Boque Tapavino- Haymarket

Not the most Spanish of meals, but the potatoes were good though!

Ok, we can safely say that Sydney-siders all know about Darling Square now, as almost every eatery in the precinct is packed out, with lines out the door! So your best chance to get fed on a Thurs-Sat evening or Sat-Sun lunch-time is back in the Exchange – at one of the dozen take-away style stores.

Boque Tapavino will be the 7th store we’ve tried from the Makers’ Dozen thus far – serving up Spanish tapas style small dishes to share, grilled meats in main sizes, fresh seafood also in main sizes, and burgers and hot dogs for take-away or dine-in. Standing at the counter we unknowingly ordered from the take-away menu, although we were in mind to dine-in, so we ordered a Chicken burger ($12.00), and a Chorizo burger combo ($17.00).

If you elect to dine-in, they have their own roped-off seating area, providing full table service with what seemed to be unlimited top-ups of your tap water. After a short wait our food was served to us on proper plates with proper knives and forks.

We were wondering if their burgers would be a Bocadillo (Spanish baguette) or a burger burger, and it was a burger burger. Aside from a vinegary dressing on the tomato and lettuce, and perhaps a more smokey flavoured grilled chicken (it was a bit thin though), it was pretty much a standard chicken burger – not much to write home about unfortunately.

While my wife’s chorizo burger was more like it! The meat patty was pink – not because it was under-cooked, but it was a chorizo sausage which had been minced and then re-shaped and re-cooked as a chorizo meat patty. Paired with shredded purple cabbage, her burger managed to hit closer to the mark. And the stand-out for both of us were the baked potatoes! The potatoes were baked until they had a crunchy edge on all sides, salted with large-grained rock salt, and smeared with a mayo-like sauce – they were definitely moreish! And if you elected to upsize all your burgers into a combo, you would have all 9 pieces of tasty potato all to yourself!

Our end verdict, 3.5 Stars from 5! (2 from 3 for Food (66.6% of our food hit the mark, so 2 from 3 was a fair score); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (the staff were super attentive, each time my water dipped below the final third, he was back, topping up my water glass); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (the Exchange will always get full marks from me for Atmosphere, and all the diners around us were having a great time!); and 1 from 1 for Value for Money ($12.00 for a burger without sides is pretty reasonable, and to make it a combo – 9 large chunks of potato was very generous!)).

In conclusion, I’m glad actually that Boque Tapavino’s bread and meat offering were not Bocadillos, as it means that we still have reasons to go back to Encassa Rapido for their awesome baguettes!  Boque Tapavino has a very vast selection of share plates and mains which we didn’t touch on, so we’d be interested to come back and try a proper sit down meal at Boque Tapavino when we’ve eventually eaten at all dozen stores and starting to repeat meals at our favourites.

Boque Tapavino- Saturday 9 November (3.5 Stars)

PH: (02) 8072 8826

Makers Dozen Food Hall, the Exchange Building, 1 Little Pier Street, Haymarket

Mon-Sun 11.30am – 10pm

Bad Hombres- Surry Hills

Vegetables have never tasted this good!

Ok! I’ve finally reached episode 62 of the Mitchen podcast- dated 16 May 2017! Now see, this is the problem with listening to the back-issue of foodie podcasts- as many restaurants have since closed down in the intervening years. And one of the restaurants I’ve been fruitlessly hunting down to date has been ‘Ghost Boy Cantina’, and finally today we’ve caught up with one of their derivatives which is still in business! Bad Hombres!

Located on Reservoir Street in Surry Hills, we didn’t care that their restaurant only served a vegan menu (although we’ve never knowingly elected to dine at a purely vegan restaurant before), as I personally was just so eager to try Sean McManus and Toby Wilson’s Mexican Asian fusion restaurant, we didn’t care that we weren’t going to have any meat tonight!

