Thursday, October 21, 2010

The List Challenge: 1 /50 - #2 Mrs Jang's Home style eggs from Billy Kwong

Do you like lists? I love lists. To do lists, shopping lists, best of___ lists, pros vs. cons lists.... I love reading and compiling lists. That’s why I was uber-excited by The 50 Things Every Food Lover Should Try list that was published today.
It’s not that I’m so unadventurous that I need convincing to try something new. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I believe in trying everything at least twice (because first impressions can be oh so wrong) and being an indecisive diner, I’m often left overwhelmed with choices.
This list is gold because it narrows down the kabillion places I’ve wanted to try and further saves me at least thirty minutes of umm-ing and ahh-ing at menus. While fellow foodie Zina said she could tick 22 off her list, I sadly have conquered only a handful.
I, Maz, hereby solemnly treat challenge myself to consuming each and everyone one of these dishes.
Starting tonight...
When my boyfriend messaged me this afternoon  asking if he could take me on a spontaneous hot date  somewhere, I shot one back saying, “Google: SMH  50 food lovers try. Pick something”.
His selection did not surprise me at all.
He chose #2 Mrs Jang’s home-style fried eggs from Billy Kwong for two reasons. 1) He has a bizarre affinity with eggs and 2) the fact that Billy Kwong doesn’t take bookings worked in our favour , having decided to eat out at 4.45pm.
We squeezed into a side-street car space and waltzed straight onto one of the three remaining tables at 6.30pm. Fifteen minutes later, there were several queued parties watching us eat through the glass shop front. They may have been hungry but they were probably more comfortable than us inside.  The tiny tables are squished so close that my elbows frequently hit the back of the diner next to me.  We sat awkwardly on low three-legged plastic stools and the waiter tells me that the red rubber mat was recently added because so many people used to slip off the stools sliding against the floors. One huge lantern lights the intimate room that is chocolate-lacquered and decorated simply with plants.  Two cabinets frame a small open kitchen so we can perve on everyone else’s orders.
We peck on the  bowl of complimentary salted peanuts and I ask for a lemon lime & bitters.
“I’m sorry, we don’t serve LLB. We have organic lemonade though...”.
Silly me. Much emphasis is placed here on eco-friendliness, sustainability and ethical eating. The restaurant has been organic since 2005 with the business philosophy stamped on the menu: 'To leave as small and light an environmental footprint as possible, to give back to the community whenever and wherever we can, and to think globally and act locally.'

Our first entree is the The Crispy Prawn Wontons with Sweet Chilli Sauce ($19).   Fresh and hot, the wontons are certainly satisfying but we’re unsure whether they’re worth almost $5 per piece. The next plate up is the very reason we are sitting there. Homestyle Fried Biodynamic Eggs with Organic Tamari & Homemade XO ($19).

When fried eggs is one of the signature dishes at a celebrity chef’s one-hatted restaurant, you can’t help but think they must be bloody good eggs.  I’m not sure about Dr Suess' green eggs but I certainly do like these!  I would eat them here or there and I would eat them anywhere.  The eggs are deep-fried... and then shallow-fried too. You’d think that means they come out burnt but the eggs are multi-dimensional;  with three different and delightful textures. The outer edges are crispy, crunchy and golden brown. The egg white is soft and moist. The creamy yolk oozes through and complements the chilli, spring onions and oyster sauce.  Kylie Kwong has shared this actually very simple recipe that was inspired by Mrs. Jang, her Uncle Jimmy’s mother. Well done Mrs Jang, well done indeed.

Our main is the Crispy-Skin Free-Range Chicken with Organic  Brown Rice Vinegar dressing ($48).
The chicken is sliced Chinese style and it’s rather large- you can share this between three and still fill up. It’s tender and juicy but beware of the small bones.  The pool of dressing is great- rich with a tangy bite. The hint of ginger creates a taste that reminds me of the  Xiao long Bao at Din Tai Fung.  We are disappointed, however, that the skin is not crispy at all but rather soggy.
There is one Dessert of the Day available for $15 and I believe it’s some sort of organic fruit platter with chocolate. It's not enough to win me over so we pay the bill and let a patiently waiting couple enter to take our place.
Overall, we thought the experience was good enough to warrant a return visit. A unique, modern-Chinese  menu that is organic and biodynamic but most importantly, flavoursome. It's a little pricey, noisy and cramped so bear that in mind before you put all your eggs in one basket- no matter how delcious they are here.  

