Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Sake Restaurant & Bar, The Rocks

Sake Restaurant & Bar, a modern Japanese restaurant, is lauded by many for its fusion style and trendy atmosphere - not to mention its impressive collection of premium sakes (but I'll leave the analysis of the sake list to the alcohol connoisseurs). My own experience, however, has left me wondering what all the fuss is about.

I came to Sake a bit earlier than my booking for drinks in the bar/ foyer area. Waitstaff was friendly, but when when it was time for us to be seated, we had to follow up on it ourselves. No big deal. We were led into the restaurant and were greeted with a loud chorus of "irasshaimase!"

Dimmed lighting and a multitude of wooden furniture were the usual ingredients for a charming setting, but this romance was quickly negated by the relatively high noise level. We were only a group of 4, yet we had to lean forward to listen to each other.

Such sleekness.


We all had cocktails. The ladies went for the pink blossom, a fruity mixture of choya umeshu (Japanese plum liqueur), passionfruit, chopped strawberries, and cranberry juice. Pretty delish, though the alcohol content was pretty low.

Pink blossom ($18.50)

The Boy tried something more manly - the hattori hanzo. Named after a famous samurai/ ninja, this was a concoction of gin, yuzu sake, jalapeno and salt. I found it to be strangely addictive, but the Boy preferred the pink blossom.

Hattori Hanzo ($18.00)

We were told that the menu is for sharing, so we initially had our hearts set on 5 dishes - 1 entree and 4 mains. I was tempted to order rice for everyone, but decided against it because of the sushi rolls. The waitress advised that we order an additional entree. It still wasn't enough food, which proved my initial gut feeling right in thinking that bowls of rice would have been appropriate.

Dishes are served in batches. The starters come first, followed by the dishes classified as mains on the menu, and then sushi rolls (which are normally the size of a main at similar restaurants). I'm not a fan of this system, because it means that if you come across a sauce you want to save for another dish, it'll either become cold before the other dish arrives, or the waiter will swoop it up before you manage to get a word in.

Steamed wagyu dumplings were the first to arrive, along with the accompanying sour dipping sauce. The menu said it was to be spicy as well, but it was pretty mild. The wagyu filling was simple and would have been too beefy if the ginger hadn't been included. Shell, with her German/ Polish descent, was reminded of her roots and mentioned that they taste like Polish dumplings, or pierogi.

Steamed wagyu dumplings ($19.00)

The tonkatsu cups were 4 crunchy medallions of panko-crumbed pork belly, each about the size of a 50 cent coin. The waitress suggested we pick them up in their lettuce cups and eat them in one bite. Loved the crunchiness, but you can't really tell that it's pork belly (it felt like there was more breadcrumb than meat), and there was way too little food for an $18 sharing plate.

Tonkatsu cups ($18.00)

The first main arrived - miso-cream scallops. All 6 scallops were cooked well, tasted great as expected with mushrooms and the cream sauce, but no way is this a main. There are instances where I'd rather trade in "art" for a decent meal, and that was such a time.

Miso-cream scallops ($32.00)

The scampi tempura is more reasonably portioned. There's a lightness when you bite into the batter, and the sweet ponzu sauce is highly enjoyable, contrasting nicely with the bitter sharpness of those little red seeds sprinkled on top - does anyone know what they are? They certainly aren't jalapeno peppers.

Scampi tempura ($36.00)

Alaskan king crab maki was a let down for me. You can barely feel the meat, let alone taste anything - overpowered by the rice. The roll was a decent length, but the diameter/ height was actually quite little - around 4cm. At least it was a stomach filler. With all of Shaun Presland's qualifications, I don't think this roll represented him very well :/

Alaskan king crab maki ($20.00)

The spider maki was a lot tastier - the soft shell crab was crunchy and juicy. I had a more satisfying spider roll the other week at Tatsuya in Artarmon though...

