Thursday, September 18, 2014

[GIVEAWAY + REVIEW] Vapiano, Sydney CBD

A while ago, a few friends have asked me on where I could find affordable Italian in the Sydney CBD area. Usually I would say Cafe Sopra but then the internationally renowned Vapiano (with more than 135 restaurants in 26 countries!) has opened its doors late last year for the hungry office workers in the area like myself. While the queues to order and wait for your food seemed like something you would expect at a fast food outlet, the quality was much better than I expected on my first visit months ago. Recently, I was invited to try the dishes on Vapiano's newly released Spring special menu which got me thrilled and curious to see what they offer.

It was exciting seeing the open kitchen during my previous visits which definitely takes away the boredom as you wait for your meal being prepared. The vibe was noisy and busy at the ground level though I only realised very recently that there was another level upstairs with more seating so you won't need to worry too much about the lengthy queues here.

Raspberry Smash

French Martini

When CC and I stepped inside, we were directed to the bar with a card so we can order our choice of drink. I decided to get the Raspberry Smash, which was fruity and sweet just as I liked it. CC really enjoyed her French Martini cocktail thanks to a suggestion from the bartender. I really liked the look of that cocktail especially the colour. CC thought it was light and sweet.

Villa Maria Arneis Hawkes Bay 2011

During the course of our dinner, we also got to sample a glass of Villa Maria Arneis Hawkes Bay 2011 white wine to pair off with the Pasta Gamberi con Rosso (more on that later). Arneis got its name from the Italians as another word for "little rascal", which was funny since the anniversary reunion of the 90's film happened not long ago (I feel really old...).

Classic Pumpkin Soup ($6.90) 

The first dish that I tried from the Spring special menu was the Classic Pumpkin Soup where you can top it up with your choice of Parmesan, cream, croutons, and basil then mopped with freshly baked ciabatta bread. The sample that I tried had cream, which actually didn't deter me at all once I've had a taste. The cream mixed well together with the pumpkin base to deliver a smooth, creamy and flavoursome soup. The grated parmesan cheese, basil garnishes and croutons also mixed well for the balanced texture and extra crunch. Both CC and I enjoyed this soup so much that we were keen to finish it up but we had to save our stomachs for the other dishes.

Pizza Porporano ($19.90)

Another dish I was pleased with was the Pizza Porporano. This was a homemade and tomato mozzarella base topped with premium Aussie air-dried salted beef, rocket, shaved Parmesan and a drizzle of truffle olive oil. I always go crazy every time I could smell that truffle aroma. The base was thin with a fair amount of dough. Thought that the toppings tasted so well together especially with the air-dried salted beef aka bresaola.

Lately I've been very keen on trying the cured meats on charcuterie platters so it was fascinating learning about the origins of the bresaola. It was supplied by Speiss Australia at Wetherill Park in South West Sydney. The bresaola was fermented and air-dried for at least 10 weeks to the point where it loses 40% of its original weight. Although we were eating it with a thin crusted pizza base, the bresaola actually has less than 5% in salt and fat with loads of B vitamins and high protein to strengthen your bones.

Pasta Gamberi Con Rosso ($19.90)

Although I was slowly starting to get full at this point, I was surprised at how light the Pasta Gamberi Con Rosso really was. This contain prawns, chilli, semi-sun dried tomatoes, and sun dried tomato pesto with a pasta of your choice. The pasta itself had an al-dente texture while the semi-sun dried tomatoes with the pesto delivered a fresh and sweet flavour. The lemon wedge also helped in adding a flavour boost to the overall dish. 

It was interesting when I noticed that CC got the same dish but with a different pasta shape (I believed the pasta used here was Torchino according to Google search). Apparently this was done on purpose to showcase the range of pasta options available at Vapiano. Personally both CC and I preferred the pasta with the curly edges since it matched well with the accompanied sauce especially with the flavour.

Risotto Pollo Levanto ($19.90)

By the time the Risotto Pollo Levanto arrived to our table, I was getting pretty stuffed from all the carbs (sighs). It was a creamy dish consisting of chicken, bacon, red onion, garlic, and chilli topped with Parmesan and basil. It actually reminded me of a carbonara or boscaiola pasta dish with some of those ingredients. While it was too heavy and creamy for my liking, the risotto rice was well-cooked with  bitey texture plus there was plenty of bacon and chicken to enjoy.