Although we didn’t have a reservation, the staff were so kind to make room for us on this Saturday evening. Not wanting to impede on their later evening  trade, we quickly made our selections ordering the Tortilla chips and salsas as a starter ($10.00), King mushroom Peruvian ceviche as our second small dish to share ($16.00), and The Cauliflower as our one large share plate ($26.00).

After we had our orders all squared away, we leaned back and took in the ambiance of the restaurant- it had a cool Surry Hills vibe to it, my wife compared it to the ambiance of Ze Pickle, you know that dark youthful vibe? Although it wasn’t even 6pm yet, the restaurant was still 75% at capacity and tonight’s music playlist (70s – 80s Aussie rock) reminded me of my high school days-  when one of our mates was old enough to drive, and used to pick us all up and we’d spend the day at the beach enjoying a good-old summer’s day in Sydney. *Sigh*.

Within minutes after placing our orders our Tortilla chips arrived. The chips were served in a large and deep bowl, while the 3 dips were served in a porcelain dipping line-up.

The Tortilla chips were unsalted, and the flavour came from the trio of dips. My wife’s favourite was the Salsa Verde (top), my personal favourite was the roast jalapeno guacamole (centre) due to its thick creamy avo, while the pico de gallo (bottom) was very good as well, nice and chunky and substantial! The serving of chips were so large that right to the very end, we were still munching on them.

The next to arrive was the King mushroom Peruvian ceviche. This was when we were reminded that we were at a vegan restaurant after all. But as Sean McManus mentioned on the Mitchen pod, just because a dish lacks meat, it doesn’t mean that it has to lack flavour. And oh boy, the Peruvian ceviche packed a flavour punch! I can’t remember the last time the flavour of food alone tasted this intense! The dish contained “leche de tigre”, with sweet potato, coriander, onion, corn and red chilli. Every element played their part to lend its flavours to the dish. Yeah, the ceviche was pretty sour with a healthy amount of lime juice, but I think it only primed the tastebuds for the sweetness of the sweet potato, the earthy flavours of the mushrooms, and the love-it or hate-it flavours of the cilantro. Personally, from the 3 dishes we had tonight, this was my favourite; while my wife found it a little bit too sour for her liking.

And the final dish to arrive, was the Cauliflower. The elements arrive deconstructed, so getting in with fingers you were able to construct your own tortillas, making them as jumbo or as lean as you wanted them to be.

Before constructing our first, we chose to try the cauliflower on its own, as we were so curious to see what it tasted like as it didn’t look like what you’d usually expect a cauliflower to be (it was pretty brown). But it was really tasty, the seasoning reminded me of this Chinese grilled fish dish my mum used to make, and again we were amazed in how flavoursome they were able to make veg to be! When we did construct our own tortillas we made sure each contained all of the elements i.e. cauliflower with seaweed salt, cashew cream, salsa verde, coriander and onion-  all wrapped up in the corn tortillas. And a special call-out of the texture of the corn tortillas, it had this tougher/chewy texture I hadn’t come across in tortillas or wraps before, and from a textural point of view this pleased my teeth. Haaha.

And as hard as we were trying to be in-and-out (so whoever had originally reserved the table we were hanging off weren’t impeded by our presence), there was honestly so much food that it still took us over an hour to finish our meal. And who knew you can feel this full and satisfied from vegetables alone?

Our end verdict, 4.0 Stars from 5! (2.5 from 3 for Food (everything was so tasty, and in the end to ensure that all elements did not contain any trace of meat, poultry or dairy, Sean and Toby had to think outside of the square- so big ups that they were able to make the food so tasty while we never felt like we were lacking in anything); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (the staff were very kind to accommodate us as walk-ups, and our waitress was really cheery although it was a pretty busy night for them); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (a cool relaxed Surry Hills vibe was the feeling I left with); and 0.5 from 1 for Value for Money (we could have easily given it the full 1 for Value, but knowing how much the per kilo price is for mushrooms and cauliflower, it’s hard to disconnect your mind from thinking how many heads of cauliflower you can buy for $26)).