Spider maki ($19.00)

We were about 3/4 full and lined up another couple of mains, which I reckon were actually priced reasonably and what we should have ordered in the first place.

Popcorn shrimp was good - moist, crunchy, tasty. Lots of prawn. The menu says it's spicy but it lies.

Popcorn shrimp ($29.00)

Buta no kakuni - 12 hour braised pork belly with a 64 degree hen's egg that releases liquid gold. Generous amount of radish. Radish was a bit too crisp for my liking- I prefer mine boiled through until soft. A good winter warmer.

Buta no kakuni ($30.00)
We were really really full by then and so we vacated our seats. When I made my online reservation, there was a message warning me that each seating is limited to a maximum of 2 hours. I thought, "Fair enough", and we left with half an hour to spare. Seeing the impressive queue at the entrance for those without a booking, I can now see why they need them.


Granted, nothing particularly adverse happened that night. We weren't on the receiving end of isolated incidents of rude service, nor was anything inedible. Quite simply, it didn't feel like value for money (even taking into account the fine dining premium ). On a per head basis, the damage wasn't so bad ($75pp, including cocktails and 3 bottles of $9 water). The pricing of each individual dish is what draws most of my ire, particularly given the miserly portions and disappointing sushi rolls.

Saké Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Thainatown, Haymarket

Thainatown's a really basic Thai eatery which, as its name suggests, is in close proximity to Chinatown (although further east along Goulburn Street than the main strip of pubs and restaurants near World Square). With white tiled flooring and garish lighting, my friends and I felt a prick of dubiousness, but we ruthlessly squelched these misgivings and ventured inside. Please excuse the photo quality - taken with phone camera.

Chrysanthemum tea (~$3.00)

I ordered the crying tiger, expecting a plate of chargrilled steak with an accompanying spicy sauce. What I received was a pretty underwhelming plate of slightly grey, limp beef strips. There was no sauce - looking back in hindsight, I think we were expected to scoop sauce from the little metal bowls on each table. The beef was tasteless and not particularly enjoyable to bite into. I guess I got my money's worth, though, because there was a LOT of beef on that plate.

Crying Tiger (~$11.00)

The sticky rice was a large bowl's (2 - 3 rice bowls?) worth of rice, steaming hot inside a woven bamboo basket. They made it pretty well and it tasted great with the ingredients of the tom yum soup.

Sticky rice (~$3.00)

The tom yum soup stock was flavourful (albeit a bit sweeter than expected and not spicy). It had strong flavours of lemongrass and cooked coriander, while mushrooms and prawns made up the majority of solids.

Prawn Tom Yum soup (~$9.00)

My overall feelings are torn. It's certainly value for money because what the crying tiger lacked in flavour, it made up for in portions, and vice versa for the tom yum soup. I just don't think I'll be trying much meat here next time.

Thainatown on Urbanspoon

Monday, 21 April 2014

Mr Jin, Chatswood

Mr Jin is a shrine to Chinese professional tennis player Li Na, and it is the first tennis restaurant that I've ever come across. According to the Boy, who's been here a couple of times, it seems that Mr Jin Fu Sheng's restaurant originates in the city of Wuhan, Li Na's place of birth. As the food is traditionally Chinese, the theme seems limited to the decor. One wall is covered with photos and articles of Li Na, some of which describe a visit that she paid to the original Mr Jin restaurant during an Australian Tennis Open tour in China. Another wall bears paintings of Li Na and various other (unidentifiable) tennis players. Of some amusement were the tennis balls dangling from the ceiling.

Dishes here are mostly banquet-style, meaning that they are best for sharing in groups of people. Most of them fall within the $20 - $30 range, though of course seafood dishes bear market prices. Service is friendly, a plate of prawn crackers is available upon arrival, and there's actually chilli oil that's more chilli paste than oil :)

Chilli oil!

