cold sweet treats into plastic throw away containers while lights, sounds and amazing smells waft from every corner. That to me, as someone who loves food a bit too much and midnight snacking, is what dreams are made of! It is also probably the main reason why I want to live in Hong Kong for a year, instead of doing London, like a normal person does when they get that overseas working holiday urge.

The Night Noodle Market tries to recreate that exact experience, but in our own backyard, where there’s even a little bit of greenery to go with it!

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I must say, in the last few years the Night Noodle Market has come a long way from its humble beginnings. I admit, I wasn’t a massive fan after experiencing the Night Noodle Market in its first year. To me, it was just a poor attempt at gouging at people’s pockets and charging festival pricing for meals that could be easily obtained just five to ten minutes down the road. In the first year, Good Food Month, just brought together a bunch of restaurants from around the CBD. These restaurants seemed to just serve their standard dishes in smaller quantities and at massively over inflated prices and don’t forget the 30 minute or more wait for anything even remotely good and the lack of seating because it was so darn popular. I wasn’t going to pay that much and wait that long for something I could get down the street. So during the first Night Noodle Market, instead of waiting at the Mamak’s stall, I decided to just go to Mamak, at their actual store in Chinatown instead. In hindsight it was a pretty good night.

Ever since then, I haven’t been super keen on the Night Noodle Market. That, and me now being a three hour drive away probably contributed, instead of a stop over after uni. Flash forward thee years and it looks like things have changed! I now have to walk past the wafting smells of barbecued meats and other fantastic goodies each night to get home. So naturally, instead of eating dinner at home, I’ve been dropping by and getting a different treat each night.

The Night Noodle Market has definitely gotten a lot cooler over the years. There are now fantastic eateries from around Sydney and even some interstate and festival only stalls showing up as well! Plus, you’ve got eateries doing goodies that you can’t really get at their standard store, like Messina and Wonderbao, N2 and Black Star Pastry and Miss Dipity and Mr Bao doing awesome collaborations. Then there’s One Tea Lounge offering miso caramel and Everyone Loves Ramen’s ramen tacos. Pretty awesome right?!

So what caught my eye at the Night Noodle Market? This is the bit where I post pictures of things.

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Well, who can go past the dessert lovers dream? Messina meets Wonderbao with the David Bao-wy ($12), deep fried bao with salted coconut sorbet dipped in white chocolate mango ganache and rolled in crashed cashews. This tasted a lot better than it looked. Actually, it looks quite nice in real life, we just take horrific photos. So don’t let this put you off, just check it out on Instagram.

If I had to describe this bao in one word, it would be ‘rich’ but not necessarily in a bad way, especially if you like decadent desserts, then this is going to be right up your alley. But it’s definitely not for the faint hearted or I guess anyone with heart problems to be honest. This bao brings together a super fluffy while crisp deep fried bao with creamy sorbet and a splash of ganache to top it all off cos it wasn’t already flavourful and sweet enough.

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Although I wasn’t able to finish this whole bao myself, purely because it got too much, I actually enjoyed the bites that I did have. The bao was probably my favourite part. It was super fluffy, airy and light, as you would expect from the amazing people at Wonderbao. Thanks to the deep frying, the bao had a lovely crisp shell which contrasted the fluffy interior. Inside the bao, there was a lovely and smooth coconut sorbet. Finally there was the white chocolate and mango ganache which I thought brought the majority of flavour to this little bao. Finally cashews because no one ever said no to cashews right?

After having this David Bao-wy, I definitely think I’ll be dropping by Messina again to try the Great Balls of Fryer. Not a massive fan of peanut butter ice cream but fried ice-cream, I’m all there.

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After having the super sweet David Bao-wy from Messina on my first night, I was back but this time for something savoury and who can go past Ramen tacos ($18 for 3) from Everyone Loves Ramen. With the set, you get a miso beef with iceberg lettuce taco, a terriyaki chicken with spring onions and baby radish taco, and a pork belly with coriander and Sriracha mayo slaw taco. I’m not sure if you can buy these separately, I didn’t really notice an option for it on Everyone Loves Ramen’s menu but if it’s your first time trying these ramen tacos, all three are worth it, each are quite different in flavour and taste.

I really didn’t do these ramen tacos justice with my ‘amazing’ photography skills (this seems to be a running theme so far. I swear, I’ll improve). Nevertheless, they were tasty. It’s a simple concept, deep fried egg noodles with flavoursome meats and some veggies for garnish. The ramen taco shells tasted exactly like what you get in a chow mein but a lot crunchier, you also get that mildly eggy flavour and that deep fried flavour that I know I’ve described so well. I know that sounds totally gross but if you like fries, fried chicken or the baos from Messina than you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Although tasty, I must say like anything made out of ramen noodles that isn’t actually soupy ramen, where it be a ramen burger or these ramen tacos, the structural integrity just isn’t there. Expect meat, iceberg lettuce and pieces of red cabbage everywhere.

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As for which combination I liked best, it was definitely between the chicken and the pork. The beef just didn’t stand up to the others at all. Too stringy and combined with the iceberg lettuce it was just all a bit too boring. Now the chicken and the pork, those were just packed with flavours. For me, I would have to say the pork. Awesome fatty and crispy cubes of pork coupled with creamy and flavourful red cabbage slaw. The perfect combination of big flavours and contrasting textures. The pork is what I’m going back for next time. If you can buy them separately. Which I’m not sure I can.

Well, thats it for now. Stick around, I promise there will be more. Well I’ve already got the pictures, now I’ve just got to write them up before the event ends this Sunday. If you haven’t been already, head over soon.

In the meantime, feel free to read our post from the Enlightened Night Noodle Markets in Canberra, 2015. I notice a few of the stalls that we ate at and wrote up are the same like Hoy Pinoy, Daniel San, Roti Road, Teppayaki Noodles, Span Thai and etc.

 

Can Tho, Belconnen

Okay, so this post is looong overdue. This place is a bit of a regular haunt for us yet its taken me over a year to finally get around to writing about Can Tho’s tasty goodies. Back when I was living in Belconnen, I probably visited Can Tho at least once a week, since moving to Braddon, I don’t get to visit as often but it’s still my favourite Vietnamese restaurant in Canberra.

Can Tho sits a little west of the Westfield and just a store or two from Goodberry’s. The store isn’t fancy or anything, and is very much like your typical Vietnamese restaurant in Cabramatta or Bankstown. There are rows of chairs and tables, some basic Vietnamese paintings and a TV at the back. Its not fancy but hey, like any good Vietnamese restaurant, you go to Can Tho for the food, not the decor. While the decor is basic, the atmosphere is anything but that. You may not want to take a first date here, but its perfect for a group of friends or a family with young kids who just want to relax, eat and chat loudly with no one giving you dirties.

The menu at Can Tho is pretty expansive, although Can Tho is a predominantly Vietnamese restaurant, they also serve some staple Chinese and Malaysian dishes. I have no idea how good these other dishes are, I only really go to Can Tho for their Vietnamese dishes. Ehh why experiment when there are a couple of dishes that you’ll always crave as soon as you walk in?  Plus, if I wanted Malaysian, I would probably go across the road to Malaysian Chapter which, I might add, is also brilliant. Can Tho is great and all but I’m sure a Malaysian family probably does Malaysian food better.

Alrightie, thats probably enough talk about Malaysian food, lets talk about the amazing Vietnamese goodness at Can Tho.

First up, a couple of entrees. The Spicy chicken wings ($6). These are hands down the best chicken wings I’ve ever had from a restaurant EVER! (I don’t cook, so I can’t say I’ve ever made any that are better) This isn’t one of those “these are pretty good for Canberra…” type comments, these are the best I’ve had from all the Vietnamese restaurants that I’ve been to in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne or anywhere! Trust me, it’s a lot of restaurants!

So what make these the best chicken wings ever? Its a combination of two simple things. 1. the most amazing and crispy batter and 2. the most amazing and flavoursome toppings. Just two simple things that make these chicken wings heavenly. The coating on these wings are simply amazing, they are super light, airy, and have this amazing crunch to them. The batter covers the chicken wings perfectly and ensures that every bite is just amazingly crunchy. The crispy batter is than covered with this super flavoursome topping which includes plenty of slightly fried garlic, shallots and even a little bit of chilli. I’m normally not a fan of chilli but on these chicken wings, they actually add just the right amount of kick to make you continuously come back for more and more.

Next up, the Sesame prawn toast ($5). Another fantastic classic from Can Tho. These aren’t as good as the chicken wings or the pho but they’re still a stand out compared to others from around Canberra. Like with everything else at Can Tho, what make these fantastic, is the generous flavour in each bite. Each bite is filled with a super generous and thick spread of minced up prawn. You can taste and feel the prawn in each bite, you can tell that they haven’t just bulked it up with flour or stratch, which is always great. A lot of places, when they do prawn toast, it comes out as a really thin slice of toast, with a thin spread of prawn flavour. I hate those places and endeavour not to order this dish there. It might not be obvious from this picture but each of these are roughly 1.5cm thick, and I’d say at least .5cm of it is pure prawn. Really good!

