Review: Belly Bao, Goodgod Small Club, Sydney

Travelling for work can be really tough, especially if you’re limited to a certain per diem spend each day and staying in a tiny little hotel room that’s just bigger than a shoebox. Luckily, my work is very flexible in letting me structure my work schedule to allow for days worked out of our Melbourne office, while staying in the family home and enjoying home-cooked meals.

I feel for people who don’t have the same luxuries as myself – hence when I heard my Melbourne-based colleague Julie was going to be coming up to Sydney for a few days for a series of external stakeholder meetings, I invited her out to dinner one night so that she wouldn’t be left whiling away the hours alone in her small hotel room.

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We headed out to Belly Bao in Goodgod Small Club – my first visit ever as I’d never even made it to The Dip! It was very quiet – we arrived just past 7pm on a Wednesday night, and there were empty booths galore.

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We found a booth with a good view of the Goodgod Danceteria so that we could sneak occasional glances at the Rihanna-focused dance lesson that was happening inside. Everyone loves a little bit of “SOS” and “Only Girl In The World” action!

With a quick glance through the menu, Julie and I decided on a few sharing dishes and bao, as well as a drink each. She went up to order for us at both counters – food at one, and drinks at the other. While it was fine to do the double ordering on the quieter night as there’s no crowd to contend with, I can see how it would possibly be annoying on a busier night if you’re forced to queue up twice.

Watermelon mocktail
Watermelon mocktail

We ordered a Watermelon Mocktail each – I tried to tell Julie that she didn’t need to be a teetotaller on my behalf, but she was quite happy to have an alcohol-free evening with me. I have to say, it’s a lot easier to be alcohol-free (over a year and counting) when your friends are supportive like this! In any case, there’s really no reason to feel as though you’re missing out when mocktails are as fruity and drinkable as this refreshing Watermelon Mocktail – it’s very more-ish!

Sweet potato fries drizzled with chilli aioli, $7
Sweet potato fries drizzled with chilli aioli, $7

Now I’m not going to lie, though we technically shared this serve of Sweet Potato Fries with Chilli Aioli, I’m pretty sure that I pretty much demolished 75% of the serve myself. I just couldn’t get enough of the crispy skin fries that tasted just slightly caramelised – it’s definitely the type of snacky dish that you just keep picking away at if it’s sitting in front of you. I definitely recommend ordering this if you visit Belly Bao!

Papaya salad with carrots, fresh herbs, pickled chilli & crushed peanuts tossed in a traditional vinaigrette with black sesame crackers, $9
Papaya salad with carrots, fresh herbs, pickled chilli & crushed peanuts tossed in a traditional vinaigrette with black sesame crackers, $9

We also thought that we should try and be a little bit healthier, so we ordered a Papaya Salad to share. Vietnamese in style with shredded herbs and crackers, the salad itself wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary. The black sesame crackers on the other hand was the real highlight for me – the fragrant roasted sesame seeds really elevated the crackers and made it something that you could quite easily enjoy by itself.

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And of course, the bao! We ordered two each, and Julie chose the Pork Belly with Crackling, and the Braised Beef Short Rib – both of which blew her mind. To be honest, I think it may have been the first time that she had tried ‘bao’ – so the steamed bun concept alone may have been the factor that blew her mind!

Slow Braised Pork Belly Bao with pickled mustard greens, crushed peanuts and kewpie mayo, $6.50
Slow Braised Pork Belly Bao with pickled mustard greens, crushed peanuts and kewpie mayo, $6.50

The first bao that I ordered was the Slow Braised Pork Belly Bao, served with my favourite pickled mustard greens. In the grand scheme of traditional pork bao available in Sydney, it probably doesn’t rate in my top two – Bao Dao Taiwanese Kitchen and Ippudo take those spots. Belly Bao would be a strong contender for third place though, and it’s still definitely worth trying this bao if you’re going to visit Goodgod Small Club anyway.

