Saturday, 5 April 2014

Food, Faith, Feast - a TASTE tour of Bonnyrigg

TASTE tour guides Yamane and Teo take us on another exciting and insightful tour of Bonnyrigg, a small suburb located in Sydney's West within the Fairfield district that is populous with beautiful pagodas, temples and mosques, and, of course, a plethora of beautiful cuisines.

Within the food-filled four hour tour, we take a visit to the Lao Temple, taste a freshly made Laotian papaya salad demonstration, experience a spectacular Vietnamese lunch banquet at Pho 888, and much more!

We start off our tour at Wat Phrayortkeo Dhammayanaram, a Lao Buddhist Temple, a temple that was built for "Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike...[as] it is a place where many Laotians come together to worship, to perform rituals and ceremonies and to celebrate different festivals." 
Teo starts off our day with her homemade chicken-mince spring rolls with her secret-recipe sauce.
The temple's representative tells us of the sacred Buddhist rituals, the history of the temple, and reveals to us a secret under that green rug...
We take a visit to Bonnyrigg's Turkish mosque - it is adorned with a beautiful large chandelier, and a vibrant soft red carpet, with individual prayer spaces. 
Lee Kien is the local favourite Asian grocer, and they stock a lot of Laotian delicacies.
Teo shows us how to make a quick and delicious Laotian papaya salad in less than 10 minutes! With the Lao New Year coming up next weekend in the Fairfield area (11-13th April), Teo will be busy preparing her famous papaya salad - her salad is known to many of those who come to the Lao festival every year.  
To prepare papaya salad enough for 3 days worth of customers, Teo makes her salad from a mortar and pestle that is as big as a 10kg rice bag!
I purchase a Laotian favourite - the Roselle drink.  The taste is similar to that of a sweet prune, and to prepare this drink, you dilute it with cold water, pour it into a cup and top with ice.  A quick, refreshing and exotic drink to try - and for only $2 a bottle!
We also visit Pho 888, the lovely restaurant situated right next door to Lee Kien, where our TASTE tourists get to lunch upon a large array of Vietnamese dishes, including Hai Nam chicken and special chicken rice, sizzling beef and Vietnamese crepes.  Opened since September 2012, this establishment has been running for around 1.5 years.  The prices are decent, and they have everything you look for in a Vietnamese restaurant - great service, spacious area, and beautiful dishes.  
Here is a nice review of Pho 888.

We visit many more places within our four hours of fun, faith and feasting, and if you're interested in coming along on a tour, we have many to come throughout the year.  So what are TASTE tours, exactly?  

They are an initiative of Australia's oldest charity, The Benevolent Society, and at TASTE, we are all about bridging divides, diminishing stereotypes of certain suburbs, particularly Sydney's western suburbs, supporting local businesses, and showcasing the authentic cultural experience that these suburbs have to offer.  We also have pop-up kitchens, cooking classes, and in-school cooking class programs as well.

TimeOut Sydney has a nice short write-up about us, and for tour dates, click here.  There will be another Bonnyrigg tour later this year.  I'll be a tour guide for the Sugar and Spice Bankstown mini tour in May, so if you would like a fun-filled info-packed and hours of endless sampling and indulging into authentic dishes of South East Asia and the Orient, make sure to book the tour soon!

For more information on TASTE tours, visit our site here: 

Wat Phrayortkeo Dhammayanaram Lao Buddhist Temple:
711-715 Smithfield Road
Edensor Park NSW, 2176
(02) 9823 7338 or (02) 9610 9075

Bonnyrigg Turkish Mosque:
10-12 Bibbys Place
Bonnyrigg NSW, 2199
(02) 9823 4126

Pho 888:
3/136 Edensor Road
Bonnyrigg Heights NSW, 2170
(02) 9610 8809
Pho 888 on Urbanspoon

Monday, 17 March 2014

Seven Course Fiesta Experience, El Topo - Bondi Junction

Having been open for almost two years, El Topo claims to be the best Mexican food in Sydney.  My friend and I test this claim, treating our tastebuds to an exclusive seven course dining experience from Lime&Tonic, the menu being specially created by chef Matthew Fitzgerald, as he takes us to the land of Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaca) and indulge in authentic flavours and aromas from there.  
A spacious and vibrant restaurant interior, with customary ornaments sourced straight from Oaxaca, complete with its tequila-rich bar area, as well as a recently built open-roof section. 
We start off with El Topo's take on the classic Mexican drink La Paloma, comprising of grapefruit soda, tequila, lime, and the glass rim encrusted with salt that has been soaked in red wine and dried. Refreshingly tart, and mildly bitter. A combination of sweet, salty, sour and a little bitter, four flavours which are then rounded off perfectly by El Topo's addition of the red wine, adding a deep fragrant note after one's sip.

