Two Sticks

The M.C. Escher-esque interior.
The M.C. Escher-esque interior. Photo: James Brickwood

694 George Street Haymarket, New South Wales 2000

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Opening hours 11.30am-11pm, seven days
Features Cheap Eats
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)

Geez, talk about quick sticks … After scooting over to an ATM and dodging the rants of a paralytically incorrect gent outside Scruffy Murphy's, everything I'd ordered not five minutes before was waiting impatiently on the table for my return. Except, that is, for a side of crinkle-cut chips with coriander and chilli ($3.80) that the waiter informed me would be MIA that evening (I was mildly put out, then, that a bloke who rocked up half an hour later was served the very dish I was so declined).

Anyway, you don't head to one of the few Yunnanese places in Sydney for novelty fries. It's with reason that $11.80 clay pots of Crossing the Bridge Noodles (known here as Yunnan signature rice noodle soup) are hoovered up by almost every Asian student in this cramped canteen. They're very good.

The story goes that a Chinese fat-cat ordered his son to live in solitude on an island so he could study for the Imperial Yunnanese HSC without distraction. The family cook struggled to keep the boy's lunch warm on the long bridge-trek to the island each day and solved the dilemma by making a super-hot stock with a layer of chicken fat on top to lock the heat in. Noodles and meat would then be added on delivery. There's another version of this story involving a fisherman and his wife, but you get the idea.

Go-to dish: Yunnan signature rice noodle soup.
Go-to dish: Yunnan signature rice noodle soup. Photo: James Brickwood

At Two Sticks, the chicken fat has gone and the bridge has been replaced by a room resembling an M.C. Escher interpretation of a Bunnings timber aisle. Polite staff slide paper-thin raw chicken and pork (and a bonus quail egg) tableside into the soup, prod it for a bit and then leave you to add pickle, chilli, noodles and matchstick-thick strips of bean curd at leisure. The round rice noodles are whiter than Robert Pattinson's cheekbones. They slurp up nicely and take all the flavour of a smoothly agreeable soup with them.

The same noodles feature in a cold salad of pork mince, chives, chilli oil, peanuts, cucumber and carrot batons. It's refreshing, and at $5.80 suits both off-pay-weeks and steamy evenings in the city. Elsewhere, an appetiser of cold-cut beef with sweet sesame paste ($4.80) delivers the biggest umami hit this side of dousing yourself in Vegemite and running headlong into a fish sauce factory.

This is not a place for Lazy Susan Sundays. It's a sit-down-inhale-noodles-get-out sort of joint that hits the perfect trifecta of well-priced, quick and quality. This probably explains the line-up out the door.

The biggest umami hit this side of dousing yourself in Vegemite.

Do … wait at least a minute for the meat to cook when added to the signature soup.

Don't … expect much legroom.

Dish … Yunnan signature rice noodle soup.

Vibe … Imperial Chinese for the fast-food generation.