Saturday, 26 November 2011

Janus - Darling Quarter, Darling Harbour (26th November 2011)

After our weekly Saturday Chinese class, Jono and I walked towards Darling Harbour to his office in Pyrmont to pick up a parcel, stopping to check out Darling Quarter, a newly built area in Darling Harbour. This area that once was a construction site is now home to an international range of fine dining restaurants and Sydney CBD's largest and newest free children's playground. 

"How about a coffee at one of the cafes here?" suggested Jono and we ended up in Janus for two flat whites and a cake to share. Janus (named after the god of beginnings and transitions) is a classic Italian cafe and wine bar, modern and stylish in design and serves such beautiful cakes that it was so hard to decide which one to have. We finally settled for their green tea cake and placed our coffee order, then found ourselves a shaded table where we had a good view towards Tumbalong Park and the surrounds. It was a sunny day and Darling Quarter was filled with people both young and old - to the left were teenagers playing table tennis, and the far right, sounds of squeals and screams from children having fun at the playground at the watchful eye of their parents, and of course, the buzzing cafe and restaurants next to us. I couldn't help myself eyeing the waiters from Braza next door slicing meat from the skewers onto their customers' plates. Mmm, Brazilian churrasco...(salivates)...must come here one day...(more salivating)...

Both the cake and coffees were excellent - I love the light and refreshing taste of the green tea cake complemented with a small chocolate macaroon, chocolate mousse and caramelised candy. We were playfully feeding each other teaspoonfuls of the lovely dessert while chatting and sipping our coffees :)

View from our table at Janus in Darling Quarter

Waitresses busy at work at the counter

Me and our green tea cake :)

Flat white and green tea cake both beautifully presented

Close up shot of the cake

Cost us $17 for the coffees and tea which was a lot! Well, I suppose it was to be expected, given the location and the quality of the food and service. Still, it was a bit painful to know we paid that much for just coffees and cake :/

Janus Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A quick stop at the playground where Jono and I competed who could hand pump the most amount of water at the playground - such hard work to get the pump going! One little kid sitting nearby was enjoying splashing himself with the water. Cute :)

We picked up Jono's parcel from the Google office then headed to Town Hall train station to catch the train home. It was total havoc today as the City Circle train line was closed for refurbishment over the weekend. With less available trains and too many people trying to use the public transport, getting on the train was a mission. And you think peak hour commuter traffic was bad - this was horrendous, with most carriages fully packed and commuters filling up the aisles. I think I'll be staying in tomorrow to avoid the crowd...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Menya Noodle Bar Chinatown, Haymarket (20th November 2011)

I caught up with Ken for lunch today - he was keen to have ramen (even though I felt that the weather was too warm for hot noodle soup) so we met up at Chinatown around 1pm in search of this ramen place Ken suggested we check out: Menya Noodle Bar Chinatown. The name rings a bell, doesn't it? Menya Mappen, Menya Oiden and now Menya Noodle Bar - I've pretty much been to all the Menya restaurants in town in the same month! The ones I've been to so far are good so I'm expecting Menya Noodle Bar to serve affordable and delicious ramen too :)

Where IS this Menya place??? According to their website, the restaurant is located on Quay St but after walking along the block and inside Prince Centre looking for the place, we still didn't find our ramen shop. We ended up on the Thomas St side of Prince Centre and found the busy restaurant tucked away under the stairway of the building next to several other small Asian noodle shops. "Oh, so THIS is place - Jono and I have wondered if it was any good," I said to Ken as we headed in. Jono and I have been around this area for food during our first few weeks in Sydney but haven't yet ventured into the ramen shop, often wondering whether it was any good because it always had queues and today was no exception. Looking at the giant menu board by the entrance, 
I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with the selection of ramen dishes available (Ken already decided what he was going to have!). that looks good...oh and that too...I eventually went for the Tori Katsu Ramen in Tori-gara shoyu (Japanese style fried chicken ramen in a soy based chicken broth) while Ken got himself the summer special cold ramen, and we shared a side of gyoza (must-have accompaniment with ramen!). Unlike the other Menya restaurants where you pick up your food before paying and finding a seat, this one requires patrons to first order and pay for their meals (they accept cash only) then given a number for the table.

