New modern Asian fusion restaurant, XO, has opened at the Narrabundah shops replacing The Artisan. The restaurant is easy to spot with a large artistic mural outside.
Taking on the same narrow space as the previous eatery, the inside of XO is surprisingly bright and light. The exposed brick walls have been painted white, there’s back lighting behind the tan leather banquette and what seems like natural light coming from the ceiling all help keep the space well lit.
I love the personalised chopsticks and can’t help but wonder whether I could get my own personalised chopsticks…The food menu (on the XO Facebook page) has an interesting assortment of dishes that are meant to be shared – starters such as dumplings and bao from $8-$16, small plates from $14-$16, larger plates from $27-$32, side dishes from $6-$12, and desserts from $5-$14.
I was really excited about trying out some dishes especially the Asian bolognaise. I first chose a couple of starters, one of which was the Shangtung bao ($8) with twice cooked pork belly with cucumber, picked daikon and ginger, coriander and mayonnaise. The bao is in two pieces, more burger-style with a separate top and bottom, mainly because the fillings are too large to fit into a regular bao. The thick chunk of pork belly is superbly tender, not fatty and huge. The bao is soft and smooth to touch, and fluffy and fresh to eat. A bit too much mayonnaise for my liking but there was lots of flavour in this bao and I liked it.
The steamed dumplings ($16) with minced prawn and pork comes with a spicy soy vinaigrette come in a serve of four. The dumplings are large with a gorgeous translucent skin that has a suitable thickness to keep the overall dumpling intact. There’s plenty of filling inside the dumpling and I especially like the chopped chestnuts which give a little bit of crunchiness to the dumplings. The spicy vinaigrette has some kick to it. Very enjoyable.
The Asian bolognaise ($16) consists of stir fried udon in XO chicken ragout topped with a 60 degree egg. The bolognaise was deliciously thick with small chunks of chicken. There were also crispy chicken skin crackling tossed throughout to give the dish crunch. It might be strange for some to be eating udon noodles rather than spaghetti, but it still works and I love the Asian-Italian fusion. I was given a side of house made sauce using sriracha, dehydrated Vietnamese mint and vanilla extract. This a genius idea with the vanilla toning down the sharpness of the vinegar in the sriracha as well as adding a delicate sweetness to the spice.
Dessert was black rice pudding ($14) with coconut ice cream, golden honeycomb and lime meringue. The warm, soft but chewy pudding can be rather heavy on its own. However, it’s matched brilliantly with the house made coconut ice cream. The ice cream is seriously super creamy with coconut flakes mixed throughout. So fresh and full of coconut flavour, I wanted another scoop of this. Part owner Kent tells me this dish is completely gluten and dairy free. But how do you make the ice cream without dairy? They use coconut milk to get that luscious creamy texture. Kent said the restaurant tries to use gluten and dairy free products in their food. That’s when I realised that the menu is marked to indicate which dishes are gluten and/or dairy free and which dishes can be made gluten and/or dairy free on request. Back to the dessert, the lime meringue shards added subtle sweet and sour to the dish, while the bright red rice puffs provided pops of colour. The honeycomb gave an instant hit of sweet before leaving a slightly bitter aftertaste. Portion sizes were appropriate – i.e. not too much sticky rice to weigh down the dish and enough of everything else. All great elements that work harmoniously to bring about a blissful union of flavours, textures and taste sensations. Yum!
I was so impressed with this visit, that I returned for dinner with V to try out more. This time we shared the small plate of Sexy Squid ($16) consisting of fried baby squid with sweet chilli salt. This was fantastically crunchy, salty, fried yummyness on a plate. I’d happily order more. I asked why the squid was sexy to which our waitress flourished her hands over the plate and said ‘because it’s sexy’. It was prepared and cooked well, and tasted great, so yes that is indeed sexy.
Off the larger plates menu, I selected the Prawn Kapitan ($27) of spicy Nyonya style curry with grilled king prawns. I was in the mood for a nice hot curry on that cool evening. It doesn’t come with rice so I ordered one serve of steamed rice ($6) too. The prawns came out grilled with half the shell and prawn head still on. This wasn’t too bad as the meaty parts were exposed so I could quickly get to these parts. What I thought would be a classic curry turned out to be three prawns sitting on the plate with curry paste spooned onto them. In hindsight, I should have asked what it would be like. The prawns were fat and juicy, cooked to perfection. The curry had lots of flavour and spice, and I liked the seaweed salad hidden underneath. I was just in the mood for the more traditional curry that night. I think this dish is more suited to the small plates section and I thought the price for what was provided was far too dear. I’m now kicking myself for not ordering the yummier larger plates like the beef rendang or the char siu. Ah well, next time.
V ordered the Vit Tiem – a confit duck leg with shitake herbal broth ($28). The duck was tender and juicy. We both agreed that this dish tasted very Asian, especially from the flavour of the stewed goji berries and the various dried root vegetables in the broth. It’s something my own mum would make. However we instantly noticed the overly salty broth. We passed on our feedback to Kent and he took this on board. The broth did taste very herbal so it might take some getting used to for those that haven’t tried Asian herbal soups before.
For dessert, I chose the pandan panna cotta ($12) with gula melaka syrup and a sesame tuile. I’m not a big panna cotta fan, but considering there were only three desserts on the menu – the only other one being soft serve Chrysanthemum ice cream, I thought I’d try this out. The bright green panna cotta was beautiful both in terms of texture and taste. The fragrant pandan flavour is utterly unique and I absolutely loved it in the form of panna cotta – so creamy, sweet and smooth. It sat in a pool of gula melaka, a sticky palm sugar syrup, which added a little bit more sweetness. You’re not meant to finish all the syrup but I like to pour a spoonful over the top of each bite as the panna cotta itself isn’t overly sweet. The thin sesame tuile is a nice twist to the classic French tuile providing a hint of nuttiness from the roasted black sesame. I’m finding it too difficult to decide which of the two desserts I tried is the best. They’re both so different and so good. One is hot and one is cold so it depends on what you’re after 🙂 The panna cotta is the simplest of the two but the flavour is all there.
I asked about the name XO and the story behind it. Basically, the team figured XO would let people think of XO sauce, hence an Asian restaurant, and it all also means kisses and hugs which is about people getting together and catching up over good food. What dining should be about. The lunch time service is relaxed and quiet while dinner service gets progressively louder across the night. The sweet R&B tunes from the 90s bring back memories and ‘oh wow’ moments of songs and one-hit-wonders long forgotten. Service is super friendly. Jugs of water are provided for each table, orders taken promptly and it didn’t take long for our dishes to arrive even on a fully packed Friday night. I’m looking forward to sampling more of the menu!
XO is open for lunch Tuesday to Saturday, and dinner Monday to Saturday. It’s located on Iluka Street at the Narrabundah shops.
Value for money 7.5/10
FPJ score 24.5/30
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