Upon a recent gloomy rainy week in Sydney, we decided to plan our end of year Europe trip (early 2012 should hold Europe posts) and what better way to kickstart that than to discuss it over lunch!
The choice of today was The Rice Den in Chatswood, a place I had been to previously and was so impressed by that we needed to visit again to review it.
The Rice Den is a relatively new and small restaurant hidden in the heart of Chatswood. It is just off the main road (near the cnr Archer and Victoria St) about a minute walk from Chatswood Chase Shopping Centre and is highly reminiscent of those hidden gems that you find in Surry Hills/Paddington. The inside is decorated modernly; it is painted black with concrete floors, wooden furnishings and wooden beams and glass shards cover the walls. The counter is covered with old Asian movie posters, giving it some extra old-school Asian character.
The restaurant itself is a combination of modern Fusion-Asian cuisines, with dishes holding influences from Australia, China, Japan and Thailand.
School Prawn Stack (Crunchy school prawns stacked and served with fresh lime and aioli) – $12
We start our meal off with an entree selection of the School Prawn Stack. Served quite promptly, the prawns were meaty, juicy and crunchy; everything you would expect. Combined with some freshly squeezed lime and aioli, the combination of sour and creamy just took it to perfection. I must make a note that their aioli is absolutely divine, extremely creamy and with a perfect balance of garlic. After a while however, this bowl of prawns got a bit boring as the taste of crunchy shells starting filling our palate. I suggest that this bowl be shared in a large group rather than a small group as it is best savoured in small portions.
Stir Fried Chilli Basil Crocodile (A traditional asian delicacy that packs a punch with fresh sliced chilli, crushed garlic, crispy basil leaves and wok tossed in our five spice seasoning) – $17
The two mains we ordered included soft shell crab and crocodile. The crocodile was well flavoured in terms of chilli and basil and was creamy and not at all spicy. In all honesty, it tasted exactly like pork (albeit slightly more tender) and wasn’t reminiscent of the last time I had crocodile. The plate itself is quite large and the snow peas and capscicum were cooked to an extent of being halfway between crunchy and mushy (thankfully, I like my vegetables soft). However, the ratio of meat to vegetables was quite low and by the end of it, the plate was left with a giant pile of bamboo shoots, basil leaves and an assortment of vegetables and only looked half eaten.
Crispy Soft Shell Crab (Lightly battered soft shell crabs with a julienne of spring onions, sweet soy, chilli mayonnaise and sprinkled with tobiko) – $16
The crab was artfully presented with lashings of chilli mayo and sweet soy sauce, garnished with shredded spring onion and some flying fish roe. That unmistakeable smell of freshly fried crispy crab wafted towards us as the waiter set down the dish. It did not disappoint; it was lightly crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside, nicely complemented by the mix of the two sauces accompanying it. There was some leftover aioli left over from our School Prawn Stack and so we tried the crab with aioli and were pleasantly surprised that the aioli added an amazing hit of garlic to the crispy soft shell crab which we probably preferred over the sweet soy sauce.
The only issue Yvn had with the crab was that the servings were so generous that she could not finish the dish alone and needed me to help her out in polishing it off, no complaints here! There was the equivalent of two whole soft shell crabs on that dish, which is more than is usually served for a crispy soft shell crab dish in our experience.
Fried Ice Cream (Green Tea/Vanilla) – $6
Our favourite course of any meal, DESSERT! Opting for fried ice cream in both green tea and vanilla, two beautiful large scoops of ice cream covered in crumbed batter on a plate with the words “The Rice Den” written in chocolate syrup was presented to us. One plate was accompanied with strawberry syrup and the other with caramel. The servings of ice cream were quite big compared to other restaurants’ fried ice creams which was favourable as really, who doesn’t love more ice cream! The green tea was more bitter than sweet suggesting that it was home-made ice cream with real green tea, but combined with the flavoured syrup and battered coating, the bitterness was soon offset. The vanilla was extremely creamy vanilla (and yes, I can tell you it is NOT home brand ice cream :D) and both of them were still hard to the core, making it difficult for us to break is apart, which is good since you would not want your ice cream to melt when being fried.
Overall, The Rice Den served up a good selection of Asian-infused dishes. The restaurant is small, quiet and not too busy and is a refreshing surprise to the rest of the overpopulated Chatswood where you will encounter difficulty finding seats at the majority of restaurants during the lunch rush. Its boutique style and finesse makes it a place you should definitely stop by if in the local area.
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The Rice Den
3/77 Archer Street, Chatswood
(02) 9411 2001