A Sydney food institution since 2013, the Sydney Night Noodle Markets at Hyde Park returns like clockwork in 2017. Good Food Month’s showcase event, the markets are the most visible, most accessible show for all of October. Is it better than ever? No clue – I’ll be along for the ride, just like you!
Date Range: 5/Oct – 22/Oct 2017
Address: Sydney Hyde Park
Price Guide (approx): $7-$15 per item
With four years of experience covering the markets under my belt (and equivalently, four years of calories), the 2017 night noodle markets continues to follow a tried-but-true formula. There are 40 stalls, and almost all have unique offerings that make a visit worthwhile. As expected, it’s a predominantly Asiatic lineup – the way it should be – with a few inventive dishes from traditionally Western outlets. The usual suspects will be here – think Gelato Messina, Hoy Pinoy, and Black Star Pastry. Night noodle market stalwarts, they sure are. Of course, newcomers are very much a feature of this year as well- Chur Burger, Indu, and Waterman’s Lobster, among others.
One difference is that the venue – Hyde Park – has been re-christened as a festival space known as ‘Hyde Park Palms’. The Palms will host various events extending beyond the noodle markets, be sure to check the Good Food Month website for details.
I did mention the formula is tried-but-true; however, this means the usual tidbits of advice apply:
- The later you arrive, the longer the lines, the stronger your disappointment. Come early.
- Leave the bills at home – the night noodle markets is cash free!
- Come for variety and a good time; don’t come expecting quality as you would expect from the restaurant that runs the stall. This is practically catering in an outdoor environment – of course it wouldn’t be the same.
Without further ado, let’s get to it!
It’s ironic that a gelateria has become such a focal point for a noodle-focused event, but honestly I would begin to question the continued existence of the night noodle markets if Gelato Messina decided to drop out. Despite its seemingly incongruent presence, Messina’s creative Asian takes on gelato (exclusive only to the noodle markets) have entrenched themselves as a must-visit. However, I’m somewhat let down by the offerings this year. They definitely look good on paper, and in photos; but in terms of pure deliciousness, 2016’s offerings have this year’s beat. Still, you’ll give them a go, right?
The surprising second favourite, Aunty Tomsu’s cheesecake is perhaps the simplest creation of the four, but that is to its advantage: it simply works. At its base, it’s a good strawberry gelato that’s accentuated with sakura, prettily-shaped meringues and cream. The cheesecake base could definitely use a bit more airiness, as it tasted too much like a heavy sponge than a ethereal cheesecake. I suspect the pressure of everything on top compresses it – you can’t beat physics, Messina!
I had high expectations of the O-no-giri, which were dashed by just one single element: the rice bubbles & white chocolate outer coating. While I appreciated the crunchiness of the rice bubbles, the white chocolate was too sweet and in overabundance. This meant it overwhelmed the green tea gelato and the pistachio mousse’s taste. End of story, sadly.
Think froyo parfait, deep fried and sandwiched between white bread. That is the kamikaze katsu. This was quite good, and reminded me of a fancier version of Singapore’s famous ice cream sandwiches. I particularly liked the addition of citrus from the yuzu and sudachi lime gelato (which is what gives it that tart froyo taste), and less a fan of the red velvet – I didn’t see too much point with that flavour. There’s also perhaps a bit too much heaviness from the combined carbiness of white bread and the deep fried panko crumb, but it’s a sandwich after all – a square meal 😉
Oh how wrong I was, thinking Aunty Tomsu’s cheesecake would be my favourite out of the four – I’m clearly turning sesame! Messina’s black sesame gelato is a winner, and is 90% responsible for the dessert standing out. Sure, the coffee jelly and banana miso bread were nice inclusions; however, they served little purpose rather than just being there – there is no issue of balance that needed addressing. The same couldn’t be said of the miso crunch – as Mr Devlin said to Jackie Chan in The Tuxedo: the other 10%’s in here. I loved every last bit of this!
So…if you’re going to get something that actually tastes the best, rather than looks the most photogenic, GET THIS.