White Chocolate Cheesecake with Salted Caramel and Honeycomb ($5.90)

Although I struggled with the previous dish, somehow there is always room for dessert! Gotta say that this dessert has exceeded my expectations. It was more sweet thanks to the salted caramel and honeycomb. You don't detect much of the cheese initially but you can sense its creamy texture and richness which complements with the sweetness from the other elements of the dessert. At first I wasn't sure if I would finish this dessert at first because of the rich texture but then the biscuit base won me over completely. Gotta love desserts with that firm but crumbly biscuit base.

At Vapiano, the basil plays a common theme throughout many of their dishes as its signature garnish. Throughout the venue, you can spot numerous pots of basil plants that were freshly grown before it's used for the pastas, risottos and other savoury meals. 

If you wanna try one of the dishes in this post, you gotta head to Vapiano Sydney on King Street before 31st October because that's when the dishes on the Spring special menu will no longer be available (bit random since Spring doesn't end till November...). Was impressed by the new dishes that Vapiano has delivered on this occasion. It's a convenient location especially if you work around the area and the prices are reasonable in comparison with the portion size. Really liked the spacious layout, the food and the fact that there's always a bowl of free gummy bears to nibble when you leave the restaurant after paying your meal. 


Speaking of freebies, The Random Foodie has 4 vouchers (yes 4 vouchers!) to giveaway for you and a guest to dine at Vapiano. 

Each voucher entitles the winner and a guest to a free savoury dish (Pumpkin Soup, Pizza Poporano, Pasta Gamberi con Rosso, and Risotto Pollo Levanto) of their choice from the new Spring special menu and one White Chocolate Cheesecake with Salted Caramel and Honeycomb each. No booking is necessary with these vouchers.

For your chance to win 1 of the 4 vouchers, simply follow the prompts on the Rafflecopter app below.

Terms and Conditions:
1. These vouchers are for use at Vapiano Sydney only. Please do not enter the competition if you are unable to make it to Sydney before 31st October 2014.
2. The voucher entitles to the winner and guest to a choice of savoury dish from the Spring special menu and a white chocolate cheesecake with salted caramel and honeycomb.
3. Giveaway closes at 11:59pm AEST on Sunday 28th September 2014.
4. The winners will be notified by email and announced on the blog and relevant social media sites on Monday 29th September 2014.
5. The winners must reply back with their address details within 48 hours to ensure receipt of voucher before the expiry date.
6. The vouchers must be used by 31st October 2014.

Good luck everyone!

Disclaimer: The Random Foodie dined as a guest of Vapiano Sydney. Opinions are however, my own.

Vapiano Sydney
Corner King Street and York Street, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9299 0079
Sun-Thurs: 11:00am - 11:00pm
Fri-Sat: 11:00am - midnight
Vapiano on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Original Meatball Company, Sydney CBD

After my visit to The Meatball and Wine Bar in Melbourne, I was looking forward to the meatball trend making its way to Sydney eventually. Sure enough, this has arrived sooner than I expected with opening of The Original Meatball Company (OMC) back in July with lengthy queues of hungry office workers getting excited over free (meat)balls. 

I was greeted at the door by Dominic, who is one of the co-owners of OMC (along with Jay Lyon) and also the former owner of the widely renowned Gelatissimo. While it's interesting seeing him swapping gelato for meatballs, it was lovely speaking with him about his vision of bringing a meatball-dedicated eatery to Sydney after his trip to New York. Although the queues were much less intense than the opening days, it was still quite busy due to the peak lunch hour. The space was small with limited seating so it's usually ideal to grab take-away.

It was cool watching the action of the open kitchen as the staff dishes out lots of meatballs and packing them into the buns with other fillings and sauces. I also got to check out the making of the OMC signature poutine fries with ragu and Parmesan cream sauce. Looks like a guilty pleasure.  

The Yankee ($11.90)

There was so much to try even from the balls on a bun (aka 'Heroes') menu alone especially with the many available fillings. The first dish that I tasted was The Yankee, which contains beef balls, American mustard, ketchup, cheddar cheese, sweet pickles, onion and shredded iceberg lettuce served on a brioche bun. Reminded me of those traditional American hot dogs that you would get on the streets of New York. The beef balls were juicy and tender qhile the overall bun had a zesty, sour and sweet flavour from the many ingredients. Very messy to handle. 

