Third wave of south-western Sydney food
By Thang Ngo
Almost a month ago James’ Bistro launched with great fan fare including red carpet and premium sponsors like BMW Trivett, Toby’s Estate, Yalumba and more, heck this is glamour that you don’t see everyday in the area. Even noodlies got a little carried away with it all, here I am sandwiched between the dymanic duo behind James’ Bistro, Sarah and Tona Inthavong – the same people behind Green Peppercorn, SMH Good Food Under $30’s Best New Restaurant, 2013. Ummm… that piece of paper in my hand isn’t just a security blanket, it contains my notes – noodlies MC’ed the launch event.
As you can see, the canapes look fancy and delicious, but as MC, noodlies had no time to eat! Though, I’ll happily concede, I had lots to drink to calm the wobbly nerves – and besides, it’s a launch, isn’t it all about champagne?
It was a glitzy and glamorous evening for Fairfield and just about every VIP was there including the Mayor of Fairfield and the President of the AHA. What was probably missed in all the tributes and good wishes that night was how James’ Bistro has ushered in a third wave of food in migrant Sydney’s south west.
The first wave was established by hard working, humble ma and pa eateries like the hugely successful Pho Tau Bay and Bau Truong – refugees who arrived in the 80s with no money in their pocket, just a hard-working ethos. And then came the second wave as children of migrants, proud of their heritage and food began to open restaurants that rival Surry Hills for decor and service, Twelve Spices, Holy Basil and a little later, Green Peppercorn are some obvious examples (interesting they they are all Lao/Thai restaurants). These restaurants catered for younger migrant children who want more than cheap-and-cheerful food, while delicious, they yearn for the sophistication of inner city dining in their back yard. The market is definitely there, long queues form outside these restaurants nightly.
Noodlies reckons, James’ Bistro is at the forefront of the third wave, local diners want greater variety than their home country food – variety, after all, is the spice of life – and young, cashed up locals (predominantly from Asian backgrounds) crave for food that’s beyond their parents’ cultures.
Now that the dust has settled from the 18 September launch, noodlies is back to check out James’ Bistro. I arrive fashionably early at 6.30pm (7.30m is when the craziness starts) and the place is almost empty – by the time we leave it’s almost full – the clientele are all young, fashionable, pretty, twenty-something couples of Asian-Australian background. Decor is hip, industrial starkness, concrete floors, metal chairs and exposed wood. It’s a small intimate space, especially compared to the warehouse dimensions of Green Peppercorn.
Inner city aspirations are too evident; friendly, smiley staff that ask how you enjoyed your dish after each course – a far, far cry from the in-and-out curtness you’ll find at pho eateries. No melamine bowls – here you get elegant China plates – and a comp bread and olive oil to boot.
But that doesn’t mean James’ Bistro conveniently ignore their Asian heritage. Sliders are a perfect bridge between east and west. You get two in an order, banh mi slider is a clean, tight execution with cha lua meat, pickles and coriander wrapped in a brioche bun – cleverly absent is mayo and pate which would have been a step too far. In comparison to the banh mi brilliance, my pork belly slider struggles for attention, despite the perfectly cooked melt-in-the-mouth pork belly.
While noodlies adores my banh mi slider, beer battered fish and triple cooked chips easily wins the day. Chunky, clean and white fish are wrapped in light crunch batter. The chips’ outer are so light it fizzles in the mouth.
The sirloin comes on a bed of crispy chips and colourful glazed carrots and onion puree. It’s a pretty dish and the steak is tender, juicy, though it struggles for attention next to an astonishing execution of fish and chips.
The elegant beauty of Kim’s (head chef) food is undeniable – it’s just what the punters are looking for – classy food without the hour drive into town. Above is Kim is putting the precise, final touches to beetroot corn and goats curd salad.
Currently there are three desserts on offer, creme brulee, lychee and coconut mess and vanilla pannacotta.
Vanilla pannacotta pistachio crumble raspberry gel is a thing of beauty, demonstrating an understated confidence in both appearance and taste – subtle creamy pannacotta with some extra raspberry zing when needed.
Creme brulee with salted caramel ice cream is the dessert pick tonight – the crunchy toffee top cracks to reveal a soft uber-rich creamy centre. Though noodlies fav of all the desserts is still the east-meets-west lychee and coconut eton mess, which I had on another occasion.
James’ Bistro is a brave, exciting journey – the first in the third wave of food in Sydney’s south-west. And the team gives it a confident, gutsy, red-hot go. The highs are very, very high for this area, but it’s a double edged sword because the other dishes, while very good, come off second best by comparison. It’s still early days and they’re still fine tuning. What they have done is tapped, successfully, the aspirations of the younger generation for something different and new that’s also local.
Oh, and young Kim, here, is a hot, up-and-coming star.
Cnr Crescent and Smart streets, Fairfield
0421 796 436
Noodlies and friend dined as guests of the lovely folks at James’ Bistro.