In Sydney, I love to grab a quick lunch with my daughter Josephine at Ton Ton in the Chifley Plaza food court (2 Chifley Square), a short walk from where the ferries dock at Circular Quay. It’s owned by the guys from Azuma – one of my favourite Japanese restaurants – and I like the spicy miso ramen, which is truly spicy and brings tears to the eyes but is just so incredibly good.
Nearby, just down the street from Rockpool Bar & Grill, is the Malay Chinese Takeaway (1/50-58 Hunter Street). Despite the name, there are about 70 seats here and they fill up quickly for what I consider the best chicken laksa in Australia. The vermicelli noodles are crunchy and the sprouts, tofu and chicken all add weight to the true star – the broth, which is neither too thick nor sweet but is the perfect balance of gentle coconut flavour with shrimp sambal and fierce chilli. It’s a bowl of heaven and worth the queue.
Another great noodle joint is a block east of Chinatown at World Square. Ramen Zundo (644 George Street) does a good ramen and the kids love the gyoza but I can’t go past its original tsukemen – chewy white noodles served cold with a hot tonkatsu pork dipping sauce. Rich, spicy and full of cabbage and miso, this is so very addictive.
When I was last in Melbourne, I put myself in the hands of fellow foodie and bar owner Jess Ho. The first stop was ShanDong MaMa Mini (5 Centre Place), a two-minute walk from Flinders Street Station. The house special of pan-fried mackerel dumplings is hard to beat. Super-crisp on the pan side and tender on the steamed side, these are sublime. Also try the tea egg in soy (add chilli sauce to take it to another place) and the steamed buns with stewed beef shank. It also has a great array of craft beers so go for dinner and knock yourself out – figuratively speaking.
In Melbourne’s Chinatown, Shanghai Street (146-148 Little Bourke Street) has an extensive menu but we go for the xiao long bao of pork. It doesn’t disappoint. Dip the steamed bun into a splash of black vinegar, suck the juices out of it and then, only then!, is it safe to bite in half and eat. I love this place and it’s going to be hard not to sneak back on a regular basis. I watched a Chinese family of 15 spanning three generations smash almost every dish on the menu. I was very envious.
There is something so delightful about perfectly balanced food. At Jin Dumpling & Noodle House (172-176 Little Bourke Street), also in Chinatown, the spicy hot and sour soup with noodles and pork intestines walks the line between hot and sour beautifully. The broth is refreshing and the intestines clean and tender. The other great dish is Sichuan cold noodles with beef – the beef is a hot and numbing jerky that’s wonderfully chewy, while the noodles are cold and spicy.
When I’m in Western Australia, my head chef at Rockpool Bar & Grill Perth, Dan Masters, loves to find small, authentic places to take me. I like the Spencer Village food court in Thornlie (200 Spencer Road), where Ya Kwang and Fook Kee are doing the best Singaporean and Malaysian hawker food in Perth. The guys on the stalls really care about putting up good char kway teow, loh bak, siew mai and pan mee. It’s not fancy but the food is great and the value is extraordinary.
I haven’t had a bad dumpling at Imperial Court, south of the Perth CBD overlooking the Swan River (125 Melville Parade, Como). Go on a weekday for the freshest yum cha in town. (Or be prepared to wait on weekends.) I never miss out on the flaky egg tarts.
Mom Dumpling House in East Victoria Park (687 Albany Highway) is one of the few places in Perth serving flavourful Northeast Chinese food. Start with the hot and sour green bean noodles and braised chicken with chilli (if you’re not into chilli, go for the pork belly and shiitake mushroom with vermicelli clay pot). There’s also a selection of dumplings quite different from the normal gow gee – the dough has more flavour and texture.
All of these places have this in common: they’re reasonably basic, top value and truly delicious. This isn’t about fine dining; it’s about fantastic eating. And if you love chilli, you’ll really go off.