Billy Kwong
Telephone: (02) 9332 3300
Address: Shop 3 / 355 Crown Street, Surry Hills
Hours: Dinner 7 days (no bookings except one table for 6-8ppl)
Seats: 50
Bill: Entrees $6- 32 / Mains $15- 48 / Dessert $15

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Your meal ticket: Launching DIMMI REWARDS

Have you ever rung up a bill of $28.46 at the supermarket then quickly added a packet of gum to your purchase so you get a fuel voucher? Do you have a hole-punched card representing your caffeine addiction? Put up with credit charge surcharges because of the points? Frequent Flyers? Fly buys? Cinema membership? Yep, we’re suckers for loyalty programs because we all love to score a freebie now and then.
Over the year we asked the 500,000 diners who’ve already used the Dimmi reservation service what we could do better. The dining table has spoken and you, foodies and friends, asked to be rewarded for booking online.
Well, ask and you shall receive...
I’m proud to present: Dimmi Rewards – book online 8 times and receive a free meal!

 Each online booking made via Dimmi earns you 1,000 Dimmi Reward Points and once you earn 8,000 diners will receive a $50 meal voucher to be redeemed at restaurants around Australia such as Dome at The Art House, Chinta Ria, MuMu GrillGaijin, Mezzo Bar & Grill & Gunshop Cafe to name a few.
A bonus 100 points are also up for grabs each time you ‘share’ your booking on Facebook or Twitter and you can easily keep track of all your points too. To prevent naughty people from making bogus bookings, points are ‘pending’ until the restaurant has confirmed you actually dined.

Without (too much) bias, I say hallelujah! Dimmi has seated half a million diners across Australia and 70% of these reservations were made when restaurants were least equipped to handle them – during lunch service, dinner service and after hours. That’s many frustrated phone calls that would've been made otherwise.
So start eating your way to that free meal by signing up here – It’s free and I promise, quick and easy.  Then next time you’re planning to dine out, check out for our Partner Restaurants. You’ll have that voucher in your hands in no time... and it’s a lot more exciting than a 4c discount.  

Monday, October 18, 2010

Just noodles? As SIFF! 2010 Night Noodle Markets

You would not believe your eyes
It was like ten million fireflies
Lit up the park as I went to eat...

Annoying song parodies aside, I joined some colleagues at the Crave SIFF annual Night Noodle Markets on Thursday.  

Thirteen years ago you would’ve rushed past the few scattered stalls in front of the Museum of Contemporary Arts in fear they were trying to lure passerby’s to join an impressionism appreciation club. Today though, it’s hard to ignore.  The Hyde Park pathways are lined with glowing red lanterns and adorned with giant stars and moons. There are hundreds of people among the 40 food stalls, 3 bars, 1 beer garden and not a partridge, but fairy lights in a fig tree. There is live entertainment and a dancing Chinese lion weaves around delighted children, grandparents, couples and dogs whom I suspect will develop inferiority complexes.

We arrived at about 6pm and all the tables were already occupied. We had ladies in skirts and heels among us so we stalked a table of suits that were already onto dessert.  While the boys guarded our seats, the girls explored the park to see what we could scavenge. Most stalls are Thai, Malaysian, Chinese and Japanese but whichever you choose, you can’t escape a long queue.  Ding Tai Fung and Shanghai Express had chefs behind clear plastic screens and mouth-masks, creating production lines of dumplings with bullet-fast hands.

I’ve read lot of feedback from people disappointed in the lack of Asian authenticity with the Westernised influence on foods and flavours.  I’ve also heard that the name ‘noodle markets’ is misleading because first-timers arrive expecting, well, just noodles. While these are both valid points, I feel they miss the point. I’m afraid the only place you’ll find an ‘authentic Asian hawker market’ is actually in Asia. This event that drew 120,000 people last year is about embracing culture and enjoying unique spring alfresco dining. It’s about relaxing with food, friends and family. It might not be perfect food but it is good food... and hopefully good company too.  Besides, “Night Noodle, Dim Sim and other Asian-Influenced-Food Markets” is just not as catchy.

