Tag: dining

The Kitchen opens in Parramatta

The Kitchen's team (that's Rex in the middle, who is in charge of front-of-house).
The Kitchen’s team (that’s Rex in the middle, who is in charge of front-of-house).

I went to the opening of a new restaurant in Parramatta last week called The Kitchen, which is run by a Filipino-Indian duo called Rex Manaay and Sree Mohanan. The pair have worked together for many years and actually made two attempts to buy the premises, which was formerly Sangria. Needless to say it was a happy night, with cold beer and crisp wine flowing and creative canapes served up by smiling young staff, like this super cool toffee tomato:

It was my first launch party in Sydney and I was impressed by how organised it was. Admittedly I used to live in Myanmar and it’s kind of hard to get things to go as planned there, for reasons too complicated for me to go into in this little blog post. Anyway, I arrived a few minutes past five after scrambling there from my office on Church Street and things had already started. A priest was in the middle of reciting a few verses and then he walked around with what appeared to be a pump spray of holy water. We were given name badges to wear, everyone had a glass in hand and something to eat and the gentlemen at Mode Media who did the organising introduced themselves to me while the staff had some group staff shots taken by a photographer. It was all very smooth.

I’d actually also had lunch there that same day with the ‘Parramatta Foodie’ (she has ten thousand followers on Instagram!!). I won’t disclose Sarah’s surname as that’s kind of under wraps (I was eager for a selfie but she declined – modest or what!), but I can tell you that she’s charming (how many people are friendly enough to agree to have lunch with someone who stalked them on Insta?!) and I can show you what she ate:

The Kitchen Salad with added grilled chicken
The Kitchen Salad with added grilled chicken

I had a halloumi wrap, which was tasty and came with a decent serve of chips that I worked hard not to finish. The lunch menu has healthy options like quinoa salad and grilled salmon as well as what I call ‘man-food’ – burgers, wedges and so on. You can check out the menu here. Sree, who is head of the (actual) kitchen described the fare as “modern Australian.”

“It has a bit of everything. Which is modern Australian, really.”

The Kitchen's kitchen.
The Kitchen’s kitchen.

It has a hint of an industrial feel but keeps things cheerful with lots of light and an open plan, plus potted plants on the wall and whimsical font that says stuff like “I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry.”

The Kitchen is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and Rex said that they are “smashing it” at breakfast and lunch, which is pretty impressive considering it had only opened its doors a week earlier. Rex did say that business slows down at dinner – he thinks because people assume it’s a café from its appearance and therefore not open late, but hopefully guests at the Park Royal opposite will make like a kangaroo and hop across the road (ha ha). Parramatta is known as Sydney’s “second CBD” and it has a huge office population and a great dining scene. But I daresay things are quieter in the evening when the offices empty out (I myself had only stuck around till dusk this one time). Time will tell. Sree and Rex must be optimistic though, because they’re already on the lookout for second and third venues to open more ‘Kitchens.’

The Kitchen has upstairs and downstairs dining and you'll be able to sit outside and eat when the council grants the permit...
The Kitchen has upstairs and downstairs dining and you’ll be able to sit outside and eat when the council grants the permit…

Rex used to work at a posh golf course in Manila and one day while he was working, someone came up to him out of the blue and asked if he wanted to be sponsored to come and work in Australia. Rex said no because he loved his life in The Philippines, but then gave it some thought and decided that his daughters would get a better education here. They started off on the Gold Coast but moved to Sydney so that his eldest daughter, who is contemplating being an engineer, has the chance to study at one of Sydney’s top-notch universities.

“I can’t believe I own a restaurant in one of the world’s greatest cities,” he said with a big grin as his family ate happily at a booth behind him.

It seems you never know your luck in a big city, and I wish The Kitchen the very best of luck.

The Kitchen is on 14/55 Phillip Street, Parramatta, 2150

Ph: 8628 7686

A little bit of Italy goes a long way: Prego at the Westin, Dhaka

Executive Chef Tony Khan

Executive Chef Tony Khan describes Italian food as being “like a mother coming home to you.”  The Bangladeshi-born chef spent 32 years developing his culinary crafts abroad before returning to Bangladesh, where he now heads up the kitchen at one Dhaka’s finest restaurants – Prego at the Westin.