Finally, each piece of prawn toast is fried to this perfect golden consistency. This brings all the texture and crunch that the prawn toast needs, it also gives you that overly fried flavour – not great if you care about your heart or figure but for the rest of us who live to treat our tongues, this stuff is golden. Of course, theres a dipping sauce on the side which is sweet with quite a lot of tanginess to it. This sauce perfectly contrasts the rich and oily flavours of the prawn toast. Together, they make the perfect combination of lovely prawn flavour, crispy crunch and oil goodness.

On to the mains at Can Tho, and firstly we have the Broken rice combination ($13.50). This is a Vietnamese restaurant staple and something I absolutely adore. So the elements of this dish are a fried egg, Vietnamese pork chop, some egg meatloaf, shredded pork skin and some pickled vegetables. The egg meatloaf is kind of an odd thing to describe, it has a texture kind of like a soft terrine, and has some stringy, meaty bits wedged in there. Tastes a lot like pork, but for some reason, to me at least, it has some hints of prawn to it as well, even though I’m pretty sure there’s no prawn involved here. Next up is the egg, it’s just a fried egg and if you’ve never had one before, then maybe try doing that before tackling restaurants. There are just some things you need to experience in the comfort of your own home.

Next is the shredded pork skin. Despite the name, it’s not crunchy at all, so get those mental images of pork belly out of the way. It’s actually really soft, and kind of noodle like in texture, like a really pork flavoured noodle. You might notice when you eat this that it’s really grainy and has lots of little spicks and specks everywhere. This is because when they make this dish, they get raw rice, cook it up, then grind it down into a fine powder and mix it through the shredded pork skin. It has the great quality of adding some slight crunch to it, giving it an roasted rice flavour and keeping things interesting.

The main event here of this dish is undoubtedly the pork chop, and it’s something I love very much. I don’t really know how it’s made, but I just Googled it and it seems to be a 24 hour marinade in brown sugar, fish sauce, shallots and vinegar. Look, I love this dish, but ain’t no one got time for that! That’s why I just go to Can Tho and eat their pork chops! The chop here is just exceptionally tasty. I’m sorry I’m not doing a better job describing it, but it just is what it is. A cool little thing they do is they slice the pork chop along the edge, this means the pork doesn’t curl up as it cooks. You appreciate those kinds of touches.

There’s not much thinking to do with this dish, you just dive in and work your way through everything, though, I recommend placing the egg over the rice and cracking it open. Having yolk drenched rice is just something I really love.

Even though I absolutely love broken rice, there isn’t a dish out there that’s going to supplant pho as the best dish at a Vietnamese restaurant! So finally, leaving the best til last, a bowl of delicious Pho tai ($12) or Rare beef noodle soup.

Although, I’ve been to Can Tho dozens of times, these four dishes are my staples. I’ll order them over and over again and never get bored, plus the chicken wings, prawn bread and pho at Can Tho are some of the best in the whole of Canberra. Why would I bother exploring and missing out on the best that Can Tho has to offer? One of these days, I will go to Can Tho and try out their Bun Bo Hue, not everyone can master the art of pho and bun bo hue as well, most places are just amazing at one and a bit average at the other.

The pho at Can Tho is super flavoursome, with plenty of meaty flavours permeating throughout it. The broth is slightly on the sweeter side but a lot of people prefer their pho like that. The slight sweetness adds just the right amount of lift to the pho broth but doesn’t take anything away from strong meat flavours. To top off the fantastic and super flavoursome broth, Can Tho are not shy with their meats, giving plenty of thinly sliced raw beef throughout the pho that is actually served rare! A lot of places will give you meat and you can tell the meat isn’t completely raw when it went into the bowl. Rookie mistake.

Finally, to make it the perfect trifecta, Can Tho uses fresh rice noodles and gives you plenty of it as well. Nothing annoys me more than a place that serves dried rice noodles. To be fair, it doesn’t happen often but when it happens you can just tell, the noodle just doesn’t have that lovely texture and bite, instead it’s just too soft and excessively thin. Like all good Asian food, it’s about big delicious portions and here at Can Tho, they get it perfect. Absolutely perfect.

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Finally, some sweet treats to end the night. Our first treat for the night, the Flan with ice cream ($6). This dessert brings back fantastic memories from my childhood. It took me a while to realise that its actually a Vietnamese dish, not a Western dessert that my mum just picked up and started cooking for us (yes, I was a little naive – of course she wasn’t going to cook us Western food!). Many older Vietnamese people dislike the French, since well, they kind of colonised the country and then treated it like any other supreme super power treats its colonies, that is, pretty poorly. I, however do not dislike (or have any feelings to be honest) towards the French, actually I feel like I have to thank them. Without them, Vietnamese food would just be like Chinese food. Instead, thanks to a little bit of French influence, we now have some of the tastiest and best dishes around the world, like banh mi tit (pate, Vietnamese bread rolls), Vietnamese iced coffee (with condensed milk, of course), some other goodies and of course, this fantastic little treat – the flan.

The flan here at Can Tho, is just like my mum makes it. Full of creaminess, with a lovely eggy aftertaste and then coated in a rich and sweet caramelised sugar syrup. Here at Can Tho, the syrup isn’t as strong or caramelised as I’m use to but thats probably better, nothing worse than slightly burnt syrup that can just make everything bitter. The flan also has a fantastic and smooth consistency all the way through. Finally, if you’re thinking, that sounds a little too rich and decadent, then you’d be right. That’s why there’s some creamy vanilla ice cream to contrast the flavour of the flan and sugar syrup. The perfect combination of flavours and textures.

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Finally, the Deep fried ice cream ($6). I can never say no to a deep fried ice cream. If it’s on a menu, I’m getting it. I just can’t help myself! Not only is it super tasty, it also defies science (sort of)!  The deep fried ice cream here at Can Tho is solid, nothing amazing to blow your mind but you’ve all probably had enough of my gushing uncontrollably about Can Tho. Though I can’t say I care too much, as long as they have a crispy outer shell with a good frozen ball of ice cream inside, I’m a happy camper. The deep fried cream at Can Tho is just that, a crispy outer shell made of breadcrumbs. The main issue for me was that the skin was probably a bit too thick, so it got a bit starchy. The inside was solid, cold and creamy, just the way it should be. I also appreciated that they let me add two toppings, strawberry and caramel instead of just one. It doesn’t cost them anything but I’ve had places say no to the request, so its worth a mention!

I must say, there was a time when a deep fried ice cream did blow my mind, it was at Phnom Penh in Belconnen. The deep fried ice cream came out with a flambe. My deep fried ice cream was on fire! If you’re interested in deep fried ice cream, then definitely check that place out!

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Finally, our drink from Can Tho, the Coconut water ($4). Nothing too special about this coconut water, just what you would expect from any good Vietanmese restaurant and at a decent price too. Lovely, nutty and sweet, how coconut water should be! Not like those hipster coconut waters that taste like nothing and cost you like $8 for a cup! Thats just wrong, once you’ve had this – you’ll never go back to that hipster crap. Unless you love your body I guess, thats a different story, just ignore me if you love real coconut water, I’m just uncultured.

Well, I final did it. I wrote up Can Tho. As you can see, this place is good and I love it. If you claim to love Vietnamese food, you’ve got to try out Can Tho. There are tons of places in Canberra that do Vietnamese food. There are a lot of places that do it well, but there are very little places that get it right every single time.

Can Tho is one of those places.

Can Tho

38 Weedon Close, Belconnen

 

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Belly Bao, Chinatown

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This is a sad and yet wonderful story of missed opportunities and new found loves. To put that all into perspective, it’s really about a restaurant closing that I never got to try, visit or see. I can write like a real writer sometimes. Sometimes. Anyway, so last week we ate at Belly Bao, which is situated in the Good God Small Club, down on, ah, well it’s near the Three Wise Monkeys Bar.

The sad part of this tale is that, as you know, I’m a fiend for all things American and previously at Good God there was a lovely little (or so I hear) establishment called The Dip. The Dip specialised in amazing hot dogs, buffalo wings and other awesome American things. My sister swore by that place and she told me to go there constantly, yet I never listened. Sadly, sometime last year The Dip closed without me ever having a taste of its hot doggy goodness. This event has left a void in my heart that I’m sure I’ll never fill. That’s the sad bit. On a more positive note, the empty space in Good God (and my heart) has been lovingly filled by an entirely different kind of meat in a bun concoction, Belly Bao!

Belly Bao specialises in those delightful Taiwanese treats, the bao. To me, a bao is essentially a sidewards taco made out of the white stuff you get on the outside of a pork bun, which is then usually filled with slow cooked pork. My first experience with a bao was at Ippudo, in the Westfield food court on Pitt Street. Since then, I’ve pretty much been on the lookout for these little gems because I freaking love these things.

We ended up Belly Bao on a Friday night and the first thing that we noticed (outside of the cool cave-like decor) was that there weren’t really that many tables at all, and take-away didn’t seem to be an option. With this in mind we did what any good person would do in an overfilled food court. That is, we stood around near tables of people who had empty plates in front of them, and tried to mentally will them into leaving. And it worked!

I hope you like bao’s, because that’s essentially all we ordered!

