Friday, 24 February 2012

Pasha's Restaurant, Newtown (24th February 2012)

Jono and I decided to eat out for dinner this evening, this time heading to Pasha's Restaurant, a Turkish restaurant located on King St in Newtown. We've walked past the restaurant many times and often talked about heading over but as usual, just never got round to it; this really has nothing to do with money, sheer laziness or poor planning. The thing with Sydney is that the city is littered with restaurants of every possible cuisine and we are spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding where to dine next - there's always another restaurant/cafe/bar we haven't been to and the list of places to check out just gets longer and longer! But, we ARE heading to Pasha's Restaurant tonight and with today being a Friday, we get the added bonus of watching a live Turkish belly dance performance while we dine (this occurs on Friday and Saturday nights only) - sweet!

We walked to the restaurant from home and arrived in time for our 7.30pm booking. As I entered the restaurant, I couldn't help but feel a sense of exoticness - Turkish furnishings (including beautiful Turkish tiles in traditional Iznik and Arabic patterns) and ornaments filled the interior of the restaurant and soft folk music can be heard playing in the background. We were seated at a corner table 
by the back wall which gave us a good view of the guests in the restaurant. "Should we be crossing our legs?" asked Jono, trying to get comfortable on his cushioned seat, working out how best to place his legs under the low table. Hmm, I actually don't know - I've never been to a Turkish restaurant and I'm not sure what their dining etiquettes are. I suppose we could stretch our legs under the table since no one is sitting directly opposite us...

View from our corner table at Pasha's Restaurant on King St in Newtown

The restaurant is beautifully decorated with various Turkish ornaments and furnishings

I had read several online reviews of the restaurant earlier today and most of them recommended the Sultan's Banquet as it was best value for money. For $35 per person, the Sultan's Banquet is a set menu which included a selection of dips, flavoured eggplant, sliced zucchini with yoghurt, pomegranate salad, a mixed grill of lamb and chicken sis and meatballs, as well as sweets with coffee or tea. Sounded quite similar to a 3-course set dinner to me though $35 seemed a bit cheap...small servings, maybe?? We decided to go ahead and ordered a Sultan's Banquet each (there was no mention on the menu of the minimum heads per table required to order this - I assumed you can order for just 1 person too), then settled back into our seats, opening up the bottle of red wine we brought along. "This is nice," I said to Jono, taking in the ambience as I sipped my wine. To be honest, both Jono and I didn't expect the restaurant to be so lovely inside - from the street, the place looked dimly lit and dark, reminding me of a cave and somehow gave the impression that it was very warm inside. We were pleasantly surprised that it was nothing like we thought - a cool continuous breeze blew from the air-conditioner and the subtle lighting made the place quite cosy and romantic.

Our entrees arrived shortly and oh my god, there was SO much food - I didn't know where to start! Instead of serving us two separate portions, our entrees were made enough for two people. The sliced zucchini, grilled and served with natural herbed yoghurt was just divine, and so was the flavoured eggplant dish. The selection of dips (homemade hummus, fine chopped grilled eggplant salad, Turkish cacik, chargrilled red capsicum dip, grated carrot and Anatolian dip) came with a basket of warm Turkish bread - mmm, the dips and bread were lovely! Jono and I were debating what the yummy orange-coloured dip was made of, him guessing it was a variation of scrambled eggs while I thought it had a curd-like texture and guessed it was some kind of dip with a yoghurt base. Well, we had better ask our friendly waitress what it is when she returns or we'll be guessing all night! We also had a bowl of pomegranate salad which was passable - it was good but didn't have enough pomegranates for it to be worthy of such name.

Our entree for the Sultan's Banquet: selection of dips, flavoured eggplant, sliced zucchini with yoghurt and pomegranate salad

We still had quite a lot of dips remaining after we finished most of the other entrees so requested for another basket of bread (this was at no additional cost). Oh, and we found out what the orange-coloured dip was made of - I was right, it's yoghurt! I can see why Jono thought it might be scrambled eggs (it does look like it) but it didn't have the egg smell and texture. Emptied plates were cleared off our table and replaced with a platter of mixed grill - lamb and chicken sis (chargrilled thick carved meats on skewers marinated with pungent Turkish spices) and meatballs (chargrilled premium beef mince flavoured with spices and fresh herbs shaped into oval balls), served with rice pilaf. We had a skewer of the sis and meatball each, the grilled meats juicy and tender, so mouth-wateringly full of flavour. And we LOVE the rice pilaf that had almonds and raisins in it - wished we could have more!