In the end, Bad Hombres was a real nice change-up for us, where we’ve been so used to eating Asian food down in South CBD/Chinatown. I’m so glad that we got out of our comfort zone and tried something new for a change, and super glad that I finally managed to try one of Toby Wilson’s creations! I’ll def be spreading the word to my vego friends… that matter….. To anyone who cares about food that there is this awesome Mexican Asian fusion place in Surry Hills serving up tasty vegan dishes! Veg has never tasted this good!

Bad Hombres- Saturday 2 November (4.0 Stars).

PH: 0410 191 441

40 Reservoir Street, Surry Hills

Tues-Sat 5pm – 10pm

Sun-Mon Closed

Cafe Rumah- Surry Hills

Come on down! There’s plenty of room at Café Rumah!

A couple of months back my wife was catching up with a girlfriend for brunch and they wanted a café recommendation from me – so I naturally whipped out my ‘Dining List’, a spreadsheet of all the restaurants  and cafes I’ve yet to try, and sent her a list of 5 to choose from. The one which they opted for was Café Rumah in Surry Hills, and after they came back, they were both raving on about how good it was – my wife eager for us to go back so I could try it for myself.

So fast forward 2-3 months and stuck for a lunch idea we headed into Surry Hills (it’s just crossing Elizabeth St), where I had my first taste of kopitiam meets café.

As we were walking up the hill, I asked my wife “Is there going to be room for us?” Being a Saturday lunch-time and all, and we didn’t have a reservation. But although they were doing a swift trade, there was still room for us, as the café occupied two front rooms of a converted Surry Hills terrace home. Seated on round wooden stools we studied the menu and ordered:

The 1AM Ramly Special ($12.00 +$3.00 to make it a double beef patty burger) – $15.00; Tom Yum Chicken Congee- $15.00; Rumah Special drink- $6.00; and Madeleine’s- $6.00.

Taking in the atmosphere of the place, it definitely felt like Surry Hills, we were definitely no longer in da city. As after all, we were sitting in a cafe which was located in a converted home. There was a lot of wood, wooden floor boards, wooden stools, wooden tables, and there was a long wooden staircase which led upstairs to the clothing store. Yeah, it was a café/clothing store. Eavesdropping on the conversation between the boss and her friends who occupied the table behind us, it sounded like Café Rumah had just opened up a clothing store in the Darling Square precinct, a female clothing store- while the one above us was purely men’s fashion.

The first to arrive at our table was our Rumah Special.

Rosewater syrup, milk and soda were the elements which made up our drink. It was nice and sweet from the rosewater, nutty and creamy from the milk, and effervescent from the soda. Mmmmm. It was nice, and quite a lot of drink in the end. We were passing it back and forth saying “No, no, you have the rest” but there was always too much for one to finish.

Then it was my wife’s Tom Yum Chicken Congee which touched down on our table. The last time, my wife’s friend ordered the congee and in a possible case of ‘food envy’- my wife ordered it for herself this time.

And in a deep bowl, she was served up a thicker style of congee, filled with chicken pieces, black fungus shreds, spring onion, and ginger. It was a little spicy – my wife ranked it as a 2 from 3 chilli level dish, but it was just at the right levels where it got the nose running a bit, but not to the extent where your tongue was on fire. All in all, a tasty home-style congee.

I was craving burgers today, as it had been a while since we’ve been going around Sydney doing our Burger Vs Burger challenge. And the Café Rumah burger looked like the ideal bun-stack to break the drought!

It presented itself as a cheeseburger-like stack, but where it differed from your regular cheeseburgers was the sauce – described as a ‘House seasoning’, but methinks it was a mayo which had a home made chilli sauce mixed through it. Everything was a bit compressed together, so it was a little difficult to tease out each element of the burger. But there were 2 slices of beef patties – each well-seasoned and tasted flame-grilled; a crunchy slice of cheese- which tasted like it had been deep fried; a really thin layer of omelette- almost paper thin; two thin slices of pickles- a bit lost in between the layers; a generous smothering of the previously described house sauce; and two thin layers of milk bun. It was served inside a paper bag- which it def needed as it was quite messy. But I had never eaten a burger which was so freshly constructed, have you ever seen a burger which gave off steam? All in all very tasty indeed, and very moreish!

