A blogger on The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry, Lee Tran Lam is a vegetarian with a healthy appetite for new food experiences. She believes the hallmark of a great eatery isn't just the quality of the food served, and loves the fact that Sydney has moved well past its days of serving "bad Mexican".
By
April Smallwood

3 Aug 2011 - 10:27 AM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

A blogger on The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry, Lee Tran Lam is a vegetarian with a healthy appetite for new food experiences. She believes the hallmark of a great eatery isn't just the quality of the food served, and loves the fact that Sydney has moved well past its days of serving "bad Mexican".

We grill Lee Tran for her top restaurant picks, thoughts on the blogosphere, and how she balances her two greatest loves.

Where in Sydney would you say has the best restaurants on offer?
Surry Hills is famous for being a dining jackpot, given its over-concentration of good places to eat - it's no secret that you'd never go hungry on Crown St, whether you're after a good cafe like Fouratefive or a more special-occasion place like Bentley. There are lots of great pockets of dining across Sydney, though, and I like how things can pop up in unexpected locations (like an excellent Mexican joint in Narrabeen, for instance).

Which cuisine do you think stands out in Sydney’s multicultural food scene?
There's always the mainstays (dumplings in Ashfield, Vietnamese in Marrickville, etc), but I like how there's been a wasabi-strong spike in Japanese restaurants in the last few years, and that Sydney seems to have gone into "bad Mexican food rehab" and started to have more interesting offerings on the chipotle-fiery front (Mexicano, El Loco, Barrio Chino, etc).

How do you find out about the next exciting place to eat?
It's a mix of being nosy and reading, mainly: Twitter (chefs, critics and bloggers are great to follow); magazines and newspapers (Time Out, Gourmet Traveller, Good Living in the Sydney Morning Herald); online media like TwoThousand; friends; and word of mouth.

What makes a restaurant stand out?
It helps if it offers a twist on what's already out there (novel attractions like popcorn while you wait for your order at Orto Trading Co. or all-you-can-eat petits fours as Arras was doing, for instance, or menu originality – like the amazing smoked potato mousse at Bentley; inspired rice paper rolls at Miss Chu; or interesting breakfast options like at Bangbang). Great food is crucial, sure, but so is good-humoured, professional and friendly staff and an inviting environment that lures you out of the comfort of your home.

Do you have a restaurant that you continually go back to?
Duke Bistro and Bentley are the fine-dining places I've been to the most and are always worth the saved-up pennies. I really enjoy everyday eateries that aren't as much of a wallet stretch, too: places like Miss Chu and Black Star Pastry that do affordable food extremely well.

If you could only eat three meals for the rest of your life, what would they be?
It's hard to say no to a greasy bag of hot, golden-crisp chips; I love a good soy-splashed, zesty and sweet Japanese noodle salad. And I could never get bored of eating the watermelon, rose, strawberry and mascarpone cake from Black Star Pastry.

Which three chefs would you invite out for dinner?
I really like the work of Sam Bompas and Harry Parr, who do everything from architectural jellies to fruit punch so large you can row a boat through it. And I think Yu-Ching Lee, who was won a lot of hearts for her blog, Lemonpi, and desserts (at Sepia, Bentley and Marque), would be great to have a good mealtime conversation with.

What is your favourite food event in Australia?
I often end up missing out on a lot of food events, because vegetarians tend to be forgotten. Macaron Day at Adriano Zumbo is a lot of multi-flavoured fun, though.

How has the food blogging world evolved over the past five years?
It definitely has exploded and you're always tripping over new blogs. It's great that there are so many different perspectives out there. The "blogs versus mainstream media" debate is a little tiring, and one-sided, though. I've worked in magazines for nearly 10 years, so I don't see established critics as "the enemy". If anything, I have a lot of respect for them, but it'd also be nice to see editorial integrity as a big deal, whether in blogs or traditional print media.

How do you balance your love of food and music? Which one plays a greater part in your life?
They're both things that I'm incredibly enthusiastic about – I'm always looking for the next band whose music I'll fall in love with, as much as I'm curious about which undiscovered eatery I next want to share with my friends. They both offer great excuses to spend time with people and to pass on something you want more of the world to know.

Is there any crossover with your foodie fans and your FBi radio fans?
A little, I guess. Funnily enough – and I hope this doesn't make me sound too dorky – the one time I've ever been "recognised" from radio was when I went to Tetsuya's for my birthday and the waiter worked out who I was (which is funny because I am not at all "famous"). He was such a great waiter (his name is Colin George) and I sent him a thank-you card afterwards 'cause the service was magical. A few years later, I was at Bistro Moncur, he came out of nowhere and said, "That's Lee Tran", because he recognised my voice from another room!

What would your blog followers be surprised to learn about you?
I think people assume I eat amazing "blog-worthy" food all the time, which isn't true. If there are 21 meals in a week, you only need one or two good eating instances to blog about. That said, when I go on a holiday, I like to divide the time into the maximum possible mealtimes (and eateries to visit) and I end up overbuying pastries, snacks, bread or chocolate, so sometimes I end up having pralines for breakfast just to keep up with my food stockpile (and make room for more eating purchases/experiences). Not healthy, true, but it does make holidays more fun!

Follow Lee Tran Lam on Twitter.