We had 2 meat dishes and a plate of noodles, the exact names of which I completely forgot. I'm sure this lapse in memory is completely excusable, as the menu was vast and the Boy ordered everything in Mandarin so things were a mystery to me anyway. We ended up eating less than anticipated because the portions were so generous - but that just meant half of it was put into a take away box.

Our chicken dish was simple but tasty, and stir-fried in a light amount of soy sauce. It went pretty well with the wheat noodles, which were creamy and a little oily. We'd also ordered a lamb dish, which they brought out along with a portable stove. The lamb wasn't as enjoyable because the cuts of meat that they included were quite fatty, nervy and tough.

Stir fried chicken


Stewed lamb

At the end of our meal, we were given little lime and orange jelly cubes - similar to the ones some yum cha restaurants sell in their dessert carts.

Mr Jin on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Marukame Udon, Chatswood

Marukame Udon has been in Chatswood for a few months now. I was put off from coming for a while by the long queues and the self-serve system that places like Oiden have. It was thankfully half empty when I visited on a Friday evening, though when we finished eating, almost all seats had been filled.

I tend to prefer ramen to udon because of the egg noodles and richer, thicker soup. The tonkotsu udon I selected was thus a pleasant surprise. The toppings were those that you would expect to accompany ramen (such as bamboo and boiled egg), and the soup was a lovely pork-bone broth. As much as it would scandalise the udon-lovers, I was ecstatic to find that I was pretty much eating ramen with udon noodles :D

I hadn't realised there was a spicy version of the tonkotsu broth, which is why I'd purchased the spicy miso paste separately (and so I foot out an extra dollar). That paste is really really addicting. Ate it with the noodles, the sides, and later, dumped the rest in my soup. It gets pretty spicy, but it is soooo worth it.

One piece of a side costs $1 - 2 each, and I'd picked out a battered chicken drumstick, tempura prawn and a.. I forget what that little round disc is. The chicken was heavily coated in some sort of pasty, floury batter, but it was all quite sodden (probably left out too long) so I took off the batter and only ate the chicken. The tempura prawn was crunchy, though.

Tonkotsu Udon ($7.90)
Miso paste (~$2.00)

Marukame Udon on Urbanspoon

Pino's Ristorante Pizzeria, Crows Nest

Pino's Ristorante Pizzeria has been around for over 40 years, so I have no idea what it was like back in the day. Despite the negative comments on Urbanspoon that its standards have slipped (particularly in relation to service and the wait for food), our group of 6 had a pretty good Saturday dinner there.
We were seated upstairs, near a long table of about 16 people who were celebrating a birthday. They talked really loudly and blew those annoying whistles, but we somehow managed to tune them out. Framed photos of Florence provided a good conversation base, and we chattered easily until the pizzas arrived (about 15 to 20 minutes).

The rocket salad was really simple - a lot of rocket leaves, some shaved Parmesan, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. We took out the pine nuts because of Shell's allergies, but I don't think it made too much of a difference to us carnivorous ladies. Clearly, the salad was pretty much ordered so we could say we had our 5 veg (5 rocket leaves!).

Rocket salad ($14.00)
Ordered 3 large pizzas. The pizza base is soft despite being thin crust (if you're a fan of thin and crispy, you're going to be disappointed, but I personally like softer doughs because they're less dry, and these pizzas were certainly not dry). The cheese melted over the top added a lovely richness.

The pizzas were (in order of photos)
1. Pollo - Chicken, avocado and sundried tomato
Safe combination, tasty nonetheless

2. Salami e Tartufo - Salami, mushroom, bocconcini, white truffle oil
Turned out to be my favourite pizza that night.. I'm a huge mushroom lover, and that truffle oil brought me to fungus heaven <3

3. Porcini e Salsiccia - mushroom, Sardinian pork sausage, cheese and basil (that little sprig on top)
Though the toppings sounded similar to the salami pizza, they were vastly different. The pork sausage had a minced up texture, and it was probably the driest of the 3 pizzas.

