Though I'm glad I don't have to face the stress of peak hour traffic, there are times I wish I worked in the Perth CBD. With Alissa usually working on Saturdays and many restaurants closed on Sundays, many of the more casual eateries on our Perth CBD wishlist are a real challenge to get to. For this reason, Alissa having a Saturday off from work was an opportunity we just had to make the most of, and we went straight to the top of our list with a long awaited lunch at Noodle Forum.
Noodle Forum has been on our wishlist ever since hearing about it earlier this year, and when a post on Queen of Bad Timing's blog revealed that the noodles were made by chef Erich Wong using the bamboo pole method I knew we were in for a real treat. This traditional method of making noodles was featured in the Hong Kong episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and is considered a dying art - even there it is so rare that Bourdain's guide suggested that in 8-10 years no one in Hong Kong would know how to make noodles in this manner. Bouncing up and down on the bamboo pole, Erich works the dough's gluten in such a way that it results in a perfect noodle with an unmistakable 'bite'. Erich is the only person in Australia making noodles in this manner; with the global rarity of this skill and more than 40 years spent perfecting his craft, Perth diners are in an extraordinarily privileged position.
Having seen long queues out the front when we visited nearby Mexican/Korean fusion joint MIX, I insisted that we arrive 15 minutes early for their 11am opening on the Saturday. While Alissa went to get coffee from across the way at Pulp, I watched Chef Wong at work before he came out for a quick chat with me. A friendly guy with an infectious enthusiasm for his life's work, Wong told me about the years it took for him to come to Australia and how he persevered through rejected immigration applications and time spent working in Germany all because he wanted to make even better noodles with the high quality flour we produce in this country. And the restaurant's dedication to quality goes across the board; all chicken, pork and beef used by the restaurant are free range and no MSG is added.
Joining us for this meal were my parents Alan and Maya. My mother has a gluten intolerance, however she decided trying Chef Wong's handmade noodles was just too good an opportunity to pass on, and that she would deal with the consequences later.
We settled in at one of the long tables in the beautifully modern restaurant (see top photo for the layout and stunning mural on the back wall). For starters we ordered a basket of Fried Wantons served with a spicy dipping sauce.
As with the noodles, all the wanton dough is made in-house. Made with a baby spinach dough, these wantons were fried to a perfect crisp. The filling was a well seasoned and flavoursome mix of prawn and pork, with the prawn in juicy, chunky pieces. The spicy mayonnaise had a nice spiciness, with capsicum, garlic and mustard giving it a pleasant complexity of flavour. A tasty starter, the couple at the table behind us actually ordered one serve each as they obviously felt these were too good to share!
I decided to go with the BBQ Pork Noodle - slices of tender barbecued pork rubbed with Hoisin Sauce and a spice mix and served with wilted Choy Sum and Wanton Skin Crisps. The pork was as juicy and flavoursome as one would expect from free range pork, with a good ratio of meat to fat and a deeper, darker colour to the red coloured char siu more commonly served with this type of noodles. The noodles were however the real star of the show, with a wonderful chewiness resulting from the bamboo pole method's signature bite. Cut to the perfect thinness and and cooked perfectly, these were truly the best cooked thin egg noodles we've eaten - not just in Perth, but anywhere I can think of in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore or Malaysia. The noodles were flavoured perfectly too, with the sauce they were tossed through being at the right level for the noodles to be coated but not drenched, and with seasoning and flavour in perfect balance. Being chilli fiends however, the addition of the sambal and pickled chilli was a mandatory addition, with the fine pieces of fried dried shrimp in the sambal giving it an even stronger umami taste, and the vinegar in the pickled chilli providing some pleasing acidity.
Alissa went with the Crispy Chicken Fillet. Again the quality of the produce was obvious, with the juiciness of the chicken meat being a textbook example of why free range chicken makes for a better product. The outer coating of the crispy fried chicken had a texture similar to karaage, although it did not have the same gingery flavour of the Japanese classic. Topped with the spicy mayo used for the fried wantons, these were possibly even better than the pork. With the noodles being identical to my bowl, Alissa and I decided to share the chicken and the pork to get the best of both worlds.
My father ordered the Signature Wanton Noodles, served in an optional dry style with the soup on the side. Again, the main noodle bowl followed the same delicious blueprint as what Alissa and I ordered...
... with the bowl of wantons on the side being the main point of distinction. My Dad was impressed by the generous serve of wantons - by his reckoning, there were at least 10 in the bowl and he was kind enough to share them with us. Though smaller than I prefer, the wantons were practically flawless. These wantons had what we believe was the same delicious filling as the fried wantons, but the skins were clearly different and tailored to the silkiness required in wanton soup. The broth itself was out of this world - clear but intensely flavoursome, the broth tasted like it had arrived at its umami-rich taste through the honesty of boned boiled for hours on a stove. It was all the better for it.
My Mum's Mee Pok was the most different order of the lot, but was as delicious as the thin egg noodles the rest of us enjoyed. The noodles were the perfect thickness with the same bite were experienced. There have been times when I've ordered Mee Pok and been disappointed by how it falls apart and becomes gluggy, but with Chef Wang's skill, these were perfectly cooked with the right amount of elasticity. As with the thin egg noodle dishes the balance of sauces was spot on, with the vinegar used with the restraint the best examples of this dish exhibit. The gluten content did make my Mum feeling unwell by the evening, but with Mee Pok this good she said it was totally worth it - and that she'd do it again.
The Verdict: Excellent +
Noodle Forum definitely lived up to all my expectations; Chef Wong's noodles were up there with some of the best noodles we've ever had, and really showed that sometimes the old ways are really the best ways. I remember saying that Kitchen Inn's wanton noodles were just about my perfect wanton noodles, but tasting handmade noodles using a bamboo pole has made Noodle Forum my new favourite. Its almost unbelievable that a practitioner of this dying art is making noodles in Perth of all places; noodle fans seriously couldn't be luckier and owe it to themselves to get down to Noodle Forum as soon as they can. Throw in vegetarian options and the fact all their noodle dishes sell for less than $12 each, and its got to be one of the most impressive cheap eats in town.