Teff, kamut, amaranth and millet. Nope. Not the latest celebrity baby names. Ancient grains. And you’ll…
When you head out for a dinner with friends, it usually comes with a side of regret as you realise how much money you’ve just forked out. Particularly if you’re heading somewhere high end. Add to that a couple of bottles of wine and maybe a taxi home and before you know it you’ve not a dollar to your name, at least not until your next pay day. But what if we told you, it doesn’t have to be that way? What if we told you that you can enjoy a dinner with friends or family, and all at a shopping centre near you…without breaking the bank?
Last Wednesday, Amanda (HerCanberra’s Founder), Kate (our resident nutritionist), Michelle (our passionate foodie) and I put Westfield Belconnen’s Dining Precinct to the test. If you’re from the other side of town, the Dining Precinct is along Lathlain Street – the ‘high side’ of the shopping centre, opposite the fire station. Exit the mall and you’ll find a whole host of eating options, including: Grill’d, Adana Turkish, Nando’s – and the three we visited – Sushi Bay, Chong Co and Cold Rock.
This is how it went down.
This is sushi like you’ve never experienced. To start with, as the door opens, you’re greeted with a chorus of ‘BONJOUR!’ from owner Trey and the assembled diners. Yes, it’s a Japanese (not French) restaurant, but it sets the vibe. This place is incredibly friendly and fun.
Seated at the head of the sushi train track, we had our picking of colourful plates adorned with delicately rolled combinations of seafood, chicken, and rice. With so many to choose from it took a few minutes studying each plate as it whizzed by before one of us made the first move.
Between the six of us we shared a smorgasbord of dumplings, deep fried chilli salmon, black rice sushi with crispy chicken and avocado, as well as a few other yummy selections that we can’t quite remember…we had been lulled into some kind of food coma.
The best thing about eating out in a group is that your inhibitions to try something new fade away because you’re guaranteed that someone in the group will eat it up if you don’t. Like Kate Freeman, our resident nutritionist who kicked off a trend of HerCanberra ‘firsts’ by taking one for the team. Embracing a mouthful of eel on a bed of rice, we had to celebrate her courage to try the…er…unusual delicacy. According to her, it just tastes “really fishy”.
Not as adventurous but willing to try something different (and sticking with a colour she knows best), I found a new favourite—prawn and avocado sashimi sprinkled with roe (the orange stuff that looks like little jelly balls sprinkled on top).
But it would have to be Kate’s rookie error with the edamame beans that had our sushi swimming in tears of laughter. You see, what Kate didn’t realise is that you pop the beans out of the shell to eat them, not munch it down whole. It certainly left Michelle a little puzzled as to where she was storing the shells. But although Kate did tell us the nutritionist would be left at home, we were also told that eating them whole is just ‘good roughage’ and wouldn’t do any harm.
A couple of incidents with the soy sauce saw one of us wear it and the other try to create a sea for sushi on the counter top before we donned a couple of crazy hats to pose for Australia’s Next Top Sushi Bay Model (we’ve already hashtagged it!) and to win a $100 Sushi Bay voucher simply by getting the most likes on Facebook, (our money’s on Kate but today’s the last day to vote!).
Filing into Chong Co. next door, the atmosphere was certainly different; despite being filled with people, it was intimate and warm. We were seated in the centre of the restaurant with plenty of room for the dishes (and our fast-filling tummies). Given that Sushi Bay was essentially our starters and entree, we didn’t fall on the first course of spring rolls and curry puffs like hungry magpies. Rather, we took things a little easy in preparation for the main event – four dishes that were truly gorgeous, not just in flavour but presentation too.
Colourful and inventive, Chong Co. is not your standard Thai cuisine. Rich in flavour and generous in size, it was enough to make Kate wish she hadn’t eaten so much sushi.
Each served with a helping of rice on our plates, the sweet and tender lamb in the Massaman curry fell away from its shank, making it easy to share among us. Although, with its detailed presentation including potato flowers and star anise, it took us a little longer than expected to try – that’s the only problem when eating with foodies, everyone needs to snap a pic or two before the spell is broken and the dish devoured! But don’t worry, we’ve plenty of photos that you can see here, here, and oh here…
Roasted duck red curry was definitely the group favourite, and from memory we didn’t leave much in the bowl. We also tried the Fish Fillet that packed a spicy punch but was just as yummy, and the Pad Thai – a perennial favourite.
The culmination of so many dishes shared and enjoyed across three venues in one location, Cold Rock was the last course on our epic progressive dinner through Japan, Thailand and Ice Cream land. Yet despite our full tummies and love for good food, we were determined to see it to the end.
And it was totally worth it.
Not having experienced Cold Rock before, the novelty of smashing ice cream across a…wait for it…cold rock (marble) slab, was new to Kate who, despite usually sticking to fresh fruit desserts, was excited to get behind the counter and try a little handy work for herself.
Picking her flavour of choice from a selection of more than 20, it didn’t take Kate long before she was working it like a pro—chopping, dicing and smashing—and then of course sampling a taste of her “creative culinary” concoction. But the responsible nutritionist that she is, it was no more than two spoonfuls before it was put down. We only wish we had the same strength.
Bumping Kate aside, Michelle was keen to give it a shot too, only this time every mouthful was devoured as the rest of us followed suit. While Michelle has been exposed to the coolness of Cold Rock many times before, she’d never tried her hand at the job she admired from the other side of the counter, and was quick to point out that the best part about mushing the ice cream and your confectionery toppings (think maltesers, tim tams, jaffas, gummy bears…the list goes on) all together is that you’re not left with the remnants of ice cream dilemma. You know, when you’ve eaten all the toppings from, well…the top and left with just a big glob of ice cream.
And then, when we’d all eaten our fill, one of the ‘outside the square’ advantages of dining at Westfield Belconnen became obvious. At 9pm, Michelle decided she needed some new work work shirts, so toddled off to get them. There aren’t a lot of places you can get your food and fashion fix in one go.
At the end of the night, our faces were sore from laughing, and our tummies stretched to capacity. And the bottom line? About $40 per person. How long’s it been since you’ve paid that for a three-course meal? If all this sounds too much fun, why not make your own progressive dinner party? Or stay tuned – in 2015, we’ll be teaming up with Westfield to stage some fun food events that you can be part of!
Want to join the HerCanberra Team at a dining event at the Westfield Dining Precinct in 2015? We’re looking at developing a range of options for friends, for families, and parents who want a date night! Email us at email@example.com to express interest, and you’ll be the first to know!
The authors dined courtesy of Westfield Belconnen.