Mixed grill of lamb sis, chicken sis, and meatballs served with almond rice

Whilst enjoying our mixed grill, the music suddenly became quite loud, attracting a lot of attention. A beautiful female belly dancer came twirling into the middle of the dining area, showing off her graceful moves to the upbeat music. Wow, those body isolation moves she performed were done so well! Damn, wished I could do that - I did some belly dancing lessons in the past but no way am I anywhere near such level. How does she do that tummy ripple?? As part of the evening's entertainment, the belly dancer invited a few guests to join her on the floor. One young chap was particularly eager to take on the challenge, bewildering the belly dancer with his more Polynesian dance style moves - it was funny watching their dance showdown. I got it on video: 

Several others tried their best to follow the dancer's moves and all received applause for their participation from the crowd. One thing I noticed was that the belly dancer was not Turkish or Middle Eastern decent. "Hmm, I think she's actually a Brazilian," I said to Jono. Turkish or not, I'm sure the crowd was quite mesmerised by her good looks and moves :) Pity the dancing only lasted about 15 minutes - Jono and I were hoping the dancer would perform another set but she never came back...

Ok, getting the second bread basket was probably a bad choice :/ By the time we finished our main, we could hardly eat much of the remaining dips and bread. I'm feeling quite full! We gestured to one of the waitresses and told her we were ready for our dessert. "Sure, would you like coffee or tea?" she asked. Since neither of us wanted a caffeinated drink, we settled for a Turkish Apple Tea for me and a Turkish Orange Tea for Jono. Our hot teas arrived with a small plate of sweets, two pieces of lokum (Turkish delight) and baklava respectively, sprinkled with crushed pistachios. You know, I've always thought baklava to be something savoury (I often seen them sold in kebabs shops, next to the falafel) but it turned out to be a typical Turkish dessert made of layers of nuts and spices in flaky pastry, combined with a honey and lemon flavoured syrup. Yum! Though the desserts were small pieces, it was just right - too much of them would probably make me feel quite sick as they are very sweet. The tea themselves were fairly average. "Tastes like warmed up Raro Sweet Navel Orange - try it," said Jono, rather unimpressed with his Orange Tea. Now, if you grew up in NZ, you would know what Jono was referring to. Raro is a powdered drink from NZ fortified with vitamin C and though I didn't grow up in NZ, I have tried the drink. 
I took a sip of Jono's tea - it sure tasted like warm Raro alright. Is this how Turkish orange tea is meant to taste? I guess I was expecting more real fruit flavour than this rather artificial taste. My apple tea was no better, much like warm Fresh Up apple juice (Fresh Up is a well-known fruit juice brand in NZ).

Dessert of orange and apple teas with Turkish Delight and Baklava

Cost us a total of $55.50 (includes $2 per person corkage fee and the 25% off Entertainment Book voucher) which worked out pretty cheap for the dinner. Even if the salad and teas weren't so great (and the belly dancing performance was too short), overall, the food and service was excellent. I definitely recommend you try Pasha's Restaurant - you'll enjoy the experience :)

Pasha's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Greenwood Chinese Takeaway, North Sydney (23rd February 2012)

You know, even after almost having lived a year in Sydney, it still gets to me some days when the train is so packed and my personal space totally invaded. Just look at this photo taken on my mobile this morning on my commute to work:

It will be sometime before I get use to this (or will I never?) - there are just too many people  living in this big city! Imagine the number of people heading to work all stressed and flustered from trying to get on and off the train. And they haven't even started their work day yet!

Work for me has been busy, meetings after meetings most of this week. I'm definitely back to my normal routine, my holiday now a distant memory (even though it was only 2 weeks ago). Can't wait till the Easter long weekend when Jono and I head off on a short trip to Ayers Rock - looking forward to it! :)

