I’ve never really understood these Night Noodle Markets… Although to be fair, I’m a fairly indoor person who favours “western” food and sweets over Asian cuisine.

My first experience of these markets was back in 2013, and it wasn’t a particularly memorable one. All I remember was seeing a lot of crowds, long lines, and overpriced, boring food that I could have gotten anytime in China Town, with, perhaps, the exception of the Ramen Burger (or was that in 2014?).

The year after, I was drawn back due to discovery of Messina. Amongst the plethora of boring, ordinary food, Messina were doing a special menu for the markets – something exciting; something that made braving those crowds worth it. In the end, though, Messina seemed to be the sole outlier (although admittedly I wasn’t really looking very hard for the contrary), and that was not really enough to change my overall opinion of the markets…

And now here we are in 2015, and has anything changed? My main criticism of these markets has always been that the majority of stalls serve boring, underwhelmingly presented food that is available normally at their actual restaurants – why come to the markets when I can eat in a restaurant instead? As a result, I was originally hesitant to go, but then I saw the menu: ramen tacos, ramen fried chicken, Devon Cafe, N2 x Black Star Pastry, Messina… There were actually some interesting, and perhaps more importantly, exclusive menu items this year! And ultimately that’s what brought me back.

So how was it?

Devon Cafe

2015 marks Devon Cafe’s first year at the Night Noodle Markets, and they’ve entered the market (pun intended) with a special menu made just for it!

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On my first visit, I got all three of their cronuts: matcha matcha, oreo and pork floss.

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Devon’s Oreo, Matcha Matcha, Pork Floss Cronuts

To be honest, I think it was a definite mistake to get all three at once AND eat them all by myself. I’ve had cronuts twice before (once at Brewtown, and once at the Smooth Festival of Chocolate), and I quite enjoyed their crisp sugary-ness. However, I found the cronuts at Devon completely different: they were extremely oily and buttery, and this made them extremely difficult to finish.

The Matcha Matcha and Oreo flavours were finishable, due to the sweetness balancing out that oiliness, but I found the Pork Floss flavour, as interesting as the concept was, way too much. Honestly, if you get these cronuts, you definitely need to share, as I was ultimately forced to throw out half the Pork Floss cronut (the food wastage…) because I was feeling sick with every bite, despite my generally high tolerance to sweets and generally unhealthy food.

From a presentation perspective, I would still recommend the Pork Floss cronut due to its interesting composition, whereas the other two, while tastier, were not very visually engaging.

Overall, though, I wouldn’t really recommend these cronuts, with the exception of the Pork Floss cronut if you either want to take photos or want to try something adventurous and unique – just be sure to #sharethecalories.

On my second visit to Devon, I got Aunty Yulia’s Wagyu Beef Rendang Brisket with Blue Pea Coconut Rice:

Aunty Yulia's Wagyu Beef Rendang Brisket with Blue Pea Coconut Rice
Aunty Yulia’s Wagyu Beef Rendang Brisket with Blue Pea Coconut Rice

This was a significantly more satisfying experience compared to Devon’s cronuts. The beef was nice and tender (as one would expect of wagyu) with some slight charring which added some nice crunch to the meat. The rendang worked well with the coconut rice by enhancing its flavour, but you need to be careful with your anchovies distribution as, while they do add some nice texture to each bite, they can also overpower the rest of flavours if you have too much in a single mouthful.

As a personal preference, I would have also liked the rendang to have a bit more spice (both from a spiciness and flavour perspective) to give it more of a flavourful impact, as opposed to the more subtle blend of flavours that is present in its current state.

My main criticisms of the dish are mainly of its presentation – the blue pea serves to give the rice a blue colour, but I found that the actual result differed greatly from the promotional pictures (the rice was significantly less blue in real life). It was also clear that this was market food, despite the nice addition of the banana leaf (?) at the bottom, I found that the rendang and pickled vegetables tended to just be thrown into the paper box that contains the dish, rather than neatly arranged.

N2 x Black Star Pastry

2015 also saw the addition of a N2 Extreme Gelato and Black Star Pastry collaboration to the Night Noodle Markets.

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In their maiden year, they offered Black Star Pastry’s famous Strawberry and Watermelon Cake (must try if you haven’t before), N2’s Brokeback Moment (something they’ve had at other festivals/markets before) and a special collaboration item: the Teafogato.