Taiwanese Noodle House
I’m going to call it: Taiwanese Noodle House is probably the most underrated stall in the entire market. There’s hardly ever a crowd outside, but it’s the stall that deserves them the most. Why? Because they serve a beef brisket noodle soup that is not only incredibly authentic, but also incredibly delicious – to the point that I might have to say this one of my favourite dishes I’ve had at the markets.
The noodles are hand-pulled, cooked to an al dente level of chewiness, and immersed in a highly fragrant, 5 spice beef broth. Top it up with a decent amount of tender, pull-apart beef brisket, fresh sprouts & veg, and it’s a dish that’s more than worth the hassle of having to find a table on which to eat. If you’re the kind of foodie looking for a recommendation that’s actually in the spirit of a noodle market, this is your first – and quite possibly last – stall of call.
Alternatively, fetch a bowl of 12 prawn & pork wontons in chilli oil if noodles aren’t your thing. They’re big, full of pork, and with a vinegary sauce that’s almost exactly like how my grandparents make it back in China. Holy schmozzle.
For me, Indu is the most highly-anticipated debut in the 2017 night noodle markets. Notwithstanding the lack of a blog post, I’m a huge fan of the upmarket Indian-Sri Lankan restaurant, hidden in a basement down at Angel Place. It’s all about punchy, vibrant food, full of spice, flavour, and hands-on fun – exactly what you would expect from cuisine of the region. However, what Indu does is give the region’s food a refined touch, and that’s kept me coming back. At the night noodle markets, their sole offering is the dosa, which is available either as a vegetarian or meat version. As it’s the only thing on the menu, it had better be good.
Golly, it sure was. The goat wasn’t funky – tasting surprisingly like a pulled pork number; really tender, with lots of smoky, spicy flavour. The pomegranate added a much-appreciate sweet tang, and the dosa itself is still the best I’ve had in Sydney.
House of Crabs
For a stall named House of Crabs, I sure wasn’t impressed with last year’s offerings – not so crabby, instead a word that may or may not rhyme with it.
This year, that’s changed – House of Crabs comes roaring back to the night noodle markets with a full-on soft shell crab po boy. It’s a generous soft bread roll that’s filled with a truly generous serving of soft shell crab, such that only the stingiest of folk would still consider it to be insufficient. It’s super saucy, crunchy, seriously well-cooked crab. I really don’t have any complaints – and judging by the number of Singaporeans poring over the stall, I’m clearly not the only one. This is legit stuff!
Cloud Thief (formerly Bao Stop)
I was invited to try out Cloud Thief’s old school trifecta, while I paid for the new school trifecta myself. As such, The Usual Disclaimer partially applies.
The cloud thief has stolen bao stop! Or so the story goes. While the name of night noodle market’s much-loved bao vendor has changed, the bao themselves have only gone from strength to strength. While you can still get their old school trifecta of bao (peking duck, pork belly & fried chicken) for $20, they’ve also created the new school trifecta for that 2017 spin. With braised shiitake, Singapore chilli soft shell crab and tenderly-braised BBQ plum beef spare ribs, it would be terribly remiss of you to miss out. While I liked the old school trifecta just a bit more (that joooocy chicken won me over!), the right way to do it is just to get all six!
The bao could definitely use some presentational improvements, but I can fortunately say they all tasted better than they looked. The shiitake is braised extremely well with lots of flavour (score for vegos!), the soft shell crab is quite Chinese-like in the use of black bean sauce (needs more chilli kick though), and the beef spare rib is literally that melt-in-your-mouth kind of goodness.
I have to be honest (coz like, I’m usually full of BS), I did like last year’s baos just a bit better – the execution was just a bit more on point. However, you shouldn’t regret ordering from them this year – definitely not!
If bao isn’t your thing (do you even), Cloud Thief will attempt to steal your appetite one last time with their peking duck fries. Just like last year, the delicious marriage of peking duck, sweet sauce and crunchy chips is a combo that is probably one of the best examples of fusion done right. Go go go.
Attracting what are indisputably the longest lines at the night noodle markets, you don’t need me to convince you that Hoy Pinoy is worth visiting. The Filipino stalwart is so popular, it actually hosts two stalls at the markets just to keep up with the demand. Of course, you’ll have to try the skewers – both chicken & beef skewers deliver bang on flavour with their soy & banana ketchup glazes respectively.