Anyway, what I really wanted to talk about 
(write about, to be correct) today is this small Chinese takeaway restaurant named Greenwood Chinese Takeaway I found on Greenwood Level of Greenwood Plaza in North Sydney, a regular lunch spot for me since I first discovered the restaurant some 9 months ago - this is the place I go to for my 'siew yuk' (Cantonese for Chinese crispy roast pork belly) fix. Though I've not been to many Hong Kong BBQ restaurants in Sydney, I have had plenty of roast pork growing up and I can assure you the roast pork here is very good. The meat (the inner most layer) is tender and generously coated with five-spice powder, the layer of juicy fat above the meat still oozes fatty oils when pressed, and the skin, crispy golden and crunchy - it is the perfect 'siew yuk'! Not helping my goal to lose weight eating this (oh, but it's so good!)...If you're a fan of 'siew yuk', go for their Roast Pork on Rice - it's my favourite :) For $9.50, you get a plate of rice with a generous serving of roast pork drizzled with BBQ sauce, blanched 'kai-lan' or Chinese broccoli on the side, and a complimentary small container of warm corn soup. To be honest, the roast pork serving is a bit much for one - I often feel rather greased out after I finished the whole meal. So instead, I would order the dish as a takeaway, having half for lunch and saving the other half for later. That way I get to savour and eat all the yummy roast pork (though it's not as nice reheated). The serving of the 'kai-lan' is a bit stingy (I really would like more) and the soup, well, I suggest don't bother having it (I usually say no to the soup when offered) - it is quite starchy and makes me feel even like I'm on my way to inducing a heart-attack having it with my already calorie-loaded roast pork and rice. A clear, simple soup would have been a better compliment to the meal.
Even though the name suggests that the restaurant is a takeaway, Greenwood Chinese Takeaway does have several tables so you can still eat in. At times, you may have to share a table with other customers if eating in during the lunchtime rush. 
And yes, most of their customers are Asians. The restaurant offers a variety of other meats (BBQ pork, roast duck and soy chicken) served with rice or noodles, and of course, you can buy these meat on its own by the grams or portions. The restaurant also offers a smorgasbord (I've tried it once and the food was alright) and several other dishes such as wonton noodle soup and laksa on order. Photos taken at Greenwood Chinese Takeaway:

View of the small diner from my indoor table

Roast duck, roast pork, BBQ pork and soy chicken hanging on display

Roast Pork on Rice ($9.50) with kai-lan, corn soup and chilli sauce

Greenwood Chinese Takeaway Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Bibaps, North Sydney (8th February 2012)

On days that I feel the need to top up my vegetable intake, I would head to Bibaps in Berry Square food court to pick up a takeaway tofu bibimbap. Bibimbap (its literal translation from Korean meaning 'mixed rice') is a popular Korean dish and is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with sauteed and seasoned vegetables, and usually accompanied with a raw egg and sliced beef - the meal is stirred together before eating. For $8, you can pick up a bibimbap from Bibaps that comes in a paper bowl with a plastic lid containing a bed of warm white rice topped with sauteed and seasoned  shredded carrots, sliced mushrooms and zucchini, bean sprouts and chopped Asian greens, with meat choices of bulgogi (Korean-style beef), teriyaki chicken/fish, miso pork or tofu. Add-ons such as a fried egg, brown rice or miso soup are available - I always go for brown rice option for an extra 50 cents. Two pieces of lightly pan-fried firm tofu garnished with a few slices of cut green and red chillies (I like it more for the spicy kick, not just the garnish) sat beautifully on top of my brown rice bibimbap, a few sprinkles of sesame seeds and drops of soy sauce to top it off. You also get the choice of a sauce packed separately to go with your bibimbap - these range from mild to hot and though I'm offered a sauce every time (and have tried a few), I much prefer my tofu bibimbap plain without sauces. It's very yummy as it is!

Besides bibimbaps, Bibaps also serve other takeaway meals such as lunch boxes, sushi, rice rolls, udon and salads. The staff are always friendly and welcoming, and though the stall crowds up during the lunchtime rush, there is often little wait time making Bibaps a great place to pick up a meal if you're in a hurry.

Lunchtime rush though there's hardly any waiting

Tofu bibimbap with brown rice ($8.50) with miso sauce

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

Monday, 6 February 2012

Adult Mandarin Class Level 2 (Beginners 2) & Petaling Street, Haymarket (6th February 2012)

After a chilled out 2.5 weeks away from Sydney, it's time for me to return to work and get back  to the routines of life. No rest for the wicked, I pretty much delved into work on day one, dealing with the day-to-day issues and fixing new defects as they pop up for my project. It didn't feel like I've been away as long as I have - work was pretty much the same state where I left it. Oh but the gym! The 'post-holiday' workout my personal trainer Alison had me on was an absolute killer and my quad and hamstring muscles were in agony each step I took after my workout. Urgh...A good wake-up call for the body though - time to get back in shape! Fortunately all the holiday eating and drinking did not result in piling on a few extra kilos (phew!) so it's just getting my body used to the new workout.

