One of the things that I like about dining in cosmopolitan Sydney is the array of choices available to food lovers. Even then, I often come across and read about the hoards of diners whinging about the state of Sydney’s dining scene.
Some of the boring and tiresome laments – “No good coffee in the city”, “Good, honest food not as good as Melbourne”, “Seafood not fresh” (Yes, you heard correctly!) and “Eating out is getting very expensive”.
“Expensive” is a relative term and with the rising cost of living in Sydney, I believe most price rises are merely keeping up with inflation. Sydney’s culinary landscape is as competitive as ever and I don’t doubt restaurants charging higher prices need to continuously justify value and service.
Things may not always be apparent at first glance but asserting difficulty in finding a good feed in Sydney’s melting pot of cuisine is pretty lame. Granted there are fussy eaters among us due to allergies, health reasons or religion. As a diner, I believe Sydney’s dining scene remains one of the most dynamic and exciting in the Asia Pacific region.
Multiculturalism has meant that eat streets and suburbs abound across the entire city and one is presented with choices. It is a matter of knowing where to go and finding the dishes that you like rather than walking aimlessly into any restaurant and later complain that it wasn’t up to scratch. Locales known for its ethnic cuisines are becoming increasing blurred. We can now find Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai food in most of the major business and suburban precincts across the city.
So today, I take you to Eastwood, a suburb approximately 16km northwest of Sydney to introduce you to some of my positive dining experiences. Traditionally known for its strong and vibrant Korean community, Eastwood has a large number of Korean restaurants serving Korean barbeque, hotpots and traditional Korean fare. However, I have also found that Eastwood offers some of the best and most popular Chinese and Japanese dishes at such competitive prices, I would challenge you to try and cook these dishes at home and come up with their amazing flavours.
So here they are, in no particular order, my Top 10 cheap eat dishes in Eastwood. These dishes also happen to come from 4 different restaurants:
- Ginger & Shallots Chinese Cuisine (Chinese)
- Zenya Noodle Bar (Japanese noodle bar)
- Eastwood Garden Peking (Northern Chinese) – please see special note at end of this blog post.
- Jonga Jip BBQ (Korean)
This stir-fried beef with ginger and shallots at its namesake Ginger & Shallots Chinese Cuisine is probably one of the best stir-fried Chinese dishes in Sydney. The beef slices are tender whilst the fury of a hot wok is evident where the meat is almost sizzling with the aromas of shoa xing wine complemented by the crunch of shallots and ginger. I would rate this dish comparable to any leading chinese restaurant in the heart of Chinatown.
No. 2: Combination pork congee or tang jai jook
Congee is one of the ultimate confort foods not only in Chinese cuisine but in many other Asian cultures such as Korean, Japanese, Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian cuisine. The combination pork congee or tang jai jook arrives bubbling hot in a large claypot. Strips of lean pork meat is accompanied with crunchy peanuts, pork liver, cuttlefish and topped with diced shallots and deep fried crisps.
No. 3: Salt and pepper flounder
By far the standout dish at Ginger & Shallots Chinese Cuisine is the salt and pepper flounder.
This classic and simple Chinese dish is taken to another level because the fish is so crispy outside, it breaks off easily and all of its smaller bones are crunchy with its salt and peppery flavours. The meat in the fish is white and tender and the sprinkling of fresh red chillies, shallots and deep-fried onions is the ideal topping.
Again, I have eaten far less superior versions of this dish in better-known Chinese restaurants all over Sydney.
Zenya Noodle Bar
No. 4: Japanese ramen with chicken katsu don
There are at least 3 – 4 Japanese restaurants located along the eat street in Eastwood offering a variety of fresh sushi, teppanyaki and yakiniku style Japanese cuisine. Zenya is a casual noodle bar that is packed with locals – Chinese, Korean and Aussie diners chowing down bowls of Japanese ramen. How much more multicultural can we get?
The Karaage-Chicken ramen comes in bowl of flavoursome miso and soy stock that is reputedly being boiling for many long hours. The chicken is crispy outside and becomes a little soggy as it soaks up all the soup. The noodles are fresh with bamboo shoots, beansprouts, nori paper, dried mushrooms and boiled egg. This is a hearty bowl of goodness on any given day.
No. 5: Grilled kingfish with french beans and salad leaves
The grilled kingfish with french beans and salad leaves is on the specials board on the day we dined here. The generous piece of kingfish fillet is nicely seared on the outside and its delectable daikon and wasabi mash worked beautifully with the vegetables and remnant sauce from the pan.
No. 6: Wagyu sirlion steak
I am a little suspicious when a wagyu sirloin steak appears on the menu for a mere $22.
When ordering steak in cheap Asian restaurants, I always wait to see if the wait person would ask how I like my steak done. If they don’t ask this question, it is a clue the steak is stock standard and I have in most cases been disappointed with the result. Tonight, our waitress does not even bother asking and I am very tempted to cancel my order. However, curiosity beckons me to try this dish seeing the restaurant is so crowded but I now considerably lower my expectations of a great steak.
