Saturday, 25 May 2013

Fujiyama, Chatswood

"I can understand what they're saying!" I realised, while paying at the counter. Yep. That's right. Fujiyama Japanese Teppanyaki is operated by bona fide Cantonese-speaking Chinese people. Their food is just as Chinese, but I surprisingly enjoyed it - with the caveat that I ordered and was expecting Chinese food*.

Teppanyaki generally draws a certain type of crowd, and said type of crowd was gathered around the centre of the room. It was greatly entertaining observing their faces brighten in delight as food was being thrown around the room. Despite this, we sat on the outskirts (let's just call ourselves 'The Outsiders').

The Outsiders, as outsiders generally are, displayed more introverted qualities, huddled in small groups around their tables. They usually had a nice view of the wall, though there was one part of the restaurant that gave them window seats - we were privileged to have one window peering out to the stunning Victoria Plaza.

*See Mongolian chicken and fried rice.

Service was fast and we had no problems being seated, probably because it was a weeknight. Food came fairly soon after we placed our order.

The Mongolian chicken arrived, sizzling on a hot plate with carrots, celery and capsicum. The accompanying sauce was sweet - having never had Mongolian anything, I have nothing to compare it against, but apparently it's meant to be sweet.

Mongolian chicken (~$13.00)

Next were the lamb ribs, complete with a dish of some sort of salty spiced-up powder. It didn't really need the saltiness of the powder, as the lamb was salty enough, but the powder did provide an extra layer of flavour. I loved the crunch of the outer segments of meat, and there was plenty of fat to add juiciness to the interior.

Lamb ribs ($15 - $25 range)

The fried rice was pretty standard fried rice. We ate it with the Mongolian chicken.

Fried rice (~$10)

Don't come here expecting a quiet evening - the Outsiders are seated fairly close to the teppanyaki grills, so every few minutes you'll probably hear the roar of the crowd.

Conclusion? I just don't know what to make of the place.

Fujiyama Japanese Teppanyaki Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Phamish, Darlinghurst

Phamish was recommended to me some time last year, but it was only until about a month ago that I actually ventured there (shortly after my trip to Universal, which was right next door), as I had been discouraged by the location, which seemed inconveniently far from the rest of the CBD. Turns out it's quite accessible by public transport (close to the Oxford St bus stops), and on this occasion, I'd dragged along someone willing to battle the stress of city parking. We got there at 6pm, believing that, as it was a Saturday evening, the lines would be incredibly long, but only a couple of tables were occupied at the time - the lining up commenced around 7pm.

I really should have chosen the seats indoors, but I was stupid and selected the awkward three-legged stools, which seemed designed purely to facilitate a higher turnover of patrons. There were a few waitstaff around, but their job was to serve the dishes rather than place your order (interesting mix of self-serve and table service). We placed our orders at the front counter, and thankfully there was no one waiting behind us, cos we must've stood there for an age trying to figure out what to order (their only 'menu' is the wall behind the counter).

The duck and prawn pancakes were a given, and I threw in a pork dish, a beef dish, rice and lotus tea.

When I first heard about the pancakes, I was all for them - I'd been imagining peking duck pancakes rather than the ricey ones, so I have to say, I was slightly disappointed when they appeared in front of me. I was also wary of the mint leaves and bean sprouts - too much of either makes me wrinkle my nose in distaste. My qualms were alleviated when I actually sunk my teeth into them - the high vegetable content makes it taste fresh and adds to the crispness of the duck skin. The meat was generously packed inside and seasoned nicely.

Duck and prawn pancakes ($14.00)

With the entree out of the way, we proceeded onto the mains.

Rice ($2.00?)

The caramelised pork was nice - there was a lot of fresh vegetables and dill and the pork fell apart easily. It reminded me of one of my mum's braised pork and egg dishes (perhaps there's a Malaysian equivalent). In any case, I'm not the biggest fan of braised dishes, so I probably wouldn't order it again, but that's not to say a lot of other people wouldn't enjoy it.

