Kingsford's Zhou Mum Cafe opens a new branch in Dixon House Food Court. We're ecstatic. We're dancing. We're partying like it's 1999.
[UPDATED MARCH 2015]
Zhou Mum's cooking reminds us so much of our travels in Southern China. It's a style of food we've seen in hole-in-the-wall restaurants and roadside stalls usually catering to the lunchtime worker crowd. It's nothing fancy, just good homestyle cooking.
We fell in love with the original Zhou Mum Cafe in Kingsford, alas we can't get over to Kingsford nearly as often as we'd like. So when Zhou Mum Cafe opened in our beloved and accessible Dixon House Food Court it was like a dream came true, sans Scarlett Johansson.
Anyhoo, Zhou Mum is an 'economy rice' stall, dishes are precooked and ready-to-go, just like it's done all over Asia. The opening special is three choices on rice for $6.95, which is an absolute bargain.
The dishes change around a bit each day and there's usually at least 15 or so hot dishes and another dozen or so cold side dishes to choose from. Some dishes are familiar, others are mysterious. For folks like us who don't have Chinese nanna, Zhou Mum Cafe is a wonderful place to try out lots of dishes we've never encountered before.
If this style of food tickles your fancy we recommend getting down to Dixon House as soon as you can. Firstly because stalls are often at their best and most interesting when they first open. And secondly, you just never know how long this place will last, it could be six weeks or six months or sixty years, you just never know.
Three choices on rice only $6.95 (opening special). Braised five spice pork is hidden under glorious egg and tomato, with lovely fresh broccoli and cauliflower in plenty of garlic to the side. Eleven out of ten.
Three choices on rice only $6.95 (opening special). On the left is a fair sized hunk of fish on the bone in a thick tumeric\sate flavoured sauce, with a minor chili bite. Buried underneath is an amazing dish of soy beans stir fried with pickled mustard greens. The dish on the right on was a bit of a mystery, it was meaty with a slightly funky flavour, possibly intestines, with a chili bite too. It's not pretty food but dang it's good.
Three choices on rice only $6.95 (opening special). On this visit we have pork meatballs, aka Chinese rissoles. Hidden underneath is the classic crowd pleaser of green beans with pork mince. To the left is a mushroom and veggie stir fry.
Back again for more Zhou Mum magic. After a few visits Mr Shawn has developed a game plan for picking his three dishes from the bainmarie of love: get one safe looking one, get a serve of veggies to balance out the meal, and then take a punt on one the more mysterious, less appetising looking dishes. The uglier dishes have packed the tastiest surprises so far.
The yellow goop at the front above looked mighty scary in the bainmarie, like a blob of congealed goo, but it was insanely delicious - pork and potato in some kind of thick gravy with a light touch of sweet vinegar. To the rear is the safer looking pork ribs in five spice with a touch of Szechuan pepper. On top we have veggies to make nanna happy.
Back yet again for the $6.95 special. Alison has pork cartlidge (yummy pork with chewy sorta bones) with a bit of five spice, tofu skin with black fungus (that's mushroom boys and girls) and liver with cucumber.
[BACK AGAIN MARCH 2015...]
Zhou Mum Cafe has added a large cooked-to-order menu with a handful of dishes we haven't seen elsewhere. We tried a four of them (see below) but haven't found a knockout dish yet, though we've got an inkling there's some gold on that huge menu.
After a good stab at the cooked-to-order menu we still reckon the bainmarie food is star of the show. It's only $7.50 for three choices on rice with a bunch of home style dishes, the likes of which you would be very hard pressed to find elsewhere in Sydney. Make sure you hit it during a weekday lunch hour when the range is big, fresh and beautiful.
Zhou Mum is building a steady trade and is popular with everyone from Chinese overseas uni students to business dudes in sharp suits to super tops old aunties and uncles.
And most importantly, the same awesome smiley lady runs the show, it's worth a visit just to marvel at her super sparkly terrific pussycat t-shirts, and to hear here singsong 'hellooo' when your order is ready.
Hubei style diced chicken with chili pepper $11.80. Little chicken pieces deep fried with a lightly crispy batter speckled with what I (Mr Shawn) thought was crushed Szechuan pepper, or something similar. It's given a good spicy heat with fresh and roasted chilis. Carrot and green capsicum give it a little colour and freshness to counter the fried chook. Peanuts give a little extra crunch. It's like a macho salt and pepper chicken. This would be a killer post-pub dish.
Hubei style potato, green pepper and eggplant - $9.80. Chinese eggplant dishes often swim in oil, and this is a shiny example. It has a light brown sauce flavour to it. Eggplant tastes a touch smokey and potatos taste a touch fried, almost chippy. We prefer this dish over at Yummy Kitchen in Pittsway Arcade, less oil and more yum.
Hubei style rice omelette with chicken (or pork or beef brisket) - $11.50. This looked more exotic on the menu than real life - it's simply fried rice wrapped in a thin plain egg omelette topped with stir fried chicken with some carrot and soy beans in a plain brown salty sauce. This is a real hunger buster, not art but it's a huge serve, a student could live off this for a day.
#81 Home style sautéed tofu - $9.80. Fried sauce-soaking tofu puffs stir fried with beans, carrot, and Chinese greens. The sauce is quite salty, accentuated with lots of white pepper and garlic. There was a couple of slivers of meat in the dish so let the good folks know if you would like it vegetarian.
Zhou Mum Cafe is at the mysterious, eastern end of the Dixon House Food Court, corner of Dixon and Little Hay Streets Chinatown. The original Zhou Mum store is in Kingsford, near UNSW.