The Teafogato
The Teafogato – Strawberry Watermelon Cake smashed with N2 Gelato with Tippity Hibiscus Rooibos Tea Soda and Freeze-dried Cherries

From a presentation perspective, this was amazing. It was served in a nicely shaped paper bowl and topped with liquid nitrogen. Unfortunately, you only have about a minute to take a shot with the dish still steaming and I missed it!

However, as nice as it was to look at, the flavours were fairly disappointing. Despite the impressive sounding ingredients, all I could taste was the rose from the Strawberry Watermelon Cake. I’m not sure I tasted any of the Tippity Hibiscus Rooibos Tea Soda (but then again, I have no idea what that tastes like), especially given that it was essentially frozen due to the liquid nitrogren.

So while I definitely recommend trying this dish for the photo opportunities, I’d probably stay away from it if taste was your main consideration.

Messina

I love Messina. I love the fact that they are always creating new and interesting flavours, along with new and interesting gelato/sorbet combinations (sundaes, icecream bars, cakes…). However, given the extent to which they experiment, not everything they create is a success. Luckily, their offerings at this year’s Night Noodle Markets were mostly awesome!

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But before we get onto what those awesome desserts were, let’s start with the more disappointing member of their lineup this year:

Great Balls of Fryer - Deep fried ice cream balls filled with thai custard gelato, lovingly nestled in ‘messina tinned fruit salad’ and your choice of our caramel or chocolate sauce.
Great Balls of Fryer – Deep fried ice cream balls filled with thai custard gelato, lovingly nestled in ‘messina tinned fruit salad’ and your choice of our caramel or chocolate sauce.

Despite its awesome name (I absolutely LOVE the puns that Messina used this year), I felt this was a fairly underwhelming offering compared to their deep-fried bao and wealthy bar offerings. I have a feeling that mine came a little under-fried because it came out orange rather than the deep-fried brown I was expecting. I did see that the people who ordered this after us did get theirs with more brown, so perhaps it was just a QC issue… This by no means meant that Great Balls of Fryer tasted bad – it was decent, but lacked that special something that I have come to expect from Messina.

From a presentation perspective, it was also a little underwhelming compared to the current Andy Bowdy collaboration offerings available at their Darlinghurst store, especially given the hefty $10 price tag attached to it.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about Messina’s better offerings, starting with Bao Chicka Bao Bao! (Can anyone actually say this dessert’s name without that porno-music-esque tune?)

Bao Chicka Bao Bao - Deep fried gua bao filled with peanut gelato, dipped in milk chocolate sauce, and rolled in crushed peanuts.
Bao Chicka Bao Bao – Deep fried gua bao filled with peanut gelato, dipped in milk chocolate sauce, and rolled in crushed peanuts.

If you weren’t sold on the classic combination of peanut and chocolate, then please note the addition of the awesome deep-fried gua bao. It tastes very much the same as those deep-fried sweet buns you can get at certain Chinese restaurants, usually served with sweet condensed milk. So if you’re up for something to curb your sweet-tooth, this rich dessert is definitely for you!

They also look great, despite the cheap paper box that contains it. I’d definitely recommend taking your photos at the Floating Market section of the Night Noodle Markets. The tables there create an excellent backdrop for this Asian-inspired delight! (Unfortunately mine was visibly melting by the time I made my way there due to all the different places I tried photographing it…)

Finally, the best of the three desserts I tried: the Red Lucky Money Bar!

Red Lucky Money Bar - Layers of coconut gelato, pandan and coconut sorbet, mango gel, cashew nut sponge and coconut biscuit
Red Lucky Money Bar – Layers of coconut gelato, pandan and coconut sorbet, mango gel, cashew nut sponge and coconut biscuit

This was honestly the best thing I had at the Night Noodle Markets this year. The combination of coconut, pandan, and mango was amazing, with the coconut biscuit adding some nice solidity to each bite. I’ve heard that some people thought that one was too much, but for me, one was definitely not enough!

The only criticism I have of this gelato bar was that it melted way too quickly, making it somewhat difficult to eat after unwrapping – so if you’re planning on taking photos in its unwrapped form, be share to bring napkins! Otherwise, be sure to keep the wrapping on at the bottom of this delicious gelato bar!

