The last thing that you would expect at a place called Rice Den in St Leonards is that the desserts will steal your heart. But these aren't your ordinary desserts. Before sweets, fill up on soft beef cheek, roast duck sang choi bao, hand made Cheong Fun but save room for the dessert...
Queen Viv leans over with a twinkle in her eye and looks at me and Mr NQN. "Fill a bath with half green and half red set jelly and then get in. He (and she points at Mr NQN) can wear his mankini! Take selfies of yourselves throwing a few moves and swapping who's on top and use them as this year's Christmas Card!". My Dear Friend was quite serious and of course it reminded me of why we enjoy eating out with them so much. It's like having your own creative director for life!
We are at The Rice Den for Miss America's birthday. My tummy is rumbling as it is 7:45pm but for Queen Viv and Miss America eating at 5:45pm (the only other time available) was a shade too early. The restaurant on Chandos Street in St Leonards in an area with lots of offices which is quiet this Saturday evening. It is also pretty much opposite a place where I used to work which gives me work related chills. Oh those were the days...
They're eager to get the whole process going. If anything the service is on the obtrusive side but we can see that they're just trying hard - when Queen Viv gives Miss America flowers they offer to put them in water for him which is a nice touch. But we are all eager to catch up with each other so there's a lot of talking among our group but there are constant interruptions and questions (filling tap water everyone gets asked individually, asking if an obviously finished plate can be cleared etc). They are also eager to get drink orders underway. We try the Powder My Nose with salted caramel vodka, pineapple and mint. It's mostly dominated by pineapple juice and the salted caramel vodka gets lost and is mostly a sweetener.
The menu is mostly Cantonese and our first bites are of the stir fry roast duck sang choi bao which is finely diced duck meat, vegetables and pine nuts. There's a generous amount of filling per lettuce leaf and service while it did tend to be overly serviced, the waiter did notice that we had a lot of meat left over and automatically ordered more lettuce leaves which was thoughtful.
There are two dumplings available, the ones above and seafood dumplings. I usually prefer pork to chicken in sui mai as chicken can be quite dry. We aren't huge fans of the chicken sui mais because of the dry texture.
Things look up with the cheong fan. These simple rice flour rolls are served with a hoi sin and sesame sauce and sesame seeds. Just like in Hong Kong they come with skewers to pick them up. They're soft and melt in the mouth while the two sauces are very moreish and have me going back again and again with my spoon.
The sesame flavour is echoed in the smoked chicken salad which is a gorgeous salad with plenty of crunchy vegetables atop slices of tea smoked chicken. The only thing I would have wanted was more chicken in this. The bites that really satisfied had chicken in them but the pieces were a tad scarce.
The beef cheek arrives (and by now we haven't even noticed that the calamari and lamb spring rolls that we ordered haven't arrived as we are getting full). The beef cheek is all about divine, soft, silky strands of beef and a flavour not unlike a rendang's spices but without the heat.
I always wonder if fried rice will have enough Lup Cheong pork sausage because I love the stuff. This has plenty of it along with lots of the liver sausage too. We scoop up the sauce from the beef and deposit it on the rice.
There are two desserts on the menu and the first is a French toast. French toast? Yep and it's pretty damn fabulous. A soft, eggy centered cube of bread injected with dulce de leche it is fried and coated in cinnamon sugar and peanut crumbs and comes with a quenelle of green tea mascarpone. Divided into four we savour our portions.
The Ovaltine panna cotta plays no second fiddle. The panna cotta is wobbly and smooth and the childhood dish of Ovaltine doesn't seem out of place at all. It comes with batons of sugar rolled puff pastry, whisky candied chestnuts, bitter orange gel and diced fresh strawberries. Dessert in a Chinese restaurant being a strong point is a welcome novelty.
The bill isn't too bad at all given how full we were - it was a blessing in disguise that the two dishes were forgotten!
So tell me Dear Reader, do you wish that life came with a creative director? Do you listen to your friends' advice? And would you take a 5:45pm or a 7:45pm booking? I think I know your answer-just call me an early eater!
This meal was paid for independently.
The Rice Den
30-32 Chandos St, St Leonards NSW 2065
Phone:(02) 9411 2001
Tuesday - Thursday: 11:30am - 2:30pm, 5:30pm - 9:30pm
Friday: 11:30am - 3:00pm, 5:30pm - 11:00pm
Saturday: 5:30pm - 11:00pm
Sunday: 11:30am - 3:00pm, 5:00pm - 9:00pm http://thericeden.com.au/