Caramelised pork with egg ($18-19... I forget)

I really liked the beef dish - the meat was cut up into bite sized pieces and cooked until a light crust formed outside. There was also plenty of sweet sauce, which was useful in flavouring the rice. It came with a dish of seasoning, a daub of which made each biteful even more enjoyable.

Bo luc lac eye fillet ($19.50)

There were no desserts at Phamish, which was a pity - were Universal still open, I would plan an outing involving both these places in order to satisfy my sugar cravings.

Phamish on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Faheem's, Enmore

"Where's the best naan you've had?" I asked my Indian friend.
"Faheem's in Newtown."

And so the three of us paid them a visit.

Upon entry, said friend commented, "Perhaps I overhyped this place a little too much."

He had - just a bit.

In a place like this, service doesn't really matter to me - provided we get their attention long enough to have our orders taken and cutlery provided. Which they did. And that's all I'll say about the subject.

The naan was soft, fluffy and tasted just like it should - out of the tandoor and freshly made on the premises. Wasn't oily at all, which was a nice change from the naan you tend to get elsewhere.

Naan ($2.00 a piece)

The tandoori chicken was a bit of a letdown because it was pretty dry. It wasn't lacking in flavour, however, with plenty of seasoning and spiciness.

Half tandoori chicken ($9.50)

The sheek kebab (minced beef with ginger and coriander) doesn't look very appetising, but it was really tasty (and really spicy!), particularly when eaten with the biryani rice.

Sheek kebab ($10.00)

We ordered a beef and lamb curry, which looked the same to me. Aside from the type of meat, the curry probably also contained the same ingredients (tomatoes, oriental herbs and spices was the description on the menu).

Nihari ($12.00)

Lamb curry ($10.00)

The chicken biryani, with its aromatic flavours of ginger and garlic, was one of my favourites of the night.

Chicken biryani ($12.00)

I finished the meal with a pistachio flavoured kulfi (similar to a creamy ice block, except not as partial to melting).

Pista kulfi ($3.50)

In conclusion, Faheem's may not be pretty, but the food is tasty and fairly cheap.

Faheem Fast Food on Urbanspoon

Monday, 20 May 2013

Waqu, Crows Nest

Waqu was offering a 6 course early-bird special on Friday nights (at the time it was $58 per person, but it's been lowered to $55 since then), so I dragged one of my Japanese-food-loving friends with me. Situated in Crows Nest, parking was a little tricky to locate, particularly close to the Pacific Highway. Nevertheless, we managed to park on Holtermann St and strolled off to Waqu.

I loved the sleepy, intimate atmosphere of Waqu - the lighting was a bit dim for my liking, but my friend was facing the wall lights, which were apparently more than bright enough.

After ordering, we were provided with a biteful of crispy cornbread and cream.

Amuse bouche

In addition to the 6-course menu, I had a cocktail (there were Friday specials so I just could not resist) dubbed "Yuzu Citrus". It consisted of yuzu liqueur, jelly, sparkling wine and lime juice. The jelly evoked the same texture possessed by those aloe vera drinks that you can get from Asian supermarkets. The citrus was quite useful to clear my palate throughout the meal, and as with all good cocktails, there was just enough bitterness from the alcohol to make it extra enjoyable.

Yuzu Citrus ($9.00)

1st course: Pumpkin soup with kaffir lime and (if I recall correctly) some sort of nutty foam, which was purely aesthetic. Normally I turn my nose up at pumpkin soup because it's... well... pumpkin soup. However, the kaffir lime provided an interesting twist that nullified any of my negative thoughts.

Japanese pumpkin soup

2nd course: Scallop confit, sake cooked mussel, dill cream sauce and ponzu daikon. I tend to rate scallop highly on any plate, and this was no exception. The fact of the mussel being cooked in sake made no difference to the taste. I thought it was interesting that they added okra - my mum includes it in one of her fish curries, but I've never had it in a restaurant before, so it was nice to see an underrated vegetable on a plate.