Trunk Road

A friend of mine saw this Indian stall on a food blog, and really wanted to go to try it. I love Indian food, so I agreed without hesitation.

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It was hard to decide between the steak and chicken options, but ultimately we went with the one that buttered us up! #pun.

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Butter Chicken Roadie – Tandori Butter Chicken, Tomato, Cucumber, Coriander wrapped in an Indian paratha bread

It is important to remember that butter chicken is not chicken curry (as I was expecting). Usually when I eat paratha or parotta, I love drenching it in delicious curry. As a result, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of curry flavour. Unlike my expectations, this lack of curry sauce made it a much cleaner eat, but I believe this would have been a much better (albeit messier) eat with it, as when I have Indian food, I expect an explosion of spices that was unfortunately lacking here.

The Singleton Whisky and Sugar Bar

In the midst of all the food stalls, there was this cute little bar surrounded by antiquated decorations and pretty flowers. Normally I would have just walked on by, but I was drawn in by an interestingly delicious sounded snack: a whisky maple cookie! You heard me. Whisky-flavoured cookies!

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At the bar, I was presented with option to either bundle the cookie with a whisky cocktail ($9) or just get the cookie by itself ($3). Ultimately I was won over by the prospect of a $6 cocktail, and it was surprisingly well presented:

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Singleton Spey Cascade, Angostura bitters, salted maple & malt syrup

Unfortunately I read the menu wrong. I actually wanted the sweeter of the cocktails, but I ended up ordering the other one (that will teach me not to read the menu properly!). As a person with a high sensitivity to bitterness, I am not a person who can really enjoy straight alcohol. Instead, I usually heavily mix it with some sort of sweetness…which unfortunately wasn’t the case here.

The cocktail had a strong whisky taste, but that’s unfortunately all I can say about it. I do like how they garnished with the cinnamon stick though!

And now to the whisky maple cookie!

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Unfortunately this cookie was a bit disappointing. There were indeed slight hints of whisky, but I was expecting something more akin to a sugar-bourbon reduction (as found in bourbon apple pies or brushed over sweet delicious American ribs). Instead, I felt that this was more an expensive maple/sugar cookie, with only a slight hint of whisky. It definitely was not as amazing as I thought it would be.

Miss Dipity

Miss Dipity, normally located all the way in Chatswood, had a stall set up this year right next to the ever popular Bao Stop.

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Unfortunately for me, the friend I was with at the time wanted something less rich, so we settled for a Vanilla Bean Dipity Pop, dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in a Caramel Cornflake Crunch.

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Vanilla Bean Dipity Pop, dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in a Caramel Cornflake Crunch

The Caramel Cornflake Crunch had an interesting texture, and the combination of vanilla bean icecream and dark chocolate meant that the sweetness factor of this dessert was appropriately subdued, much to my friend’s liking. I, however, much prefer richer desserts, and so would have preferred getting the combination of peanut butter icecream, dark chocolate, and caramelised peanuts! Perhaps next year…

Conclusion

2015 marks my debut as an aspiring food blogger/photographer, and so I approached this year’s Night Noodle Markets much more differently than I did in the past. Rather than haphazardly braving the markets, I learnt the importance of doing prior research into the stalls to allow for a much more varied and enjoyable experience. I’ve come to learn that the Noodle Markets is not somewhere you should come alone – you need friends to keep you company during those long queues, and perhaps more importantly, you need adventurous friends to share food with (no one should be ordering pad thai, yakisoba, or stir-fried noodles!)

My overall opinion of the taste of the food hasn’t changed though – despite some interesting concepts and decent flavours, nothing except Messina really wowed me from a taste-perspective (although that tender wagyu from Devon’s Rendang came close). I loved taking photos, I loved trying new things, I loved trying multiple cuisines at once, and I loved hanging with friends, but the markets were very much about the experience, rather than having great food (to be fair, though, I didn’t have the patience to wait for the ever popular bao, and I didn’t try the Hoy Pinoy grilled meats which I heard were quite good…).

Would I come again? Definitely. But that’s mainly because I loved taking photos and trying experimental food (and because I absolutely love Messina). If you are not into any of that, perhaps it would be better to avoid the outdoors and the crowds and go to an actual restaurant instead.

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