While that’s all well and good, the price increase from $12 to $13 (which itself was an increase from $10 to $12 last year) is disappointing. I haven’t seen any other stall hike its prices this frequently 🙁
A slight change from last year’s lechon baboy, Hoy Pinoy’s cebu lechon – spit-roasted pork served with rice, atchara (a pickled slaw) and spiced vinegar still brings the goods. Sure, I did miss last year’s funky liver lechon sauce, but I don’t have any complaints about this year’s either. I know you’ll get the skewers first and foremost, but definitely try this out if you’re making a second visit to Hoy Pinoy. It’s pork served very differently, but just as delicious with plenty of Filipino flair.
Black Star Pastry
Where would the night noodle markets be without Chris Thé’s Black Star Pastry? Cakeless, and thus soulless – that’s what. Okay, a bit of an overstatement, but when its strawberry watermelon cake is literally world famous, you gotta say there’s some serious social proofing – with great tasting cakes as actual proof.
Of course, the seminal white & red number can be bought for a cool tenner, but like many other stalls, BSP’s always on the march to dish out innovation at the night noodle markets. Pile on delicious in-season mango, blueberries, lavender, coconut mousse and sago pudding all atop a subtly-spiced gingerbread sponge cake base and you get BSP’s NNM special: the mango cake.
If you like them on the lighter side, with a bit of that summer-esque, tropical touch, you can’t go wrong with this one. While The Lady did remark that the gingerbread sponge didn’t really gel with the rest of the cake, I found it to be quite nice – refreshing, and not overly sweet. I particularly liked how the sago layer was still whole, not crushed, retaining its texture.
Look, it’s less than ten bucks and comes with a free side of a photogenic Instagram post. You’ve very little to lose and much sugar to gain.
If you’re not in the mood for cake, Black Star and N2 Extreme Gelato are also doing various parfaits and a soft serve version of its strawberry watermelon cake. However, allow me to let you in on a secret gem: the coconut caramel creme brulee.
Actually, it’s not a secret at all – it’s right there on their menu. However, I’ll wager this won’t sell well, because everybody’s attention will be focused on Black Star’s other desserts – they’ve simply got the kaya creme brulee beat in the good looks department. Here’s the thing – this is the underrated dessert gem, and is in fact the best dessert I’ve eaten so far. Yes – better than any of Messina’s offerings. Rich, buttery kaya frames an excellent gelato, with perfectly bittersweet, caramelly bruleed goodness on top. Exceedingly simple, exceedingly delicious.
Harajuku Gyoza (invite)
Many thanks for Harajuku Gyoza inviting me to try out their 2017 offerings. Thus, The Usual Disclaimer applies!
Pan-fried gyoza, and completely transparent raindrop cakes make a return in 2017 with Harajuku Gyoza. However, they aren’t just trotting out the oldies – there’s also ridiculously long fries (think ruler-length), as well as wibbly-wobbly souffle pancakes with a chocolate sauce & whipped cream. Neither is healthy, but both are good. No seriously: I actually thought these would be incredibly gimmicky, but are actually really tasty, in a ‘oh I’ll stop now…oh wait why, why am I eating another’ kind of way. Yep, we practically finished the chips…and all three souffle pancakes.
My favourite Korean stall at the night noodle markets, Poklol has yet to disappoint with its Korean-themed tacos and loaded fries.
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.
These are probably the best loaded fries of the Night Noodle Markets There’s insane levels of crunch, with the cheese and pickled kimchi adding oodles of flavour. I didn’t taste much of the pork belly so that is a weak point – there wasn’t all that much to begin with. That said, the fries are so good they can easy carry for themselves.
And then there are Poklol’s tacos – a perennial favourite. My preference continues to be the bulgogi beef. Sweet sauce-marinated cow coupled with spicy mayo and spicy kimchi is still a hard combination to top. Pro-tip: be quick with your photos – you’d be surprised at how bad these can taste if you wait for too long!
