Food courts: the quick feed, the sole choice for fickle diners, the option of last resort? Is this the kind of rap they get? Nobody’s expecting hatted dining here. Food courts are great – there’s usually something for everyone, prices are generally reasonable, and most importantly, they’re a quick option. They have their place.
Of course, like everything else, food courts (or food centres if you want to get all schmancy on me) must roll with the times. Indeed, one of the biggest shifts in food hall renovation has been occurring a mere two-minute walk from my workplace.
Of course, I speak of the MLC Centre food court. AKA my local, and I could barely recognise it post-facelift!
Date Last Visited: 25/9/15 (multiple visits)
Address: Corner King St & Castlereagh St, Sydney NSW 2000
I’ve eaten at the old MLC Centre food court on and off maybe 20-30 times in my time working at Martin Place. As such, when the kind folks at The Mint Partners asked me to do a post on the new-and-improved MLC Centre, I happily accepted.
As the post is sponsored, this naturally means The Usual Disclaimer is in full force.
One uniquely appealing feature of MLC Centre that immediately sets it apart from other food courts such as Hunter Connection, Met Centre or Chinatown is the wide, circular opening that allows for vampire-smiting levels of natural light to shine into the grounds. It’s a veritable halo, and yep, it’s waterproof.
What’s changed? One’s definitely the seating. The tables and chairs have been converted into wooden veneer, with minimally exposed metal. It’s smart, and exposes an almost hipster, cafe-centric look. Some won’t like it, but it’s quite refreshing. The seating has also changed such that it encourages communal dining thanks to the provision of large, square tables, but pairs are still catered for.
All in all, the natural light and the gorgeous new seating means you might actually consider taking your lunch at the food court, rather than to a park or to the office (shivers). Of course, that’s assuming you can even get a seat. During peak hours, it’s packed like Pennant Hills Road during peak hour. That’s…generally not a good thing, but what can you do – it’s just that popular.
Heck, there’s even a full-blown IGA Romeo Supermarket that will soon be opening up, as well as Neil Perry’s acclaimed Burger Project. If anything, MLC Centre is going to be hotter than ever.
So what’s there to eat? Honestly, there was no way I could take a decent crack at the 27 retailers with the time and budget I’ve got. That said, let it never be said that I didn’t try:
That’s what I’m talking about. And yes, all of this food did get finished. Please, this post wasn’t about to be the letdown of my blog’s namesake!
The spread features goodies from four retailers, chosen by me.
Lok Lok Dumpling Express
Let’s not beat around the bush – Lok Lok sells dumplings & noodles, and they’re good at what they do.
Lok, that’s about as tight a summary as I can provide.
Established to be a relatively accessible way to get dumplings without paying a fortune, Lok Lok’s steamed goods come out to between $1.75/$2/dumpling, which is a fair haircut on the $3.5-$4/dumpling price of higher-end joints such as Work In Progress/Mr Wong. Of course, Lok Lok is primarily a fast option, so it would be prudent to keep quality expectations in check.
When it comes down to it, I would eat Lok Lok’s dumplings more often – as they really strike the sweet spot. The dumplings are well-sized, packed with filling, and priced just right. Yes, you could get cheaper from the local down-and-dirty local Asian, or you could jump up towards Mr Wong. But find one in this middle range? Difficult.
My particular pick? TBD
Oh, and if you decide to order these, note that you won’t actually get them in the pictured wooden punnets, as these were provided for photo purposes. You’ll receive them in more conventional, disposable packaging. And remember rule #1: if they stop steaming, you’ve waited too long – so eat them quick!
While dumplings is the main game Lok Lok plays, I can’t look past noodles if they’re on offer. Noodle soup flows through my veins, so the song of slurping is strong indeed.
I decided to get their signature dish – the Sichuan Wonton Noodle Soup. Bring on the pain I say, but what am I thinking? It’s not spicy to me. In saying this, there is a fair bit of heat in this dish, particularly for those who don’t eat Sichuan-style numbing chilli on a regular basis. Get past that though, and you’re rewarded with a salty-sweet broth, bouncy noodles, and juicy wontons with golden, slippery skin and beefy filling.
Just don’t drink all of the soup – there’s just way too much oil for that!
One of the more interesting stalls to grace MLC Centre is decidedly French in flair – Bonjour Crepes is in the house – merci!
The creperie cleverly serve both savoury and sweet variations, and thus has something for you regardless of whether you want a sugar rush or a cheesy kick.
My friends and I ended up ordering two savoury and one sweet crepe. The savoury above is The Frenchy, whose main attraction comes in the form of raclette cheese and creamy potatoes as fillings. The crepes are in need of a bit more chewiness, being a little on the tougher side. The potatoes warm and mushy, and the cheese, while a little lacking on the quantity front, pulled its weight in bringing everything together. There just needed to be more of it.