Scallop and mussel

3rd course: Chicken galantine with mochi rice okowa, miso essence, shimeji, soba seeds, rice and peanut tulles. The waiter explained that even though galantine sounds French, this particular dish is actually traditionally Japanese. Not sure whether that's true, but it tasted alright. It wasn't particularly memorable, but it wasn't bad either - the chicken was moist and the peanut tulles were a novelty.

Chicken galantine

4th course: Pan fried barramundi - I was given the choice between this and salmon, but the barramundi just sounded better. It came with onion puree, pinot noir syrup, roasted leek and macadamia sprinkled over the top. It made my mouthwater - loved the crunch of the barramundi skin and the soft texture of the fish. I wasn't the biggest fan of the way they did the leek, but overall not bad.

For our 5th course, we were given a choice between duck, lamb and steak. I chose the lamb, my friend ordered the duck, and then we did a swap.

5th course (a): Roasted duck with dark cherry sauce, beetroot puree and coffee chocolate crumble.
The duck was moist and flavoursome - I preferred this dish, but according to my friend, the lamb was just as good (except with muted flavours). I love beetroot, so the beetroot chips were an excellent addition.

Roasted duck

5th course (b): Cabernet marinated lamb with fig balsamic vinegar puree, chestnuts, fig fritter, spiced bread crumbs.

Tender lamb, consistent theme of figs. The only issue I had was that this lacked sauce, which made it a bit dry.

Cabernet marinated lamb
6th course: Lychee lime mousse & pear compote with blood peach sorbet, lemongrass jelly, rosehip sauce.

Light dessert, rosehip sauce was nicely sour, interesting combinations (you can tell I've run out of writing steam).

Lychee lime mousse & pear compote

The food was served one after the other at a pretty fast rate (though that may have been because we were early bird diners and were expected to return the table at 8pm), but you aren't made to feel like they're rushing you. The waitstaff is charming, attentive and even amusing when explaining each dish. Having had a pretty disappointing lunch elsewhere that day, my experience at Waqu restored my spirits once more :)

Waqu on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Oxford Social, Darlinghurst

To be honest, I childishly don't want to write about this restaurant. I'd be helping word spread, it'll get even busier, and the prices will be bumped up :( At the same time, these guys are so congenial that you can't help but want this place to take off on the food scene. And take off it potentially could, with its fresh flavours, dynamic menu and cheerful hospitality.

Oxford Social's black and yellow signage can be a little hard to miss (the friend who took me there mentioned it a while back but I could never quite spot it). However, if you're like me and frequent Oxford St on public transport, the landmark to look out for is the Happy Herb Shop a couple of doors down from it.

Once inside, you're greeted warmly, seated (we made a booking in case it was one of their busy days), and served water garnished with a slice of lemon. I reached for the drinks list and couldn't resist ordering a cocktail (see below). I tend to nurse my one glass of alcohol for the duration of the entire meal, so I take care to choose citrus cocktails. This one was not only acidic, but contained floral notes (too bad I can't remember what they put into it!).

"Fiasco" ($16.00)

Oxford Social's menu is made up of specials, entrees/ "grazing" and main meals. My friend and I opted for a number of grazing plates to eat tapas style. Based on my friend's prior experiences, we started off with 4 dishes but later added 2 (which was regrettably 1 plate too many - I was uncomfortably full by the end!).

The grazing dishes are served together, so it felt like a banquet was being set in front of us. It also didn't take long at all for the food to arrive, which speaks highly of their efficient service.

The first dish I attacked was the chicken tenderloin, one of the day's specials. It was marinated in soy, lime, coriander and chilli, and set on a bed of watermelon and wasabi salsa. It sounds a bit adventurous, but the components that stood out the most were the lime dressing and salsa. The chicken was moist, tender and warm, contrasting nicely with the freshness of the salsa. If you're a bit queasy about eating wasabi/ mustard, fear not: the mustard flavour isn't overpowering at all.

