Luckily, this den knows moderation.
Noodlies, Sydney food blog checks out the latest contemporary Asian feeding suits working in the lower north shore.
To borrow a dated phrase: “Chinese, Japanese goodness gracious what are these” is something that comes to mind about The Rice Den. It’s not immediately obvious the exact cuisine origin. The décor, menu and aesthetics scream modern pan-Asian. Let’s count the ways: oriental shutters – tick, suspended bird cages – tick, Asian condiments on display – tick, Chinese characters in branding – tick.
Scratch the surface you’ll find the choices are Cantonese skewed, with sprinklings of other regional Chinese, Singaporean and Japanese for good measure. But it’s all presented in, um, a modern Asian way.
It’s easy to sneer.
While Asian eateries are flocking to Chatswood, The Rice Den is zagging to nearby St Leonards. Why? Can’t they compete?
The spring rolls pass the taste test. But frankly there’s not too much that could go wrong with Chinese spring rolls; make sure the outer is deep fried so it’s thick and concrete hard. Mercifully these have rested a little and don’t leave a greasy footprint.
It’s the pickles which is the first surprise. Thickly cut and lightly pickled carrots, radish and cucumber. A cheer of colour, chunky look, delicate taste. Makes for a perfect starter and makes me instantly wanting more food.
A cheer of colour, chunky look, delicate taste.
And the food comes out quick. Logistically, The Rice Den is faultless today. Efficient order taking, food that comes out quickly and at a steady pace.
Canton style (calling a spade a spade at last!) BBQ pork neck with honey is hard to resist. Our table is sharing the food, we’re polite but it’s obvious all of us are eyeing pork seconds. The shiny honey glaze helps each morsel slip easily into the mouth. Everything comes to a screaming halt when you break through to the flaky soft meat. Then it melts…
Five spice roast duck fried rice looks a treat in a modern glazed plate. Lightly fried, just enough to firm up the grains and generous shredded roast duck pieces. Satisfies without needing to assault the palate with over-the-top flavours.
Likewise Yangzhou fried rice with pork and prawns hasn’t been dunked in oil. The yellow mountain of rice and meat settles this stomach very nicely, thank you.
Rice wine cured ocean trout teases with delicate taste and texture – enhanced, rather than drowned out by ginger and soy sauce. It’s easily the best looking dish of the lunch. Treat the pickled fennel like it’s a garnish – I reckon you don’t need it to enjoy the red glowing trout.
You might call it salt and pepper squid, but on the menu it’s named lightly fried calamari with Chinese spicy salt. What, exactly is Chinese spicy salt, remains a mystery but I’m liking (again) the minimal touch. There’s truth in advertising, the seafood is lightly fried and doesn’t make you mildly ill with oil after several mouthfuls. Subtle ginger mayo gives it a little kick along.
Mixed wild mushroom pancake will satisfy vego and non-vegos a like. There’s plenty of flavour and texture in this animal respecting version of Peking duck pancake.
Noodlies is disparaging of restaurants cashing in on the latest craze. They never last and the food is inevitably regrettable. They tend to blind your vision with an over-kill of cliché décor. Writing about it brings back repressed memories…
Luckily The Rice Den isn’t one of those. It knows who the clientele is, and has nailed the brief. Suits in good food deprived St Leonards want a decent feed, an attempt at décor, reasonable prices and fast lunch time service – tick, tick, tick, tick!
Judging by this Friday lunch crowd, the salarymen are lapping it up.
The Rice Den
30-32 Chandos St, St Leonard, NSW
(02) 9411 2001