Mamma's Balls ($10.90)

The other dish I tried was the Italian-inspired Mamma's Balls that consists of pork and veal balls with ragu, melted provolone cheese, dressed rocket lead served on a rustic white bun. While there was less ingredients that the Yankee, it was just as tasty with the fragrant pork and veal meatballs, the fresh but strong-flavoured rocket and that damn oozy cheese. 

The Geisha ($10.90)

Sadly, my stomach gave way on my first visit so I returned again recently to try a couple other dishes. If the buns were too much for you to handle especially when you are cutting down carbs, OMC has a generous selection of salad bowls to choose from. Based on the staff recommendation, I decided on The Geisha. This is a Japanese-inspired dish which includes chicken balls with teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, cucumber, toasted sesame seeds, served on shredded iceberg lettuce. The chicken balls were tasty and had an interesting flavour from the teriyaki sauce that reminded me of a meaty takoyaki. The salad was quite creamy particularly from the mayo though the lettuce does give an added crunch.

Cookie Crumble Shake: Dark Chocolate Chip Cookie with Milk Chocolate Ice Cream ($5.90)

The one thing I regretted not trying on the first visit was the Cookie Crumble milkshakes. You get the choice of playing mix and match with cookies (dark choc chip, macadamia and white choc chip, sticky date, brandy snap) and ice cream (milk choc, classic vanilla, salted caramel, espresso) for this shake. You also decide on whether you want to get one of each for $5.90, 2 cookies of your choice with one scoop of ice cream  for $6.90, or 3 cookies and 2 scoops of ice cream for $8.90. I played it simple and went with Dark Chocolate Chip cookie with Milk Chocolate ice cream. Very surprised at how much I enjoyed this shake. So thick, creamy and not too sweet with lots of cookie chunks settling at the base that tasted even better when mixed with ice cream. Should try the shake with salted caramel ice cream next time.

While the Meatball and Wine Bar has a bar-like atmosphere that would have been suitable for after work drinks or late night dining, OMC is primarily aimed as a casual lunch spot for those working around the area - though it does open for dinner on Thursday and Friday evenings. The service was quick and friendly from my experience so far and the prices are reasonable since you can get full on one of their dishes alone. It is located on the same block as Baker Bros so you can also grab your coffee while digging into the meatballs whether you are eating at this joint or taking your lunch back to work.

Disclaimer: The Random Foodie dined as a guest of Original Meatball Company, courtesy of Carlii from Carlii Lyons Public Relations. The Random Foodie also made a further visit where The Geisha Salad Bowl and the Cookie Crumble Shake were independently paid for. Opinions are however, my own.

Original Meatball Company
Shop 3, 56-58 York Street, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 8213 0213
Mon-Wed: 9:00am - 4:00pm
Thurs-Fri: 9:00am - 9:30pm
Original Meatball Company on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 8, 2014

Mooberry Dessert and Breakfast Bar, Neutral Bay

It's funny remembering back in 2012-2013 when there was a new frozen yogurt shop opening in nearly every suburb around Sydney. In 2014, the opposite has happened when you begin to see the closures of froyo shops here and there - most notably the original Moochi store in Strathfield. I could remember a few years ago when everyone lined up outside Moochi and Noggi in Strathfield like a nightclub when that was the only place you could get it. So it's interesting to see some froyo brands still doing strong despite the change in market such as Mooberry, which opened their Neutral Bay branch early this year.

Unlike the original Mooberry Newtown branch, the Neutral Bay store was actually the flagship dessert and breakfast bar with three levels of seating to chill out on a cold and wet evening. It actually feels very spacious with lots of cute decorations here and there (especially those little cows at the checkout downstairs omg!). You could also check out the great view of Neutral Bay's busy Military Road if you decide to sit at the top floor.

While the first thing you think about is froyo when you hear about Mooberry, you could not be further from the truth. Upon glancing at the laminated menu on the table, you could see that there is so much more that Mooberry offers. If you are there for breakfast, you can get classics like deluxe bacon and egg roll, breakfast waffles, ham and cheese croissant and even eggs benedict! Name me one froyo bar that has eggs benedict on the menu. For their dessert selections, Mooberry has their signature sweet classics such as the coconut affogato, churro sticks and chocolate fondue. 