The place was a bit noisy as it had an open plan kitchen (you can watch your meal being prepared) and the cooks calls out the dishes when they are ready for serving - they even call out greetings as and when people come in and leave the restaurant which was distracting but nice at the same time as it adds a personal touch and sense of attentiveness and appreciation for their customers. 
Ken and I found ourselves seats on one of the communal bar tables sharing it with other diners. Hmm, my legs are a bit too short to reach the ground sitting on the bar stool...that's going to hurt my legs come the end of our lunch session :/ 

Our food arrived shortly and boy was the serving huge! And this was the regular size!! My ramen cost $10.90 but you can upsize most of the dishes for just $2.50. I can't imagine what the upsized version would look like...I'm not even sure if I can finish my regular size ramen right now! Hmm, I wonder if they have a downsized version...My ramen was cooked al dente, still bouncy and chewy, and nicely complimented with its shoyu based soup and the deliciously crunchy Japanese fried chicken. Yum, so happy with my meal :) 
Cutlery, condiments and a big bowl of tempura crumbs were available at each table, all for the customer's own self-serving needs. Generously sprinkling shicimi (seven flavour chilli pepper that comes in a bottle, often used with soups) and adding a spoonful of tempura crumbs into my ramen - delicious! Ken too was enjoying his large bowl of summer cold ramen, grinning ear to ear. Funny how we can get so excited and happy over good food hehe :P The gyoza too was lovely though I felt it was too much food for me by the time I had them AND my ramen. Too full!

One of their famous soups is the Menya's Rich Tonkotsu Soup (which to Ken's disappointment was not available for lunch today) - their
paitan soup is said to be potently flavoursome and collagen-rich, made by simmering pork bones for over 10 hours then added with fresh vegetables. Sounds very impressive to me and definitely worth another visit to try it out!

At the communal bar table in Menya Noodle Bar Chinatown

My delicious Tori-katsu ramen ($10.90) in Tori-gara soup :)

Menya Noodle Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Duck Inn Pub and Kitchen, Chippendale & God's Ear (17th November 2011)

Jono and I have not yet been to the theatre together in Sydney and decided to check out God's Ear by American playwright Jenny Schwartz that is on at the Reginald Theatre (Seymour Centre) from 10th November - 3rd December this evening in the suburb of Chippendale. Normally $27 per person, I got a 2-for-1 deal from livingsocial (another one of those discount voucher websites) - score! The tickets had to be redeemed beforehand so I had booked our seats over the phone and the tickets were sent to us in the same week.

We caught up at Redfern train station around 6.40pm then walked to The Duck Inn Pub And Kitchen on Rose Street in Chippendale, located just half a block away from the theatre for dinner. A discount voucher for dinner before the show was included in the mail with our tickets - for $26 per person, you got an entree and main each plus a guarantee from the restaurant that you would make it to the show, provided you turn up for dinner between 5 - 7pm. We were there on the dot at 7pm and they were still happy to serve us and guarantee we will make it in time. Phew! We had a corner table sitting on the long couches that runs along the four walls in the dining area with a beach house theme, lots of throw pillows littered on the couches, giving it a very homely and relaxed atmosphere. The place was busy with other theatre goers though service was prompt and friendly. I had the Salt N Pepper Squid for my entree and Pan Fried Atlantic Salmon with Warm Salad of Zucchini, Daikon, Soy & Honey Dressing for my main while Jono had the Chicken Liver Parfait with Onion Marmalade, Cornichons & Toasted Brioch for his entree and Seared Duck Breast with Steamed Bok Choi & Radish Salad with a Star Anise & Honey Jus for his main. We also shared a side of green beans and had a bottle of beer each. The food was good in general though we both thought the duck dish was way too salty. The beans were really yummy lightly buttered and sprinkled with toasted almonds. I reckon it'll be nice to come here in summer for brunch - they have a backyard for outdoor seating which looks very inviting :)

The Duck Inn Pub & Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

We left for the theatre just 10 minutes before the show started. This was our first time to the Seymour Centre located in the heart of the University of Sydney The place reminded me somewhat of Circa Theatre in Wellington and had 4 performance venues, one of them being the Reginald Theatre, a small, informal studio-style theatre that holds up to 200 people. We had seats near the aisle just 3 rows from the stage and the theatre was quite empty when the show started at 8pm (probably about 20 in the audience).

