Monday, 30 June 2014

Taipei Chef, Artarmon

Work has been pretty hectic lately, which means there's limited time to spend eating food in far away places - not that I go to many far away places anyway :/ We've been spending our lazy Saturdays stuffing our faces in Artarmon, and one of these eateries is Taipei Chef, which is absolutely packed at night but not so busy in the day.

We decided to order a banquet-style lunch and selected 3 meat dishes to share. Out of curiosity, I also requested a beef noodle soup, which turned out to be a clear broth with rice noodles and strips of beef. Something like the Taiwanese version of pho. The soup grew on me, so I drank most of that and gave the majority of the carbs to the Boy to slurp up. Despite what it looks like in the photo, it was actually a decent size. It's a good thing we didn't order rice as well, because then we would have had to take away the other three dishes.

Beef Noodle Soup ($11.00)

Next up was the Boy's favourite seafood - pippies! He wasn't too impressed with the taste - a little bit too fishy for his liking. I didn't notice though - pippies generally taste heavily of brine, don't they?

Pippies (approx. $25)

The scallops were cooked in a sauce similar to that which came with the pippies. Standard Chinese scallop dish, so I was quite happy.

Scallops (approx. $25)

Lastly, the Mongolian chicken - not that this is a Taiwanese dish (I'm not even sure if this is Mongolian). It came sizzling on a hot plate with onions and carrot. Tender chicken, tasty, lots of sauce. Clearly Mongolian meat dishes come in a wide variety of styles, as I remember other such dishes being drier/ having more spices.

Mongolian chicken ($15-20)

I'd imagine this place is great to come to if you're in the area and craving something non-Japanese, or if you're just keen to pick up some takeaway on your way home.

Taipei Chef Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Subsolo, Sydney CBD

They say that when you make a habit of setting your expectations low, you're bound to be pleasantly surprised. This was definitely the case for Subsolo, since the first sentence I think when the word tapas is tagged on to a restaurant description is "this is going to be a rip-off". In a smaller group, perhaps our wallets would have been feeling much lighter. However, our band of 7 left the premises having tasted at least 8 menu items, feeling almost uncomfortably full and smiling at the pleasant service we'd received- all for around $30 per person.

Living up to half of its name, Subsolo is a subterranean restaurant (read: basement) in-between Wynyard and Town Hall. Thankfully there were plenty of lights as well, so at least we could examine our food here :P

After much debate, we decided to share everything. Thus, our parade of food descended from waiters' hands in the following fashion:

Though we had ordered both styles of patatas, I had neglected to take a photo of the creamy patatas aioli ($9), which outshone its ("fiery") tomato-coated patatas bravas ($10) sibling (below) in flavour. The tomato sauce of the latter was actually pretty spicy, which normally wouldn't be a problem, but there was something sharp about the whole dish that made it a little offputting.

Patatas bravas with fiery tomato sauce ($10.00)

The pork belly with Calvados apples & Jerez cabbage ($24) was one of my favourites. The brittleness of the crackling made it difficult to cut in half, but it was well worth the struggle to share the tastiness of this dish. Pork belly has the tendency to go dry if not done well, but the apple and red cabbage helped immensely to moisten the meat.

Pork belly tapas ($24.00 for 4 pieces)

The Spanish meatballs on Romesco sauce with cheese ($18) were good but not that memorable. I don't recall having issues with the mince (little nerves/ hard bits that have to be spit out), which I think is a great trait to find of one's meatballs.

Spanish meatballs ($18.00)

By this time, my appetite was satiated. However, the food kept coming, the others kept eating, and I had a bit more room in my stomach, so what choice did I have but to push on??

The Valencia ($39) is Subsolo's signature paella dish. It's an all-in-one dish with chicken, chorizo, mussels, chunks of fish, and calamari. Lots of rice below, but there was plenty of meat to go around, even if it was solely placed at the top.

Valencia Paella ($39.00)

Since I figured the chicken & pork chorizo paella ($34) would be the same as the Valencia, except without the seafood, I decided not to dig into that one. Our non-seafood eaters were pretty happy with it, in any case.