Pollo pizza - Large ($25.00)

Salami e Tartufo ($26.00)

Porcini e Salsiccia - Large ($27.00)
Corkage felt pretty steep, considering my friend brought one bottle of wine and not all of us drank - over $20 ($3.50pp x 6). But then again, I never BYO so I don't know if that's a reasonable price?

Pino's Ristorante Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Bravo Trattoria (59 Willoughby Rd, Crows Nest)

We opted to have ice cream at Bravo Trattoria, just a couple of doors down from Pino's. A little expensive - 2 scoops for $6.80, but the gelato's great. Had 1 scoop of taro and 1 scoop of ferrero rocher, which were delicious in their own right - but probably not the best combination to have side by side :/

Since taro is my favourite frozen yoghurt flavour, I was glad that this tasted just like it, except for the creamier gelato texture. The ferrero rocher was nutty, chocolatey and oh so very rich. Looking back in hindsight, I should have traded off the taro for the coffee flavour, since coffee and ferrero rocher balls are such excellent companions.

Poor Shell couldn't have any dessert there because of her nut allergy - she asked the charming European waiter if the tiramisu had nuts, had her hopes raised up when he said he didn't think so, but which then got cruelly dashed when he delivered the bad news a few minutes later. We were reassured that they do have nut-free coffee, though!

Ice cream @ Bravo Trattoria ($6.80)

Bravo Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Friday, 18 April 2014

Globe Bar @ The Langham , Millers Point

Before the heritage building housing the Sydney branch of The Langham joined the international chain, it used to be a boutique luxury bearing the name of the Observatory Hotel. We'd been to the Observatory for high tea many years ago and had enjoyed the atmosphere, so my family decided to pay a visit post-ownership-change.

On the ground level and next to Galileo the restaurant, the Globe Bar & Brasserie offers Tiffin afternoon tea sittings that start from $49 on weekdays and $59 on weekends. Wooden bookcases, dim lighting and dark upholstery differentiate this lounge from its more formal, British counterpart. Kind of like distinguishing between the more relaxed drawing rooms from the sitting rooms a few centuries ago in England. Both elegant and formal, but with different purposes.

There's a relatively small list of teas to choose from, but there's a good mix of black, oriental and herbal teas. I opt for the sencha green tea, which tasted a little strange - sour notes and lacking the fragrance that usually makes green tea so identifiable.


Our 3-tiered stands arrived. On the savoury plate there were smoked salmon and cream cheese, beef (I think?) and egg sandwiches, as well as chicken pot pies. The finger sandwiches were pretty standard, while the pies were pretty tasty, though the pastry was more dense and soft than flaky.

Finger Sandwiches

The scones, with the double cream and homemade strawberry jam, were quite tasty. Mum wasn't the biggest fan of them because they had quite a biscuit-like texture (she prefers the soft, cakier scones), but it's hard not to find scones that have that slight crunch.

Plain and raisin scones

Due to the vast variety of sweets, we couldn't finish them all, but we were assured that we would be able to take them home in plastic boxes (except for the rhubarb crumble, as they were in those little ceramic pots). They were all really sweet - the sweetest was probably the slice of mud cake, because it was pretty much a slab of thick, fudgy chocolate ganache. The little banoffee "pie" was good - the cream, thin slice of banana and the chocolate pastry balanced against the intense sweetness of the caramel inside. I'm not the biggest fan of rhubarb because of how sour it is, but I think the rhubarb crumble was pretty standard, as were the maracrons.

Pastries and cakes

And so we left at the end of our 2 hour seating with stuffed stomachs and still had a box of goodies to take back with us!

Globe Bar (The Langham) on Urbanspoon

Parlour Burger, Sydney CBD

A few Fridays back, I ordered a burger and fries to go from Parlour Burger, an offshoot of the Morrison. The waitress mentioned that they offer a choice between medium and well-done patties. Not wanting to risk contracting salmonella, I opted for the latter. And so we waited. And waited.