Speaking of getting back to the swing of things, Australasian Centre of Chinese Studies (ACCS) had started their new term last week and both Jono and I have enrolled ourselves in the Adult Mandarin Class Level 2 (Beginners 2) - this is the next level after the class we did last term. I haven't seen anyone from our last class in Level 2 though - I wondered if they decided Mandarin was too hard and given up. Mandarin is said to be one of the 5 most difficult languages to attain proficiency in speaking and reading for the native English speaker and even I find it difficult despite already knowing some Mandarin. The way ACCS conducts the lessons makes learning Mandarin fun and interesting - I'm definitely learning and retaining a lot more characters in class this time round (I've done Mandarin classes when younger but could never remember characters without its corresponding pinyin). I'm glad Jono's still keen to learn the language and with both of us attending the same class, we get to learn and help each other out, making it a fun shared experience in itself :) Cost $325 for the 10-week class and we were very fortunate to have Christine as our teacher again - she's really lovely and humourous, and often incorporates simple games into our lessons. This week she got us to sing the Chinese version of the children's song "The More We Get Together", with me leading the singing as she caught me humming the tune to Jono when she was writing the lyrics in pinyin on the whiteboard. Eek, so embarrassing having to sing for the class but Jono so kindly joined in and we sung it together.

Our Mandarin class is normally on Saturdays but as we've made plans for the weekend, Jono and I swapped this week's class to the Monday session (there are 3 classes held each week teaching the same lesson and students can swap or attend additional classes if required). Class ended around 8pm and Jono suggested we head to 
Petaling Street for dinner, a Malaysian hawker food restaurant located on George St in Haymarket. The name Petaling Street takes reference to the Petaling Street in Malaysia which coincidentally is also located in Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur - a tourist spot, this street is notoriously known for cheap imitation branded clothing and accessories, pirated DVDs and CDs stalls as well as home to many restaurants and food stalls. With 5 branches in Melbourne, this chain restaurant recently opened their first branch in Sydney and in a mere few weeks have already attracted quite a clientele. 

Entering the restaurant, we were greeted by one of the waitstaff who showed us to our table. The kitchen was in full view as we walked down the narrow walkway to the dining area - cooks busy at their wok stations cooking up a storm, roast chicken hanging on display, and several other kitchenhands chopping and peeling vegetables. The dining area was split in two floors (more seating downstairs below street level) and the tables were placed quite close to one another, making it feel rather congested like a typical hawker place in Malaysia. Waitstaff roamed around the narrow walkways serving customers, donned in uniform T-shirt and black pants, some wearing headsets with mics which are used to communicate with staff on the lower floor. Their menu was quite extensive with at least 50 items to choose from. I went for their Malaysian Preserved (Salted) Radish Steamed Fish (Whole Fish) from the specials board - not everyday would a Malaysian restaurant offer whole steamed fish on their menu so I'm taking the opportunity to order it. And at $14.80 for the meal (which was cheaper than I expected), it was a match made in heaven :)  Jono ordered the Chicken Curry Laksa, and we had an Iced Grass Jelly and Honey Lemon (Hot) drink respectively.

Chicken Curry Laksa ($10.80) and 
Malaysian Preserved Radish Steamed Whole Fish ($14.80)

Dining area (on the street level) with narrow walkways

My steamed fish appeared in less than 10 minutes after we ordered which was a surprise - normally it would take about 20 minutes to prepare the dish and Jono reckons the fish was pre-cooked and just zapped in the microwave on order. Hmm, if that was the case, I would expect the fish to taste a lot drier but it was still tender and moist. The fish was covered generously with fried garlic and preserved radish (don't think I'll be getting any more kisses from Jono tonight with my now garlic breathe :P), drenched in soy sauce and garnished with fresh parsley. Personally, I felt the meal was too much for one (and Jono couldn't help me with the fish when his own dinner was massive too) so I ended up eating most of the fish and only a few spoonfuls of rice - it was good and authentic but I really can't finish it all...Jono enjoyed his meal too, finishing most his laksa. Cost us $32 all up (the restaurant takes cash only) which was about right for such huge servings and a whole steamed fish. I'm keen to come back to try their other dishes - I've got my eye on the Hainanese chicken rice and those dishes made with marmite. I know what you're thinking: Marmite on pork ribs is just weird. But hey, it may turn out pretty awesome. Still to be sampled!

Petaling Street: Malaysian Hawker Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato