BAIN MARIES full of slop, plastic seats bolted into the ground, dodgy characters milling about, diarrhoea on the horizon…
I’m of course talking about the good old Aussie food court, which at its worst can be like a low-budget horror movie starring food, or something resembling food.
But in recent years the Augean food court has, like many things in society, being gentrified and boutique food hubs are popping-up that put the old radioactive-looking chiko rolls and sloppy curries to shame.
The Sunshine Harvester Works in Fremantle is one of these new breed of food courts – an old warehouse converted into a funky eating hall with loads of hip eateries and a bar including Kazz’s Jamaican Kitchen, Pantry 92, Union Brewery and Al Pastor Taqueria.
It’s gone down well with locals and has been doing a roaring trade since opening in 2020.
Along with the nearby Heirloom Apartments, it’s also helped revitalise a previously forlorn and sketchy section of Beach Street in the East End, just down the hill from Shacks Holden.
I took my daughter to Sunshine Harvester for an early dinner on Wednesday evening and we were the first people in the door at 5pm.
There’s some paid parking across the road and it’s not too steep with $2 probably enough to see you through a meal.
Inside there was lots of funky upcycled signage and decor, and plenty of space to wander around and get lost in the atmospheric nooks and crannies.
My daughter and I love Asian dumplings, so we made a beeline for Bumplings, which operates out of a very hip Airstream travel trailer; its metal hull cutting a cool swathe through the industrial verbiage.
Bumplings is owned by celebrity chef Brendan Pang, who was a contestant on Masterchef in 2018 and 2020 and specialises in Chinese-Mauritian cuisine.
His compact menu was divided into bites (Chinese cucumber salad, veggie spring rolls, fried cheeseburger bao), dumplings, and rice and noodle mains with dishes including fragrant veggie curry, spicy chicken dan dan noodles and Mauritian pork belly noodles. There was also some daily specials.
Some of the mains looked delicious, but it was our first time here, so we ordered an assortment of dumplings, which are regarded as his signature dish.
After a few minutes, the staffer from the Airstream was along with our bang bang chicken dumplings (eight for $15.20).
There were absolutely outstanding with the large soft steamed cases stuffed with fragrant minced chicken. Soft and velvety with plenty of flavour.
But the star of the dish was the sauce: a dark and exotic pool of sesame sauce, black vinegar and soy, chilli and roasted peanuts.
It was an intense and complex sweet-and-sour concoction with just the right level of heat and some nice texture from the crushed peanuts. It just all went perfectly together and was great value at under $2 a dumpling.
The veggie dumplings (eight for $15.20) were just as good and featured a similar sauce but with no peanuts and not as much chilli, so it was a slightly lighter, demure flavour.
I’ve gone off fried food as I get older – maybe a Freudian hang-up from growing up in Glasgow where even the bed linen was deep-fried – but my daughter likes it and got hoed into the crispy pork wontons (eight for $15.20).
These had pinkish chilli mayo drizzled over the top and a nice little side of Chinese pickles to refresh the palate.
I couldn’t resist a taste and they had a satisfying crunch and a nice little burst of heat from the mayo. My daughter loved them and continued to wolf them down.
The fried beef dumplings (eight for $15.20) came with a little tub of sweet chilli and garlic sauce, and some Chinese pickles. There were more to my liking and had some nice tender beef in them, and I really liked the latent heat from the chilli sauce.
As we sat eating our meal, a queue began to from at Dumplings, while most of the other eateries were relatively quiet, so we had clearly made a popular choice. We took the left overs home, where they went down extremely well, and the entire meal comfortably fed a family of four, which at $60.80 was great value.
Bumplings was a hit and I’ll def be back to try their mains and some more steamed dumplings.
The food court has been reborn and I like it.
The Sunshine Harvester Works
1 James Street, Fremantle
by STEPHEN POLLOCK