Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review: Sakura-Tei, Sydney

The age old question for us - "So where should we eat tonight?"

It can be answered in a split second or could take the whole day to decide. Sometimes we can't even decide at all and just walk into the first restaurant that we can find. Fortunately, on this particular night, WX told me to check out Kabuki Shoroku on my iPhone. Our criteria for the night was something relatively cheap as most of our dinner companions were to be travelling very soon and needed to save up as much as possible. When we arrived and looked at the menu however, we decided that we could add this to our list but probably dine elsewhere for the night.


Right across from here, we spotted Sakura-Tei which at a brief glance looked like a small, hidden restaurant that no one knew about inside the arcade. When we walked in and surveryed the place, however, we realised most of the diners were Japanese people and the atmosphere was of a traditional izakaya (居酒屋) which is a Japanese bar where businessman usually go for cheap after-work drinks and snacks. When I was in Japan on exchanged, I saw first-hand how popular this places were and how delicious yet cheap the food was.

From the menu, we observed that kushiage and yakitori were the specialties of this little bar and boy, was I excited! Since coming back from Japan, everytime I've eaten Japanese cuisine, it's been the usualy sushi and sashimi. I never realised that kushiage even existed in Sydney! Kushiage is basically a variety of skewers which come deep fried while yakitori as you can see in the photo below, are grilled chicken  (mainly) skewers which are especially delicious in the streets and arcades of Tokyo!


Since WX was craving sashimi, we ordered a small Sashimi Assortment to share which consisted of salmon, tuna and kingfish served fresh on a bowl of ice. Great way to start our battle plan against slightly hotter, oilier and more fried food assortments!

 Sashimi Moriawase $16.00 (Sml)

This was followed by a dish of Cuttlefish Natto (納豆) which are fermented soybeans with a side of cuttlefish which is a healthy and frequently eaten dish among the Japanese. For those of you who haven't tried it before however, be warned, those of us who like it will like it a lot but it will also leave you with an extremely bad impression if it doesn't rest well in your mouth. The texture is sticky and slimy with an almost web-like substance around the beans and many people won't be used to the powerful smell and flavour. I really liked eating it when I was on exchange and had no problems mixing it with a bit of soy sauce and wasabi on rice but most of my dining companions were quite put off - you have been warned!

 Cuttlefish Natto $12

At this point, it was every man for himself (or woman for herself in the case of WX and FYL). We went absolutely crazy with the Yakitori and the Kushiage.  I make no guarantees that we took photos of everything, or that you'll be able to differentiate between the variety of Kushiage! From the Yakitori list we ordered Chicken Thigh & Shallots, Ox Tongue and Chicken Cartilage. Unfortunately, they didn't have any Chicken Skin left which was a shame! This was all served with pinches of salt and a squiz of lemon juice.

Ox Tongue $2.40

Chicken Cartilage $2.20

 Chicken Thigh & Shallots $2.50

From the Kushiage list, we ordered King Prawn Wrapped in Shiso, Quail Eggs and  Scallops & Shiitake Mushroom. My personal favourites from our orders would have to be the Ox Tongue  and the Scallops & Shiitake Mushrooms - so succulent and flavoured. Having said that, I loved all of them - I don't think I missed them this much until I saw the platters of them appear in front of me! Needless to say, we made another order after that and continued to consume skewer after skewer.

Assortment of Kushiage

There's even a special little place to keep those used skewers that the waitress told me was called a kushi-ire which was shaped as a fish.

And finally, our selection of alcohol. They had a selection of beers from which we picked two popular Japanese ones - Sapporo and Kirin. Just to be different I ordered something of a lower alcohol content Chu-Hai which is like a lightly flavoured mixed drink. I chose the Green Apple flavour - it's almost like soft drink!

It was definitely a authentic experience and one which I truly missed (or my tastebuds did anyway) about Japan and their small hidden bars. Word of warning however, if you're hungry you should really keep track of how many skewers you order. We made the mistake of ordering without that in mind and racked up about $60 per head. In Japan, we paid about $30 AUD for kushiage tabehoudai which is basically a buffet of kushiage that you can choose yourself and cook for yourself - well worth the money. Having said that, finding this little gem in Sydney was a surprise I was quite happy about!