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First up, the classic, the Slow braised pork belly bao ($6.50) with pickled mustard greens, coriander, crushed peanuts and kewpie mayo. This is the one that started it all. The braised pork belly bao from Ippudo is what made me fall in love with these things in the first place and the one here at Belly Bao is no different. In fact, it makes me love them even more! So I guess I should get something out of the way first. I personally enjoy the baos here at Belly Bao more than the ones I’ve had at Ippudo, which I guess shouldn’t be a massive surprise to most. In the end of the day, Belly Bao does specialise in baos hence, they really are amazing! And I still do love the ramens at Ippudo.

The braised pork in the middle of this bao is extremely soft and tender, and practically falls apart as you eat it. If you look at the picture above you can see that there’s a ton of fat on this piece of pork, and that the pork itself is cut extremely thick. These are both good things. I’ve had a ton of bao’s in my life and if a place skimps on the pork then it’s dead to me. Belly Bao definitely did not skimp on the pork. A lot of people out there might be thinking “ew that’s so much fat” and to be honest it is a lot, but you have to trust me on this one, the fat makes the dish. It needs to be there. Although the fat is super important, the pork is easily the star attraction of this dish. The sides also do a great job of ensuring that the pork doesn’t become too much but onwards to the most important element. The pork is actually quite sweet due to the sauce that it was simmered in, and the crushed peanuts add some contrasting crunchy flavour as well as some saltiness. The pickled greens cut right through the richness of the meat and it’s what keeps this bao enjoyable the entire way through.

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Secondly, here is the Soft shell crab bao ($7.50) with watercress, chilli aioli and lemon vinaigrette. Like with the pork belly bao, this was absolutely fantastic. It was just punches of flavour left, right and centre. You have the strong and rich flavour of the crab, with is enhanced by the chilli aioli which is full of flavour and gives every bite a little kick but nothing too spicy or unbearable. Of course, this along would have been too overpowering and super sicken real quick. Hence, this is where the watercress and lemon vinaigrette comes in. Both these elements, cut right through the richness of the crab and the creaminess of the aioli, with a hint of bitterness from the watercress and a lovely citrus zest from the lemon vinaigrette. Together these four things bring perfect flavour and balance to eat bite.

I just realised that I haven’t spoken about the bao skin yet! I guess normally wouldn’t, since its a pretty straight forward and basic element to the overall bao but here at Belly Bao, I think their bao skins deserve a special mention — because they’re amazing! I’ve had my fair share of baos, these by far have been the best skins. They were super fluffy, moist and had just a hint of sweetness to them. But the thing that makes these skins the standard out, is the size or portion. The crew at Belly Bao have balance these perfectly, ensuring that the denseness of the bao skin doesn’t overpower and take away from the flavour of the fillings. I know it sounds stupid but it makes all the difference!

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Here’s a combo picture because that’s how they arrived and it just looked too pretty (and risky to pull out on to a dish to photograph separately). I’ll probably just talk about them left to right.

First up, the  the Panko crumbed chicken breast bao ($6.50) with lettuce, pickled radish, secret sauce, coriander, as well as coriander aioli. To me, this bao tasted like a really high quality schnitzel sandwich but with an awesome Asian twist. This might sound a bit derogatory but its definitely not, I kind of (absolutely) love schnitzel sandwiches. The chicken in this bao was extremely juicy, and I personally have a really strong preference for panko crumbs so that hit the spot perfectly. Panko is a Japanese breadcrumb that’s a lot lighter, larger, and a bit sweeter than the more standard breadcrumb that you get from Woolies. If you’ve ever had tempura anything, then you’ve probably had Panko crumbs before, and loved them too obviously.

The people at Belly Bao were really smart with this dish because a panko crumbed chicken breast isn’t nearly as rich or overpowering as a piece of braised pork. So with that in mind, the additions to this bao are equally not as powerful, instead of the pickled greens that you get with the pork belly bao, here we get straight up lettuce, bit of freshness, but nothing too crazy. No need for peanuts either since the crunchy texture is already there thanks to the panko crumb, and to accommodate how that might go down the throat, there are two separate sauces to keep things moist. Really appreciated the thought that went into this, and I really enjoyed the bao as well.

Secondly, in the middle of this picture, we have the Crackling roast pork belly bao ($6.50) with crackling, pickled radish, coriander and kewpie mayo. This was the second pork bao that is on offer at Belly Bao, they really do caters to all us pork lovers out there. First, the fatty and moist stewed pork belly, now the crispy pork crackling. If you look at the picture, you can see that this pork is just as thick as the braised pork from above, which is another awesome sign and makes me respect Belly Bao immensely. The pork in this bao is pretty drastically different from the slow braised pork from above, it’s been cooked in a different way and the result is a much firmer piece of pork that doesn’t have that distinctive Asian pork flavour. To me, that’s actually a really good thing, because I would’ve been a bit annoyed if both the pork options ended up tasting largely the same. The pork here reminded me heavily of the roast pork you get from Asian BBQ houses, and I love that pork so this was definitely a good thing.

The crackling on this bao was pretty interesting, it wasn’t just on the side of the pork where you’d naturally expect it to be. The crackling was cut off, and placed in the bao sideways, like a chip layer. Again, I need to commend the guys at Belly Bao on all the thought that went into this bao. If you think about it, leaving the crackling on the pork would have lead to a bit of a disaster (okay, maybe more of a mess) when you bit into your bao. By placing the pork in the bao with crackling separately on the side the way they have, the crew at Belly Bao has ensured maximum crackling coverage, and minimisation of mouth harming errors. Pretty cool.

Last but not least, the Crispy tofu bao ($6.50) with cucumber, peanuts, crunchy onions, coriander, chilli and sticky sauce. Something for all the vegetarians out there. I must say, I really do appreciate the menu at Belly Bao, we’ve kind of gotten to a point where hipster places are no longer offering options for people with dietary requirements, i.e. those places that only other one item. How about those of use who don’t eat meat, or don’t like fish, or only eat white meat?! Here at Belly Bao, theres something for everyone, from vegetarians, to fishcetarian to your sweet tooth’s out there. And the best part?! The alternative options are actually really tasty, the crew at Belly Bao haven’t just included these other options to ensure that everyone is covered, instead these options are actually here to please your belly.

In this veggie bao, there are amazing flavours and various flavours in each bite that you take. From the crispiness and freshness of the cucumber, to the crunch of the peanuts and onion. There also plenty of flavour from the chilli and sticky sauce and of course, to round it all off and absorb all the goodness, you have your amazingly light and crispy fried tofu. Only a slight word of warning for this bao, the chilli is legit, this thing has quite a kick to it.

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For all you people who thought ‘I NEED SUGAR AND DESSERT URGGGHH’ then the Strawbelly bao ($6.50) is for you! It is a golden fried bao, with a log of vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberry slices which are then drizzled (or drowned) in condensed milk! Decadent. That’s the word for this. The golden fried bao is fantastically crunchy but also airy once you get into it. It’s honestly kind of like a funnel cake, from the US. That is, essentially a donut with all the doughy bits gone and replaced with a crunchy and fried outer shell while still remaining soft and airy inside. Definitely not dense at all. Yeah I did a terrible job there, I guess more reason to try it!

The ice cream log is, of course, fantastic, since it’s a giant log of vanilla ice cream covered in strawberries and condensed milk. This was really a lot better than it had any right to be. I thought that this dish would be cool to look at, but not much in the taste department since it seemed a little gimmicky, but I was completely wrong. This ended up being one of my favourite bao’s, sitting just behind the crispy pork probably.

There’s also a banana version which comes with nutella, I opted for strawberry because it’ll be a cold day in hell before I say no to condensed milk, but it’s something to keep in mind for the dessert fiends out there.

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Good God, being a bar and all, serves some pretty delightful beverages and it would be remiss if I didn’t speak about a couple of them. To wash down our baos, we grabbed a (left) Spirit Walker ($12), Bulldog gin with fresh line, orange bitters and ginger beer. I’m a very boring drinker sometimes, and when I find something that I kind of like, then I’ll generally stick to it. This is because there are a ton of drinks that I just don’t really enjoy, mainly because of my terribly immature palate, but nevertheless, it’s what I enjoy.

I actually remember one night out with my sister; we went through the cocktail menu, picked some out that spoke to us, and she promptly went up to the bar to order. While she was up there, she noticed that they had this special cocktail called the ‘Sazerac’, and she considered for a quick moment whether to just grab it or not. At that exact moment, some other girl was at the bar and she completely lost her mind saying ‘OMG is that the Sazerac?! I must have it! One Sazerac please!’ So of course, my sister ended up walking back to our table with a Sazerac in hand. It essentially tasted like fire in liquid form, and we both hated it, and subtly cursed that other girl for expressing her love for it so enthusiastically.

So I guess the point of that whole story is that, when I see something that looks like a Dark n Stormy, I’m going to order it, and I’m probably going to like it! This particular one was pretty good, the orange bitters was a nice little twist on a standard recipe, and I polished this off really quickly. If you like ginger beer plus anything, then you should get this because it scratches that itch!

Our second drink, (the one on the right) was the Japanese Cowboy ($12), dry plum wine, vodka and sweetened soda. This was really refreshing and a good complement to the overall richness from all the baos that we had. It had just the right amount of sweetness for me, not too much making it taste like candy water, but enough so it doesn’t taste like pure alcohol, at that point, I might as well just take shots. The plum wine also definitely came through, giving you that lovely sweet and almost yuzu and cherry like flavour to it. Overall, love it!

