A small, low key restaurant on Ashfields busy Liverpool Road, Sky Mountain Hand Made Noodle Restaurant at first appears as just another Chinese restaurant but it isn't. The menu is an extremely well priced mix of food from Yunnan, Shanghai and Chengdu and is a popular place for those homesick and seeking food from their homeland or those curious about Chinese cuisine beyond Cantonese.
We were on our last day of a road trip and I was mentally planning the rest of my day's meals. When I had calculated the time that we would arrive back in Sydney I realised that it would be 8:30pm. Waaay past my dinner time which of course puts Mr NQN at risk of potential scarring (physical and mental) as I become ravenously hungry and ferocious. Think of an angry Tasmanian devil placed in a pillow case.
"We can stop by Ashfield for dumplings," I suggest. Because I feel better, safer and less crazy if I know where the rest of my meals are going to be. I also knew that Mr NQN was utterly unable to resist the allure of Ashfield's cheap and cheerful dumpling scene. At 6:30pm two hours away I made him stop at a petrol station to buy a packet of chips. I shone my flashlight in the chip packet fishing out the big chips (they taste better, really!) while he drives. At just past 8pm we arrived in Ashfield, just in time for a late dinner (well late for me).
"Hang on, I've got to put my shoes on!" says Mr NQN but I'm already out the car. "Meet you inside! I'll order!" I say giving him not a single glance back in his direction (see hungry note above). The weather is cold and I slide open the door and feel the warm embrace of the heat inside. Service is really sweet and helpful from the two young staff members which is nice on a street where service could be described as perfunctory at best.
I look at the menu - it says the restaurant is called Sichuan Feast. Mr NQN walks in. "Have we walked into the right place?" I ask him. It is their old name they explain. The menu is made up of regional Chinese goodies from Shanghai, Yunnan and Chengdu (yep Panda land). It's perfect for those that want to explore beyond the plethora of mostly Cantonese restaurants in Sydney. There is a picture menu with a lot of choices so I corral the waiter into helping us choose a good range of dishes. "It's ok, we're going to order lots of things and then take it away," I explain because sometimes waitstaff can get alarmed at how much we order.
A few dishes are out of stock so we have to choose dishes a few times. While we wait, I hear the familiar thud of the scraper against the wok and I notice that the teapots are the same pattern as the plates I bought in China last year.
They're out of the impressively named imperial red bean cake so we go with the egg and chive pie. It a thin deep fried pastry foldover filled with scrambled eggs and chives. They are impressively hot having just come out of the kitchen. The apologise for the wait (which wasn't really long at all) and then the rest of the dishes hit our table.
Mr NQN really liked these dumplings. I must admit that I found them too salty for my taste and while the chilli sauce on top has a lot of flavour, it's probably best for dipping a corner of your dumplings in rather than the bath that we gave the dumplings.
I find the pork and chive dumplings a little lacking in filling with mostly pastry on the outside. Mr NQN still likes them (although I have to admit there isn't a dumpling that he has met that he hasn't liked) but I prefer the other dishes.
I ordered this because we received this dish during a banquet in Guilin in China and it was very popular with everyone. Simply cooked, the potato is still slightly crisp from not being cooked completely through. And whilst we don't usually eat potatoes like this, the texture doesn't feel out of place. The chilli gives it a nice tingle and it is a little oily but we both like the crunch of the finely julienned potato. It is only the oily side though.
This is one of the most popular dishes and I can see why. It's chicken served bone in which is how we received it in a lot of restaurants in China although the chicken here in Australia has more meat on it than the chicken in China which makes it easier to eat. It has a good amount of salt and pepper seasoning and the chillies, although liberally applied here lend it a hit of heat and that's when we discover the dual use of the box of tissues - as both a napkin and for runny noses from the heat of the chilli.
This was a replacement dish for the glutinous rice dish that wasn't available. It's a spicy beef dish with a rich, delectable sauce. The beef is tender and comes with crunchy pieces of red capsicum. My mother makes a version of this which I'll ask her to share with you because it is one of the tasty but fast dishes.
And then this was the last dish on a table of overflowing plates. We debated whether to order because it we had so much but I really wanted Mr NQN to try one of the dishes that I ate almost every morning on my trip to China. The Yunnan rice noodles come out in an earthenware pot with a raw quail's egg and a dish of thinly sliced fish and three types of pork and a mix of vegetables and chives and pickles. And can you believe that this entire dish is just $12.80?
We pour the egg and dip the meats into the hot soup and they cook very quickly. We then place the noodles in the soup. It's wonderfully warming and flavoursome. Although I am full from the other dishes I get immense pleasure from slurping up the slippery rice noodles. I could be back in China for all I know...
So tell me Dear Reader, have you tried other Chinese cuisine apart from Cantonese? Are you interested in trying others? And how far do you plan your meals ahead of time?
This meal was independently paid for.
Sky Mountain Hand Made Noodle Restaurant
355B Liverpool Road, Ashfield NSW 2131
Phone:(02) 9797 1699
Open 7 days from 10:30am-9:30pm. Closed between 3-5pm daily and for Tuesday lunch.