Chicken tenderloin ($16.00)

I moved on to the autumn salad, which contained asparagus, pear, goats cheese and semi-dried tomatoes. Once again, the dressing contained mustard, but once again, it wasn't overpowering - the dressing was more cheesy than anything else. The rocket helped to cut through the cheesiness, the pear contributed moisture, and the semi-dried tomatoes added a punch of acidity. I'm not usually someone who will buy a salad costing more than $10.00 (they're often incredibly simple and just as grassy), but this one was definitely more complex than your usual garden salad, and a whole lot more palatable.

Autumn salad ($14.00)

The bruschetta was up next, and done amazingly well. The bread was toasted until crusty, soaked in olive oil, and served with a mix of semi-dried and fresh tomatoes. I could also taste balsamic dressing, which tends to go well with these sorts of vegetables, and I was surprised that, considering the amount of liquid soaked up, the bread still retained a lot of crunch.

Bruschetta ($7.00)

If I had to pick, the highlight of the evening would have been the scallop dish - paired with Serrane ham and a puree of celeriac and leek, I couldn't have enough of it. The scallops were very lightly grilled and that puree was so addicting I wanted to lick the plate. Pity we didn't order bread to go with it.

Grilled scallops ($16.00)

The arancini balls and prawns were added on afterwards because I was greedy. 4 courses would have left room for dessert, but after those arancini balls, I couldn't think of eating a 7th course.

Ahhh prawns. I do love my seafood, and just as with the scallops, the prawns were cooked very lightly. The prawns were laid out in garlic pernod (liqueur) cream sauce with braised fennel, which upon first glance we thought was pasta.

Prawns ($15.00)

I wasn't a big fan of the arancini balls (they were deep fried and contained leek, mint, chilli, fontina cheese and semi dried tomato. They tasted better after rolling them around in the lemon beurre blanc, but it was nevertheless a bit of an effort eating 2 of them because they were so carby and filling. The interior of the balls was rice-like in texture, reminding me of risotto balls which are so often served at cocktail events. It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't the best thing to eat at the end of a meal. It was also kind of jarring to eat something lardy, having been consuming lighter food for the first 2/3rds of the dinner.

Arancini balls ($15.00)

Were I to consume the exact same dishes again, I would probably rearrange the order of eating to go something like this: salad, bruschetta, scallops, arancini balls, chicken tenderloin and the prawns. However, when I return to Oxford Social (and I most definitely shall), I plan on tasting their mains and desserts!

Oxford Social Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Central Baking Depot, Neutral Bay

 Central Baking Depot ("CBD") was recommended to me by a friend who had visited the Sydney city store and fallen in love. I visited the CBD website and saw that they had a branch in Neutral Bay. As it's closer to where I live and in a location where I figured there would be fewer people, I decided to pay a visit to that store instead.

The process of finding this branch had us positively flummoxed because the address stated 7/19-25 Grosvenor Street, which seemed consistent with all the other busy hipster-looking establishments. We walked up and down but just could not find it, and on Google Maps it was situated off of the street (more on Grosvenor Ln). We should have paid heed to Google Maps in the first place, as it was exactly where Maps said it would be!
Coffee: Good, smooth on the palate. Moving on.

Flat white ($3.10)
The lamb sausage roll was lovely - I was afraid that it would taste too much like lamb (that sickening aroma/ flavour where meat hasn't been marinated well), but the mince was completely inoffensive.

Lamb sausage roll ($4.50)
The beef brisket pie with mushrooms and red wine was just as enjoyable. The pastry was really crunchy on the outside but quite moist inside, which I personally don't mind (at times I actually prefer it). However, those who detest soggy pastry should stay well away. The chunks of beef were tender and the red wine made it just that little bit more gourmet.

Beef brisket pie ($5.80)
To finish off, we shared a sweet danish - blackberry and apple with a light custard. It might have been nicer if it was toasted, though I suppose warm custard doesn't sound quite as appealing. Despite its small size, it was pretty dense and filling. I'm glad I was talked out of getting a 4th item.