I thought the drinks at Good God were pretty awesome, based off the two that we tried. Plus, the other ones available on their drinks menu looked really creative and tasty as well, must come back in the future to sample a couple more of them out, like the jugs and shots!

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The decor at Good God is really quite cool, the entire bar is downstairs and half of it is all cavey, whereas the other half is just a normal dark bar. We liked it so much we took a picture of the coaster, because why not?

Belly Bao

Good God Small Club, 53-55 Liverpool Street, Sydney

Facebook: facebook.com/bellybao

Instagram: @BellyBao

Website: bellybao.com/

Opening hours:

Wednesday to Friday

5:00pm to 10:0pm

Saturday

6:00pm to 10:00pm

Click to add a blog post for Belly Bao on Zomato

Saigon Foodies, Kingston

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The other week whilst out and about in Kingston I decided to drop by Saigon Foodies to try out their pho. I have had my eye on Saigon Foodies for a while but never got around to trying it until now. To be honest, I think the stores been there for ages but in the past six months or so, it was re-branded into something a lot more hip, cool and in. The food, décor and what not still looks the same. It seems like they’ve just changed their name and boarded the Vietnamese hipster trend. This isn’t a bad thing at all, and if it improves business then good on them! As much as it annoys me that stores are now selling pork rolls (or banh mi tit) for $8 when we’ve been paying $3-5 for them since I was growing up, at least I know its my fellow country men and woman who are profiteering from this hipster movement. Don’t get me started on foods that are inappropriately priced, I could go on for days!

During our trip to Saigon Foodies, we were originally hoping to get a Saigon roll (or pork roll, banh mi tit or whatever you want to call it). However, we were informed that they had sold out for the day. This was a bit shocking for me as I’ve always thought that the pork rolls at Saigon Foodies (and in Canberra in general ) were quite overpriced. Every time I see a pork roll for over $5, I cringe a little. I mean, on the weekend I grabbed a pork roll for $2.80 in Cabramatta and it was fantastic! I know, it sucks to hear that person go on and on about how some cities are better than Canberra, and I honestly try to refrain as much as possible, but I feel like pork rolls are something that we need to make a stand on! I understand that everything has to be imported from Sydney, so I’ll normally justify a price of about $5 or so in Canberra but it really shouldn’t be more than that! Anyways, it was 3PM on a weekday and they were all out. I guess the point of that story was, if you’re keen on getting a pork roll at Saigon Foodies, get in early. Also something about a revolution. A bread revolution.

Anyway, we were pretty hungry and plan A just failed, since we had a little bit of time, we settled for a pho instead.

Here is the Pho tai ($12) or rare beef noodle soup at Saigon Foodies. While I think the banh mi tit is pretty overpriced at Saigon Foodies, the pho isn’t too expensive. It has pretty standard Canberra pho prices. Okay, I know you may be thinking, ‘Why on earth are they going on so much about the price? What does it matter? You pay for what you get, the more you pay, the better the dish!’ While true for a lot of things, this rule seems to bend quite a bit for Asian restaurants. If you know where to look, there are some amazing Asian cheap eats all around Canberra that offer delicious and authentic Asian dishes, fantastic sizes for a fraction of the cost of some other places. Though, I won’t name names even though logically, you’d assume that is the entire point of a food blog. Oh well.

Anyways, more about this pho! The pho here at Saigon Foodies was pretty tasty. Strange but tasty. It isn’t the best pho I’ve had in Canberra but it’s a decent feed if you’re craving a pho, live in the inner south and don’t want to travel anywhere. I did notice that it had more of a chicken base instead of a beef base and wasn’t as meaty, deep or dark as pho usually is. Despite that fact, it had all the right pho scents and aromas. That was a bit strange. Normally, I’m able to judge a pho from its aromas. Chances are, if you walk into a Vietnamese restaurant it’s pretty unmistakable if that place serves good pho as you can smell the various spices that go into pho like star anise, ginger, cardamom, coriander, fennel, and cloves. Here the smells and aromas were all there in the pho, but the flavour was a little different to any pho I’ve had before. It was really quite subtle, light and had a more chicken broth like flavour to it.

As it wasn’t so dark and meaty, the broth was on the sweeter side but by no means too sweet or anything like that. It was probably the sweetest pho I’ve had in Canberra. Thought, I should mention that I know some people prefer their pho very savoury while others prefer it sweeter, so each to their own. Here is one for the sweet pho lovers out there. The pho had a generous amount of thinly sliced rare beef on it, as well as some herbs sprinkled on top. I didn’t really like that they added the chilli for you, especially as I can’t eat chilli at all. Once I took the picture, I pretty much rushed to get the chilli and all its seeds out of my pho as quickly as possible so the spiciness would not seep throughout my pho broth. On top of the herbs in the bowl, they also offered a side of fresh Vietnamese herbs and limes as well. I really appreciated that they did this, I know some other smaller places will just add the herbs into the pho for you, so they don’t have to waste all the herbs that you don’t eat. I don’t really like this as I tend not to put any of the herbs into my soup, so this saves me from having to pick it all out.

Here is the side of herbs, its a pretty decent amount and all the herbs were really nice and fresh. In the end of the day, it wasn’t a bad pho. Its probably not on the top of my Canberra pho list but if I was in Kingston or anywhere else in the inner south and craving one, I would probably drop by again. In hindsight, now that I’m thinking about it, I wonder if they gave me the wrong pho or got my order wrong. Maybe I got a chicken pho instead. From my understanding, you can make a pretty similar pho from chicken bones but it will taste slightly different, which is exactly what we experienced! Interesting, well I do plan to visit in the near future to get my hands on one of Saigon Foodies’ pork roll, I guess I’ll have to try their pho again to see if my theory is correct. Who knows, maybe this was just a fantastic pho ga!

Saigon Foodies 

42 Giles Street, Kingston

Saigon Foodies on Urbanspoon

Kinn Thai, Civic

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Kinn Thai is a new restaurant which has just opened up where Wagamama used to be right out front of the Canberra Centre. Kinn Thai opened up on Friday and I was pretty shocked actually because I barely noticed that Wagamama had even shut down before Kinn had set itself up and was handing out menus! As you may know, we here at Lily & Ouk we have some weird rules when it comes to food places; 1. We hate dealing with long lines and 2. We also think that it’s unfair to judge a place right when it first opens, in case it has problems getting into the groove of things. What this leaves us with, is a rule where we do not go to any new restaurant within a month of it’s opening. This gives us the added benefit of not appearing like one of those over enthusiastic food bloggers that absolutely needs to be the first to every new place.

Well, it might be obvious now but we’ve broken that rule, and ended up heading to Kinn Thai the day after it opened. I understand that this might be difficult to comprehend, but I think the sole take away from this is that we are people without morals, and as such should not be trusted. Outside of that, we actually had a really nice time here at Kinn, with extremely fast service and a delightfully mixed food experience.

Alright, enough boring intro talk, now for the boring food talk!

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Our first entree was the Betel leaf ($4) with a king prawn, Thai herbs and Kinn special sauce. Normally I’d go on about the price at a time like this, but to be honest, I think betel leaves are endangered or something because I’ve never found one for less than around this price. It’s a shame for my wallet too because I freaking love betel leaves! The ones served here at Kinn are especially Thai influenced with lots of sweet and sour overtones across the whole thing.

The prawn itself was cooked perfectly with quite a bite of bityness to it, but still remaining tender on the inside without being chewy. It must be a lucky year for me because recently I’ve been treated to a ton of perfectly cooked prawns (2014 wasn’t so kind).

In addition to the prawn, there was some lovely crunchy nut pieces and Thai herbs that added tons of different textures to make this a really enjoyable little parcel to chuck into your mouth. To top it all off there seemed to be little shreds of coconut, which added some lovely creaminess as well as some chewy texture, which allowed this to coat your entire mouth as you were eating it, giving it some great depth and making it feel a lot more filling. I really enjoyed this, it’s not something I’d try and get full off, but it’s definitely worth trying.

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Next up, we had the Seared scallops ($9) with spicy chilli and lime sauce. I probably need to admit that I absolutely love scallops, so if they’re on a menu I’m generally going to try and eat it, and I’m probably going to really love it too. The scallops here at Kinn Thai are again, very Thai influenced, though this is a Thai restaurant so that probably makes sense. They looked to be cooked under a very high heat for a very low amount of time because they had a lovely dark brown char on them, but the flesh itself was amazingly soft and tender. Really, bravo on how nice they managed to cook the scallops.

The flavours were quite strong on this dish, masking the scallop flavour with that of herbs, spices and a drizzle of a heavily fish sauce influenced liquid. There were slices of cucumber under each scallop, and that helped to really mix up the texture greatly, giving a crispness to the tenderness of the scallops. One word of warning however, you may know by now that I cannot handle chilli at all. This is a pretty spicy dish, spicy enough that I found it a bit difficult to eat without a milk tea there with me. So, consider yourself warned.