In letting a friend decide on the 2nd savoury, an accidental rivalry was initiated with her choice of The Italian. I have to say, Italy wins this round – bellisimo! It’s all to do with flavour. The prosciutto was cut quite thick – oddly more like ham in texture, but delivered the goods with its porky, salty & smoky flavour profile.
From where I stand? The best is where dessert is at.
Most dessert crepes from Bonjour come with a scoop of ice cream to seal the deal. I decided to opt for the Fruitella, featuring – you guessed it – Nutella. Quite possibly the only thing that can be considered a reasonable substitute to ice cream. Add fruits, and I can live the delusion that it’s a *ahem* healthy choice. Just get rid of the cream, I say – ask for the crepe without it!
Still, it’s worth the feed. Apart from a little inconsistency where there was a high concentration of Nutella (and a corresponding lack of fruit) in one corner of the crepe, the overall flavour & mouthfeel of Fruitella is solid. I mean, it’s Nutella, you’re either in love by default, or you don’t exist. Simple as that.
For me, the best thing about Boujour is that they actually provide a crepes option at MLC Centre. French-style cooking never did seem to have much of a presence in food courts, but I’m glad to see that changing. Dieu merci!
Alrighty, because I never get full, let’s keep the ball rolling.
If there’s a cuisine that can compete with Thai on the number of puns you could make, it would be Vietnamese. (I’m sure iFat has something to say about this).
Bun Me (a play on Banh Mi) is the default providore of Vietnamese food at MLC Centre, serving a range of Vietnamese bread rolls with various fillings, pho, rice dishes and an ungodly large collection of goi cuon (rice paper rolls). I counted over 15 types, more than any I had ever seen. With fillings like egg omelette, nem (Vietnamese sausage), soft shell crab, crab sticks, teriyaki chicken and more, this could very well be the go-to place for lovers of goi cuon, even for those for whom MLC Centre is not their closest food court.
But I’m going to talk about the classic pork banh mi first. I can’t skip this – and while it would be unfair to judge a Vietnamese outlet based on just their banh mi, one would hope that it’s a good one.
It was decidedly run of the mill. No part of the banh mi was poor, but no part of it was exemplary. The bread is flakey and crunchy, but only just so. There’s a lot of lettuce and not enough pickled carrot/daikon/cucumber, resulting in unrealised acidity. The pork tastes great but there wasn’t enough of it, allowing all that lettuce to dominate. The pate on the other hand, is really good – a standout in creaminess and punchiness of flavour.
Those of you who are used to paying $4 for top-quality banh mi in Cabramatta, Bankstown and Marrickville will be unimpressed, but in the end, an okay banh mi is still better than none.
Where Bun Me’s strength truly lies – ironic, given their name – is in their goi cuon. There’s literally something for everyone here. My picks? The egg omelette, the soft shell crab, as well as the nem sausage. The nutty & savoury peanut sauce included with each order is a must. Eat it fresh, don’t let it rest – that’s how to consume it best!
Quite possibly the most popular stall at MLC Centre is Schnitz. Originating from Melbourne, this fast food chain serves up gobsmackingly delicious variations on the chicken schnitzel, but what really draws the crowds are their twice-cooked chips. And yes, Schnitz is on a mission to bury Australia with these twice-cooked bad boys – there are already 48 locations, with more incoming.
Just how good are these chips? To put it one way – they will not disappoint. Sydney’s not exactly short of talent in frying up spuds, so it isn’t a walk in the park for the Melbourne incumbent. In saying this, Schnitz holds its own – these are damn good. They’re cut somewhere in between chunky-cut and shoestring, which shouldn’t offend either camp. Their texture? Oh so crunchy, to the point where the crunching of say, shoes on gravel seems awfully mushy in comparison. Going beyond the crisp exterior, the insides are still hot and fluffy. Overall flavour is a light spiciness, with an edge of sweetness brought about by sweet potato dust.
Oh yeah, the schnitzel is pretty good too. In a nod to Australian tradition, we got the schnitzel parmy. Pretty much everything can be improved with cheese, and this is no exception. Gooey cheese, a well crusted crumb coating, and chicken that’s juicy enough to be decent.
Those queues don’t seem so surprising anymore, do they?
This is only the beginning. On separate visits, I’ve also visited Guzman Y Gomez, Iku Wholefoods, Thai in a Box, Alexander’s Patisserie, and Sushi Hon for my lunchtime fix. There is practically no end to the available variety. If you’ve been shunning MLC Centre before, it won’t hurt to give it another chance. You could even get some grocery shopping done at the IGA while you’re at it.
This post is based on a sponsored visit to MLC Food Centre, in conjunction with several independently paid-for visits prior that substantiate the opinions in this post.
Crepes, dumplings, pork rolls or super crispy spuds? Any recommendations from you, dear reader?