And just as we were finishing up the last morsels of our mains, our madeleines were served up.

3 for $6, they were baked to order! Again steaming hot from the oven- with a smear of kaya jam on top to give it the South Asian make-over. They were good; not too sweet, buttery, and crispy on the outside!

Our end verdict, 4.5 Stars from 5! (2.5 from 3 for Food (Everything was very tasty, cooked and brought out to us piping hot, and I can’t wait to try more of their regular lunch menu!); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (the staff were all efficient and friendly); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (there’s something charming about eating in a converted home- it just feels so homely); and 1 from 1 for Value for Money (everything was priced at a level we were happy to pay for)).

In the end, it’s a strong indicator of something special when someone dines here and they immediately want to bring back their friends (or significant other), or when you’re still eating and you’re already thinking about when can you come back and try more things on  their menu. They have an all-day breakfast menu, a lunch special menu (which changes all the time), and a regular lunch menu. And it’s a bakery as well, so a whole selection of baked treats for you to try! Plenty of room at Café Rumah- where you can experience for yourself what it means for kopitiam to meet café i.e. where East meets West! And after having your tummies filled, you can mosey on upstairs and check out 15sheets, the men’s clothing store- everything was 70% off today, pretty funky Ben Sherman -like clothing.

Café Rumah- Saturday 26 October (4.5 Stars).

Ph: (02) 9280 2289

71-73 Campbell Street, Surry Hills

Mon – Fri 7.30am – 4pm

Sat 9am – 4pm

Sun Closed

Ogalo- Sydney CBD

Could this be a ‘Golden Chook’ contender for Hamish & Andy’s 2019 Chicken Fest?

Sadly not, I was devastated to find out after our meal (when fact-checking) that Ogalo is in fact a franchise? Nooo! As I’ve ever only known the Ogalo Liverpool St store, near the corner of Pitt and Liverpool streets.

But inspired by Hamish & Andy’s pod, today I had an urge for the humble Chicken & Chips pairing – not exactly what you’d usually go looking for in da city on a Saturday lunch-time down in South CBD. And I was pretty surprised and relieved to find that Ogalo City was still operating (since other more famous Portuguese chicken shops had closed down in this area i.e. Nandos and Oportos).

And it’s a bit of a throw-back, the store was right out of the early 00s and great to see that their Chicken & Chips were still priced at their early 00s prices- $7.90 for Quarter Chicken & Chips with Gravy!? Bargain!

I ordered the Quarter Chicken & Chips (saying no to the drinks combo, as the can of coke were definitely priced at 2019 prices- $3 for a can of Coke? Crazy!). While my wife ordered the Ogalo Chicken Burger ($9.90).

After making your orders at the counter, you take a seat (if dining in), or stand about if you’re waiting for take-away (a 50/50 split dine-in vs take-away).

The food is prepared to order, and when your birds are ready, your number is called and you grab it from the counter and bring it back to your table. With plastic knife & fork (or fingers) you tuck on in.

The chips were ok, a little dry but quite crispy- with a salt and chicken salt mix. I had elected the Lemon & Herb rubbing/seasoning, which was flavoursome – making the chicken skin the clear ‘best part’ of the bird! I received a breast/wing quarter, so as expected the thicker part of the breast meat was a little dry, but closer to the wing it was tender and juicy!

My wife’s Chicken burger was a homely affair, lightly toasted burger bun, lettuce, cheese, mayo and a slice of grilled chicken (a little thin though). The burger was quite large (by circumference) but quite flat – thus easily passing the ‘Big bite’ test.