Blackberry danish ($4.00)

Inside the danish

And no, $5+ pies are not exactly cheap (e.g. if you want to take half a dozen home for arvo tea), but for a sit down lunch where we shared 3 pastries between two (and which kept our stomachs full for 4 hours), $7 a head is not bad at all!

After the quick lunch, we headed off to Bradley's Head, which had gorgeous views of the harbour. Will definitely have repeat visits to Neutral Bay and its surrounds :)

Central Baking Depot on Urbanspoon

Marque, Surry Hills

I haven't been posting anything the past month or so because work (and my social life) has been absolutely torrential. However, I figured I should actually post something before my "Places to blog about" list becomes even more extensive when I head out tonight.

I visited Marque during lunchtime to taste their 3 course Prix Fixe menu. At $45 (+$5 for water), I thought initially that it was an absolute steal to be eating at one of the best restaurants in Sydney. Some might think that it's well worth it, regardless of what they serve (due to the intricate procedures employed for the preparation of the ingredients, etc.), but after my visit I didn't feel tempted to return.

We had booked for 2pm, so the 12pm lunch crowd was still withdrawing when we arrived. The premises are small, but I did not expect the restaurant to be so loud and busy - they were, in fact, so busy that they forgot to give us napkins. I had to attend a meeting that was scheduled for 4pm, so I was worried that I would have to cut the session short - my friend assured me that they normally finish up within an hour and a half, giving me plenty of time. Marque proved him wrong.

Anyway, first up was the amuse bouche - squid ink pillow with Buddha's hand (a citrus fruit with the appearance of a grotesque bright yellow hand) and pumpkin filling. The "pillow" was light and crisp, accompanied well by the sweetness of the pumpkin and zest of the Buddha's hand. Unfortunately, it set high expectations for the rest of the meal, which went downhill from this point.

Amuse bouche

 The entree of cured salmon arrived, accompanied by (very dried up) dill, beetroot and horseradish. It was a really fresh dish and I loved the combination of dill and salmon (almost counteracting my dislike of cold entrees/mains in general). At the same time, part of me thought it was too simple for what a 3 hat would be expected to offer.

Cured salmon

 They came around with bread. I picked sourdough. It was soft and did well to mop up what little sauce there was.

White sourdough

The second time they offered bread, I went for the rye, which contained what I think tasted like cumin (it looked like cumin, but it could have been caraway for all I knew). Sadly, the butter was still chilled and difficult to spread.


 Next we had a beef short rib dish with boudin noir, broad beans, pickled pear and hazelnut. The beef was slightly rubbery, though at least it was far from dry. The broad beans, pickled pear and hazelnut surprisingly went pretty well together, though I would have preferred the pear to be a tad less crunchy (the generous amount of hazelnuts contributed plenty of that already). The boudin noir provided a nice amount of salt to the dish - I personally have a gag reaction to anything involving blood and offals, though, so there was only so much I could swallow.

Beef short rib with boudin noir

Having been forced to face one of my fears, I was looking forward to a comforting chocolate dessert by the time I was done with that second course. It wasn't that comforting. If the impression they were aiming for was that of a clump of soil/ rock with bits of grain, I guess they succeeded very well. It certainly looked better than it tasted - although "Chocolate, malt and mandarin" sounds alright, the mandarin was intensely bitter and the chocolate wasn't much better.


 By this time, it was nearly 4pm and I was desperate to leave. We asked for the bill and were given custard. I shovelled its entirety into my mouth and hurriedly paid. It tasted like my mum's creme caramel, except with a hit of alcohol (hence named after the dessert wine, Sauternes). Not the biggest fan of creme caramel, but it was uniquely presented and a whole lot better than the chocolate dish preceding it.

Sauternes custard

Based on my above experience, I'm not inclined to re-visit to sample their degustation menu. I might return in 6 months to give their Prix Fixe menu another go, as (according to one of the friends eating with me on the day) their food is normally a lot better.

And yes, I just managed to make the meeting.

Marque on Urbanspoon