Oops, it looks like you’re in the wrong year! If you’re looking for my 2017 coverage of the Night Noodle Markets, click here! If you want to relive some old memories, feel free to read on!
Yep, it’s that time of the year again – the Sydney Night Noodle Markets are back at Hyde Park!
Like previous years (2015, 2014), I’ll give a coverage of what’s hot and what’s not. This post will be continuously updated until I say otherwise – so keep checking back! Alternatively, if you’re the lazy type, follow the #ISHNNM2016 hashtag on Instagram 🙂
Date Last Visited: 13/10/2016
Address: Sydney Hyde Park
Price Guide (approx): $7-$15 per item
Some quick pointers:
- The unofficial theme of this year seems to be loaded fries. Try as many as you can!
- Arrive early if you want to have any chance at taking a seat.
- Bring cards, not cash – the 2016 Night Noodle Markets has more or less switched over to cashless payments. Finally!
- Try not to waste time demurring the food too much – coming out of a stall, you know it’s not going to be restaurant-quality, and it isn’t always going to be bang for buck (those stalls cost several thousand dollars per week to rent if you didn’t know). Go with a group of friends and just have fun with the variety on offer!
Without further ado, let’s get to it!
Naturally, Messina makes a prominent presence, and this year they’ve gone all out once more in bringing four NNM-unique creations to the fore. I’ve tried two so far – and you should too.
A dessert with a South-East Asian twist, fortunately this ain’t available only on Sundaes. A coconut-rich sorbet is encased with lots of chewy lychee tapioca and sits on top of a bed of tougher than al-dente black sticky rice, surrounded by blobs of white chocolate ganache.
For those looking for a more refreshing dessert, this is for you. Personally, the bittersweet caramelised puff pastry and chewy tapioca were highlights for me. I thought the coconut sorbet could have had a stronger flavour, the black sticky rice was perhaps a bit too tough, and the white choc ganache a bit grainy. But overall, still a decent dessert to share with 2-3 mates.
What shouldn’t be shared is the matcha do about nothing. I’ll tell you straight off the bat that you shouldn’t actually get this for the matcha – the holy green tea flavour was only really discernible in the matcha chocolate coating, and only if you eat it by itself at that. The soft serve mostly tastes like standard milk chocolate gelato, but it’s full of flavour and very creamy – which made it quite the delectable eat. The pistachio crunch was also quite an attractive proposition, the crunchy cone topping it all off.
You’ll want to get more than one of these on your stint(s) to the Night Noodle Markets – I certainly did. No-fuss gelato with an eye-catching green look – while I would ask for more for a matcha hit, I couldn’t ask for too much more.
As you can see, I clearly kept coming back…
House of Crabs
On the face of it, House of Crabs’ lobster fries seemed like a dead ringer of something worth getting – however, not so fast. While it looks quite good in the photo, I sadly have to report that this was quite underwhelming. The fries came out lukewarm, and there was no lobster at all. I had suspected this when the description read lobster gravy, but a real x-factor would have been to incorporate actual bits of lobster in there. As it stands, there was only a whiff of seafood that I could discern.
The cheese, bacon and corn were all pretty alright – but lukewarm, not-so-crispy chips and a paucity of lobster in a dish named “lobster fries” marks this one as a pass.
Bao Stop is back at it again and as one of my favourite stalls in last year’s Night Noodle Markets, I eagerly anticipated the return of their renowned Peking duck fries.
Once again, a dish I can recommend, but my sample came with two flaws I have to point out.
- Like House of Crabs, these came out a bit too lukewarm for my liking. As chips are very temperature-sensitive, this is cause for concern.
- The peking duck sauce was all kinds of magic, but there’s not enough of it and only about 1/3 of the chips actually had significant sauce contact.
If you are lucky enough to be the recipient of a hot, sauce-laden chip with plenty of juicy duck, then you’re a lucky duck. But be warned that the product may not be consistent. Worth a gamble though? Absolutely!
