A new breed of modern fusion restaurants are wooing food lovers all over Sydney. They're casual, cool and creative. Led by young enterprising restaurateurs, these eateries are so comfortable with their unique experimental fusion of Asian, Australian or European cooking styles
and ingredients, that the 'cool' just comes naturally.
The Rice Den is one of them. Since opening its doors in November last year, The Rice Den has been serving up modern Asian dishes, seven days a week, to a growing hungry Chatswood crowd.
The Rice Den's owners are four mates, aged between 23 and 30.There's Roy who is the head chef and has over 9 years experience in owning and operating restaurants; Nick who works in advertising and manages the restaurant's marketing; Eddy who works in IT and uses his former waiting experience to manage front of house; and Jin who has a family background in real estate and helped source the restaurant's location.
They each brought with them inspiration from their travels and created a fun offering that was based on tastes they loved themselves.
Having dined here recently, I almost feel like it was designed, just for me. Familiar flavours with a twist.
The cheong fun ($6) is a Chinese dish often eaten at yumcha where the rice noodle rolls (normally with spring onion and dried shrimp) are pan-fried then served with a dipping sauce of hoisin sauce and peanut butter/sesame paste. My mum used to make this at home every time she got her hands on a fresh batch of rice noodle rolls, direct from the factory. Here, it is dished up more elegantly. They're steamed until silky smooth, topped with fresh subtle flavours of shiitake mushrooms, shiso leaves and fried onions and a drizzle of that delicious nutty sauce.
Next we have the nem nuong san choy bow (two pieces for $8). The ingredients are clearly inspired by the Vietnamese DIY dish featuring succulent grilled pork skewers and nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce) but served in a Chinese san choy bow manner. I love the fresh flavours but the shot glass of sauce isn''t very practical. Too slim to dip, too messy to pour :-\
The school prawn stack ($12) on the other hand are crunchtastic and more-ish. You eat these with the shrimp's head and shell in-tact so it's super crispy and the aioli makes you keep coming back for more.
The restaurant's name almost implies it's specialty would be rice but there are just four rice options on the menu - jasmine rice; garlic and shallot rice; tropicana; buddha; and nasi goreng. Upon the waitress' recommendation, we try the tropicana fried rice ($14), a tasty tomato fried rice (that reminds me of com do: Vietnamese red rice) with king prawns, chorizo, fresh pineapple chunks, carrots and tomato chutney. This dish is a total winner because who doesn't love chorizo? Or pineapple? Or prawns? ;)
The chilli basil crocodile ($15) is a classic Thai style stir-fry. Crocodile meat is more delicate and leaner than chicken but in this case, the distinctive crocodile taste is somehow lost within the punchy chilli basil flavours. I do adore the texture and flavour of the deep fried basil leaves though!
Having never not ordered soft shell crab ($16) if it were on the menu, the soft shell crab at The Rice Den is lightly battered and wonderfully crisp; it is dressed with sweet soy and chilli mayonnaise which isn't quite spicy enough and topped with a sprinkling of flying fish roe.
One of today's special is a barramundi green apple salad ($25). With the freshness and mints of Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, the salad is crisp and full of zing. The presentation is both gorgeous and thoughtful, particularly because we didn't have to pick at a whole fish since it had been filleted, cut and battered separately.
Then there's the Mongolian lamb cutlets ($18), an Asian twist to an Aussie BBQ favourite. These are served with ENORMOUS onion rings. The cutlets are sweet, tender and very flavoursome but although I love onion rings, the batter on these are too heavy for my liking.
And to finish, deep-fried green tea icecream ($6). The crumb coating is impossibly thin and crunchy and you all already know about my weakness for matcha-anything - oh so good.
The Rice Den isn't a place for the traditional folks but for nights when you're feeling a bit adventurous, it's definitely worth checking out. Six of us ate for about $25 a head so it's well priced too!
The Rice Den
Shop 3, 77 Archer Street, Chatswood NSW
Phone: (02) 9411 2001