Puffle (by POKLOL)
At first, the sight of POKLOL – a Korean joint – spinning up a side venture at the night noodle markets selling eggettes – one of Hong Kong’s most famous exports – would seem highly questionable, and downright odd. But then again, POKLOL’s all about Asian fusion, and Puffle is the next step: combining HK-style egg waffles with Korean fried chicken and bulgogi beef. It’s definitely one of those ‘why didn’t they think of that sooner’ kind of moment, but I’m glad somebody’s finally done it: it’s delicious. I’ve only had the KFC Cheese Puffle, but it’s absolutely bang on. They’ve absolutely nailed the eggette (something that’s not commonly said in Sydney), with crispy edges, and kept the insides fluffy with – thats’ right – CHEESE. Gooey, rich cheese. You’d think it would be too rich – I did too – until I realised that I was well on track to polish off the whole thing. Oops.
The situation is not helped by just how damn good POKLOL/Puffle’s fried chicken is – this is true blue Korean FC goodness. Crunchy AF, with a ton of salty gochujang sauce, this is the kind of chicken that deserves the 1 litre of water you’ll need to drink afterwards.
The bulgogi beef x Philly cheesesteak puffle is refreshingly different to the KFC cheese puffle, to the point that you really need to try both to get the best of both worlds. True blue bulgogi beef, with its tender, sweet soy goodness, is dressed with just the right amount of earthy mustard and mayo and paired with the same cheesy eggette. As usual, nothing is overdone – not the cheese in the egg puffs, nor the sauces or the doneness of the beef.
Puffle hasn’t forgotten about the sweet tooths either: after suffering some setbacks with their ice cream machine, the mystical unicorn puffle has finally shown (proven?) its existence to the world. You’ll notice the eggette looks slightly different – it’s a sweet rather than savoury eggette (no cheese here!), and it’s loaded with goodies explicitly designed to bait the ten year old inside us all. The rainbow ice cream tasted mostly like a light caramel, and all other elements – oreos, unicorn dust, etc. were to add various layers of texture. I particularly liked the Hershey’s chocolate syrup that tied the entire dessert together.
It’s good, but rich, and it won’t take long before one becomes bored of it. Order one, bring many friends.
Ah POKLOL, you’ve done it again!
Almost every stall at the night noodle markets is in and of itself, a unique proposition: such is the variety of stalls and dishes available there is surprisingly little overlap across any two stalls. However, one rather glaring exception is the unintentional (or is it?) rivalry between Mr Bao and Cloud Thief (formerly Bao Stop). The two stalls sell essentially the same core product: a triplet of steamed gua bao with similar fillings. The pricing is also very, very similar between the two: $20 for Cloud Thief, and a cheeky $21 from Mr Bao.
Cloud Thief certainly has the advantage in offering more variety – the old school and new trifectas provide 6 unique bao to try, whereas Mr Bao only has the one triplet with classic pork belly, beef & chicken.
Last year, I noted that I preferred Bao Stop’s product just that little bit more. However this year I feel that Mr Bao deserves to charge that extra dollar – its bao edged out Cloud Thief’s by the tiniest of margins. For me, there was just a smidgen more finesse in the bao themselves – perhaps just a little fluffier; the addition of crackling on the pork belly also won me over.
I stress that you really won’t go wrong with either stall, but only one could win this year, and in 2017, that’s Mr Bao – even if it’s by a hair’s width.
Waterman’s Lobster Co
There aren’t that many joints in Sydney that serve authentic Maine lobster, and Waterman’s Lobster Co (now Dear Saint Eloise) used to be one of them. Maine lobster is considered superior to rock lobster due to its sweeter, firmer meat – an assessment with which I agree. As such, it didn’t take much convincing to take a trip down to their stall, where four types of lobster rolls are on the menu.
Unfortunately, the team behind Dear Saint Eloise’s temporary revival of Waterman’s at the night noodle markets fall short, disappointing with meager size and a dearth of lobster. It’s as if they were about to become extinct. Sure, my wasa-bea was on point in flavour – with briny, sharp ginger and wasabi mayo giving much life to the roll. But it was gone in two bites, with lobster meat worth nary one. The Lady’s Connecticut roll was once again well-executed in terms of pairings and ingredients – a soft brioche smeared with creamy brown butter is basically a complete meal by itself. Once again, it’s gone all too soon for something that costs $13 a pop.
Not my worth it winner, I’m afraid.