20 minutes went by, and the people who had ordered before us were still waiting. They started to check on their orders, and we did the same. "Yes, it's coming" was the general response. Another 15 or so minutes later, our takeaway bags were passed to us. Nearly 40 minutes for a burger and fries.

"It's black! Why is your bun black?!" a friend exclaimed. All other reactions to the black widow burger were similarly incredulous. Thankfully the bun didn't taste like carbon, and the addition of charcoal seems to have purely enhanced the aesthetics/ novelty. The bun was quite fluffy inside, but otherwise fairly ordinary.

The burger was probably smaller than average, but I'm a small eater so it was filling to me. Chipotle mayo was creamy and lightly spicy, while the burger patty was... alright. It wasn't bad, but there were little nervy bits inside that required me to spit discreetly into the paper bag from time to time.

Was it worth waiting for? I don't really think so.

Black widow burger ($10.00)
Well done patty
The duck fat chips cost nearly as much as the burger. And there's not much. While the angle of the photo might enhance the minimalism of the chip numbers, it's actually quite an accurate portrayal. The chips were also quite limp, and being fried in duck fat as opposed to normal oil seems to have done little to the taste. Certainly not something I want to pay $8 for again.

Duck fat chips ($8.00)
I was really ticked off at the time, considering you can get a burger and chips with bigger portions from a food court almost instantly for less than $10.

Parlour Burger on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Mejico, Sydney CBD

Mejico's received a lot of hype since it first opened its doors a little over a year ago. I'd been avoiding the place because I didn't want to hyper-inflate my expectations - I've long realised that Sydney-based Mexican food has a long way to go to compete with the stuff I tasted in London (and despite sounding like the gourmet travellers on My Kitchen Rules, London has quite a few saliva-inducing Mexican-inspired restaurants).

The Boy and I had a chia concoction each (chia-based mocktails). Mine was the white nectar, which reminded me of those Asian aloe vera drinks that you buy to trick yourself into thinking you're opting for the healthy alternative to soft drink. I was similarly hooked. The menu said it also contained coconut, a subtle hint of which permeated the drink.

White nectar ($6.50)

Food came pretty slowly... It took 10 to 15 mins for the waitress to come over to make our guacamole, another 10 to 15 mins in-between the guacamole and tacos, and the ribs arrived 15 to 20 mins later.

The signature guacamole was served with plantain chips (a fruit/ herb similar to banana). Mashed with a mortar and pestle at our table, we witnessed bits of pistachio, chilli and lime juice being ground into dollops of avocado. Normally I'm crazy over guacamole, but this tasted a little bland? I think it needed something like salsa to add moisture to an otherwise creamy paste. And more chilli. Saved a bit to eat with the tacos, but as the dishes come in bits and pieces (and we were famished), we'd gobbled most of it up.

Signature Guacamole ($12.00)

When my boss heard that I was going to Mejico, he really talked up the trout tacos. Can't say he was wrong, because the trout was light and seared beautifully. The chipotle mayonnaise and jalapenos added a bout of much needed flavour. Highlight of the meal.

Trout tacos ($16.00)

The chicken tacos were alright. Came with chorizo, cumin and cucumber salsa. Not dry or tasteless, just overshadowed by its fishy sibling.

Chicken tacos ($16.00)

It took a while for the glazed pork ribs to arrive. There were maybe.. 6 ribs? It was quite a heavy dish, particularly paired with the polenta. The glaze wasn't spectacular, but tasty enough. Meat was tender and fell off the bone.

Glazed pork ribs ($38.00)

Of the 4 food items I ordered off the menu, I would probably re-order the trout tacos (delicious!) and the ribs (as a stomach filler). It's not to say the other 2 were bad, but they weren't that memorable/ can't quite justify the prices.

Méjico on Urbanspoon