Froyo: L-R: Chocolate, Salted Caramel (Mini: $4.50, R: $7.50, L: $14.50) 

We met Jamie the store manager who treated us to a froyo of our choosing for starters. My pick was the chocolate while CC decided on the salted caramel flavour. We both found that the froyo was light, smooth and refreshing. As usual, I like to go overboard with various chocolate toppings (and watermelon balls hehe) for my chocolate froyo while CC was more health conscious with her fruity toppings. Bonus points for Mooberry offering unlimited toppings for $1. Then again, I always preferred the fixed sizes and prices system than the "fill up your own froyo" system like Yogurberry and Yogurtland which gets too pricey even when it's half-full.

Belgian Hot Chocolate (R: $5.00, L: $5.50)

Mooberry offers a generous selection of hot drinks including four different hot chocolate flavours. These hot choc flavours include Belgian, Coconut, Salted Caramel, and Mint. Since it was a Thursday night, it got fairly busy so there was a bit of a wait for our hot chocolate and waffles. When it arrived to our table, I literally had a massive smile on my face from its presentation. Particularly the chocolate swirls on top. It was smooth, creamy and not too rich or intense. Good balance of flavours with the chocolate and the milk. So good to have on a cold night.

Wicked Waffles ($14.90 for 1 waffle, $17.90 for 2 waffles)

Our sweet journey ended with the Wicked Waffles, which was decadent chocolate heaven for the chocoholic especially with the many drizzles of milk and dark chocolate across the plate. This was served with lots of strawberries and bananas for a bit of fruit in your system. There was also a coconut froyo on the side but we were getting very full from the crispy, rich and dense waffle. While there was a lot of chocolate, the waffle itself wasn't as sweet as we expected. This made it slightly easier for us to manage. 

Even though I am personally not much of a froyo fan these days, I was impressed by what Mooberry delivers. Like its Newtown store, Mooberry has distinguished itself from the other franchises in delivering way more options than just froyo, whether it's breakfast or a late night dessert. While Neutral Bay is too far for me to get to, it's a suitable option for dessert if you are a local or happened to be around the area for work or any special occasions.

The Random Foodie Vault: Check out my experience at Mooberry Newtown back in 2013!

Disclaimer: The Random Foodie dined as a guest of Mooberry Dessert and Breakfast Bar, courtesy of Jenny. Opinions are however, my own.

Mooberry Dessert and Breakfast Bar
Shop 2, 164 Military Road, Neutral Bay NSW 2089
(02) 8957 9758
Sun-Thurs: 8:00am - 11:00pm
Fri-Sat: 8:00am - midnight
MooBerry Dessert & Breakfast Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Chi and Co, Canley Heights

I remember going to Canley Heights for temp work a few years ago when Holy Basil just opened. The restaurant life was mostly your old school Vietnamese eateries and there was barely any other options when you weren't in the mood for Viet food back then (surprising right?). How times have changed! Now there are so many late night restaurants in Canley Heights where you can decide whether you want a bowl of pho, fried ice cream or waffles for dessert, or a degustation of Asian-inspired tapas! With the addition of the modern Asian restaurant 'Chi and Co', it's one step closer to bringing out the "Surry Hills" foodie melting pot into South West Sydney.

I purchased a voucher to try a 6-course meal for two at $39 where I get to have a taste at a selection of dishes from Chi and Co's expansive menu. The dishes were inspired from different Asian cultures (Vietnamese, Thai, Laos, Malaysian) but with a modern kick. Some of the dishes were a bit similar to the ones I've noticed at Chin Chin in Melbourne, which is good if the lines were too much hassle for you. 

Berry Rose Cake ($16.00)

Although the drinks weren't complimentary, we were so thirsty after a long day out. I was instantly attracted to the Berry Rose Cake cocktail, which was described on the menu as a "Black Star Pastry-inspired cocktail". This was no surprise since it contains strawberries, watermelon, vodka, strawberry liquer and finished with a rose foam on top. It was quite sweet but not overwhelmingly. The vodka didn't taste strong either which is good for a chilled and relaxing night. And it really does feel like drinking BSP's signature strawberry and watermelon cake hehehe.

Mocktail ($9.00)

While I couldn't remember the name of this mocktail, it looked very appealing especially with the abundance of strawberries and lychees clouding around inside the drink. 

Chicken Lettuce Delight ($11.00)

The dishes arrived to our table very quickly especially the entrees that arrived at the same time. The first dish I tried was the chicken lettuce delight, which was basically a san choy bao consisting of lup cheong, mushrooms, water chestnuts and crispy glass noodles. The lettuce and the glass noodles delivered a nice crunch to the fillings. While the overall flavour wasn't as flavoursome as I preferred (it was CC's fave dish though), it ended up being a relief since most of the other dishes were quite spicy. 