Bao Stop isn’t content with doing the same old though – a new dish that complements their standard selection of gua bao and Peking duck fries is the tastes-better-than-it-looks Singapore chilli crab lobster roll. When it came out, my heart sank as I thought no way could a roll that’s so seemingly devoid of filling could be tasty.
I was thankfully proven wrong. While we’re not talking a cornucopia of lobster meat, what was there was actually almost sufficient – and it was pretty decent lobster meat as well, with quite a bit of juicy flavour for what it is. The ketchup was a bit over the top in quantity, but as a result the punch of flavour was guaranteed. It didn’t have much of a chilli kick which was disappointing, but that’s my palate talking. What likely made this roll work despite all odds was the softness of that hot dog bun – it’s as soft as a milk bun and very lightly toasted. While it could have been toasted more, I felt that its pillowy nature was what really sealed the deal for me.
This is worth getting – but only if you’re able to accept paying $15 for a roll that looks like it should cost $5. But hey, lobster meat is expensive – do try and understand that.
Is there anything else I can say about Hoy Pinoy that I haven’t already? I’ll let my 2015 self do the talking:
It ain’t no Night Noodle Markets unless Hoy Pinoy is present. These Filo BBQ experts do skewers like nobody else, and are easily the best of the show (sorry Daniel San!). You can find them pretty easily – just look for the clouds of billowing smoke. There are two locations – one’s at the David Jones/Westfield entrance of Hyde Park (limited menu), while the other is towards the park’s southern serving the full menu.
As always, just follow the smoke – your nose won’t lead you astray.
Fortunately, Hoy Pinoy have not raised prices this time around – each pair of skewers comes in at $12, and while one could always wish for a bit more meat relative to the size of the sticks, the flavour is what keeps me coming back year after year.
I’m happy to say that these are just as good last year. The chicken skewers were about as juicy as can be for flame-grilled chicken, and infused with soy goodness. It’s quite strong – almost like soy sauce used for cooking, so you really have to dig the stuff to enjoy this.
The pork belly skewers were fatty, unctuous and an all-round guilty pleasure. For me, the key ingredient has always been the banana ketchup glaze which gave a burnt, caramelly sweetness to the pork belly that seems to be one of the trending flavours this year.
Go get yourself a pair. Fo real.
A new item on Hoy Pinoy’s menu are the chicken adobo fries. As I’ve mentioned earlier, loaded fries are what’s seemingly in vogue right now, so these guys wouldn’t want to pass up their own version.
Unlike Bao Stop’s fries which didn’t have enough sauce, and unlike House of Crabs’ version which came out lukewarm, Hoy Pinoy’s chips come out drenched in sauce and stayed piping hot for ages.
Getting those two fundamentals right has clearly paid off for Hoy Pinoy – these are the best loaded fries I’ve tasted at this year’s Night Noodle Markets so far. There’s a ton of flavour, there’s bits of juicy chicken, pork crackling, and the chips are crispy thanks to the crinkle-cut but also satisfyingly starchy.
In terms of flavour profile, these came in a bit too sour for me – the vinegar overpowered the soy a little bit. I did however quite enjoy the bursts of whole sweet peppercorns – those were a very nice touch.
Definitely worth a try.
Black Star x N2
Like Messina, Black Star and N2 Gelato are institutions of the Night Noodle Markets. Christopher The’s famous strawberry watermelon cake makes its usual appearance, but I was interested in something else – after all, the cake can always be bought direct from Newtown. Why not try something different?
Say, something that’s a true fusion of Black Star’s cake and N2’s gelato? Something like the strawberry watermelon gelato smash? Something that I could consider a legit collaboration between the two after last year’s underwhelming showing. The best bits of both? Sign me up!