The play was 1.5 hours long and had no interval. It started off with conversations between Mel and Ted, a married couple whose son recently died. Their relationship was highly strained due to their recent loss, routine conversations were tedious and painfully (yet cleverly) filled with linguistic wordplay and repartee that pieces together into poetry. Both Jono and I were very impressed with the use of words, how so many different ones can be used to describe the same thing though I have to admit, after about the fifth round of such repetitious wordplay, it was rather tiresome and I couldn't wait for it to end so we could all move on. The couple has a young girl, Lanie (no kids in this production - it was an adult playing this character), who was caught up in her parent's grief, trying to get their attention and love which was not reciprocated - both parents were lost in their own world, the mother deeply spiraling down in depression while the father escapes by travelling for work lots. Everyday interactions turn surreal with interesting characters appearing in their lives - a transvestite stewardess, a woman in an airport bar who's allergic to anything organic, GI Joe and the Tooth Fairy (the last two characters were from Lanie's imagination). These characters brought some light and humour into the grimness from the grief. I liked the transvestite and GI Joe best, both characters uniquely different yet well-played by the same actor. In fact, the cast performed very well in their various roles. It's definitely a dark story and there was no clear happy ending. I left the theatre with a strange lingering feeling of emptiness and loss - I guess the play did provoke me somewhat thus causing me to feel this way. An interesting start to theatre shows in Sydney. More to come I'm sure!

The Chai Shop, North Sydney (17th November 2011)

Despite Violet having left our team in FNZ (making the female headcount even smaller than it already was), Julie-Ann and I still continued our regular Thursday girls' lunch and today went to check out The Chai Shop located on the Plaza Level food court in Greenwood Plaza. I've walked past this Indian shop several times and often see many people who work in this area of North Sydney of Indian ethnicity having lunch here - must be pretty good to attract so many of them! So us girls headed over to the diner around 11.45am and it was still quite quiet when we arrived (we were probably the first two to get there as there were no queues). 

There were plenty of curries available
, ranging from mild to spicy, served with your choice of rice and naan. I was greedy and went for the non-vegetarian thali (cost $12.90) which comes with rice, naan and poppadom with my choice of a vegetarian and two meat curries - I chose the Mixed Vegetable Curry, Chicken Madras and Goa Fish Curry. As I paid and collected my thali at the cashier, I added a teaspoonful of yoghurt and cucumber raita onto it (there were other condiments as well for self-serving sitting by the counter) and was off to find us a table while Julie-Ann was waiting for her vegetable dosa (fermented crepe with curried vegetable filling that was prepared on order).

Non-vegetarian Thali ($12.90) - basmati rice, naan, poppadum with 
Mixed Vegetable curry, Chicken Madras and Goa fish curry

The Chai Shop in Greenwood Plaza food court

Mmm, the thali was very nice and I love the curries I got with my meal - they were similar to Malaysian curries that have a more watery consistency than the thick, creamy Indian curry which often makes me feel quite greased out by the end of the meal. The dish was a bit too much for me but it was delicious and I couldn't help myself so ended up polishing off most of the curries, leaving behind only part of the naan and some of the basmati rice. Julie-Ann's dosa looked pretty impressive and was also rather huge (she only managed to eat half of it). As we chatted over our meals, I found out that the Indians who were seen having their lunch in this area of the food court weren't actually eating food from The Chai Shop but mostly brought their own packed lunch. And I thought it was because the food here was so good (fortunately it was)! 
Will have to come back again to try out their other curries and perhaps some of the Indian sweets too.

The Chai Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Andy's Sushi, North Sydney (15th November 2011)

I realised that I often blog about my foodie experiences but have never mentioned the places I go to for lunch around my office in North Sydney. Personally, I don't think I've fully explored all the lunch hot spots in the vicinity - I seem to always return to the same places for certain types of food/cuisine and when I've exhausted most of my lunch break at the gym, lunch tends to be something quick. Occasionally on my non-workout days, I would take time out to have a sit-down meal and today was one of those days. Hmm, I haven't had chicken noodle soup for a while...