Pulled Beef Sliders ($9.00)

The pulled beef sliders (pulled beef rib, steamed bun with mint and house pickles) was actually one of my favourite dishes out of the six courses. The steamed bun was soft and fluffy while the pulled beef was very delicious and tender. Did not expect this to come from a beef rib at all but it's very succulent. Pricey though considering the serving size. 

Son in Law Eggs with house XO sauce ($7.90)

The son in law eggs was the dish I was looking forward to trying from Chi and Co the most out of all the other dishes. The yolk and filling was well cooked with the sambal and XO sauce placed on top. CC wasn't a fan because of the spices and the strong flavours but I enjoyed this dish because of the unusual ingredients, the runny egg yolk and the crisp and fried outer casing of the egg.

Smoked Trout on Betal Leaf ($8.40)

This may look like a simple dish but the smoked trout on betal leaf was another flavour kicker from the shredded trout pieces to the roasted chilli and galangal. Especially when you eat the whole dish in one go. While the roasted chilli wasn't spicy, it was still loads of excitement to your taste buds. Again, it is pricey given the size of the dish but I am still keen to try the spanner crab version on my next visit.  

Shaken Beef ($23.80)

Our main dishes arrived starting with the Shaken Beef. Between two people, the serving was a tad smaller than we expected but decent enough for our stomachs with all the other courses we've had. The tender beef scotch fillet cubes were seasoned with aromatic garlic and pepper sauce to give off that caramelised and tangy flavour kick. Reminded us of our own families' version of Bo Luc Lac at home and this version is certainly very delicious.

Fried Salmon Salad ($20.80)

We also got the fried salmon salad for our main dishes, which was equally delicious. This consists of chunks of fried salmon fillet with green papaya, Vietnamese mint and garlic. The papaya salad was made Vietnamese style so it's milder than the Thai version. The salmon fillets were well cooked and juicy with a crisp exterior but the biggest hit of this dish has gotta be the crispy salmon skin. It was so crunchy that it was harder for us to share this between two people. Goes really well with the fresh, sour and tangy papaya salad too.

Stir-fried greens ($8.00)

We also received a plate of stir-fried greens and steamed rice along with the main plates. The stir fried greens consists of broccoli, snow peas and bok choy. It was a nice change from the other flavour-intensive dishes though it again it felt very similar to the one that mum cooks up at home. Still liked the flavour and texture of this classic dish.

Steamed rice ($4.50)

I haven't eaten steamed white rice as much these days but I enjoyed Chi and Co's version especially with its fluffy yet firm texture. Great to have with the Shaken Beef.

Kaffir Lime Brulee with Coconut Sorbet ($11.90)

The Kaffir lime brulee caught my eye immediately since I haven't had creme brulee for a long time. The brulee topping was a bit too thick so it was initially harder (but hey at least it wasn't too thin :p) to crack but it was nonetheless a lovely dish especially with the smooth custard the overall light flavour. I would say that this brulee is good to have on its own. Was getting full by this point so I didn't have much of the coconut sorbet - though it did felt heavy and dense when I had a few bites. It was also cold that evening so I could imagine this would be lovely to have on a warm day.

Panna Cotta with Mixed Berry Compote and Honeycomb ($11.90)

The panna cotta was creamy but the mixed berries were too sour for CC's liking. Surprisingly, the honeycomb ended up balancing the overall taste of this dish. 

Since we only need to pay $39 for a 6 course meal for two people, this was actually a bargain compared to paying the full prices from the A La Carte menu. Considering the serving size, the prices are expensive especially with all the cheaper options in the area that will get you full instantly. However, I was pleased with the dishes they offered as well as the friendly service. And it's good to see a slice of Surry Hills in Canley Heights with its chic and funky layout, atmosphere, and the modern approach to classic Asian dishes. While it isn't a restaurant I would return to very often, it is a good local place for a special occasion with a group of friends especially with the attentive service and atmosphere.

Chi and Co
Shop 3, 264 Canley Vale Road (entrance on Derby Street)
Canley Heights NSW 2166
(02) 9727 2068
Tue-Thurs: 5:00pm - 10:00pm
Fri-Sat: 12:00pm - 3:00pm, 5:00pm - 11:00pm
Sun: 12:00pm - 3:00pm, 5:00pm - 10:00pm
Chi and Co. (Chi Chi) on Urbanspoon