For all intents and purposes, this is essentially a BSP cake combined with N2’s gelato. What wasn’t immediately obvious was that there’s a lot more gelato than there was cake – there was very little actual “cake” in the cup, though chunks of strawberry, pistachios and watermelon abounded. The rose flavour was a also quite subtle, though that could be a good or a bad thing depending on your preferences. The gelato side of things was smooth and creamy – this was A-OK.
A great dessert and worth trying – I only wish there were more bits of actual cake strewn through the mixture.
I was invited by Andrew (owner of Harajuku Gyoza) to try out their Night Noodle Markets offerings, so the Usual Disclaimer applies for this section. That said, I was always going to try their stuff anyway, especially when something like the OCTO-DOG exists!
Yep, Harajuku Gyoza may have just won the Night Noodle Markets with their take on the iconic dagwood dog. Their’s is an octopus version with fried sweet bread as the head, eyes decorated with mayo & nori, and Japanese-style sausage cut up to resemble a 4-legged octopus.
These don’t just look cute, they actually completely surpassed my (admittedly mellow) expectations. The bread was soft, crunchy, and oh-so-guilty. The sausages were meaty, a bit spicy, and quite salty in that dirty corn-dog kind of way. The mayo actually helped out as well – imparting a bit of creaminess and coalesces the two elements of the dish.
When you’ve got two killer dishes at the Night Noodle Markets, you’re doing well. Harajuku’s 2/3 on its way to a hat trick with the loaded karaage. Why go with chips like every other pleb, when you can load up some fried chicken? This is truly the definition of loaded – with cheese, mayo, candied bacon, shallots & pork crackling.
So. Much. Texture. So. Much. Flavour. This was really good – and boy I must sound like a shill but this is probably my favourite “Loaded X” item so far. There’s crunch, there’s juicy meat, there’s cheese & candied bacon for crying out loud. I was a bit dumbfounded by the lack of a hot cheese sauce as that’s what was promised to me, but I didn’t really miss it – there was plenty of cheese crumble on top to fully satisfy my inner cheese.
I didn’t get their pork gyoza as they were sold out, but one last item to order is what arguably put them on the map – shingen mochi (raindrop cake). I don’t even need to explain this because you’ve probably heard of them already – suffice to say, they tasted better than when I first had them a couple of months back. The droplet now has flavour (before it didn’t), and so didn’t have to rely on the strawberry/matcha/black sugar sauce on the side. Texture was provided by the nut crunch on the other side.
This was a “not-bad” dessert that’s good to get for the novelty factor (admit it – you’re going to get it anyway even if I say it’s the worst thing in the world), but more serious dessert cravings may be better satisfied by Messina.
Ghost Kitchen – Taiwanese Street Food
Something you might not have considered given the plethora of familiar and famous names at this year’s Night Noodle Markets is Ghost Kitchen – a little food truck in the middle of the Night Noodle Markets. In 2015, I spent a week in Taiwan and fell in love with the street food. The jian bing (煎饼) was one particularly memorable eat (though technically a mainland dish). Thus, when I saw it on offer at Ghost Kitchen, I knew I had to give it a try.
Jian bing are essentially China’s answer to crepes, though “answer” is a bit misleading, as these predate crepes by about 1500 years. Usually savoury, jian bing’s hallmarks are bold contrasts of textures, flavours (usually a combination of sweetness, saltiness and spiciness), and are always cooked to order. If you get yours suspiciously quick, run fast and run far.
Jian bing “wrappers” are generally made from wheat & mung bean flour, turned extra-crispy on a cast-iron grill, and fillings range from coriander, spring onions, fried dough sticks (油条 – you tiao), pickles and hoisin/chilli sauce.
In describing what a jian bing is, I’ve essentially elicited what to expect from Ghost Kitchen’s offering. You get to choose your own fillings, so to make it easy, just get the lot. The crepe itself was the highlight – it’s crispy, hot, and just chewy enough without it being too doughy. The fried Chinese doughnut was crunchy all throughout and fortunately not too greasy, with the egg providing the required contrast in texture. The flavour of pork floss was most prominent – in fact a bit overly so, and there wasn’t enough of a chilli kick to balance out the sweetness. Those would be my two criticisms of this sample – ask for more chilli to be added and you should be on the right path.
To say I’ve had better is a foregone conclusion, but it’s good to see some options that are worth trying beyond the usual institutions.
I’ve consistently visited POKLOL at every Night Noodle Market since 2013, and with good reason – their Korean-inspired tacos are on point. However this year, POKLOL has also jumped on the loaded fries train, debuting the below beauty:
Say hello to the chichi fries. These crunchy beer-battered fries are chock-full of mayo, kimchi, shallots, Korean BBQ sauce and Korean chilli pork.
And of course, loads of cheese.
I have to hand it to these guys – these are probably the best loaded fries of the Night Noodle Markets (Harajuku Gyoza’s loaded karaage are technically not chips, so it can keep its particular trophy). These sported insane levels of crunch while retaining their fluffy, delectable starchiness within. The toppings add oodles of flavour in both a creamy and spicy way, and the kimchi + shallots provide a more zesty and concentrated crunch respectively. Surprisingly, I didn’t taste much of the pork belly so that was probably a weak point – there wasn’t all that much to begin with. That said, you can probably tell from the picture that these chichi fries can clearly do just fine without it.
The new king of loaded fries – so far.
Oops. Guess I got the tacos again after all – how could I not? They are still the only stall at the Night Noodle Markets doing anything like it, so you’re doing yourself a disservice by not getting these.
All in all, Poklol’s tacos remain a tasty number, albeit slightly regressed from last year in that the taco shells were a bit chewier/doughier than I would have liked. My favourite remains the bulgogi beef. Sweet sauce-marinated cow coupled with spicy mayo and spicy kimchi is still a hard combination to top. The pork belly was juicier, but the beef has more flavour. As for the chicken, it was a bit on the dry side. All in all, it’s not a dish with which you can go wrong – but do eat it ASAP. Nobody likes a cold taco – trust me, I’ve learned this from experience. Take your photos if you must – but act quick!
One Tea Lounge
And how can one ignore One Tea Lounge? Ever since their debut in 2015, they’ve been making every manner of food headline with mad mastermind David Yip’s matcha creations. My review from several visits praised his creativity, but ultimately I noted that the brand had to establish a serious identity for itself, otherwise it would always be seen as the “matcha gimmick restaurant”.
But let’s ignore the what-ifs and concentrate on the what’s-in-front-of-me, something like peking duck waffle fries is going to completely disable my brain from any higher-level thought processes. Just LOOK AT IT.
As far as loaded fries go, One Tea Lounge has done a great job in differentiating itself from the other variants at the Night Noodle Markets – and the secret is in the waffle cut. Not only did it make for a visually different chip, the texture was a bit more interesting in that it was “groovier” from the waffle-cut’s criss-crossing. Such a cut also allowed more oil due to increased surface area, so you do get a greasier chip – that’s a small downside.
In terms of taste, the chips themselves sported some seasoning so even though these had Bao Stop’s issue of sauce not permeating the entire box, I was happily smashing chips completely unblessed by the sauce. Of course, get some of that good stuff, because who doesn’t like peking duck sauce? Speaking of the duck itself, it’s about on par with Bao Stop’s duck – tender enough for what it is (remember, not served in a restaurant setting), albeit with some fatty bits that were pretty much inedible. Yikes.
One last thing – the generous toss of fried shallots was a great touch. It added a boatload of texture that I really digged. For these reasons, and the novelty of the waffle cut, I’ve got to hand the peking duck fries trophy to One Tea Lounge. Well-deserved!
Other than the peking duck fries, One Tea Lounge features the usual ramen and matcha slider/baogers (see last year’s post for comments that will also apply to this year). I wanted something different, and 2016 marks David’s invention of the cookie shots. This is exactly what it looks like, and I am very impressed by the creation. Sometimes novelty really pays off, and I can see these sticking around for awhile as a “oh wow, that’s different – let’s get that!” kind of dessert.