Around 12pm, I headed to Andy's Sushi located less than 2 minutes walk from the MLC Building on Miller St where I work. A sushi chain found in most food courts, this shop was the place I frequented during the winter months for their chicken noodle soup (they have the beef option too). Cost $7 for a large bowl of rice noodles served over a bed of bean sprouts and basil drenched in a clear broth with a wedge of lemon on the side, and cut chillies and bean/hoisin sauce in small disposable plastic containers. It tastes almost similar to the Vietnamese pho ga though I think Pasteur on George St in Haymarket still serves the best pho in town. I'm not sure what it is, maybe it's the broth or the fact that the shredded chicken in my noodle soup is always overcooked. Still, this is the best I've had in North Sydney - I have tried a few pho places here but none of them were any good. You know what's ironic? I'm having Vietnamese chicken noodle soup in a Japanese sushi place that is served by Koreans (oh, trust me, I know they are Koreans - whenever the phone rings, they say 'An nyeong ha se yo' which means 'hello' in Korean).

Andy's Sushi primarily sells sushi rolls and for a cheap price of $5, you get 3 sushi rolls of your choice - if cut up, it probably makes about 12 sushi pieces which is enough to fill you up. Interestingly, the shop no longer cuts your sushi rolls on request due to hygiene reasons as per their bright yellow sign stuck by the counter (what hygiene reasons???). Highly popular with the folks in my building, the queues for sushi here can be up to five person deep though it moves along rather quickly. Personally, I wouldn't recommend the sushi rolls - in the many occasions that I've purchased the rolls, it often turns out sloppy and just doesn't taste or look very appealing. In fact, I always regret buying them for lunch as the more bites I take, the more I feel like throwing it up. True, it's a cheap lunch for $5 but I rather pay a bit more and get quality sushi from the other sushi places around the area. I'll just stick to my usual chicken noodle soup thanks...

Sushi counter at Andy's Sushi

Chicken noodle soup ($7)

Andy's Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Girls' night out with Amanda and Anna (9th November 2011)

With the boys still away in USA for their annual company offsite, the "Google widows" (as Jono calls it) decided to catch up for drinks and dinner this evening. Amanda, Anna and I (Natasha had other plans) met up outside the Castlereagh St entrance into Westfield Shopping Centre in the city after work around 5.30pm and headed up to Level 6 where Spiedo Restaurant & Bar was located. All 3 of us were subscribers of Time Out Sydney, an events magazine and website that sends weekly updates on what's happening in Sydney - occasionally on Wednesdays, they would send out a Time Out Shout where subscribers to the mailing list are entitled to free drinks and nibbles at the 'secret location' disclosed only on the day of the event. Yep, you guessed right - tonight's 'secret location' was Spiedo Restaurant & Bar!

I never knew there was a food court on Level 5 and fine dining restaurants on Level 6 in the shopping centre. Arriving at the top of the escalators on Level 6, we could see quite a crowd around this informal restaurant and bar. We beelined to the sign-in desk to hand in our email printouts (to proof you're a subscriber though they didn't really check and Amanda just gave them 3 copies of the same email she printed earlier) and was given 2 drink vouchers each which we could redeem for either a Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) or beers (choice of Little Creatures or White Rabbit). Amanda and I both went for the Prosecco while Anna had the White Rabbit beer. "Amanda! That's SO naughty!" I exclaimed when she flashed her drink vouchers at me - she still had two vouchers AND a wine in hand! The bartender was busy tending to the many people that have crowded the bar to redeem their drinks and forgotten to collect Amanda's drink voucher so she played dumb and walked away. "What? He didn't ask me to hand it over," said Amanda with a sly smile and I rolled my eyes and laughed.

We found ourselves seats at one of the high tables, sitting alongside other Time Out subscribers, mostly work folk who managed to get off work early for the event. Canapés were served while we sipped our drinks though we never seemed to get to sample any as they disappeared before the waitstaff even got to our table. The restaurant is owned by chef Alessandro Pavoni and specialises in northern Italian cuisine. I thought it was quite clever to use Time Out as a means to promote themselves and though they had to provide free drinks and canapés between 5 - 7pm (first-come-first-serve until the tab finishes), I'm sure some of the subscribers continued on into the evening, possibly even dining in-house. Will have to come back here to try out the food - they serve a Lombardian long lunch every Sunday that includes a pasta, 5-hour spit roast of the day and a dessert for $49 which I'm keen to sample. 5-hour spit roast? Sold!