All in all, it wasn’t bad for a meal for 2 for under 20 bucks! And it’s good to see that shops like this – suburban feeling casual eateries, still operate in the heart of the CBD – providing city dwellers (and midnight revellers) a cheap and cheery option in the city. A shame though, that they’re too numerous and a chain – thus ineligible to be considered a contender for H&A’s Chicken Fest 2019.

Ogalo CBD- Saturday 12 October

PH: (02) 9264 0060

Shop B/127 Liverpool Street, Sydney

Sun-Fri 10.30am – 11pm

Sat 10.30am – 4am

Fish & Co. – Haymarket

…Where we aim to use 3 ingredients or less! Yes/No?

So after our intel-gathering visit to ‘Maker’s Dozen’ the previous night, we headed back to The Exchange food hall today for some lobster. Yum!

If you’re keeping proper count, we’ve reached the halfway point in attempting to eat at/drink at all 12 establishments in the bee hive. So Fish & Co. goes down as the 6th, and the first time we’ve walked away from Maker’s, feeling slightly underwhelmed.

Located on the northern end of the food court is Fish & Co., a two store chain (the other is at the Tramshed) restaurant-eatery which prides itself from sourcing its produce direct from wild fisherman.

Their menu reads like the blue ribbon section of a seafood store, e.g. lobster rolls, fresh oysters, scallop rolls, shrimp cocktail rolls, and freshly caught fish to go with your chippies.

And since it was Maine Lobster Rolls which caught our eye last night (we’ve had a proper Maine Lobster Roll when in the US), we definitely had to order that ($19.00), and since we wanted to try the best that they could offer, we also opted for the Chobster i.e. a lobster cheese toasty ($18.00).

After making our orders, there was a slight wait of 10 minutes before our food was brought out to us on cardboard trays. Lifting them up to gage its substantialness or lack thereof, unfortunately it barely moved the needle on the weigh and pay scales.

For my Maine Lobster Roll, it was served in a hot dog style brioche bun. Lining the bottom of the bun was lettuce, and positioned on top were strips of chilled lobster flesh. A squeeze of lemon gave it a slight flavour enhancement, but aside from these 2 ingredients a splattering of crinkle cut chips was the totality of a dollar change after handing over $20.

My wife’s Chobster was a toasted lobster cheese sandwich. A meagre serving of lobster strips, then cheese and lettuce and there you go, the 3 ingredients which made up the totality of a $18 sandwich. Although for my wife it was filling enough – but in her opinion it was not the best way to showcase a premium produce like lobster, as it was lost and overcooked in the cheese toasting process.

As my wife’s lobster was wasted among cheese and a sandwich press, so my boiled lobster was also wasted. It was fresh, and the lack of dressing and competing flavours enabled the lobster to be centre-stage. However in the opinion of any Asian, a boiled lobster is generally wasted, compared to the Asian style of cooking lobster (baked and then fried in battered sauce).

Our end verdict? 3.0 Stars from 5 (2 from 3 for Food (premium produce! But the presentation was too simple in our opinion, a home cook with equally fresh produce could have easily replicated this offering at home); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (the staff were polite and efficient); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (a month into Maker’s Dozen’s existence, and the place still feels new and funky); and 0 from 1 for Value for Money (I understand that we’re getting lobster here, but $37 for 2 people before any sides or drinks? And I’m still feeling hungry? That’s not value for money in our opinion)).

In conclusion, the menu reads a lot better than it tastes when served up on a plate …..Sorry, I mean cardboard tray. Although their mission is noble, being a sustainable restaurant, but sometimes you also need to give the patron what they want! A substantial meal, and some flavour please! If I’m seemingly looking like I’m trying to wrap up this blog post quick-smart….. You wouldn’t be wrong in guessing that, I’m just trying to get offline so I can grab a snack or something, ’cause I’m still hungry! Grrrr.

Fish & Co. – Saturday 5 October (3.0 Stars)

PH: 02 9518 6868

Makers Dozen food hall, The Exchange Building, 1 Little Pier Street, Haymarket

Mon-Sun 11am – 9pm

Made in China Dumpling Bar- Haymarket

Made in China they’re not, but that’s a good thing! Right?

