1-5 Railway St Chatswood, NSW 2067
|Opening hours||Tue-Sun 11.30am-4pm, 5:30pm-9pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
A trip to Hong Kong usually involves a nine-hour flight from Sydney, but Sugar Cubed in Chatswood can transport you there in record time.
With international travel still out of the question for Australians, stepping into a cafe dedicated to "Hong Kong sips and snacks" is the next best experience.
Co-owners Gloria Wong and Carmen Cheung have created a portal to their parents' homeland, inspired by their own memories of eating there. Wong recalls the curry-sauce aroma from the cart-noodle vendor who only operated at night by the local train station.
"It would permeate the alleyways," she says of the scent. "It was really hard to resist."
Hong Kong was a good place to get hungry: she would raid dessert shops with her mum, and every corner presented an opportunity to order rice noodle rolls, curry fish balls and other street food.
Cheung remembers eating tofu pudding after school with her parents. "This is what home is like in Hong Kong," says Wong. Re-creating that feeling in Sydney is what inspired them to open Sugar Cubed.
It first began as a market stall, where they grilled honey-glazed chicken wings, ladled out congee and served classic Asian drinks, such as grass jelly with coconut.
By March 2019, Sugar Cubed got an upgrade: it became a proper eatery near Chatswood Station.
Its extensive menu has something for everyone: red bean ice-cream floats are a nostalgia-sparking order for the owners' parents and other older Hong Kong expats, while the younger set have gone for the mochi (the glutinous rice desserts are so round and spongy in shape they're sometimes used as an affectionate name for chubby-cheeked cuties).
The recipe comes from Cheung's mum and has been customised to include not-so-traditional flavours, such as milk tea.
This unconventional filling landed them unexpected attention from Subtle Asian Traits' popular Facebook account, where a humorous post about Sugar Cubed's flavour scored 3300 likes.
Soon, Wong and Cheung went from making one tray of mochi a day (and struggling to sell every finished item), to producing six times as many and catering for weddings that demanded 500 mochi serves for guests.
My favourite mochi at Sugar Cubed is the yin yeung flavour, named after the milk-tea and coffee blend that's popular in Hong Kong's cha chaan tengs (Western-style cafes).
The punchy, caffeinated brew with a lingering finish translates brilliantly as a mochi filling. You should order at least three, anything less will trigger regrets.
You can also drink the yin yeung straight. "Whenever people order it and ask for a sugar, I give them a pre-warning," says Cheung. She recalls not being prepared for the one time she had the caffeinated beverage – the buzz was intense.
"I've never had another one since," she says. But if you can handle the tea-coffee hybrid, you should.
Other Sugar Cubed highlights include rice noodle rolls flavour-hit with five different condiments (from hoisin to sweetened soy sauces), congee dressed with sesame oil, shallots and fortified with fried garlic, Chinese doughnuts, soy eggs and other additions, and the DIY fun of the cart noodle section (which you can customise according to your favourite noodle type, sauces and fillings).
There are also desserts you can laden with more ice-cream, fruit and tong yuen (rice dumplings) if you please.
Cart noodle vendors have since disappeared from Hong Kong's streets and childhood haunts can change, but Sugar Cubed vibrantly preserves a part of Cheung and Wong's remembered city in this unlikely corner of Chatswood.
Main attraction: Hong Kong snacks, drinks and desserts with multigenerational appeal, from classic dishes (such as ginger-bathed rice dumplings traditionally served at Lunar New Year) to Instagram-friendly treats, such as milk tea smashed pavlova and not-so-standard mochi flavours.
Must try dish: Yin yeung mochi. You can also pre-order special mochi, such as strawberry cheesecake and durian.
Insta-worthy dish: Smashed pavlova smothered with milk-tea cream and topped with fruit. The ultra-colourful, dessert-filled drinks are photogenic, too.