As it turns out, the steak is quite average and I wonder if it is even wagyu as it is so-called on the menu. Neither the best nor the worst, it is nevertheless quite tasty if you ask for some salt and pepper (freshly cracked black pepper I am hoping).
Incidentally, it appears that I am the only diner requesting salt and pepper as the waitress gives me a bewildered look when confronted with my simple request. She comes back and plonks a bowl of salt and white pepper all mixed together then walks off without saying another word.
My philosophy for eating at certain cheap restaurants is best not to ask too many questions. In most cases, I have tried a particular dish and find it to be very good for what it’s worth and I know that will be the dish that I am going to order. I care less for service level in these cheap joints and basically revise my expectations to the lowest level – “I am here for this dish and this dish only”.
Eastwood Garden Peking
This Eastwood stalwart has been operating for many years and on any given day, especially weekends, you will have to queue to get in. Their speciality is the obvious Peking duck and many northern Chinese style of cuisine such as stir-fried noodles which are freshly made at the premises.
No. 7: Crispy aromatic duck
However, the standout dish that we always come for is the crispy aromatic duck. Available in either one or half a duck, this dish always arrives with the bird deep fried to a crispy golden brown on the outside. The waiter would then dislodge and unveil all the meat with a fork and spoon so that you can then wrap the meat with the accompanying pancakes.
This dish never fails to impress because it is so tasty. All of the small bones are brittle and crunchy and the skin is obviously the prized parts of the duck.
Six small pancakes are usually not sufficient to wrap the meat for half a duck but we usually come with a few friends who will happily devour the remaining duck morsels on its own.
No. 8: Fluffy eggwhite with seafood
Another one of my all-time favourite comfort foods is fluffy eggwhite with seafood. The texture and taste of the eggwhite is supposed to resemble delicate crabmeat. Strips of fish are tucked in this large plate with a raw egg yolk in the centre. The waiter then breaks the egg yolk and mixes it all up with a drizzled with a little black Chinese vinegar. This is real comfort food at its best.
Jonga Jip BBQ restaurant
One of the best things about dining in Korean restaurants is they usually provide diners with unlimited refills of the delicious appetisers and entrees. We are presented with an array of complimentary banchan or Korean appetizers which consist of garlic shoots, cucumber and mixed vegetable kimchi, beanspouts and potato mash.
No. 9: Marbled beef short rib
Marbled beef short rib arrive in small, deep red slices with its intricate web of fat marbling.
No. 10: Beef tongue
Beef tongue also arrives in thinly bite-size slices which are perfect for the hot grilling plate built into our dining table.
Dipping sauces were on hand but my recommendation would be to request for salt and pepper. As the beef tongue and short rib are not marinated, sprinkle a little salt on each piece when it hits the hot stove and flip once only when cooked on the underside.
The short rib is a beautiful steak by any measure. Cooking it yourself ensures that you get exactly the medium rare desired that even some good steak restaurants may get it wrong.
It should also be noted that what is glaringly absent from most of these restaurants except for Zenya Noodle Bar are fancy websites showcasing beautiful picture of their food, menu and testimonies from customers singing their praises. They would care less if you even showed up at all.
Although the food is good at most of these cheaper restaurants, I believe we still need to stick with some of the tried and tested ones. I have also come across many other cheap restaurants where after one experience, I would vow never to return either because you pay for what you get but more importantly, I am concerned with what I don’t see. That is, kitchen eccentrics and what really goes on as far as health, hygiene, safety and quality controls are concerned.
(Special Note – Eastwood Garden Peking: The toilets are filthy with an awful stench and this must be a concern to customers).
On balance, Sydney is a great dining mecca where a large variety of cuisines are available at so many good quality restaurants. Being close to Asia, we are spoilt for choice especially when it comes to the great cuisines of South East Asia.
Eastwood is a case in point where the melding of cultures have led to a selection of good food at very affordable prices. These restaurants continue to pack in their customers each week and for good reason too.
So dear readers, seek and you shall find, eat and you shall be merry.
Do you have a favourite cheap eat in your city to share with us?
- Top 5 cheap eats in Flemington, Sydney
- $7.90 sirloin steak at Hotel Mosman
- Ratu Sari, Kingsford
- Jonga Jip BBQ, Eastwood
Ginger & Shallots
Shop 25/1 Lakeside road
New South Wales 2122
Tel: +61 2 9874 8066
Eastwood Garden Peking
167 Rowe street
New South Wales 2122
Tel: +61 2 9804 1289
Zenya Ramen Bar
217 Rowe street
New South Wales 2122
Tel: +61 2 9874 2122
Jonga Jip Barbeque
87 Rowe street
New South Wales 2122
Tel: + 61 2 9858 5180