Kopi-Tiam Spice Alley

Beef brisket with noodles and dim sum basket from Hong Kong Diner.
Beef brisket with noodles and dim sum basket from Hong Kong Diner. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

Kensington Street Chippendale, New South Wales

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Opening hours Mon-Sun 11am-10pm
Features Cheap Eats, Outdoor seating
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)

We should probably to take a second to acknowledge that the term "Hippendale" is being bandied about right now. This bandying should stop immediately. Just because Chippendale has developed into Land of the Delicious, Arty and Beardy with the new Kensington Street development joining LP's Quality MeatsEster and Brickfields, doesn't mean we should suddenly denude it of its 'C'. That's just mean. And lame.

So everyone's talking about Automata and the many exotic ways you can mispronounce the name. My current favourite is "Autotomato" but feel free to riff – hours of fun. The Old Clare Hotel's had the pressure-hose treatment (oh, if that old sticky carpet could talk) and word on the street is the rooftop pool is going to be party central, come summer.

But we're not interested in any of that right now. And why would you be when you can wander down a dark alley full of unfinished construction materials? Persevere here, folks. 

Take a seat: Kopi-Tiam Spice Alley.
Take a seat: Kopi-Tiam Spice Alley. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

On the other side of this dimly lit mini maze is Kopi-Tiam - a mini hawker lane paved with cobblestones, fairy lights, unforgiving little metal chairs (nobody's behind could enjoy these, surely?) and tables filled with food stalls selling everything from single chicken wings (only a buck!) to hotpots and nasi lemak.

Let's back up a little. Because we need to have a word about the money situation. This is a cashless operation, with two options when it comes to snack payment. Either pay wave at each of the stalls or go the whole hog and load up a Kopi-Tiam card from the cashier dressed like the kid from Pokemon like you're at Timezone. Happily, whatever you don't spend, they refund. Or you can just keep it charged till next time.

This evening I'm determined to spend every one of the $50 I've loaded onto my card.

Salt and pepper chicken wings from Old Jim Kee.
Salt and pepper chicken wings from Old Jim Kee. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

First up, there's Alex Lee Kitchen and their (actually pretty decent) nasi lemak. They serve their chicken curry thigh bone in, though the accompanying coconut rice is a little dry.

Neighbouring Bang Luck, however, do quite the mussel pancake. It may lack the briny puff you might find at say, Spice I Am (hey – that's some stiff competition), but it's probably the second best thing in the alley.

Here's the thing. While the idea of this little alley is essentially sound, the actual execution of some of the dishes could do with a bit of attention. See the frisbee-like roti (stick to the fat rice, Alex Kee Kitchen), and an underwhelming hotpot of chicken and smoked Chinese sausage from HK Kitchen. It's definitely a case of good vibes over great eats here.

Thai mussel pancake from Bang Luck.
Thai mussel pancake from Bang Luck. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

But at the same time, I'd definitely go back – there's a char kway teow​ I'd like to put in my face and at the risk of sounding like an utter creep, I really do like eating dinner in a dimly lit alley.   

It's that $1 wing that wins dinner with its crisp, salty battered skin and juicy interior. Just imagine buying 50 of those and setting yourself up in the park – if only for the delightful task of asking for "50 chicken wings, please".

THE LOWDOWN
Pro tip
 Load up a Kopi-Tiam card and have a snack free for all. It's just like paying with Monopoly money. 
Try this Just order a plate of $1 chicken wings and have at it.
Like this? Alice's Makan rules when it comes to wallet-friendly inner city Malaysian food. 500 George Street, Sydney, 02 9262 7771.

http://kensingtonstreet.com.au/