The shots are served with matcha white chocolate sauce already inside the shot “glass”. The cookie “cup” was very crunchy and required a bit of jaw work to get through. While this was fine by me, you might have a different tolerance/idea of what an ideal texture for cookies are. For the record, I’d have preferred them a bit softer. The bonus? The matcha flavour was definitely discernible in the cookie – and of course the sweet, viscous matcha white choc sauce did more than its part to help out.
The second shot (with the white chocolate coating on the side) was for some reason, a fair bit inferior as the bottom half of the cookie was incredibly bready. I get that the idea was to elicit the impression of a brownie, but instead of a luscious and almost “creamy” consistency, it was just dry and doughy.
This is a fun one that’s definitely worth a try.
Ah, Mr Bao – another reliable name in the hodgepodge of Night Noodle Market tents. Most readers of this post should be familiar with Gua Bao so I won’t go through it again here – suffice to say these pillowy white buns filled with various goodness are universally adored. If you haven’t had the chance to try these before, now’s your chance. While the Bao Stop stall also does gua bao, the fillings are different. If you’re wondering which serves the better one, don’t – the two are very close, and your choice should depend on the kind of filling you’re after. For example, Mr Bao has crackling and crispy tofu, whereas Bao Stop has pork belly (sans crackling) and Peking duck. Take your pick – or go both. They’re both worth getting – and once again, eat them ASAP.
Sake has been a fixed point at the Night Noodle Markets for a number of years now. However, 2016 marks the first year in which I actually paid them a visit. The reason? No points for guessing, loaded fries!
While all the loaded fries I’ve tried so far sported their own unique characteristics, Sake’s loaded fries differs even more so. The “chips”, as they’re described, were cut up thinly and then glued together in chunks (with batter) before frying. This gives them a texture that’s similar to waffle fries, but with even levels of crunch than waffle fries. This was a very clever take on fries, drawn directly from kakiage – a common type of tempura in Japan where loads of vegetables are cut up and mixed with batter, and then deep-fried as one.
As for the flavour, it was pretty intense. “Too salty” comes to mind when I took my first bite, thanks to the generous amount of mayo and tonkatsu sauce (don’t expect actual pork cutlets here!). That said, it’s still really delicious – it’s just not a good idea to demolish the bowl without sharing. The overall flavour profile was predictably Japanese – lots of seaweed, lots of creaminess and soy notes. If you love your Japanese, you’re not going to go wrong with this Night Noodle Markets pick. Just be sure to take swigs of water afterwards.
Another venue that could potentially be overlooked amongst the giants at this year’s Night Noodle Markets is Little Kyoto. Indeed, relegated to the corner of the Park St end of the markets, you might never come across these guys.
A shame, because they do some real good tebasaki chicken wings:
Tebasaki chicken wings are seasoned post-frying, and are not overly sauced up (unlike say, a buffalo wing). That said, there are four self-serve dispensers of sweet chilli, tomato, mayonnaise and Japanese BBQ sauce for your use should you require it. We got some of the Japanese BBQ sauce…
…and it turns out that we didn’t need it at all! The wings are already full of flavour, and as it turns out, were already mildly sauced with sweet and punchy BBQ (on the bottom). Again, like with Sake’s loaded fries (above), it was a bit too salty for me – as if it’s meant to pair with rice. However, is it worth a try? I’d say so – for that crunchy, crispy skin. That’s what you’re getting wings for, after all!
And that’s it for this year’s Night Noodle Markets! Hope you enjoyed reading, and until next year! More pics below:
Gotta wash out all of that dirty eating with something, right?
This post is based on independently-paid visits to the Night Noodle Markets.
Any recommendations I’ve missed that you feel I should try? Sound off in the comments below!