Poke Bear [Invite]
I was invited to try out Poke Bear, and as such The Usual Disclaimer applies.
Poke has come into such vogue over the past year that I worry about the sustainability and future of fishing. While that’s a problem for the conservationists to figure out, us seafood lovers have never had so much choice. It’s surprising then that Poke Bear is the only seafood salad stall operating at the night noodle markets; however, that’s just as well to their benefit – this is one of the few stalls where you can eat healthily, as well as deliciously.
The poke definitely isn’t traditional, but it’s good. Its strengths lie in the variety of toppings, whilst keeping a good balance of flavours while still allowing the star ingredient – fresh seafood – to shine. The downside is that there’s not all too much seafood – comprising perhaps 1/5 of the volume of the bowl at best. Salmon or tuna, you ask? Salmon has more flavour, tuna healthier. You decide 😛
Most importantly: is it delicious? Oh yes – I fully polished one bowl and 90% of the second. Yeah.
Bite Chew Drink
So, you reckon you can handle the heat? Let me call your bluff: order the level 4 angry pasta from Bite Chew Drink, and try look me in the eye telling me you didn’t have uh…stomach discomfort the next day. This is cheesy pasta amped up with heat ranging from one (I guess this isn’t too bad), to four (OH GOD MY EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE).
Oh so fun, oh so deadly. A dish worth getting just for sh*ts and giggles, and maybe a visit to the hospital. Here’s a video below of level 3: you have been warned!
Chur Burger Food Truck
One of Sydney’s earliest gourmet burger joints, indeed one that sparked the ‘fine dining chefs turned burger flippers’ trend, Chur Burger makes a double debut at the night noodle markets as a food truck, as well as a separate stall selling fried chicken (covered separately). There’s two burgers of interest – the Hoisin Going Pro, a classic beef burger given an Asian twist with hoisin sauce and five spice bacon, and the notorious P.I.G., a pork belly burger w/chilli caramel & Asian slaw.
[No picture] Hoisin Going Pro Burger – Grilled beef, cheese, five spice bacon, lettuce, Chinese bbq sauce, rice wine pickle, aioli, prawn cracker
Both burgers are okay, but both have issues. The hoisin burger is the better of the two – with highlights being the charred beef patty, succulent and fragrantly five-spice bacon, and a soft bun. The lowlights would be the hoisin sauce, which was overly sweet, and over-applied.
The notorious P.I.G. will go down in notoriety for a burger that I didn’t even finish. There is just too. Much. Pork. Belly. Fat. I just couldn’t – it’s one of the most oleaginous burgers I’ve ever attempted to eat. Keyword: attempt. The pork is good – crispy crackling, succulent sweet lean meat. It’s just too fatty. There is an audience for this burger; it’s not me.
Churken Fried Chicken
While Chur Burger food truck was a bit of a miss for me this year (see above), their newly-debuted fried chicken spinoff is all kinds of crunchy goodness. Serving nothing but Asian-style fried chook, the appropriately-named churken is in, and its specialisation has paid off. There are three choices here, but fortunately you can mix and match from all of them.
My favourite was the opan gang-wing style, with its signature sweet & spicy glaze with a nutty finish winning my vote. The me soy honey came in a close second, with an increased emphasis on honey-like candy flavour, given the Asian touch with a slight salty hit of soy. The straight outta Szechuan was closer to a salt & pepper-style fried chicken; however, it was lacking the famous numbing pepperiness one comes to expect of this region.
A pile of hot, teppan’d teriyaki-style wagyu beef served in a cone with rice, pickled ginger, mayo and cos? Say no more – you had me at wagyu. While the dish certainly has all of the potential to be a photogenic gimmick, the core product was undoubtedly tasty – the beef was thankfully not overcooked, and the sweet & soy addiction that is teriyaki sauce pretty much sealed the deal from there. However, it’s not something I would necessarily buy again, as there’s no easy way to access the base layer of rice without eating most of the beef first. A functional compromise for the sake of a gimmick.
The dish is better-suited to being served in a simple box, but I guess that won’t draw nearly as much Instagram attention.
This post is based on independently-paid visits to the Night Noodle Markets except where otherwise disclosed.
Any recommendations I’ve missed that you feel I should try? Sound off in the comments below!