After the snack board, consisting of a beautiful homely-styled guacamole that is not too intensely citrus and has a hint of a smokey flavour, we taste the Ceviche de Pez Real.  Finely cut kingfish slices that have been lime-cured to give more volume and less viscosity to the fish.  Accompanied with an earthy achiote paste, pepitas, thin slices of watermelon, roasted watermelon cubes, purslane leaves and fingerlime.  A wonderfully refreshing and light starter, all the elements blend and melt in your mouth.  The interesting caramelised nuttiness of the roasted watermelon cubes add another dimension to the already dynamic dish of many different textures.
We then progress onto the maiz carbonizado ('charred corn'), an intricately prepared dish whereby the steamed corn is dressed with several sauces and spices, including a light and fragrant coriander sauce and topped with housemade queso fresco cheese.  The two taco de jaibas y jalapeno (soft shell crab taco, with jalapeno and cactus in a mulato mayo) come after - the chunky sauce filled with jalapeno and cactus pieces enhance the light crisp texture of the soft shell crab.  All this in a soft taco wrap, and topped with a dash of lime for a fresh and vibrant kick.  

After the flavourful and tender pork belly panza de cerdo en salsa verde, we try the hombro de cordero con mole colaradito - slow cooked lamb shoulder, mole colaradito, charred zucchini, pickled mushrooms, and ancho pecans.
In attempt to describe this dish in one word, my mind always comes back to the word 'earthy'. The mole (Mexican for sauce) in particular is multi-dimensional with the combination of sweet and tangy, spicy and smoky flavours, with a top note of cumin and a hint of toasted grain, enhancing the earthy touch of the dish.  And as I said before, every dish in this seven course menu has a small burst of surprise.  I call kudos to the housemade pickled mushroom cubes, adding that bit of oomph to this already stunning lamb shoulder, that has been slowcooked for 12 hours and as a result, is extremely tender and luscious.  Truly a winner main course dish for me!

Six courses later, we finally come to the dessert section of the menu, and it showcases two of El Topo's favourites - the Palomitas de Chocolate Blanco, and the flan roto de coco con chocolate y cajeta.
Palomitas de Chocolate Blanco - popcorn ice cream, caramelised white chocolate, green mango, almond and mezcal.  Indulgent caramel drizzle accompanying the not-overly-sweet popcorn icecream, completed by the salty and nutty popcorn crumble.  And as if we haven't been welcomed by lovely surprises, Matt prepares another one for us, adding the Oaxacan touch to the dessert with the delicate mezcal jelly that diffuses in your mouth and unleashes a sultry smokey flavour.

Flan roto de coco con chocolate y cajeta - Single Origin dark chocolate shavings, toasted coconut flakes, goat's milk caramel, atop a layer of velvety coconut creme caramel. It's clearly heaven in a jar. And keep a lookout once again for the surprise!
Throughout the night, I had the exclusive opportunity to chat to Matt about authentic Oaxacan Mexican cuisine, and the inspirations and elements behind these dishes.  Matt also tells me that apart from the crumbs on the lamb shoulder, every dish in the exclusive menu is gluten-free, and high in protein.  He says traditional Mexican cuisine is actually quite healthy, and is a very versatile cuisine with flavours ranging from vibrant and spicy to a deeper and more homely and earthy feel.  As well as that, nothing makes a dinner much better than stellar service from a group of lively and friendly waitstaff.

Through this seven course culinary journey through Mexico's Oaxaca, I certainly cannot deny that El Topo is one of Sydney's best and most authentic Mexican restaurants.  Impeccable and vibrant service, authentic decor, complete with a beautifully crafted and executed menu, injected with surprises and authentic Oaxacan flavours.  
Wall of Oaxacan candlelit skulls

El Topo is one of Bondi Junction's few Mexican establishments, and is part of The Eastern's restaurant chain.  
El Topo on Urbanspoon
Facebook page
To purchase this exclusive Lime&Tonic experience, click here.

foodfortina dined at El Topo courtesy of Lime&Tonic Sydney.