Anyone familiar with the Westin brand will enter with high expectations, but Tony is confident he can exceed them.  His team is comprised of highly trained and dedicated staff, including several who have worked in Italy, and a general manager whom Tony refers to as his “guru.”  Prego uses only the finest imported ingredients from Australia and Italy and blends in local products, such as chili, whenever possible.  Vegetables and fruits are flown in from Bangkok and Dubai.  Prego’s location on the 23rd floor of the ultra-plush five star hotel makes it one of the capital’s classiest dining spots – and it offers one of the most beautiful views of the capital.  And for those who may have assumed that Prego’s prices are out of reach, consider this – a gourmet Italian lunch costs Tk 600, which is less than half of what competitors are charging.

Tony’s enthusiasm for all things Italian is contagious.  With a great big grin and a strong hint of an Italian accent, Tony described the best learning experience of his career.  While living in Melbourne, which he described as “the food capital of Australia,” he learnt to make lasagna and different types of pasta at “Mama’s Kitchen” on Melbourne’s famous Lygon Street.  He said, “I learnt “the A – Z of food preparation from Mama herself.”  As well as being familiar with all styles of Italian cooking, whether it be the spicy Sicilian flavours, the rich aromas of northern Italian cuisine or the gentle blend of south eastern fare, Tony’s full repertoire includes French, Mediterranean, Modern Australian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, African, Pacific Rim and Pan Asian cuisine.  After being trained in Singapore, Tony later worked for King Faisal of Saudi Arabia as well as some of the world’s finest hotels, before coming to Prego to make his mark.  Like any successful chef, Tony takes food very, very seriously – his mantra is “Food is the first medicine for the body.”

Tony’s guru, General Manager Atique Rahman, takes an equal amount of pride and pleasure in what he does.  With a sweep of his arm he said, “As you can see it’s a lovely restaurant and one of the finest in Dhaka.  I’m proud to be associated with it.”  Atique believes that Prego and the Westin outstrip their rivals.  He said, “All the hotels sell beds, food and beverages.  But I think we have an edge over them in terms of service and quality.”  Atique said thatPrego is the only restaurant in Dhaka that is 100% Italian, which, incidentally, is one of the world’s most popular cuisines as well as one of its oldest – it can be traced back to the 4th century BC.

Before returning to Bangladesh seven months ago, Atique spent 35 years in the USA.  After completing his studies, he spent several years working in five star hotels before opening a highly successful sushi restaurant in Texas.  He said, “It is said that Texas is the meat is the meat town of USA – but now they love sushi!”  Atique also spent 18 months as the director of food and beverages at the Playboy Mansion in New York.  Atique said that working for the legendary Hugh Hefner taught him a lot about the entertainment business.  He said, “Hugh Hefner was very humble, but at the same time, he knew what he wanted and there had better not be any mistakes – the club had to be immaculate and everything made according to his specifications.” After spending some time with Atique, it became evident that he too likes to run a tight ship.

Atique returned to Bangladesh in order to spend time with his elderly mother and to make a contribution to the country where he was born.  He said, “I wanted to bring my education and skills back to Bangladesh and to teach the staff here to be better at what they do.”  Customers can see Prego’s staff hard at work in the bustling kitchen, which is located in the centre of the restaurant.  Each section has at least one dedicated staff member, if not two or three.  Chef Rashid, who spent 10 years working in restaurants in Rome, tends to the soups – fresh mushroom, minestrone and fish, as well as preparing fresh sheets of lasagna, cannelloni and fusilli pasta.  He said that working at Prego has resulted in his culinary skills reaching a new level of sophistication.  But as they say – the proof is in the pudding.  And what a pudding I ate during my visit last Saturday night – a delicate rice dessert covered in a rich white sauce with lashings of cream.  The three course meal began with an Italian salad laced with balsamic vinegar and two serves of crisp bruschetta, followed by a succulently grilled catfish that was accompanied by lightly steamed vegetables and a salsa sauce.  Portions were perfect and the flavours were divine.

Prego – which means “welcome” in Italian – opened in Dhaka in 2007.  Tony said that Italian food is a relatively recent addition to the capital – up until five years ago anyone would have been hard-pressed to find a plate of gnocchi.  Nowadays, Prego is doing a brisk trade as it serves up around 1,5000 meals a week.  Atique said that most of his clientele are investors from Europe, America and Asia, as well as embassy staff and NGO workers.  An increasing number of people are dropping in off the street, having been enticed by the prospect of a luxury dining experience.  If you are even half-considering it – I would urge you not to hesitate.