Chicken & pork chorizo paella ($34.00)
Our final round of dishes arrived - the skewers. Despite the generosity of the meat, I wouldn't recommend either of these. The chicken fillet with peri peri ($32) was very spicy/ salty and it was just too flavoursome for any of us. The Pork Belly with Chorizo skewer ($36) was not as heavy on the palate, but exceedingly dry and tough.

Pork belly and chicken fillet skewers ($36.00 and $32.00 respectively)

Would I return? Sure. I'd just avoid the skewers at all cost.

Subsolo on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Joomak, Chatswood

Joomak is a Korean restaurant near the Chatswood branch of Fitness First. It's not far from the train station or the Victoria Avenue shopping strip, but it's still a little out of the way compared to the other restaurants and shops. It was thus surprising that the restaurant was half full on a week night - the food must be pretty authentic because the other diners were Korean.

Considering there are so many baby chairs, I'm thinking young families are most welcome...

The ambience was cosy, even with (or should I say because of?) the video clips of KPop bands that were projected onto one of the walls.

The Boy ordered a steaming pot of pork backbone immersed in pork bone and cabbage broth (ppyeodagwi gukbab). The meat was soft and came off the bone, but the stock was a little lacking in salt. You could regard that in a positive light - restaurants tend to add too much salt to food. Since the Boy's meal came with rice, small plates of condiments appeared in front of us- bean sprouts, chilli potato, lettuce and some onion. Sadly no kim chi.
Ppyeodagwi Gukbab ($13.00)

I'd selected the dumpling ramen, as I wondered at the time what the Korean equivalent to ramen was. It was pretty much instant noodles in a spicy stock (possibly instant noodle msg soup) with 5 boiled dumplings. If it did come out of a packet, I'd like to know what brand they use, because that was really satisfying - and it'd probably be heaps cheaper. I felt like Cheon Song-Yi in one of the scenes from You Who Came From the Stars, slurping down the noodles and gulping up the soup.

Dumpling ramen ($12.00)

Verdict? Undecided, leaning towards average. I need to pay another visit to figure out whether I like it or if I simply feel indifferent- instant noodles doesn't really require much cooking. Plus, the soju cocktails sound really yummy!

Joomak Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Elbow Room Espresso, Chatswood

Although cafes such as Houlihan's have been serving the Chatswood community faithfully all these years, I'm glad that something like Elbow Room has set up shop. It certainly injects freshness to the tired list of breakfast places around the area. Tasty brunch, decent prices and gorgeous plating makes this a new favourite.

I can't say much about the coffee because I've recently developed a severe intolerance, but there is a wide variety of coffee extraction methods to choose from - including the use of a cold drip, V60 coffee drips or an Aero Press coffee maker.

Elbow Room Espresso Menu

I liked the banana smoothie for the frothy texture and generosity of honey, though I think it would have been better served a few degrees colder.

Banana smoothie ($6.00)

 The green power was a juice jam packed with healthy-sounding ingredients - kelp, spinach, dulse seaweed and alfalfa were married to apple, passion fruit, plum and lemon. Though it's indeed very green, I could mostly taste the plum/ apple combination. All vegetable flavour was pretty much annihilated by the sugary sweetness - not a bad thing if you're looking to indulge, but not great for anyone trying to minimise their carb-intake!

"Green power" ($5.00)

The Boy ordered the elbow room de hot dog - a fancy hot dog with chorizo, fried egg (with runny yoke!), mustard, chipotle, tomato salsa, and gherkins on the side. 

Elbow Room de Hot Dog ($12.00)

I'd requested the eggs benedict - two lightly toasted slices of sweet brioche with a generous portion of salmon, 2 poached eggs, spinach, and (of course) Hollandaise sauce. The harmonious presence of the mustard seeds and dill were the finishing touches that brought a huge smile to my face!

Eggs benedict on brioche ($16.00)

Om nom nom

We'd also ordered a side of mushrooms. They'd pan fried a mix of ordinary (field?) and enoki mushrooms, which were really nice with the cracked salt, though I was expecting the portions to be a bit bigger than what we received. Not that it mattered in the end because our mains were so filling we pretty much waddled out with food babies.

Mushroom side ($3.50)

Elbow Room Espresso on Urbanspoon

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