Us girls returned to the bar to claim our second drink, this time beers all round and headed back to our table, continuing our chit-chat. There was an older couple sitting in front of us and were in the spirit of sharing the olives they had ordered with us. We ended up chatting with them for the rest of our time at the restaurant - Ron is an English businessman and his partner Mae is from Hong Kong. They split their time living both in Sydney and Hong Kong making it quite hard to get to know new people and Mae was very eager to befriend us girls, asking for our contact details 10 minutes into the conversation. A bit abrupt but I can understand where that's coming from - it really isn't easy to make friends in Sydney, even for me. It takes time to build new relationships and after living here for 8 months, I'm still working on building my social network (and I'm glad I know a few more people now!). We swapped contacts details - who knows where that might take us? Ron and I had a good yarn about life back in Malaysia and Singapore (he lived there for a few years) - food, culture, quirks - we reminisced about our experiences there and had several good laughs too.

Amanda, Anna and I left the restaurant around 7pm in search of a sushi place for dinner and ended up at 
Sushi Hotaru located on Level 1 of The Galeries. Similar to Ichi-ban Boshi, this restaurant has a number system where you would right down your name and number of guests on the sheet on the clipboard at the reception desk, tear the number chit next to your name and wait for your number to be called. The place was quite packed when we arrived with several others waiting outside the eatery for their turn. Some 15 minutes later, we finally got a table though I thought it was rather crammed (and we aren't even big girls). All plates were $3.30 this evening and there was a good selection of sushi from the long conveyor-belt. It was interesting to watch freshly made sushi go through this UV light as it exits the kitchen, apparently to kill germs (really??) before it continues on the conveyor-belt  to hungry patrons. What was really cool was that each table had an iPad mounted to the wall and you can select whatever you want from the menu and it'll be served to your table shortly. You can even call the waiter and ask for the bill using the touch screen! That's just awesome :) Cost us $56.50 all up for 16 plates of assorted sushi and tea which we thought was quite cheap.

Sushi Hotaru Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

We bid our goodbyes and headed home around 8.30pm. It was a nice evening spent with the girls and I look forward to more upcoming catch ups! I arrived home in time to catch Jono for a brief chat - I've not heard from over the last 2 days and it makes me so happy to talk to him, even if it's short. The poor guy had been working many late shifts and with the time difference, it makes it much harder for us to talk. Can't wait to see him on Sunday when he comes home - yay!

Monday, 7 November 2011

HYPOXI consultation and free trial at HYPOXI Studio North Sydney (7th November 2011)

I've been seeing the HYPOXI ad on the TV screens at Fitness First each time I've been to the gym for the past two weeks and I've to admit, I'm quite intrigued. Said to be the best targeted fat loss and cellulite reduction treatment in the market without having to go under the knife, one can achieve their ideal figure within a matter of weeks. Over 350,000 people have used HYPOXI to transform their bodies, even British celebrities like Robbie Williams and Jordan (aka Katie Price). Personally, I'm a firm believer that to achieve your ideal body shape, it comes with hard work and discipline - regular exercise with a mix of cardio and weights AND watching what and how much you consume. To be able to achieve your goal in a mere four weeks by HYPOXI sounds a bit too good to be true...

As a Fitness First member, I was entitled to a free consultation and trial of HYPOXI - curious and somewhat dubious that this may yet be another one of those weight loss scams, I decided to check it out (and blog about it of course!). Fortunately for me, there was a HYPOXI centre conveniently located in North Sydney which was just 2 minutes walk from my office on Miller St so around 11.30am, I headed down the block to HYPOXI Studio North Sydney for my appointment. The centre was fairly small - a couch in the waiting area, one staff manning the phone at the reception desk, a changing room and four different HYPOXI machines (they reminded me of machines you would see in futuristic movies) with no customers in sight. The receptionist turned out to be the consultant I was seeing today and she was very informative, providing me with details on what HYPOXI does and how it works, and showed me an article that had before and after pictures of women who trialled various treatments to deal with their cellulite in the bum and thigh areas with HYPOXI reigning in results - all these information were given to me as part of my take-home information pack. I had to complete a form which required my personal details and a brief account of my medical history as well as my exercise routine and diet, if any. She also asked me where my problem areas were and how soon I would like to achieve my goals. "Tummy and waist...definitely the tummy," I said, gesturing at my problem area. My tummy is the most hated part of my body - regardless how hard I work out at the gym, I don't seem to see much improvement i.e. the rest of my body is pretty toned, just not the waist area. The lady explained that HYPOXI would definitely help me tone up my problem areas as it works to keep my heart rate within the 'fat burning zone' for the duration of my treatment (whereas my normal exercise routine would be working at a more intense heart rate), activates the circulation of the skin and encourages removal of lymphatic fluids and toxins which breaks down cellulite and firms up the skin. Poor blood circulation is said to be a key reason why it's difficult to rid weight or reduce cellulite and for most women, this applies to the lower half of their body.