I made the rookie blogger error of not recording how much or where we bought our food from... my apologies, friends and foodies: lesson learnt. I can say though that I found the BBQ pork buns a little too dry but I loved the creamy peanut richness of the satay skewers. The dim sum were great- the pork still fresh and juicy with sweet bursts from the corn. I will endeavour to include more detailed dish information in the future but I hope my post has somewhat captured the lovely ambiance of the night and not just got that Firefly song stuck in your head too.  

Here are a few other lessons learned along the way:

Night Noodle Market DO’s 
  • Bring a picnic mat as a table can be hard to find
  • Soak in the atmosphere. Feel the noodle love!  
  • Have a walk around the park before ordering to scope out all your options
  • Arrive early to avoid long-er queues
  • Have cash on hand (otherwise there's a mobile Citibank ATM on site)

Night Noodle Market DONT’s

  • Wear heels unless you don’t mind the sinking sensation through the soggy ground 
  • Be afraid to share a table with strangers- sharing is caring!
  • Be impatient. Everyone starts at the back of the line

To check our a list of partipating restaurants and stalls with a map of the Night Noodle Markets click here

The 2010 SIFF Night Noodle Markets are held in Hyde Park, near the Archibald Fountain, until October 22 on weekdays from 5 - 9.30pm rain, hail or shine.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Master FAIL

Yet another cooking reality  show has kicked off in the US with  pure television viewing glory... and gory.

Kick Off Cook Off is the combination of Uncle Sam's favourite past times, football and cooking, where two teams compete for a cash prize. Each contestant is a football foodie fanatic  and the 'twist' is that they're actually competing against their favourite football players, who are apparently in it to prove they're just as talented in the kitchen as they are on the field. 

In the premiere episode, judge Brian Malarkey invites one of the contestants to sample their dish at the same time. She squirms, gags then runs off to barf her own food into a bin! FAIL.

I love how Malarkey tries to console her with "It's not that bad...".

Thankfully my only kitchen misadventures extend as far as too much bi-card soda. Although I did once trip in a food court, my two-piece feed all over the 3 year-old kid who, I swear, came out of nowhere and made me stumble.  

Do you have any cooking or food disasters you'd like to share (or claim it happened to a friend of a friend)?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Choos and Cheese

My friend S was boasting about her first and quite possibly last degustation experience.  
“We were strolling around The Rocks and came across this really snazzy looking place. We thought ‘why not?’ and asked for a table. Apparently, we were really lucky because they’d had a few cancellations”.
S and her husband were then seated at “this place called Quay in Sydney.   To put her naivety into perspective, Peter Gilmore’s restaurant, voted 27 on the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 best restaurants list, is booked out on Saturday evenings until April 2011.
“It was absolutely beautiful... but I’m not really sure why we did it. We paid $600 for the two of us [tasting menu $210pp plus $90 pp for accompanying wines]. I didn't understand the menu- I thought it wasn’t English and by the end I was wishing we got hamburgers.”
As amazing as the experience was, S left feeling a little bewildered and her wallet considerably lighter.  Could it be... diner's remorse? Her mixed review reminded me of her shopping tales.  Her wardrobe is full of dresses with tags still attached, each justified with something like “At the time it was a good idea...”
The irony in her story made me think about my own habits.
I will buy the same dress in 3 colours because I’m not sure which one I’ll feel like wearing that night and return the rejects the following day. I will make plans to meet for sushi at 6pm, I’ll ring my partner at 4pm because I’ve changed my mind to Chinese, then we’ll walk past Papa Giuseppe’s Trattoria on the way and I’ll insist I was craving Italian all along. I’ll order the fettucine bosciola and then run after the waitress to change it to the linguine gamberi.
S is the impulsive and I’m the indecisive. Does our buying behaviour reflect our dining trends?

Is food the new fashion?

