Gin Long Canteen

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amazing sambal noodles

date of visit: Wednesday 12 February 2014

Last week, Tara, of Sydney-based food blog VegeTARAian, was in Adelaide so a few blogging types headed out to Gin Long Canteen in North Adelaide for dinner and a catch up (and, in my case, to actually meet Tara for the first time).

Wednesday was a stupidly hot 40-something degree day and by the time I arrived at Gin Long all I was really interested in was a cold beer (or two). Hot weather tends of destroy my appetite, so food-wise I wasn’t feeling picky (not that I ever am). There were six of us at dinner (the minimum number Gin Long will allow you to book for) and our table was reserved for 6pm (again, Gin Long will only allow you to book for either 6 or 8pm). Even at that early time, Gin Long was busy although not at capacity – by the time we left at 8pm the restaurant was well and truly packed. And on a Wednesday night – not a bad effort at all. I would say – don’t go without booking, but …

Gin Long has been a hot venue since opening and, in recent weeks, with the arrival of Nu Suandokmai, straight from the CBD’s Golden Boy, it has become even hotter. The fact that Suandokmai isn’t planning on being in the kitchen long term (the media is suggesting he’ll be opening his own venue at some point) I think adds to the general excitement.

Seated at our table (having been informed we’d be leaving by 8!) and beers in hand, we turned our attention to the menu. With one vegetarian and one vegan at the table we ordered the banquet ($39 per head, minimum of four people) but also ensured that they would be well catered for.

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‘very exciting’: beautiful flavours

Food started arriving quickly. First up the “very exciting” beef salad. This was a light, Thai style beef salad laced with fresh mint. Flavour wise it was excellent but I managed to get a piece of beef that was laden with gristle (and which I had to extract from my mouth most inelegantly!) so that suggests that there’s some room for improvement in the attention to detail department. We also had sugar cane prawns, netted spring rolls (which I didn’t try) and the Malay curry puffs. These curry puffs easily, at this point, the best thing on the table. Crisp pastry, not greasy, a light filling which packed in plenty of curry leaf flavour – I would have been happy to sit down with a huge plate of just these.

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Malay curry puffs: amazing!

Entrées over, our main courses started coming out. I didn’t try some of the vegetarian dishes, such as the chargrilled tofu or the Vietnamese coleslaw, but I did put in a solid effort sampling the rest of the spread. The tamarind prawns didn’t really work for me (and be warned, as they are served with their shells on): there just wasn’t enough complexity of flavour. The braised pork belly was delicious but the star dish was the sambal thin egg noodle. This was a hearty dish with a good whack of chilli spice and topped with an egg. Noodles are one those dishes which can be so one dimensional and almost bland (yes, throwing chilli at something doesn’t necessarily give it flavour) but not these noodles. Plenty of flavour, plenty of heat and plenty of moreishness.

I suspect that some of the dishes may have been a little on the salty side – it wasn’t something I noticed at the time but later on I did have the tell tale slightly dry mouth, slightly thirsty sensation I always experience after eating salty food. But maybe I also just ate too many noodles …

By this time, it was almost 8pm and we were getting a bit nervous about what would happen with dessert. So we asked. “Oh”, said our waitress, “I always feel really bad about this, because people always ask and there is no dessert included”. You would imagine that at this point, we might have been offered the dessert menu … but no. Perhaps it was just too close to 8pm.

I enjoyed the food and thought that it was reasonable value for money. However, I really dislike restaurants with overly complicated booking policies. Part of me understands why restaurateurs make these decisions but, for the punter, they are really too often an inconvenience. The service at Gin Long was erratic: while our orders were taken quickly and food was served quickly, neglecting to tell us the banquet didn’t include dessert (especially when it seems to be a very common query) was an unfortunate oversight. After our food was all served, we were then forgotten about so getting the bill proved to be a lengthy exercise (one of our party has been a few times and says this has happened every single time).

Although Gin Long Canteen has a very funky interior, it suffers from an excess of hard surfaces and, at times during our meal, the music seemed particularly intrusive. And while I’m prepared to concede that I am particularly old-fogey-ish in this respect other people also felt the same way.

My final gripe? The staff need to be identifiable as staff. There was a real mish-mash of attire: Converse trainers mixed with VERY LOUD wedges, outfits dominanted by fluorescent colours, and rather too many hot-pants edged with lace (I realise that for some people this may be a plus …).