Prior to my appointment, I was advised to wear loose-fitting gym clothes such as a t-shirt, leggings/shorts (avoid firm Lycra tights), sneakers and to bring along a towel and water. I was measured before the treatment - this is so if I chose to return to complete the full course of twelve sessions, they would have a base measure and be able to track my progress. My consultant then got me to put on what looked like a space cadet skirt (think Jane Jetson from The Jetsons cartoon) made from the same material used in wetsuits, then proceeded to strap on a heart rate monitor on my chest. I was then told to climb onto the S120, an upright capsule that acts similarly to a stationary bicycle trainer (yes, I have to cycle), except I'm locked waist down in the capsule. The vacuum-sealed chamber applies a steady combination of both positive and negative compressions during the cycle session, stimulating blood supply to the lower half of the body and accelerating lymphatic drainage. For this session, I was required to cycle for 35 minutes and keep my heart rate at 135 beats per minute (BPM). The computerised screen showed me details of my session, including my current heart rate, revolutions per minute (RPM) and how much time I had left before completion.

The S120. Source: HYPOXI North Sydney

Keeping a heart rate of 135 BPM was a piece of cake though I was breaking out quite a sweat by the end of my session. While I peddled, sipped water and dabbed myself with the towel, I was watching TV - I was given a headset that was plugged into the flatscreen TV attached to the machine, watching an episode of Secret Diary of a Call Girl that happened to be on. Three sessions of HYPOXI treatments 30-40 minutes each per week like this for four weeks hardly seems hard work compared to my normal exercise routine. There are claims that HYPOXI reduces the total circumference of the lower body three times faster than regular exercise and 90% improvement in cellulite. Though I could hardly see or feel much difference post my first session, I enjoyed the experience - it was effortless! Note that HYPOXI is not a substitute but a complement to your normal exercise regime. The treatment is targeted weight loss in the lower tummy, hips, bum and thighs so you can't just quit the gym and purely do HYPOXI; instead, you would resume your exercise routine on non-treatment days. You are also required to maintain a healthy balanced diet, limit your consumption of alcohol, sugar and fat, and drink at least 2 litres of water a day. No participation in other fat burning or cardio exercise on the same day of treatment as it would undo all the benefits - the HYPOXI session continues for a period between 3-6 hours after the treatment. During this time, you are also not allowed to eat carbohydrates so that the body continues to burn the newly metabolised fat, rather than using recently consumed energy that is much easier to access.

The full course of twelve sessions cost $690 ($590 for me as I am able to get a corporate rate) and you must carry out three sessions per week during the first 12-session programme. Most people only require one full course to get their results but you can continue on if you wish. If I had the spare cash, I would buy myself the full course just to see if it really gets me the body shape I desire but for now, I'll have to stick with my existing routine. The new training programme my gym trainer Alison started me on focuses more on my abdominal muscles and obliques. Boy is it killing me - my muscles have not been worked this hard!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Menya Mappen Noodle Bar (again!), Breadtop & Emperor's Puffs (5th November 2011)

Since there was not much in the house for me to whip up something for lunch, I decided to head into town for food. Ok, fine - I was just darn lazy to make something since Jono was away in California (and can't be bothered cooking for one) so around 12pm, I headed into town for lunch. You would not believe where I ended up - back in Menya Mappen Noodle less than a week!! The thought of those slippery and chewy udon gets my tummy very excited. I literally followed my stomach to the noodle place!

There was a queue all the way outside the noodle shop when I arrived but it only took about 10 minutes before I got to the noodle station. This time I had the small Ontama Mentaiko Bukkake Udon (cost $5.90), a slight variation of the udon I had last Sunday. My udon was served hot (cold option also available) with a soft boiled egg but instead of a lemon wedge, I was given a spoonful of mentaiko i.e. cod roe butter, giving the udon dish a much creamier taste than the normal Ontama Bukkake Udon. I also picked up a serving of sansai vegetables from the cold shelf ($1) and miso soup ($1.50). I had to try the self-dispensing miso machine - it was so tempting to press the button :P The total cost me less than ten bucks making Menya Mappen one of the cheapest eats in town.

