Chinese cheap eats – Two Sticks Sydney
By Sonja Lee | The Foodie World Contributing Blogger
It’s 6.25pm, I’ve done my laps at North Sydney Pool and tonight I’m dining alone. This foodie who loves peasant food needs a break from cooking and partying. As a recently returned expat, I’m rather excited at having some Chinese cheap eats at my latest find – Two Sticks Haymarket in Sydney’s Chinatown – just around the corner from Central. I can’t believe I’m dining at a small chain restaurant given my aversion to them although I have to admit I do like Din Tai Fung from time to time.
The first thing you notice when you walk in is that there are no Western faces; this place probably caters for Asians and probably those from a mainland Chinese heritage. It’s a small and well-lit room, filled with wooden coffee tables and bright yellow stools – some are pushed together against the side wall and between the coffee tables diving the room are four bar stands and high stools. Skinny wooden beams that I assume are meant to be chopsticks decorate the ceiling and back wall to give the place some depth as well as the floor to ceiling mirror on the back wall.
I am given a pretty crappy table for one facing the street but I don’t mind, there’s plenty of space to put my handbag on the table and to be able to eat comfortably.
The menu comprises various noodle soup dishes (around the $13 mark), grilled meat/offal and seafood (around $7 to $13) and small appetisers (around $5 to $7). The dishes remind me a little of Sichuan food, with some being flagged with chillis to denote spice level, others contain cumin and “homemade spicy powder” and others are called “hot and numbing”. Then there are a few very Western sounding dishes like deep fried chicken bites and deep fried potato gems. I steer clear of those and go for an appetiser and noodle dish.
My cold appetiser arrives six minutes after I order. It’s poached chicken breast with a spicy Yunnan peanut sauce (pictured at the top of this post). Not the most glamourous sounding or looking dish but very tasty. There’s a thin layer of homemade chilli oil on the bottom of the dish. Yum.
Five minutes later my Yunnan Signature Rice Noodle Soup arrives in a scorching hot earthenware pot filled with a bubbling clear soup containing a little beef, egg, coriander and chicken along with a separate bowl of white rice noodles (they look like spaghetti) topped with thinly sliced bean curd sheets and bean sprouts. You place the cold noodles into the earthenware pot – I know, I copied all the expert looking Chinese eaters the other day. Again copying other diners, I decide to get some chilli oil off the side bench. I ask for a small dish for my sauce and am told to use the plastic cups…The chilli oil looks homemade. I add soy sauce and “prickly oil”, whatever that is. The chilli contains Sichuan peppercorns and tastes delicious; it’s not very spicy, rather full of flavour with a warm heat.
I walk past a couple eating grilled squid on skewers and that too looks delicious so I take a note to come back with my mother to try it.
Back to my main course. My noodles too are delicious. They are very light, much lighter than the Cantonese variety and they match the soup perfectly. After a few spoons I’m quite surprised to find a small egg yolk; it’s soft and cooked just right.
At a table next to me, an Asian lady with a light accent asks the waitress when she delivers the same dish as mine whether you put all the noodles in the big pot. Slurping starts soon after and at another neighbouring table but it’s not too bad given there is some space between the tables. The other thing I notice is that the general noise level is surprisingly low, having said that, the place isn’t packed at this time of night.
Halfway through the dish I start to feel hot. Hot from the heat coming off the earthenware pot and hot from the temperature of the soup. I learnt from the last meal here so prepared in advance, wearing a singlet that I could strip down to.
Towards the end of my meal I find lots of very thinly sliced beef and pork and note for next time, I must stir the noodles well before eating.
I stand up to find tissues to blow my nose and the waitress pounces ready to clear my table as she thinks I’ve finished. I mentally tell her to chill. The service is a little along the lines of the old Sydney Cantonese restaurants where they almost threw dinner settings at you and couldn’t wait for you to leave.
After finishing my noodles I pick at the chicken appetiser and think it wasn’t as good as when I first arrived. I was hungry then! Maybe I could have just done with just the noodle dish but I was curious about the chicken. The noodle dish is just right for me and I leave some of the stock and a few stray noodles. I like how I don’t feel stuffed as I often can from pasta.
On my previous visit I sampled the Stewed Fish Noodle Soup with Pickled Chilli and Vegetables and had the Egg Skewer – “grilled eggs with ginger, shallots, coriander, chilli and soy sauce on foil paper”. They too were very tasty and I suspect the noodle soups will be perfect at the peak of winter.
I walk up to the counter, pay $20 for my meal and reckon it’s pretty good value. I also think the old adage – if you see an Asian restaurant packed with Asians then it must be good – is true in this case. I will definitely be going back and to the big flagship restaurant that I’ve just read about on their website. The only thing that annoyed me tonight was the second-hand smoke wafting in from the street.
As I walk along the street I hear someone playing the violin and spot the owner of Chinatown Noodle Restaurant across the road, an old handmade dumpling and noodle favourite, which has recently expanded to around the corner to two more properties. He reminds me I must go visit him soon.
It’s wonderful being back in Sydney – so much Northern Chinese food to choose from and ever increasing number of examples from each province. I’m keen to keep exploring.
Two Sticks: Yunnan China
694 George St, Haymarket