Thanks to those epic peeps at Zomato Australia I got to attend a foodie feasting at a recent Zomato Meetup at a place in St Leonards known as THE RICE DEN. I had never heard about them before but they had a good reputation. A Cantonese restaurant that used to be in Chatswood and served great affordable food that was nicely made in a great venue. The move to St Leonards has seen an even nicer designed interior and the food game has increased to a modernised Cantonese cuisine.
THE RICE DEN VENUE:
The venue features elegant dark wood in the design with stunning Asian inspired artworks, teapots and food containers on shelves. Sections have stunning wallpaper and the serving area from the kitchen is bright and colourful and somewhat of a centrepiece. There is indoor and outdoor seating, and a back room separated in sections by glass that can be privatised to an extent. Birdcages hang from the roof next to exposed bulbs and the bar greats you on arrival.
The venue feels light and bright while maintaining the indoor darkness of a private off-the-road setting. People wandering past get a tiny glimpse inside, just enough to get their interest but if you want to enter the amazing venue, make a booking and join the club. It feels like an upmarket Asian venue and that is exactly what it is, but while it looks that way it is not pretentious or expensive.
The staff were all informative, helpful and knowledgable. They had the shy and restrained Asian demeanour reserved for the big, bearded Aussie. I did have a few Asian friends at the table and felt the staff were more at ease conversing with my Asian counterparts. They did always check to enquire whether I was alright for a drink and as you can imagine I LOVED THIS.
DRINK GAME IS IMPRESSIVE:
Speaking of drinks, the drink game at THE RICE DEN is top notch. They have nine special house cocktails that are amazing. I partook in two of them. Buddha’s Tears was my favourite. The subtle flavours were sublime – Zubrowka bison grass vodka, peach liqueur, lychees and cucumber. I also tried the Canton Cooler – Tanqueray gin, dry sherry, cucumber, coriander, pineapple and lemon. I am a gin whore and will always hunt it down. The most expensive cocktail is $19- and they can make anything else on request.
They offer a modest selection of beers. They have their own labelled Canton Lager, they also have a local Sydney ale on tap – the Hangman Pale Ale, brewed in Alexandria. But for me I always order Tsing Tao if on the menu at an Asian establishment. It was and it was delish as always.
As for the wine, it reads like some of the best A-Grade Sydney venues and can accommodate any budget. I was dribbling over the 2012 Zind Humbrecht Gewurtraminer $65- and the NV Jacquart Cuvee Brut Mosaique $140-. I rarely drink white so the reds were my goal. The 2010 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Sangiovese for $120- would have been my “make JK your bitch” wish bottle but the 2014 Tarrawarra Estate Pinot Noir at only $11 a glass was the more polite drink to order when invited to dinner. They cover all the spirits if you so wish and grab yourself a dessert wine to finish it off – I would suggest the 2012 The Royal Tokaji Wine Company Late Harvest Furmint, Yellow Muscat, Hárslevelű from Hungary at a decent $47- a bottle.
While writing about those drinks has made me weak at the knees the food is going to make me eat my keyboard. The top food pic was our first entree and it was my favourite entree. Rice wine cured Petuna ocean trout with pickled fennel and house made rice cracker. I will return to this venue alone to order that entree just for myself, and one for my mum. Trout is also her fave. Probably the best seafood dish I ate in 2016.
We followed that with Peking Duck Pancakes – always a standard Cantonese fave, the table whoofed these down quickly.
The Steamed Hervey Bay scallops in half shell with mung bean vermicelli, house made XO sauce and chilli oil was stunning. I could eat scallops all day long and I could nearly drink XO out of the bootle. That plus the chilli heat was a splendid combination and the presentation was as good. It was basically a crime we had to share this entree.
We also demolished a Sake and ponzu infused salmon beetroot “noodles” with baby spinach and apple salad that was delicious. And another table favourite was the Sichuan pepper beef tataki in sweet soy pickled onion, ginger mayo, coriander sesame salad. I did not post pictures of these two – my apologies but this article is going to be long enough :).
While most fried rice is usually just as the carb underneath the meal THE RICE DEN fried rice is next level. I had a worship of fine carbs with the fried rice served with Chinese sausage and shiitake mushrooms. Best rice of 2016 – I really should have had this venue in my Top 10!!!
The mains also went to another level of fine cooking. We started with the above Stir Fry Asian Pipis in XO sauce and garlic stem. A flavoursome dish but a difficult dish to share with so many people – this would be preferred for a couple to share.
After this was one of the most scrumptious meals of the night – the Beef tenderloin with mixed tempura mushrooms, smoked capsicum puree and honey black bean glaze. The tenderloin was so tender I wanted to butter it on my dinner roll and the glaze was nearly an aphrodisiac.
But the dish that won me over, probably one of the best dishes I ate in 2016. One that I wanted to joust my table mates for, was Kung Pao Chicken. I did learn from the lovely Sarah from RnB Diary sitting next to me that this is not strictly Cantonese, it is Sichuan. I don’t care, it was more than mouthwatering, it was dinner love. Every time someone else took a spoonful it was like they were courting my new love and I wanted to stab them for Kung Pao’s honour. We will unite again.
And just as my waistline demanded I had worn stretchy pants out came dessert. Their Hong Kong milk tea creme brûlée with house made salted caramel popcorn was a creme brûlée game changer. The addition of that popcorn took this from your standard brûlée to one of the best in the country. If you have ever had a Honk Kong milk tea or one of those bubble teas, it is like one of them is in the brûlée – this needs to be experienced.
As does the French toast with dulce de leche, peanut crumble and mascarpone with matcha green tea. DIVINE!!!
The most visual of the desserts and a dessert I would probably order over the others purely out of my love for passionfruit is the Vanilla coconut cream sago with fresh passionfruit pulp and macadamia almond meal crumble. This gluten free dessert can be indulged guilt free. If you don’t like the crunch of passionfruit pips steer clear of this one because it embraces them and I embraced this dish. Marvellous.
It is a crime I did not write this article before the year’s end. Realistically this venue should be in my Top 10. It served me one of my favourite dishes of 2016. The good news is that so far it is my Number One venue of 2017. I will count it towards this year’s list.
THE RICE DEN is affordable and in a great venue, although the area it is situated is a bit of a dull dead-spot at night. The staff are lovely and the food and drink game is some of the best I have eaten in the last year. Get into it.
The Rice Den Deets:
PH: (02) 8318 0476
VEGETARIAN OPTIONS: Yes – VEGAN OPTIONS EVEN
GLUTEN FREE OPTIONS: Yes
KID FRIENDLY: Sort of
Tue – Thur: 1130am – 230pm, 530pm – 930pm
Fri: 1130am – 230pm, 530pm – 1030pm
Sat: 530pm – 1030pm
Sun: 1130am – 230pm, 530pm – 9pm
*** JK (and any guests of Spooning Australia) were invited guests of the establishment. However, as always, if it was shite I would happily tell you as such.