“Okay, so it’s a toss up between Malaysian, Chinese and Japanese since we’re all on this side of the bridge?” I ask.
“Well, Max is from Perth and there are so many good Malaysian restaurants there so perhaps he might want to try something different in Sydney instead?” I counter.
“How about a good Hainanese style chicken rice?” someone else suggests.
“That could be a good plan since there are eight of us tonight and don’t we know just the place for Hainanese chicken rice in the North Shore!” I say.
Ginger & Spice is owner and chef Alex Lee’s creation of a Singapore style restaurant renowned for his take on Singapore chilli crabs (pre-ordering required), oyster omelette and other hawker delights.
Located on Military Road in the lower north shore suburb of Neutral Bay, this restaurant has bridged the gap for good Singaporean / Malaysian style hawker food in the area for the last eight years.
This 70-seat restaurant is popular among Sydneysiders for a taste of nyonya cuisine or to simply get their hawker food fix, which is exactly what we are here for tonight.
Diners can observe Alex Lee and his chefs weave kitchen theatrics through two glass windows in the dining room.
Is this a good thing if regular diners to a restaurant can see whether the head chef is cooking on the day?
A 2012 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc is a trusted pairing for Asian food in general and this young vintage is grassy with herbaceous aromas of passionfruit and a clean and crisp finish.
(Corkage charge is $3 per person at this restaurant.)
The golden brown ngoh hiang or dried tofu skin rolls are wrapped with minced pork, water chestnuts and deep-fried.
The five-spice powder gives ngoh hiang (sometimes also called loh bak) a fragrant aroma. It is a crispy treat and certainly a very popular street food in Singapore and Malaysia.
Squid in Kecap Manis is crunchy and caramelised from the sweet black sauce. It is popular in hawker style restaurants ( known as zi char, literally meaning “big fry-up” in the Hokkien dialect) in Singapore.
I dislike sweet foods and found this dish too sweet for my liking and bordering on a burnt taste although Mysaucepan and her friend likes this dish, being true to Singaporeans’ fondness for sweeter tastes in some of their hawker style foods.
(Singaporean style char kway teow and chai tow kway generally have a sweet tinge from the sweet black sauce or Kecap Manis used compared to Malaysia’s savoury style of using caramel dark sauce.)
Sambal snakebeans is one dish that is difficult to go wrong. The beans are smoky and crunchy from a spicy blend of chilli and shrimp paste.
Beer is always a good drink for deep-fried and spicy Asian food and when in a Singaporean restaurant, do the right thing and order a Singaporean beer or two.
Singapore-style hokkien noodles are coated with a distinctive eggy sauce rich with the essence of prawns and pork.
Having grown up with Malaysian-style hokkien noodles which is dark with caramel black sauce stir-fried in tasty pork lard, I would still rate this interpretation as one of the best in Sydney.
This is Mysaucepan‘s favourite dish, having grown up in Singapore but I like it too because the noodles have soaked up that prawny pork gravy to the extent they are tasty even on its own. Dipping the prawns and squid into some sambal completes the taste sensation of one of Singapore’s most popular hawker dishes.
I am not aware of any restaurants in Sydney that does a good oluak or oyster omelette in the style of Singaporean and Malaysian street food. Alex’s version is addictive although this dish can be quite elusive and seldom available when requested.
Literally meaning “fried oyster” in the Hokkien dialect, oluak is a gooey blend of fresh oysters, eggs and rice flour that is stir-fried into a fragrant omelette with some heady wok aromas. Dipped into a spicy chilli sauce, this is one of my favourite street foods whenever I am in Singapore and Malaysia.
Assam fish is gently spicy and piquant with tamarind flavours. We find the sauce a little meek with the few pieces of fish fillets and tomato wedges.
To me, this assam fish dish is a little disappointing and overpriced considering the options available for a good main around $40 in so many Sydney restaurants.
There are not many restaurants that serve Hainanese style chicken with the three signature condiments of chilli sauce, ginger and shallots relish and caramel black sauce. The chicken is delicate yet moist, with the right balance of ginger and garlic. For our party of eight diners tonight, we order a whole chicken that comes de-boned and drizzled with a light soy sauce and sesame oil.
Personally, I am indifferent to breast or thigh meat because each has its own merits. I like the stringy and firmer texture of breast meat that soaks up the delightful condiments a little better while thigh meat is obviously smoother and more succulent.
This is one of my favouite dishes at this restaurant and when paired with fragrant chicken rice ($4 per person) it is one of the better interpretations of Hainanese style chicken rice among so many Singaporean and Malaysian restaurants in Sydney.
The boys did agree that Tiger beer goes well with Asian food and overall we enjoyed our meal.
The concept of sharing main dishes at Ginger & Spice is a good option as there are some tasty hawker style and nyonya dishes such as spicy curries and vegetables that go well with steamed rice. Needless to say, it is especially good when there are also eight Hainanese chicken rice lovers.
So dear readers, which is your favourte Hainanese style chicken rice or oyster omelette in Sydney?
Ginger & Spice
240 Military road, Neutral Bay, New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9908 2552
Business hours: Lunch Tuesday – Saturday, 12pm – 3pm, Dinner Monday – Sunday 5.30pm – 10pm
Note: Terms of payment is Cash Only, no credit card or EFTPOS. Corkage: $3 per person.