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Our first ‘main’ dish was the Soft shell crab papaya salad ($15.50) with lime juice, roasted peanuts, green beans and tomato. Let me continue the theme of spicy here and state that this dish was really, really, spicy. I couldn’t see any chilli seeds or anything through it but damn, it was a spicy dish. Outside of the spiciness, the papaya salad was pretty nice, and was comparable to most papaya salads I’ve ever had. Personally, I didn’t really enjoy the raw green beans that were there throughout the salad. Texture wise, they just made everything needlessly chewy and uncomfortable. Plus, I don’t get it, green beans should be cooked, thats when they taste the best!

The crab itself had a lovely light coating on it that wasn’t too oily like a lot of other soft shell crabs. The flavours were really subtle on this crab, so much so that I’d go out on a limb and call it a bit bland. It worked well alongside the papaya salad, but the crab didn’t really stand up well to scrutiny all on its lonesome unfortunately.

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Our last main was the Massamun lamb shank ($19.50) with mashed sweet potato and roti. This dish is described as a 24 hour slow cooked lamb shank, and I can definitely see the positives out of such a long cooking time! This was easily my favourite dish of the whole night, absolutely delicious.

The massamun curry itself was really quite sweet, and much sweeter than any other massamun beef curry I’ve had in the past. I’ve noticed that a lot of dishes at Kinn Thai run quite strongly in certain flavour directions, be it sweet, sour or spicy and this was no different. In this particular instance however, the sweetness was countered pretty well by the strong savoury flavours of the lamb shank, which pushed through the sweetness of the curry and gave it a good balance. I should mention that without the lamb, I believe the curry would’ve been too sweet, to the point where I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, though I also think that if the massamun wasn’t as sweet as it was, perhaps the flavour of the lamb would’ve been excessive and overpowering.

But the lamb! If there is any one single saviour to this dish, it is the wonderful lamb shank. The meat is so tender that it almost falls right off the bone. With just a little prodding with a fork, all the meat just slides off! I’ve never had the good fortune of trying a lamb massamun prior to this, but the heavy flavours of lamb go perfectly with such a dish and cannot recommend it enough. On top of the lamb, the curry comes with a light sweet potato mash that was pleasant, as well as a really nice roti bread, though you can forgive me for not being as excited about those elements as I was about the lamb.

Not pictured here is rice, and as with any curry, I recommend you eat this with rice because there’s nothing better than getting standard white rice and getting it all curried up.

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For drinks, we got two, the Balefruit drink ($4) and Traditional Thai milk tea ($4). These were really pleasant and of course, served out of mason jars. Out of the two, I definitely preferred the milk tea, it was dense, smokey, with a slight caramelised after taste to it. It’s definitely different to the standard milk tea you’d get at a place like EasyWay or Chatime, and worth a try in my opinion.

For the balefruit drink, I should mention that I’ve never really heard of balefruit before (but it does look familiar, a bit like a non saggy custard apple) but if it tastes anything like this drink did then I’m expecting something extremely, extremely sweet. Flavourwise, it kind of tasted like a herbal jelly drink but without the jelly and with a slightly medicinal aftertaste, but in the best way possible. If you kind of like sweet things and don’t mind Asian flavours, this drink is definitely worth a try.

So there you have it, our rule breaking trip to Kinn Thai in Civic! As you can see, it was a bit of a mixed experience for us , though I think that can be put down to the fact that we couldn’t handle our spice. Some of the flavours here overwhelmed us with how strong they were, but overall the food was quite nice.

One thing I should mention that I never got the chance to earlier was that the service was FAST. I think it only took about 5 minutes between when they took our orders to when we received the first bits of our food, and we had our entire meal in front of us within 15 minutes, tops. So this could be a great little power lunch option for any of you that work in Civic. Woot, new place for work lunches! Plus, there are so many dishes here that I’m keen on trying, the first of which will be those sticky pork ribs, so we’ll likely be back at Kinn Thai in the near future!

Kinn Thai 

125 Bunda Street, Civic

Website: kinnrestaurant.com.au/canberra

Facebook: facebook.com/kinnrestaurantgroup

Opening hours:

Monday to Sunday

Breakfast, lunch and dinner

Kinn Thai on Urbanspoon

Aqua S, CBD

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Over the Easter long weekend, I finally got the chance to revisit Aqua S. I really enjoyed my first visit and I have been hankering to go back but never got the chance to. I sat and moped in Canberra as I watched various awesome flavours come and go, including taro, tiramasu, creaming soda, tomato and other weird and cool things like that. I drooled as I saw the pictures on Instagram but sadly couldn’t get my hands on any. Instead, I just sat at home in Canberra licking on my own lame recreation of sea salt ice cream (that is, I tried sprinkling salt onto vanilla ice cream). Before you ask, no, it didn’t quite quench my need.

Well I managed to come back and just in time for some new flavours! For the next two weeks Aqua S is treating us with tofu flavour and mango and orange flavour. I of course tried both! I probably won’t explain how Aqua S works, or how much the toppings cost and etc. I kind of went through that in my last post which you can check out here. Its not overly complicated and theres always kind of a line (even at noon, when they open). So by the time you get to the counter, you probably get the gist of it anyway.

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First up, the Seasalt and tofu cone ($3.80). Last time I visited, I opted for straight seasalt since the two other flavours (biscotti and lemon tea) didn’t quite appeal to me but this time when I saw tofu, I just had to give it a go. Whenever I travel, whatever weird famous food that country has, I’m pretty keen to try it, so something like tofu, even if it sounds weird, it wasn’t enough to phase me. Plus, I figure, wouldn’t hurt to get a little bit of extra protein while I’m enjoying my seasalt ice cream. Well it definitely was interesting, and definitely an acquired taste. I loved the sea salt flavour from the first lick, but the tofu didn’t have quite the same response.

Though credit where it’s due, it was amazing how similar it actually tasted to fresh silken tofu. It’s like the crew at Aqua S just got a bunch of tofu and blended it into a milk, which was then used to make a soft serve. Literally, tofu but with a silky, smooth soft serve texture. Interesting stuff. Would I get it again? Maybe. But I reckon I might just stick to the classic sea salt flavour next time. With that said, I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the sea salt flavour, and I seem to have loved it so your mileage may vary. For what it’s worth, I very much prefer pandan silken tofu milk.

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My second ice cream was the Seasalt and mango and orange with fairyfloss ($5.30). Yes I got two ice creams all for myself! I ended up eating four ice creams on this particular day and I’ll argue the virtues of such a lifestyle until the day I die. I’ll probably just talk about the mango and orange soft serve here, I think I’ve gushed about Aqua S enough.

So I was a little sceptical about the tofu, it was nice and all but I think I don’t love tofu as much as other people do. On the other hand, the mango and orange was love at first sight (or lick) I guess. The mango and orange soft serve was fruity, sweet and had a really nice yuzu like aftertaste to it and I love all things yuzu so I was all over this soft serve.

So there you have it, another awesome visit to Aqua S. Overall, I enjoy the different flavours that Aqua S has on offer and its quite exciting with the two rotating flavours, definitely makes me want to come back and try out the new flavours, especially when they are as weird as tomato, tofu and what not. I really hope they do bring back some of the flavours. I would love to try taro which was available about a month or so ago but missed out on because I wasn’t in Sydney those two weekends. As much I love the sea salt and other soft serve flavours, I can definitely see it being an acquired taste for some. So be warned, if you’re a picky eater and like the classics, you might want to consider sharing a cone with a mate.

Aqua S

501 George Street, Regent Place, Sydney

Website: aquas.co

Facebook: facebook.com/aquasaustralia

Instagram: instagram.com/aquas_au/

Opening hours:

Monday to Sunday

12:00pm to 10:00pm

Aqua S on Urbanspoon

The East Kitchen, Dickson

There’s something to be said about hidden treasures in the food industry, and Canberra is a place that doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of them. Most great places tend to be talked about ad nauseam so it’s really a pleasant surprise when you can take a chance on an innocuous little place and walk away satisfied, and even keen to go back! East Kitchen is a Chinese restaurant nestled in the back corner of the home of Chinese restaurants, Dickson and this hidden location has lead to it being really quiet most nights.

Truth be told, the reason we ended up eating here was mainly because it was so empty. My policy is that we shouldn’t be so quick to write off places that don’t have a ton of people, there are so many awesome places that are almost empty all the time (see Tutto Continental) and there are many average places that are always full (see Sammy’s Kitchen).

With that in mind, here is our night at East Kitchen!

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First up, we got a serve of the Shallot pancakes ($6.50). These were a lovely surprise, I was expecting a thinner Japanese style savoury pancake, (which is a bit dumb since I’m at a Chinese place) and instead I got a super thick fluffy and airy roti-like pancake. This was a really understated dish, the onion flavours were really subtle and complimented the airy dough perfectly. The texture of this was probably my favourite part about it, soft, light, fluffy. It ripped apart in strands much like a roti, and made me wish we ordered some sort of curry to enjoy it with.

The interesting thing about this dish (and there’ll be more in the rest of this post), the East Kitchen seems to switch between classic traditional Chinese foods, such as this pancake, and Western Chinese food like honey chicken, Mongolian lamb etc. While we were there, our friends scoffed at all the Westernised food, which sort of shows what’s happened to Chinese food in Australia over the past couple of years.

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Next up, we got a serve of the Crab meat and sweet corn soup ($6.00). So earlier when I said the menu had some Aussie’ified Chinese food? Here’s one. Never say we’re elitist Chinese food eaters. I actually get this dish somewhat regularly whenever I eat at a Chinese place and one thing I’m always on the lookout for when I get the crab version of this (the other version being chicken) is whether they use real crab, or seafood extender. You can never be sure when it comes to a Chinese restaurant what you’re going to get, I’ve seen highly rated expensive places serve seafood extender, and here is an example of a place that no one really talks about, serving up some good ol real crab meat (as evidenced in the above picture).

Now, sweet corn soup is kind of comfort food for me, it never really tastes bad, even if it’s seafood extender. This one in particular though was really nice and much better than I was expecting. When a place isn’t doing so well, I start to expect that they’ll take short cuts on the better, fresher ingredients as they try to save money. The East Kitchen hasn’t done that here, and I commend them for it. A really tasty and enjoyable crab and sweet corn soup.

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Our first main of the night was a serve of the Beef in a Golden Bowl ($16.60), with cashews and black pepper. So, throughout the night I was constantly getting pleasantly surprised by dishes I was expecting the worst from, and this one unfortunately was a blip in that trend. When I read ‘golden bowl’ for some reason I expect a deep fried nest of egg noodle, it turned into a bowl filled with delicious somethings. This dish was 90% of the way there, except instead of egg noodle, it was more like a massive sheet of wonton skin or something like that. Not what I was expecting at all, though not nearly as bad as it could’ve been.

This dish was essentially a nice little stir fry of beef and black bean, cashews and mixed veggies. Despite my initial disappointment in the bowl, the stir fry here was incredibly thick and saucy, so it was quite an enjoyable little dish from that standpoint. There’s something immensely satisfying eating your dish, then eating the bowl, looking down and seeing nothing but a table (If you don’t get this reference you’re dead to me).

Our next main was the Sizzling BBQ pork ($18.00). I had almost forgotten that silly child like joy that engulfs me whenever something arrives at my table and it’s all sizzling away with smoke billowing everywhere, it’s kind of like going to a Korean BBQ, except you get to eat straight away and you don’t smell like cigarettes afterwards. Win win! This was a pretty nice dish, it had the red skinned BBQ pork (cha siu, I believe) heavily sauced up and sizzling away with a bevy of vegetables and topped with dried onions. One good thing about this night was that it managed to get me to eat a whole bunch of vegetables. Not a lot of places can say that!

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The dish that held everything together was the Yang Chow fried rice ($12.50). There are times when you realise that our time on this earth is short. In this crazy world, who knows what’ll happen tomorrow, and with that in mind, we decided to opt for a serve of fried rice to eat with our main dishes, instead of the standard steamed. It was crazy, I know, but, sometimes you just have to live a little. I’m very glad I did too because this fried rice ended up becoming my favourite dish of the whole night! The fried rice here is quite simple with just the addition of herbs, spices, egg, ham and prawns. I’m not sure how much detail I can go into, but I’ll just say that this is one of my favourite fried rice’s I’ve ever had, and the entire meal benefited from it being there. I’m very much considering coming back for takeaway purely on how much I liked this fried rice.

So that was our night at the East Kitchen. A really fun night complimented by some really friendly and attentive service that I never got around to mentioning until now. As can be seen from the pictures above, the food is standard Chinese fare, and while it’s nothing you can’t get from a Chinese place at a food court, it’s done really well and I appreciate that they use real ingredients when it’s so easy to take the cheaper option. All in all, I really liked this place, and would love to come back at least for the fried rice!!

The East Kitchen

Shop 2, 28 Challis Street, Dickson

Website: theeastkitchen.com.au/

Opening Hours

Tuesday to Friday

11:30am – 2:30pm

Tuesday to Saturday

5:00pm – 10:00pm

The East Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Bistro Nguyen’s, Civic

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Recently, I visited the newly opened Bistro Nguyen’s which replaced the recently closed Wasabi in Civic. I was originally pretty skeptical of this new Vietnamese restaurant which screams hipster and I’ve never trusted hipster Vietnamese food. It’s just one of those cuisines that doesn’t translate well to hipsterness. Vietnamese food is all about delicious flavoursome dishes, good portion sizes and homely comfort. Its not something that photographs particularly well, or should be plated in a hipster way. However, after seeing the menu which included many other traditional Vietnamese dishes, not just pho, I felt a lot more comfortable that I would have an enjoyable meal and decided to try it out.

Bistro Nguyen’s menu is quite extensive and it includes all the things you should find on a good Vietnamese menu. I know, weird comment to make but most Canberra restaurants only do a couple of things like pho, pork chop broken rice etc, but they tend to miss other key Vietnamese dishes like bon bo hue or hu tieu. Yes, I know I’m a terrible Vietnamese food nerd but it has to be said! (Plus, I can’t help it, I was raised on this stuff!)

Bistro Nguyen’s menu also includes a variety of different Saigon rolls. Its really interesting to see Saigon rolls at an actual restaurant instead of at a Vietnamese bakery. Saigon rolls are more of a street food, quick snack or in a sorts, a Vietnamese take away. I guess it does make some sense for Canberra, where pork roll shops and Vietnamese bakeries are extremely rare plus I think Bistro Nguyen’s sells the Saigon rolls at lunch time over at the bain-marie section of their store.

Before I talk about the food, we noticed something interesting about Bistro Nguyen’s store name. When I was typing this up, we were arguing about the store’s name, since it was a circle and all. We couldn’t agree on whether the name was Bistro Nguyen’s or Nguyen’s Bistro. The second one of course makes a lot more sense. After checking their official Facebook page, we can confirm that it is indeed Bistro Nguyen’s, which makes no sense because of the apostrophe but after a while, it hit me! I realised, Vietnamese sentences are constructed backwards. So yeah, that was interesting.

Anyway, food time.

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First up, some entrees, the Stuffed chicken wings ($7.50). This was from Bistro Nguyen’s blackboard special. We actually didn’t notice this at first and were about to get some pork (nem noung) fresh rice paper rolls but as the waiter came, my eyes looked up and saw this on the blackboard special. I’m always someone who will give a bit of precedence for blackboard specials because I like to imagine that is what the chef is secretly willing me to eat. Also, chicken wings will win every time for me, over just about anything.

For $7.50, you only get one chicken drumstick but it’s a pretty big one! I think they pretty much just remove the bone piece and then fill it with more meaty goodness and then some more, because I don’t remember bone being that big! This stuffed chicken wing at Bistro Nguyen’s was filled with pork mince with vermicelli, a mushroom known an nam meo in Vietnamese or apparently, Jew’s ear in English and some other things I couldn’t quite make out. It was all mashed up into this tight thing, and just jammed in the chicken, I really liked it, and it wasn’t super soft and tender or anything, and kind of had a weird spring roll kind of flavour to it.

The stuffed chicken wing was tasty. The chicken was nice and crispy but it was more of light crumble so there wasn’t a lot of dough. As the shell wasn’t overly crispy, the more basic flavour of the chicken meat definitely came through strong. Luckily, the pork mince was really flavoursome and quite firm. The combination of the blander chicken meat with the strong pork mince worked well.

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I of course could not go past the Saigon pork roll ($7.50). Of late, I’ve been trying to sample all the Saigon rolls (pork rolls, banh mi thit etc) in Canberra to see which one I like the best. Of course, when I saw it available on Bistro Nguyen’s menu, I had to give it a go. Outside of this roll, Bistro Nguyen also offers a beef, chicken and a vegetarian version. I went for the classic. Although, the pork rolls at Bistro Nguyen’s aren’t quite traditional they are definitely not bad, and while I harp on about traditional and authenticity all the time, I did find that I enjoyed this.

The pork roll here lacks shallots or onions and includes crackling pork belly. I’m normally a massive geek when it comes to pork rolls and I’m super pedantic about getting it right and authentic.  However, when I sampled Bistro Nguyen’s version with the pork belly, it did not set alarm bells ringing, the soul of the banh mi was here and strong, and all the changes just worked within the confines of what this roll means.

I appreciated the addition of pork belly seeing as I’m paying Canberra’s premium pork roll prices, so that was a massive plus. However, the Vietnamese pate and mayonnaise or butter, which I regard as the most important element of a pork roll wasn’t especially strong here. They weren’t overly generous with it and both were on the milder side compared to what you’ll find at a really good pork roll place. However, here is where the pork belly came in, the meaty and heavily Asian spiced flavours of the pork worked well to enhance the flavours of the pate. I guess where the pate was lacking, the pork belly stepped in. So I guess it works in a way.

The rest of the pork roll was pretty spot on. There was a generous amount of pickled carrots and fresh cucumbers which were nice and crunchy. The pork roll included all the three pork roll meats, the white ham, the pink ham and the white meat with the pink fatty skin layer. However, you only get one circle piece of white meat with pink skin which is a bit scummy, though lots of places have started doing that now. There was also coriander and chilli! Oh the chilli, so the menu doesn’t state that there is chilli but the pork roll indeed comes with chilli and its the hot, small Vietnamese type, so they burn! Word of warning for everyone else, let them know you can’t eat chilli and don’t want it, if of course, you’re like me.

In the end of the day, its not a traditional pork roll but its still better than anything else you can get in or around Civic. (I still need to try the iPho’s one, and probably the Roll’d one.)

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Onwards, to the good stuff, the soupy stuff. Pho dac biet ($13.50) (Special Pho). Bistro Nguyen’s has your usual pho choices, the basic pho tai, pho bo vien, pho ga and what not but the most interesting offering was the pho with wagyu beef sirloin (5+), brisket, tendon and beef meatballs for $16.50. I must say, I’ve never seen a Vietnamese restaurant offer wagyu but then again I’ve never been to a hipster Vietnamese restaurant before. We opted for the standard special pho; the grade 5 wagyu sounds fantastic and all but at the end of the day, the beef still gets completely cooked by the pho broth. So, I didn’t really see the point, but if anyone ever tries it, let me know how it is because I’m curious, just not $3 curious.

The actual pho was a bit of a let down but there is a caveat to that comment, so don’t stop reading here! When you walk into the store, you could smell the scent of the various herbs and spices in Bistro Nguyen’s different soupy dishes. Normally, if a pho smells deep, hearty and really delicious and meaty, chances are it probably will be pretty tasty. However, here at Bistro Nguyen’s when I took a sip of the pho, it didn’t taste quite right. It took me a while to figure it out but pretty much the pho at Bistro Nguyen’s was heavily watered down. It had all the right flavours, the spices, the meatiness and what not but none of them were really strong.

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Having had that said, it could have just been that we ate at Bistro Nguyen’s on a bad day, which is unfortunately, something that can easily happen at a pho place. Growing up, I remember whenever my mum cooked pho, it was always best on the third day. The longer the bones and spices sat in the broth, the deeper and meatier it got. From my understanding, most restaurants having a running broth where they’ll just keep topping it up with water, new spices and bones. Hence, if you eat at a pho place on one of those days, its never really as pleasant, but if you get it on a good day, then it’s super flavourful. There are of course more popular and established places that have a couple of pots going to ensure they always have a good broth but Bistro Nguyen’s is only about a week or so old, so I don’t think thats quite expected yet. A disappointing pho, but one that I’m definitely willing to try again.

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Onwards to the Hu tieu ($13.50). While the pho was a little watered down, the hu tieu was spot on and full of flavour. I don’t see hu tieu on many Vietnamese restaurant’s menu, its not quite as popular as pho but recently I’ve been having a hankering for it, I even asked my mum to make it for me next time I’m in Sydney. After having the hu tieu at Bistro Nguyen’s that craving is no more. When this came out, it smelt absolutely delicious and as I took a sip of the soup, I knew I had made the right choice.

Before I jump into how it tasted, I figured I might describe what hu tieu is since its a lot more unknown. Apparently, hu tieu is actually a Cambodian dish. I never knew this until I read the descriptor on Bistro Nguyen’s menu. I always just assumed it was Vietnamese since my mum made it pretty regularly and it sounds Vietnamese too. Well, regardless of its origin, hu tieu is delicious. The broth is made from pork and shrimp, with the flavour of the shrimp coming through much stronger, while the pork works as a base and after taste. The noodles in a hu tieu is also different to anything else in Vietnamese cooking. Its this clear, thicker noodle that’s rectangular in shape. Texture and taste wise, it reminds me of Korean potato noodle, just more al dente. Its then topped with a combination of pork meat, prawns and an oily garlic sauce.

The hu tieu at Bistro Nguyen’s was perfect. The noodles were lovely and soft while the broth was super strong in flavour. They didn’t have the garlic oil but no biggie. The hu tieu was topped with various Vietnamese hams, pork meat, a couple of fat and juicy prawns as well as some chicken. Bistro Nguyen’s also offers their hu tieu either dry or wet, which is great because my preference is always dry. (Though, I asked for mine dry and it arrived wet, but it tasted so good that I didn’t really mind).

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Finally, a serving of the Soft shell crab ($13.50). We actually didn’t get this, we bumped into a friend who was having a quick dinner before heading home, they joined us and ordered this soft shell crab. As I didn’t try it, I won’t comment on how it tasted. This was one of Bistro Nguyen’s blackboard specials. I thought it was rather interesting, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my parents cook soft shell crab, I always just assumed that it was a Japanese thing. Like, Vietnamese cuisine does have crab, but its not done like this. Its normally older crab with the tough shell that you have to break with those clamps.

Though the way this smelt and look, it reminded me a lot of home. It looks like quite a lot of soft shell crab and our friend seemed to enjoy it. The crab comes with a side of salad, which you can’t see from the picture but if you want some rice, you’ll have to order that separately. I think it was about $3.50 for a serving or person.

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I’m really happy to see another Vietnamese restaurant open up in Civic. I know this review sounds far from perfect but I think most of the issues can be put down to Bistro Nguyen’s being only about a week or so old. As time goes on things will definitely get better and once Bistro Nguyen’s has ironed out all the wrinkles I can see this place offering some really good and authentic Vietnamese eats. Or not, but you know, we’ll probably try it again in a month or so just to see how things are going.

Bistro Nguyen’s definitely screams hipster, from the store name, to the decor, to the attempts of making Vietnamese food presentable. However, when you look at the menu and try the food, it is actually quite spot on and authentic trashy Vietnamese (I say that in the most positive way possible). The menu has all the things you would expect from a good Vietnamese restaurant, which seems to be quite rare in Canberra. Like, yeah you can find a decent pho here but if you’re looking for something a little more left field, I find Canberra doesn’t quite cater for that. But now, there’s Bistro Nguyen’s to fill in that void for me, which is really cool because I’ve kind of got my favourite pho places locked down. It’d get a bit complicated if I had to add more to it.

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Bon Kura, Dickson

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Last week, I headed out to Dickson to try the newly opened Bon Kura. Bon Kura has replaced Grill and Sizzle, which opened last year as a Japanese and Italian fusion restaurant. Grill and Sizzle never did particularly well and in hindsight I’m not sure why I didn’t visit it more often. I absolutely love Japanese food and I’ve complained over and over again how I think Canberra is somewhat lacking in this area, especially when it comes to udon and ramen. It’s probably annoying by now, but you know, it’s just something that I need to get off my chest. Constantly. Actually, maybe thats why I didn’t visit Grill and Sizzle much, they didn’t offer ramen or udon.

Luckily for me, Bon Kura does indeed serve ramen and udon. However, unfortunately for us, on the day we were at Bon Kura, they weren’t quite ready yet hence the tonkatsu broth wasn’t available yet, they did have a shoyu broth available, but for me and ramen, it’s tonkatsu or nothing. I love thick meaty broths, so I guess this means I’ll be visiting again shortly to try it out. According to the staff at Bon Kura, the ramen noodles are handmade, so definitely exciting news!

Outside of ramen and udon, Bon Kura has a very extensive menu which covers all parts of Japanese cuisine from skewers, sushi rolls and salads to various dons, street eats and shabu shabu.  We didn’t quite have the stomach to try everything but we did manage to try the following dishes from Bon Kura.

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First up, the Peppered wagyu beef skewers ($8.80). Bon Kura had quite a few skewers on offer, ranging from meat to seafood to vegetables, including goodies such as pork belly, scallops, corn etc. I definitely had trouble picking between pork belly and this peppered wagyu beef but after some internal battling, this won out, and of course, it was purely due to a “chef’s recommendation” tag on it in the menu.

This was a really lucky choice because while it may not be pork belly, it was still extremely fatty and delicious. Outside of the fattiness, the beef was of a fantastically high quality and cooked in a sweet and sticky sauce which went well with the salty soy dipping sauce. I really liked that the beef was cut up in to relatively small chunks. This made the whole skewer quite manageable and easy to eat. Nothing worse then taking one bit of meat and pulling another massive chunk along with it. The meat was cooked well through, but was thin enough where you didn’t get any horrible texture from overcooked beef.

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Onwards to something healthy, only I didn’t eat any of the salad. Salmon sashimi salad ($15.80). This salad was interesting, it felt a lot like a straight out salmon sashimi than a salad. By that, I guess I mean, it was quite dry and lacked any sort of flavoursome sauce that you tend to get in a Japanese salad. I think according to the description, there was an apple sauce and you can see it on the plate but the flavour didn’t quite come through and there wasn’t really enough to give the salad its much needed moisture. Hence, I didn’t touch the salad. That sounds really fatty fat of me, but well salad kind of needs a bit of something before I really want to eat it.

While the salad part wasn’t great, the raw salmon, tomatoes and avocado were actually quite tasty. Let’s just say, if this was a salmon sashimi, I would have been pretty darn satisfied. The salmon was really fresh and tasty, there was a good amount of it too. It may look quite small from the image but the majority of the salmon was actually covered by the salad. I’d say, you get about 50% to 60% more salmon then what you see in the picture. Which was a pleasant surprise. There was also a good amount of really ripe and delicious avocado to go with the salmon. A prefect creamy treat.

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Onwards to the sushi at Bon Kura, Chef’s special fried roll ($11.80). I actually had no idea this was deep fried, I think when I was looking at the menu, I must have skipped straight to the descriptor and completely missed the actual name of the dish. Well lets just say, it was a pretty cool surprise when it came out like this. I’ve only had deep fried sushi once or twice in the past and didn’t quite like it, so I guess this was an interesting experiment. I must say, a well done deep fried sushi roll is quite nice.

This was crispy and a little firm on the outside, while the inside was like any other good sushi roll. The sushi roll came with cream cheese, egg, tempura prawn, cucumber with flying fish roe and mayo on top. The interior was great with plenty of different complimenting flavours that played on each other with contrasting textures as well. I loved the addition of cream cheese, which added this creamy and cheesy aftertaste to each bite. The caviar and mayo also added all the extra flavour and moisture this sushi roll needed.

Funny side story to this roll, when I saw the menu I was so excited about the sushi prices. $11.80 for a whole roll, bargain! Even cheap for Sydney. I wasn’t disappointed when the rolls came out, it was more of a ‘oh, that makes sense’ sort of reaction since you just get about half as much as I was expecting. These rolls aren’t as cheap as I thought they would be but I guess they are by no means expensive either compared to other places around Canberra. Plus, I don’t think I mind this whole half a serve concept, means I can try other dishes as well!

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Our second sushi, the Grilled wagyu beef roll ($10.80). Another pretty cool roll from Bon Kura. This one wasn’t as cool and interesting as the first one but flavour wise, it was pretty solid. The inside was pretty simple, with some egg and cucumber. Both are fairly bland ingredients which is pretty standard, I guess they must be doing it more for the texture. All the flavour for this roll came through the wagyu beef, crispy garlic chips, shallots and light soy which was drizzled over the roll.

This roll definitely wasn’t what I was expecting, I guess I thought the meat would be inside the rice. Not that there was any problem with having the meat over the top, it definitely did make it more visually appealing. Another benefit of having the meat slathered over the top was that there was way way more meat than anything else. Having had that said, all things visually appealing seem to be more difficult to eat, and this was no different, it was impossible to dip this into soy sauce without it falling apart, so I just ended up scoffing each one down whole. Oh well, at least it was tasty!

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The wagyu beef on this roll was pretty good, it was cooked to medium rare, which was fantastic. Nothing worse than chewy overcooked beef. Bon Kura didn’t do much to the wagyu beef, they really did let the quality of the meat do the talking. They did spice it up a little with a really mild and light teriyaki sauce, which added some nice savouriness and a slight edge of sweetness as well. There was also a very generous sprinkling of crispy garlic chips all over the wagyu beef and some shallots as well. These added some lovely scent and a tiny bit of spice to the rolls as well.

Overall a pretty tasty roll, again another half serving but like I said before, proportionally, its still a pretty decent price for a full roll like this, especially considering that its wagyu.

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Finally, the Pork tonkatsu don ($16.80). This came with a side of salad, some sweet soy sauce, a fantastically generous glob of Japanese mayonnaise and a bowl of rice as well. This definitely isn’t the best value for money tonkatsu don out there but it was a pretty decent feed and pretty tasty too. The tonkatsu itself was really crispy and crunchy. However, I did find it slightly dry, the meat inside wasn’t overly juicy like you would find at some other places. This was served with a lovely thick soy/teriyaki sauce and when I dipped the tonkatsu into the soy sauce, it actually softened it and added a lot of moisture that made me really enjoy this dish. I know that sounds kind of crazy as soy sauces tend to be super salty. However, here at Bon Kura, it seems like they’ve seasoned the soy sauce and made it much sweeter and slightly more diluted.

Our meal at Bon Kura was quite pleasant. I know I mentioned a couple of more negative points than positive. However, when we finished our meal, we actually found out that they had only been opened for two days. I guess this means its only going to go up hill from here, plus the staff here super friendly and interested in getting our feedback on the meal.

I’m sure over the next couple of weeks, the crew at Bon Kura will iron out the wrinkles. Plus, I have every intention to visit in the near future to sample Bon Kura’s ramen. I’ve yet to find even a semi decent ramen in Canberra to date, udons aren’t too bad but everyone seems to use dry pack ramen noodles which is really obvious and horrible, so I’m looking forwards to Bon Kura’s handmade ramen noodles!

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Aqua S, CBD

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A couple of weeks ago Aqua S opened up in Regents Place opposite Chanoma Cafe in the CBD. I’ve been keen for months to see what would pop up in this little spot. Regents Place over the last few years has been transformed from a dark and gloomy alley way to a really cool, hip, and affordable hang out place, with plenty of new restaurants and cafes like Chanoma Cafe, Miss Chu, Sedap, Tenkomori and other awesome places. For a few months now, a small store space within Regents Place had been boarded up with a massive sign that said ‘Aqua S, ice cream’ on it. When I saw ice cream I got excited.

I wasn’t really sure what was installed for us but anything to do with ice cream could only be awesome. Time passed and I headed back to living my day to day life in Canberra, I kind of forgot about Aqua S to be honest, until the other week. Suddenly our Instagram feed was bombarded with these amazing looking soft serves. There was fairy floss, popping candy, pastel colours, hipster flavours like sea salt and other awesome things like that. When I saw those awesome and cute pictures nothing else mattered, I didn’t care if it tasted good or bad, I had to get my hands on one. Luckily for me and a bit of a spoiler alert, Aqua S isn’t just a gimmick, it is actually quite tasty!

The concept at Aqua S is pretty simple. There are three different soft serve flavours at any one time, the staple which should always be around, sea salt and two other flavours which changes every week. In Aqua S’ first week they had biscotti and lemon tea, this week they have strawberry cheesecake and salted dark chocolate. You can combine some of these flavours but not all as Aqua S only has two soft serve machines. When you’re in store, there’s a screen which highlights which flavours can be combined and which can’t. Once you’ve picked your flavour, you can choose to either get it in a cone or small cup for $3.80 or large cup for $4.30. Then it’s time to add the toppings. Right now there are four different toppings; popping candy, fairy floss, caramelised popcorn and toasted marshmallows. One topping will cost $1.50, two toppings will cost $2.50 and all four toppings will cost $4.20. I know it seems a little steep but what can you say, it’s the hipster age plus it’s not overly expensive when you compare it to Messina’s dessert bar which will set you back $0.80 per topping and $7.50 for the base and soft serve. So when you think about it in that respect, it isn’t too bad.

Anyway, lets talk about these amazing looking pastel ice creams!

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I opted for the a Sea salt soft serve with popping candy on a cone ($5.30). I originally wanted both fairy floss and popping candy but I was told that there would be a 20 minute wait on the fairy floss and this was 12.30pm on a Monday. The shop had quite a few people but it wasn’t busy or anything. If I wasn’t in a rush to get to another appointment I would have waited, I guess this gives me an excuse to come back in two weeks during Lunar New Year.

For my soft serve, I chose straight sea salt, I’ve read a couple of negative reviews about it, stating that pure sea salt can be too overwhelming and most people recommended combining it with one of the other flavours to balance it out. Being a rebel, I of course didn’t listen and got the full sea salt hit that I always wanted. I’m so glad that I’m terribly stupid and try things regardless of what others say because I actually really enjoyed pure sea salt. I love ice cream and I like soft serve even more. However, normally about half way through I’m normally over it, I find it too sweet and too much for me but here with this sea salt, I managed to eat the whole thing and I even wanted more afterwards. The idea of sea salt might sound really weird but it’s actually completely normal and tried and tested in Asian cooking. I didn’t know that adding salt to sweet things was weird until recently when a friend saw me add salt to watermelon. I’m telling you, it’s amazing. Salt does this thing where it kind of mildens and rounds off the sweetness of sugar and takes it from sickly sweet to pleasantly sweet. I guess that’s why salted caramel works so well, caramel by itself gets way to much but add a bit of salt and it’s just pure enjoyment from there on in.

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Anyways, this was how the sea salt soft serve was at Aqua S. It was sweet, super creamy and had this lovely salty ending. It wasn’t salty to the point where you feel like you’re eating something savoury but enough to help overcome the initial sweetness of the soft serve and round everything off really well. The addition of popping candy was pretty cool as well. The candy popped away as you licked away at your soft serve cone. However, I must say for $1.50 it wasn’t a lot of popping candy by any means. I mean I could have crossed the road and got a whole bag of popping candy from McDonald’s or 7 Eleven for $1. I think outside of the fairy floss, people have complained a bit about the lack of toppings, I think someone was saying that you only get like half a marshmallow. I reckon, if you’re charging me $1.50 at least be a bit generous! But cost aside, great soft serve, flavours and toppings! Oh also, the cone looks like chocolate but to me it just tasted like a normal cone. Not a bad thing at all, it was really crunchy and waffle like.

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I really enjoyed my ice cream at Aqua S. I know it’s got some pretty mixed review but it’s definitely still worth checking out either for the hipster and gimmicky side of it or for the love of all things sweet with a hint of salt. I’ll definitely be coming back to get the sea salt soft serve again and to try out some of the new flavours and fairy floss topping as well. I  think what Aqua S has here is an awesome idea and I really hope to see Aqua S expand in the future with more bases and toppings once they’ve become more established and what not. It would be great to have something similar to Messina’s dessert bar closer to the city, plus the Asian influence is pretty awesome too. Absolutely cannot wait! I might have to try and recreate sea salt ice cream in Canberra for the next two weeks to fight off the craving! I wonder if sprinkling salt on store brought vanilla ice cream will work?!

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