If you can’t tell, I left Gin Long with very mixed feelings. I’m not sure I’ll be back in a hurry. The food makes it definitely worth a visit, but unless you’re a bona fide hipster you might leave feeling a little less than cool …

Gin Long Canteen
42 O’Connell Street
North Adelaide SA 5006
phone: 08 7120 2897

Gin Long Canteen on Urbanspoon

Thai Style Fish and Noodle Salad Recipe

Back at home, and recovered from jetlag (but still tired – if I manage to stay up until 10pm I’m impressed!), it’s time to get back in my own kitchen and do some cooking.

This Thai style recipe come originally from Taste, and I was impressed by how relatively few ingredients were involved. By the time I’d finished making it, I was also impressed by how quick it was to put together. I think this would definitely give Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals a run for their money!

I am a little sceptical about how far the recipe will go. Taste says it will serve 4 people but I think that would be four not very hungry people. If you have two people who need a good feed after a day at work – listen to me!

Begin by taking a packet of hokkien noodles (about 400g), putting them in a bowl and covering with boiling water. Leave them to sit while you finely chop some chilli (I used half a long green one) and coriander, and slice some spring onion.

Drain the noodles and toss through the chilli, coriander and spring onion.

Make a dressing consisting of approximately ¼ cup of sweet chilli sauce (trust me on this one – this is something that neither of us particularly like and had to get in especially for this recipe), approximately the same amount of lime juice and a good couple of teaspoons of fish sauce. Whisk this all together and use this to dress your noodles. The idea is that the noodles are served warm or room temperature, not boiling hot, so don’t worry about them cooling down.

Depending on how happy you are multitasking, you can cook your fish while you do all that or you can cook it now. The original recipe uses John Dory, I used flathead* – basically you are after a reasonably firm white fish. I just dusted the fillets with some seasoned flour and pan fried.

To serve, pile some of the noodle salad in a bowl, top with the fish, some chopped toasted cashews and some sprigs of coriander.

Too, too easy. Vaguely healthy (I’m still not sure about that sweet chilli sauce) and very tasty. What more can you want from a dinner that’s put together in minutes?

*Both are species of fish that Sustainable Seafood recommends you think about before using.

Thai Fish Curry Recipe

Thai curry paste

While living in England I was lucky (or skilled!) enough to have a recipe published in The Fairtrade Everyday Cookbook. Recipes, using Fairtrade ingredients, were submitted from across the UK and the best were published alongside those of celebrities and chefs. The launch party was also excellent.

However, aside from me showing off my recipe to anyone with the time to look, the book has been underutilised. As part of my new weekly meal planning regime (something which is making life very easy indeed), I’m choosing a random recipe from a random cookbook each week.

Last week it was the Thai fish curry which was submitted by Karen Darnton from Somerset. This recipe is a brilliant example of how easily you can make a tasty Thai style curry without resorting to jars or packets.

Begin by making the curry paste. Into a blender, put two red chillis, the juice and zest of one lime, 2 stalks of lemongrass* (roughly chop these first, and the younger and more tender the better), a generous teaspoon of ginger paste, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 small onion (peeled and roughly chopped), one finely sliced kaffir lime leaf (my addition because I happen to have some in the freezer – leave it out if you don’t have any to hand) and a good splash of Thai fish sauce.

Whizzy this up and you have your paste. This you can make in advance – it will keep quite happily in the fridge in a sealed container for a day or two.

When you’re ready to eat, heat a wok with a small amount of oil (peanut oil or other neutrally flavoured oil) and, when hot, add the curry paste and stir fry for a couple of minutes. You want the pan hot so that it sizzles, and you’ll need to stir to stop it from sticking.

Add a tin of coconut milk, mix well and bring to a simmer.

Next – add your fish. The original recipe used cod, I used barramundi (my barra had the skin on – and normally I would advocate this – but for this recipe, prefer skin off). You want a firm white fish that won’t collapse. You could also use prawns or even chicken thighs (although then it would be a Thai chicken curry …). If using fish, choose Australian and sustainably fished.

Simmer the curry until the fish is cooked.

The original recipe at this point starts adding things like mango or pineapple to the curry but that’s not how I roll, at all. I added a single serve of hokkien noodles to the pot and simmered away until the noodles were separated and hot. So now I had some kind of cross between curry and laksa.

Finally, taste the sauce and add fish sauce or lime juice as required.

Finish with a garnish of coriander and serve immediately.

While this was not the most complex (or, probably, authentic!) Thai curry I’ve ever eaten it certainly ticked all the mid-week meal boxes. Prep in advance, quick to assemble when you’re ready to eat, and tasty to boot. Definitely one we’ll return to.

* As an aside, lemongrass freezes. If you buy a packet from the supermarket, freeze the leftover stems in a snaplock bag. They defrost quickly. Freezing does make them a little tough so be sure to remove the outer layers before using.