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Published July 18th 2016
Contemporary Cantonese dining with a great wine list
This little eatery started out in Chatswood a few years ago. A spicy hodge-podge of Asian fusion dishes, the place was notable for its ability to fire out delicious meals quickly at a very reasonable price out of a minuscule kitchen. The reviews glowed as hot as the woks in the kitchen. And then it closed. So I was delighted when I realised recently that it still exists in St Leonards, though it isn't the tiny hole in the wall anymore. It's an altogether different offering, but just as welcome to the North Shore dining scene.
Rice Den's approach has matured and turned to a more traditional fare. The chef is Cantonese, and the dishes here are geared towards producing food that is reminiscent of home-cooked Chinese food.
The space is airy and tastefully decorated, there are abaci gracing the walls, bamboo bird cages enclosing the lights and an installation of woks by the front desk (actually, you can buy the woks, but it looked like an art installation to me!) The space also includes a small Cantonese deli, where you can buy some of Rice Den's housemade sauces, condiment, and loose-leaf teas.
Happily, Rice Den is fully licensed, with an extensive wine list curated by Tetsuya's somelier. The drinks menu includes an extensive range of cocktails, with Asian-themed names like "Canton cooler" (gin, dry sherry, cucumber, coriander, pineapple, lemon) and "Bruce Lee" (Kahlua, salted caramel vodka, cream, vanilla syrup, frangelico). As we came for lunch, I thought it was probably a bit early for the cocktails and opted for a mocktail.
My husband was tickled pink by his oversized, super-strength bottle of the Rice Den's very own beer, and my mocktail made of passion fruit juice and aloe vera went down delightfully.
500 ml Canton lager craft beer and Chan's Dynasty mocktail (lemon, passionfruit, aloe vera, orgeat, soda water)
We started our meal with an entree of the satay chicken croquettes. These were very tasty, mainly because of the spicy sauce that accompanied the croquettes. The chicken filling itself was a little on the bland side for my taste, but when dunked in the sauce it had the kick that I love.
Satay chicken croquettes, kaffir lime, house made chilli oil, sambal mayo, $12
For mains, we had the duck fried rice (which was the special that day) - while also very tasty, at the end of the day, it was a fried rice, and the Canton style BBQ pork neck with molasses and honey glaze. I really liked the sweetness of the BBQ pork - it may look like any BBQ pork plate you would order at yum cha, but the sauce was really sinfully sweet, very different from other BBQ pork dishes I've had elsewhere, and it worked.
Canton style BBQ pork neck with molasses and honey glaze - $20, and special of the day duck fried rice
To finish, I had the vanilla coconut cream sago, a delightful dish that hit all the right notes - sweet, silky, crunchy - just delicious. The waitress informed me that this was one of the few dishes they brought with them from the old Chatswood menu over to the St Leonards venue, because it had "a bit of a fan following". And I could see why.
If you're looking for a classy joint with warming, filling Cantonese food and a lovely vibe in St Leonards, look no further than the Rice Den - it will hit the spot.
Tip: Rice Den is in the Entertainment Book which will give you 25% of the total bill. It's unfortunately still printed with its Chatswood address, but they'll accept the voucher.
Fun fact - there's a great photo-brag wall in the corridor leading to the toilets, where the owner has hung a bunch of photos that capture some of the beauty of Chinese culture, as well as containing a couple of fun endorsements from celebrities. It's worth a look.