My mother wears the same outfits, week in and week out. If she’s invited to a wedding though, she’ll search for a fabulous new getup as soon as she receives the save-the-date. Likewise, she’s content with home cooking 9 times out of 10 but for a special occasion, she’ll book a restaurant 4 weeks in advance.  The planner.
There are the loyal lads who buy the same reliable brands and order the green curry at every single Thai joint. Then there’s High-roller Harry and we all know Budget Bob. The correlation is simple really. Food, like clothing, is a basic human necessity that we indulge in at different levels.
For a long time, fashion was the way of self-expression. Your clothes, scent and accessories all lent itself to your projected identity.  Now it seems, you are indeed what you eat. Hello, Madonna clinging on to her youth whilst drinking coconut water. Coincidence? I think not.
It’s all about where you’re seen and what’s on your plate. Even your coffee cup is a statement (Is it just me or does anyone else get snide remarks when holding Starbucks?). Table conversations about the bargains we scored now revolve around where you get the best tapas.  We want to drink at the ‘it’ bar as much as we want the ‘it’ bag.
Food is certainly becoming the new fashion... but here’s hoping we all don’t take it as literally as Lady Gaga.  

What do you think? Are your dining and buying habits the same? Or do you defy my theory by being a high-roller diner but budget buyer?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Eat, Pay, Blog

With only one post chalked up on my dashboard, I’m struggling to find my place in this almighty World Wide Web.  With a plethora of food-based blogs already out there, why would anyone want to read The F Word? You see, I know my predicament...
Contrary to popular misconception, Dimmi is not the Department of Immigration. Dimmi is an online restaurant booking service. For the first time in Australia, customers can perform a search on, browse through a collation of reviews from the country's best food guides and book instantaneously in real-time- with the same convenience that we book hotels, flights and movies.
Perform a search, check out reviews from partners like deGroots or yourRestaurants, then book your seat!

It’s exciting stuff, isn’t it? Restaurants, on the other hand, gain an electronic reservation diary to manage their floor and also have access to extensive marketing and promotional services to elevate their business. The service is free for customers (hooray!) and costs the restaurant a small fee per booking.

RestaurantDiary Express - the electronic reservations diary provided to restaurants

So let’s get it out of the way. Let me say out loud or rather, type out clear, what you’re thinking. Is there not a commercial conflict of interest here that will influence the content of this site? How can I trust this sketchy Maz at Dimmi? The rise of the blogger has also seen the rise of the sceptic and the issue of commercialisation is an ongoing one that has polarised the online community.  
Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that my ‘predicament’ is actually my greatest tool. Dimmi celebrated its first birthday last month and we are proud to already have  more than 1,500 participating restaurants and to have seated 500,000 diners across Australia. I simply want to share the rest of the journey with you- our successes, our failures, the people we meet, the places we visit,  the good meals, the bad...  booked online or not.
It’s not just about restaurant reviews.  It’s not all about cooking experiments either. There’s more to The F Word than insider interviews, industry goss and giveaways. It’s all of the above. It’s whatever you guys would like it to be.  So let me lay it on the dining table, what would you like to read more of?

Monday, October 4, 2010

C is for Cookies & Cream Cheesecake

When cookies and cream ice cream was introduced in 1983, it made the biggest debut in ice cream history- climbing and remaining since in the top 5 flavours distributed worldwide. I still remember my first encounter with the flavour. A white-chocolate lover and cookie monster at heart, it was a life-changing trip to Baskin Robbins that I first revelled in that creamy goodness and chunky cookie delight.

When I found this ridiculously simple recipe in Martha Stewart's Cupcakes book, I couldn't resist giving it a whirl...

The fruits of my labour. A tip from Maz: use white paper cases as they create that funky see-through effect where you can see the Oreo. Proud to say all thirty little single-serving delights were gobbled up watching the NRL finals.

Cookies and Cream Cheesecakes
(adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes)

- 42 cream filled-chocolate sandwich cookies such as Oreos (30 left whole and 12 coarsely chopped)
- 900gm cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
- 1 cup sour cream
- Pinch of salt

Makes 30

1. Preheat oven to 150°C. Line muffin tins with paper liners. Place 1 whole cookie in the bottom of each cup.

2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat cream  cheese until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Gradually add sugar and beat until combined. Beat in vanilla.

3. Drizzle in eggs, a bit at a time, beating to combine. Beat in sour cream and salt. Stir in chopped cookies by hand.

4. Divide batter evenly among cookie cups, filling each almost to the top. Bake for about 22 minutes or until filling is set, rotating tins halfway through. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely. Refrigerate in tins for at least 4 hours (to overnight).