What’s going on with the North Sydney area? It wasn’t until I started looking through my calendar did I realise how many trips I was making into the St. Leonard’s/Crows Nest to eat. Thai Food, Mexican, Burgers…and now, Modern Cantonese.
The Rice Den in St. Leonards takes traditional Cantonese cuisine and gives it a new spin with fresh Australian ingredients. When we first step in, the dark wood furnishings convey a sense of old world charm, while the efficient wait staff bring it all back into the modern day. They knew the menu like the back of their hand, and could make personal recommendations based on solid food knowledge.
So far, so good.
We started with the Handmade Cheong Fun with Peanut Sesame and Hoisin Sauce, $8. Because nostalgia. When I was a kid, Cheong Fun was a daily breakfast. My mum would take me to this hawker stall, downstairs from the kindergarten I went to. A large, rotund man in a thin white wife beater stood, amongst steaming pots, selling rice cakes with radish condiments and rice noodle rolls with hoisin sauce to long queues of dreary-eyed office workers in the building.
The noodles here were soft, tender, but not quite as silky as I wanted them to be. As for the sauce, I could do without the peanut element, but it really did bring childhood memories flooding back for me.
But because you can’t live on rice noodles alone – well, you can, but I don’t think you’re meant to – we also got the Mixed Wild Mushroom Pancake ($10) and Rice Wine Cured Ocean Trout with pickled fennel, ginger and soy sauce ($16).
The Rice Wine Cured Ocean Trout was seriously kickass, but we all know that I’ve got a bit of a thing for cured fish. Or fresh fish. Or any fish. Doesn’t have to be fish, as long as it comes from the sea. In this case, the rice wine flavour wasn’t particularly obvious, but it really worked as a dish, for me.
Of the larger bites, we ordered the Tea smoked chicken salad, rice sheets, peanut sesame and soy dressing, chinking vinegar ($16), and the Crispy soft shell crab, with spicy spanner crab mung bean noodle ($24).
Maybe it was the crazy heat, but I was really really feeling the chicken salad, and I’m not even a chicken fan! The smoke really came through without being too overpowering, and the black vinegar dressing kept it refreshing and moreish. A big fat yes.
The Crispy soft shell crab, with spicy spanner crab mung bean noodle ($24) reminded me a little of the Thai claypot crab with glass noodles, mixed a little with chilli crab. There was something really comforting about it, and it was very well made, but somehow wasn’t quite as punchy as the tart chicken salad on a steaming hot day.
And to finish, French Toast, Dulce de Leche, Peanut Crumble, Mascarpone with matcha green tea ($14). It was crazy rich, with only the green tea mascarpone to cut it. It didn’t quite have the pudding quality that I like in a french toast – My french toasts border on bread pudding – but it was fantastically crispy, and oozing with Dulce de Leche.
I really like what The Rice Den does with bringing old school favourites into the modern day. There’s a whole lot of respect for the cuisine, without taking itself too seriously, which is really what casual dining (to me) is all about. Because not everyone has to spend 10,000hrs perfecting Cantonese techniques.
No, I think we’ll leave that to the old masters.