As with most other food bloggers, I tend to link my blog posts about restaurants back to Zomato (a restaurant search website/app which took over Urbanspoon a few months ago). And for good reason - it's an easy way for people to find out more on a particular restaurant, more people stumble across your blog, and Zomato proves its usefulness by facilitating the exchange - so everyone wins. When you start posting reviews to Zomato, it tells you how many people have 'seen' your review on the website (I suspect it 'counts' a view even if someone scrolls right past it), and if the numbers are anything to be believed, there are a lot of people searching for somewhere to eat on Zomato.
Which leads me to think... how did people, in the 'olden days', find out where was good to eat? For me, it's pretty easy these days - I'll hop straight onto Zomato, check a couple of reviews from bloggers I'm familiar with, and have somewhere picked out in under 5 minutes. But 10 years ago (and granted, I wasn't long out of school so I doubt I would have been looking for anything to eat other than Mi Goreng and late night food vans), there were no food blogs or Zomato, there was little social media, and Time Out magazine wasn't even around then. So I imagine you would have to rely on a critic's review in the paper, word of mouth through your networks, and as a last resort - actually having to eat at the restaurant in question to find out whether it was any good!
For those of you who have transitioned from Urbanspoon to Zomato, one of the obvious changes is in terms of how you 'rate' a restaurant, and in turn how that affects a restaurant's score. If you don't know, Urbanspoon used a simple binary voting system - either a 'I like it' or a 'I don't', and the restaurant's score was reflected as a percentage of how many people had voted 'I like it'. With Zomato, you rate a restaurant out of 5.0 (in 0.5 increments), with the restaurant's overall score being the average of all individual scores.
Why am I talking about this? Well, I don't mind a bit of maths (hello... I'm Asian) and with the change in scoring system, I've had to recalibrate how I interpret the scores on Zomato. Back in the Urbanspoon days, pretty much any restaurant above 80% would be worth going to. Now, you don't need to be Asian to know that 80% translates to a score of 4.0/5 on Zomato, but I saw pretty quickly that there weren't many places getting scores of 4.0 or higher. When I thought about it, I guessed that people were seldom going to give a score of 4.5 or 5.0 and that most were going to hover around 3.0 and 3.5, which in a way, means that the Zomato system is less indicative than the old Urbanspoon system (which is counterintuitive given that the rating has more qualitative-ness to it than a simple thumbs up or down).
Anyway, my recalibrated way of interpreting Zomato scores (and as I said, I always double check a few blog posts just to make sure there's nothing funny going on) is:
Anything above 3.5 - high likelihood of being good
Anything between 3.0-3.5 - still probably worth trying
Anything between 2.5-3.0 - not terrible but probably not worth the effort
Anything below 2.5 - avoid!
Edit: Now that I'm using Zomato for Sydney restaurants more so than Canberra ones, I've noticed that each city has a slightly different range of scores too - with Sydney scores hovering more between 3.0 and 3.5, and Canberra ones generally higher up between 3.5 and 4.0. There's even a banh mi place in Canberra with a score of 4.5, which - even though they're pretty good - means that it rates higher than Marrickville Pork Roll, Sepia, Sokyo, Est., Quay, Tetsuya's, and the list goes on... SO! The take-home message? You still have to visit a restaurant to make your own mind up :)
Which brings me to Albee's Kitchen in Campsie (they also have a restaurant in Kingsford). It's a bit of a Campsie institution, and has been serving cheap and cheerful Malaysian Chinese food for years. And it's Zomato score? Currently - 3.9. Let's go!
Albee's sits along Campsie's main thoroughfare, Beamish Street, with its prominent maroon signs and large pictures of its food inviting you to step in. As we enter, it appears that all the tables are full (always a good sign, especially since it's a Monday night), so the lady tells us to walk through the kitchen and find a table out the back. We tiptoe through the kitchen, not quite sure whether we've gone the right way, but eventually we reach what I assume to be the 'overflow' dining section. It's only got a few tables, and the 'residential-style' windows and fixtures lend a distinct 'family dining room' feel to it!
Albee's menu is full of Malaysian favourites, like Hainan chicken rice, nasi goreng, nasi lemak, curry mee, and plenty of sambal options. We decide to start off with a couple of curry puffs ($2.80 each), and a serve of the Malaysian fried chicken ($7.80 for 3 pieces). The curry puffs are pretty sizeable, and resemble Cornish pasties with their little pleat on top. The filling is a predominantly vegetables with a bit of chicken, and half a boiled egg right at the top. It's got a bit of spice without being overwhelming, and definitely takes care of that initial hunger you have when you sit down at a restaurant!
The fried chicken is really crispy and has a bit of extra heat compared to the curry puffs. We're surprised (and happy) to find that the pieces of chicken have deboned, so there's no time wasted on trying to get the last bits of meat and skin off the bones like you would with KFC! The chicken meat is nice and juicy, and if you have the willpower to pause for a second in between bites, you can notice the distinctly yellow-coloured marinade in between the skin and meat which no doubt provides all of the flavour. Winner winner fried chicken dinner!
For drinks, we've ordered a cold soya bean milk ($2.80) and a ginger iced tea ($4), which are both sweet and refreshing.
Out next is the Hainan chicken rice ($9.50), which includes the plate of gently poached chicken with a chilli sauce and a ginger and shallot oil, a bowl of 'chicken' rice (i.e. the rice that's been cooked in the reserved chicken liquid), and a bowl of chicken broth. The chicken itself is cooked really well, with those distinct ginger and garlic flavours coming through; and the rice, while not as tasty as other versions I've had of this great dish, is still enjoyable and soaks up all of the dressing under the chicken.
If you haven't had taro before, I highly recommend giving it a go. It's a root vegetable that has a white or purple flesh, and is used equally in savoury and sweet dishes. I had a fair bit of it going up as it's used quite widely in a lot of Asian cuisine, but it's also popular in Africa, Central/South American, and the islands of Polynesia (according to Wikipedia, Nigeria is the world's biggest taro producer, producing 4.4 million tons of the stuff in 2009). Albee's Malay Style Taro Cake ($5.80) is very moreish, topped with bits of dried radish and shrimp, and resembles the delicious radish cakes you get at yum cha (although a little bit denser).
The Sambal Okra ($16.80) ticks off our 'green vegetable' component of the night, and the okra's been cooked just long enough for it to soften, but not so long so that the inside goes all slimy (okra has a lot of natural 'slime' inside, which is not necessarily bad... but it's nice to have some crunchy, un-slimy okra occasionally!). As expected, it's also got that spicy sambal kick to it.
Last of all, the Seafood Char Ho Fun ($13) arrives. It's covered in a tasty gravy that hides the rice noodles, but moving some of it aside reveals the stir-fried noodles, which have some great flavour and texture from the wok.
Like many other Asian restaurants in Sydney, Albee's Kitchen represents great value for money. For 2 people, we've clearly ordered a lot (!), but for our $65 spend, we're absolutely full to the brim and have 2 full takeaway containers to take home with us as well. You could just as easily come here and have a plate of $13 noodles to yourself and walk away quite happy.
282 Beamish Street, Campsie
(02) 9718 8302