Soft Shell Crab bao with watercress, chilli aioli and lemon vinaigrette, $7.50
Soft Shell Crab bao with watercress, chilli aioli and lemon vinaigrette, $7.50

My second bao is the Soft Shell Crab Bao, served with more of the chilli aioli that was used on the Sweet Potato Fries. Surprisingly, while the chilli aioli worked really on the fries, it was less effective on the crab bao as the abundance of aioli actually worked to overpower the distinct flavours of the crab. A little bit disappointing actually, and I found myself wishing that I had ordered the beef short rib bao like Julie!

Overall, while Belly Bao provides a strong food focus in Sydney’s small bar scene, its offerings a little bit hit or miss. Some dishes are really more-ish (hello, sweet potato fries), while their signature baos don’t always hit the mark. It’s quite pricey for what it is as well – $7.50 for a single small bao that you could devour in two bites.

I wouldn’t go rushing back to Belly Bao for the food alone, though I may stop in for a quick bite if I end up deciding to sign up for a Beyonce dance class at the Goodgod Danceteria…

Belly Bao on Urbanspoon

Review: The Rice Den, Chatswood

Do you ever find that the older you get, the more you become a creature of habit? K and I go to Chatswood all the time for our weekly grocery shopping, and we have our favourite restaurants there that we go to all the time. We even have a routine where I get to stop by the pet store in Westfield to coo over all the gorgeous puppies and kittens before we start shopping.

We recently managed to tear ourselves away from our weekly routine and went out for dinner with some friends at a restaurant that we’d never been to before – The Rice Den. They specialise in interesting modern takes on Asian cuisine, ranging from reimagined Thai salads to Chinese syrup desserts with a twist.

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School Prawn Stack

We start with an entree of lightly battered school prawns, dipped in creamy aioli. The prawns were wonderfully crispy and crunchy, and it was much too easy to continually pop them into my mouth, one after another. Despite being deep-fried, it really didn’t taste unhealthy as it was so lightly battered. Dangerously more-ish!

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Chilli Jam Roast Duck

We continue with duck stir-fried with assorted vegetables in a sweet chilli jam that was deceptively hot. It had the kind of long-lasting slow burn that left me gulping down glasses of water minutes later. It was really well cooked, with a great mix of veggies that added a good variety of textures.

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Soft Shell Crab

As soon as I saw soft shell crab on the menu, I had to order it…I think it’s one of those unwritten rules! This dish is perfectly shared between four people, with four little crabs served. Like the school prawns, the crab is only very lightly battered and the freshness of the crab really shines through as a result.

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The Rice Den Beef Salad

Trying to be a bit healthier, we order a salad to share as well. With a tangy fish sauce-based vinaigrette, the julienned vegetables and fresh herbs prove to be a great base for the tender sliced beef. It’s a fantastic fresh and mouth-cleansing end to the main part of our meal.

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Coconut cream sago with passionfruit pulp

But just because the mains are over, doesn’t mean that our meal is completely over! The dessert specials chalked up on the blackboard caught our eye, and we ordered a dessert each. Two of us ordered the super-creamy and sweet coconut cream sago.

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Tong yuen black sesame puree glutinous rice balls with ginger and star anise syrup

Another friend ordered the black sesame tong yuen, interestingly served with syrup that included the distinctive flavours and aromas of star anise.

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Green tea deep fried ice-cream

Breaking my dairy-free pledge, I decided that I simply needed to have deep fried ice-cream. At least green tea is a healthy choice of ice-cream right? It’s an incredibly hearty serve, large enough to be the equivalent of three scoops of ice-cream. This is definitely one dessert that is best shared between two people.

What The Rice Den has in spades that is lacking in many other Chatswood restaurants is the cool atmosphere and environment. The staff don’t try to rush you out in order to turn the table over for their next guests, and they’re dedicated to making the evening a fun one for you. The music is fun as well – with a playlist put together by the young Gen Y staff themselves, it’s a great mix of 90s pop that had me dancing in my seat all night!

With a 25% discount voucher from my Entertainment Book, we ended up paying around $80 for this meal for four. A bargain by any means – I think we’ll be back to The Rice Den!

The Rice Den on Urbanspoon