Mmm, I like this cold sansai vegetables though I have no idea what it's made up of. Sansai literally translates to 'mountain vegetables' and originally refers to wild vegetables that were not cultivated (it is said you can cultivate certain species today) - the pieces of white vegetable tasted a bit like bamboo shoot and one of the greens looked like cooked fern. The Ontama Mentaiko Bukkake Udon was also nice but I think I much preferred the original, less creamy version. Photos taken at Menya Mappen today here.

Mappen Noodle Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

After lunch, I headed into World Square Shopping Centre to Rebel Sport to pick up a kickboard for swimming. Now that I've got a 10-trip swim pass at North Sydney Olympic Pool, I will need a kickboard that is often used in my swim programme. I stopped by at Breadtop to grab a few takeaway buns for later - a pork floss bun, and a twisted bun sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar (cost $2 each). I took a small piece of each just to try them out as I walked out to the main street. Yum, they tasted exactly like what I remembered! When I was growing up, Mum would often bring my brother and I to the local bakery to pick up after-school snacks and buns such as these were some of our favourites. Hmm, brings back lots of good memories of our afternoon tea sessions...Photos taken at Breadtop:

A variety of Asian breads, cakes and pastries sold at Breadtop

Breadtop outlet at World Square Shopping Centre

Pork floss bun

Twisted bun sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon

Next stop, the fresh vegetables and fruit market at Paddy's Market in Haymarket and then home. Since I was in Chinatown, I decided to pick up a takeaway dinner and headed to Eating World Food Court to the Indonesian food stall where I got myself a rice and 3 sides combo meal (cost $8). Another one of those places that sells food that makes me nostalgic - chicken curry, stir-fry mustard leaves, and fried bean curd with stir-fry vegetables on rice. Can't believe I'm already thinking of dinner when I've just had lunch :P

As I walked down Dixon St towards Paddy's Market, I noticed the queue for Emperor's Puff was particularly short this afternoon. Normally 10-15 people deep, there were only 2 families queuing up for this popular snack which you would purchase from this hole-in-wall shop owned by and located next door to Emperor's Garden Cake & Bakery. I've always been curious why people bother to queue for these little puffs - I never bothered to queue for it whenever I see so many customers waiting in line. Today must be my (and their) lucky day that I'll get to sample these puffs (and blog about them!).

It took about 10 minutes before I got to the front of the line. "Is this any good?" asked the woman behind me who was with her husband, both tourists. "Actually I don't know what the hype is either so queueing up to check it out - normally the queue is pretty long," I said and we continued on the conversation for the next couple of minutes. I was told off by the young lady selling the puffs on the other side of the window when she caught sight of my iPhone pointing towards her direction. "No photos! No photos!" she shouted, waving her arms in the air. Boo...all I wanted was to take a picture of the interesting contraption that makes the puffs :/ It was really cool to watch the machine as it cleverly squirted batter into the cast iron moulds which then progressed on to the heating element where the batter gets cooked to a perfect golden brown and finally, to the young lady working behind the window who is responsible for quickly removing the puffs and fill the insides with custard, the whole process working in a conveyor-like system. Cost 30 cents for one or $1 for 4 (I went for the latter option - one is not enough!) and the puffs were handed to me in a little paper bag and boy do they feel hot! Not wise to eat them immediately...

So was it any good? It was nice but not something I would see myself having on a regular basis. Biting through the soft doughnut-like exterior, you would instantly feel the warm custard oozing into your mouth giving the puff a sweet vanilla taste. If you've had kaya/coconut jam balls in South East Asia, this is pretty much the same except filled with custard. The puffs kind of made me think of Mum's famous cream puffs which has a custard filling but a different casing. I like Mum's cream puffs - they tend to disappear very quickly at dinner parties! Photos taken of my Emperor's Puff experience:

In the queue for Emperor's Puff on Dixon St in Chinatown

My bag of warm puffs

The golden puff filled with custard

Emperor's Garden Cake & Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

After making several food stops today, I'm FINALLY heading home (I found some kangkung aka water spinach at the market - $2.50 for 2 large bunches!). Boy this warm weather is rather unbearable...the temperature has been sitting around the high 20s most of the week and it's not even summer yet! Despite growing up in Malaysia, I think my body has become accustomed to the Wellington cool weather and frankly, I kind of miss it when it's this hot in Sydney. I have no idea how I'm going to cope with the Australian summer...