Famed Food Writer Lee Tran Lam On Her Favourite Sydney Restaurants
Lee Tran Lam has ticked off a lot of things before they were considered cool: food blogging, producing her own podcast series (on food), making zines (also about food) and hosting a weekly program of Australian music on FBi radio (music is food…for the soul).
She’s clocked up more bylines that any food writer worth their salt could wish for, having penned stories for Gourmet Traveller, Fairfax’s Good Food, TimeOut, SBS Food – and this one time, for Turkish Vogue – and she’s also possibly the only Sydney food writer to have a sandwich named in her honour. Just head to Enmore’s Saga if you’re craving the “Lee Tran” broccolini toastie.
Why this epicurean curiosity? Why this forensic interest in what’s on the plate in front of her, as well as the people behind it?
It all started with one mind-blowing meal at Bentley Restaurant & Bar.
In the late 2000s, Lam and a group of friends would save up to go to “nice” restaurants, though back then, the casual-fine-dining dress code was non-existent.
“We copped disdain for having backpacks and wearing sneakers in one snooty restaurant”, she says.
But during that fateful, marathon 16-course degustation at Bentley, she was overwhelmed by the food, the service, the everything.
“I still can taste the buzz of the mandarin fizz and white chocolate dessert, [and] the three-coloured gazpacho! I remember wanting to mentally archive every part of it, and not have it disappear as soon as my hunger returned,” she says.
Inspired by friends cataloguing their overseas adventures, Lam decided to document the delicious things she was eating, right on home turf.
So began The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry, her food-focused blog with its inaugural post in November 2007 recapping her visits to several Sydney restaurants and cafes that have since closed. But more than a decade later, Unbearable Lightness…, and a podcast series of the same name, are still going strong.
She’s interviewed elBulli’s Ferran Adrià in a car, and Mary Newtown co-owner Jack Smyth on Cockatoo Island. But after 82 podasts, her favourite person on the other end of the mic has been Annelise Gregory, head chef at Hobart’s Franklin.
“Every single story she told me was amazing. Like, preventing her car from being blown up while working as a stagiare (intern) at Mugaritz in Spain [and running] a pop-up in Morocco, where everything – from gas bottles to rubbish – had to be ferried in and out via donkey due to Fez’s heritage-listed, car-free status,” Lam says.
A vegetarian of 20-plus years, her diet is no barrier to dining out on Sydney’s finest. In fact, it’s something of a blessing. “You just come at things from a different perspective – the eggplant parmigiana at LP’s Quality Meats is insanely good … And the vegetables are one of the most underrated parts of the menu at [meat-heavy restaurant] Firedoor,” she says.
Vegetables and all, here’s where Lee Tran Lam likes to eat around Sydney.
Favourite Sydney Cafés
Mecca, Alexandria: For the brunch menu, “and the best vegetarian ramen I’ve tried in Sydney.”
Boon Cafe, Haymarket: For the Thai-style avo on toast and congee.
Favourite Sydney Restaurants
Ester, Chippendale: “You’re pretty much are guaranteed an excellent time, especially at Sunday lunch. Don’t under-order the hasselback potatoes and that killer potato bread!”
Honourable mentions: Automata, ACME, Hartsyard, Lankan Filling Station, Yellow, Bentley (of course) and Momofuku Seiōbo. “[Head chef]Paul Carmichael’s Carribean-inspired menu is truly unlike anything else in Sydney.”
Favourite Sydney ‘Cheap Eats’
Saray, Newtown: Go-to dish: the $8 fried eggplant vegetarian roll.
Ételek, Potts Point: “The $4 everything bagel is insanely good.”
Dutch Smuggler, CBD: “Mee goreng toastie.”
Favourite Sydney Bar
The Dolphin Hotel, Surry Hills: “That Tetris block of a bar in The Wine Room has been home to many rowdy, wildcard and one-of-a-kind collaborations in the last year or so: Ben Shewry [of Attica] dropping Go-Betweens tracks while his chefs served … the most amazing carrots I’ve eaten in my entire life; [while] $5–$7 drinks and snacks by the likes of [Automata’s] Clayton Wells, [Melbourne’s Cumulus Inc’s] Andrew McConnell, [Fred’s] Danielle Alvarez and other talented people is always going to be an excellent formula.”
(Lead image: The Dolphin Hotel, Photo: Facebook)
Published 20 December, 2018