We’re home-bodies on Friday-Saturday nights, as who likes the crowds if you have a choice? But tonight we headed out to the happening part of town – Darling Square!  After dark it’s a whole different scene out there, gone are the young families, replaced by workers, young couples/groups, and people out for a bite before enjoying a night on the town!

After checking out ‘Maker’s Dozen’ after dark and finding that most places were crowded, we headed over to Steam Mill Lane, which has lost some of its foot traffic since the other 3 sides of the Square have opened up.

And located at the mid-way point of the Lane is ‘Made in China Dumpling Bar’. I had a mini craving for dumplings after Hamish & Andy’s week long ‘Special skill’ test of one man’s ability to blind taste ‘Dimmies’, so I’m pretty sure that any fan of the H&A show must have eaten steamed dumplings at least one meal in the past fortnight?

So with dim-sum cravings we naturally checked out the ‘Made in China’s menu – they do try to play it up, bringing Australiana and Urban lingo to the otherwise FOB cuisine. So setting foot in their little store, we had some high expectations that their dumpling offerings were going to be a stand-out from your run-of-the-mill Chinatown dumpling place.

We ordered the Rainbow Dumpling Platter (10 pieces) – $13.00, and a Wonton Big Bento Box- $13.50. And after making our orders at the counter, there are choices of 4 seating spots- 2 tables for 3, a table for 2, and a bench spot for 3 to sit side by side. As all the tables were taken, we naturally took the bench for 3, and with our backs to the rest of the store we took in the store’s ambiance – it’s kind of cool with graffiti decor, and Anglo pop-music/hip hop playing.

And although they had a few orders on the pass, sitting next to the kitchen we didn’t hear too much activity in there. The entire chef’s line consisted of one Mandarin speaking cook, and the dude who took our orders helped out and was the totality of front-of-shop. After a few alarms had gone off, indicating that someone’s dumplings had reached the right amount of steaming, our food was brought out to us.

The only colours missing from the rainbow dumplings were orange, purple and blue, but I got to hand it to them, they did manage to present red, yellow and green dumplings! Just like the wonky RAG status colour coding from Smartsheet! The texture of the dumpling wrappers were the star, they were the perfect thickness and they were nice and chewy. However the fillings within red, yellow and white dumplings all tasted the same (a bit on the salty side as well). While the green dumpling was the only dumpling which tasted different from its dumpling brethren, with strong flavours of fresh chives.

On the other hand, the Dumpling bento box was a rainbow of flavours i.e. there had to be more than 5 distinct flavours!

There were 2 Prawn wontons (which were the stand-out from all the wrapped steamed meat tonight) which had nice prawn-y flavours; there was 2 pan fried (it could have been deep fried they were so crunchy) Xiao Long Bao which tasted a bit like packet goods; a halved boiled egg; an entire bunch of Bok Choy; and a serving of spicy dry noodles! Ok, that’s exactly 5 different flavours, not quite 6- but close enough? Right?

Our end verdict? 4.0 Stars from 5! (2 from 3 for Food (the food wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but it was better than your average Chinatown dumpling offering); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (the dude was chilled and friendly, and when they weren’t serving customers it seemed like cook and front of house were getting along real well – giggling to each other all night long. Haaha); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (at least they’re trying something new with the menu names and the overall feel of the store – it should be called China meets Urban Dumpling Bar!); and 1 from 1 for Food (In the end mains under $15 bucks, that’s not too bad for the city these days)).

In conclusion, we went in with some scepticism, when ever you try to funk-up or make-cool something which has never been, and manage to pull it off? Some credit must be given where it’s due!*Nods*. The food was tasty enough, we split everything so it felt like we had a lot of variety, and in the end we were quite full after handing over only $26.50 for 2. Not bad, not bad.

Made in China Dumpling Bar- Friday 4 October (4.0 Stars).

Shop 7, 9 Steam Mill Lane, Haymarket

Mon-Sun 10am – 8pm