Ground Floor, St Martins Tower
202 Clarence St Sydney 2000
PH: (02) 9267 4552

Friday, January 22, 2010

Review: Shanghai Nights, Ashfield

Since before Christmas, SK had been organising for a group of us to head over to Parramatta to try the famous Temasek, but unfortunately, when I tried to make the booking the night before, we found out that it wouldn't be opening until the 14th of January! So with less than a day left to decide where we could eat, JC suggested we head out to Ashfield for Shanghai Nights, which is 'cheap and delicious' - that's reason enough to make the 45 minute drive for me!

We got there fairly early, at around 6:30pm and stood outside to wait for the rest of our group but the lady inside, who I assume was one of the owners, asked us how many people we were waiting on and kindly offered to set-up a table for us while we waited. Brownie points for that warm service and I wasn't even in the door yet!

Our ordering process was short and simple. We knew what we wanted and we wanted it fast - most of us were starving!

Deep Fried Shallot Pancake with Sesame $4.50

I'm a big fan of deep fried foods, though in the recent years, being a bit more health conscious, I've tried to reduce my intake of such delicious dishes. This night was an exception and I was definitely not missing out. I know you're all going to be bored of me saying this by the end of the post, but it wasn't oily which made me feel a bit better about giving into my fried food urges. It was made fresh and came out extremely hot (watch out!) but crispy and light - perfect little appetiser to get us started for the food battle that would later unfold on the very same tables!

Fried New Year Cake with XO Sauce $10.80

Although it wasn't quite Chinese New Year, we thought that we'd pretend that it was close enough since it was actually a New Year and a new beginning...with traditional Shanghainese Fried New Year Cake with XO Sauce. I'm a big fan of this sauce - you can really just add a touch of it to most dishes and it adds a nice bit of subtle spicy flavour to the chewy texture of the rice cake.

Pork & Vegies Wonton Soup $4.50

Truthfully, I didn't find this particularly attractive at first. I've never been a huge fan of wontons, and to be honest it doesn't get presented that nicely. But when you take your first nibble of it (yes, I have a large mouth) you can feel the soft, smooth pastry wrapped around a generous amount of pork filling - divine! Past experience with wontons is that the filling is either close to non-existant, or the pastry is to bundled up and dried out. This tasting featured neither of those so I was quite happy with it settling in my stomach for the night!

 Shanghai Shao-Mai (Sticky Rice & Pork Steamed Dumpling) $6.50

This was the first time I've seen this version of Shao-Mai let alone tasted it. I can't say it resembles your typical shao-mai from yum cha very much, but it was definitely delicious. The sticky rice was slightly moist and overall, not too oily and as with everything I tried that night, extremely filling. I did manage to fit another one down to satisfy my tastebuds though!

Pan Fried Pork Buns $8.50

This was probably the most filling out of everything we ordered that night and although I'm not particularly fond of the thickness of the bread outer layer of this dish, I have to say my food loving brain took the better of me. Taking one bite out of these little buns is like taking on the flavour army! Inside my mouth I could feel the little imaginary characters dancing on my tastebuds as it filled my mouth with the flavours of the pork. Hopefully that wasn't too graphic as to put anyone off - you'll be missing out!

Pan Fried Dumplings $8.50

Now, moving on to my favourite Pan Fried Dumplings! Since it's a dumpling, the pastry wasn't too thick and dry and being pan-fried it played well in my mouth of the crispy texture. Add a little big of vinegar to it and this made my experience here all the more worthwhile! If I'm not going back to this place for anything else, I'll be going back for this. Simple, cheap and delicious!

Sesame Fried Sticky Rice Cakes $4.50

We finished off our meal with a bit of a spontaneous guest to the table! While we were looking through the menu, our multilingual abilities as a group must have confused the waitress - we actually never ordered the Sesame Fried Sticky Rice Cakes but were curious as to what it was. I guess she just assumed we would want it? In the end, we shared it but was a bit disappointed that it wasn't that different to what we could get from yum cha - it was a big bigger and stickier inside. I think I prefer the typical yum cha styled version!

We were lucky to have gotten in early because by the time we had finished, there was a huge crowd outside. The owner of the store came over and apologised and asked politely if we could start finishing up. We were perfectly happy to do so. What I love about this place isn't just the food and how kind it was on both our tastebuds and our wallets for the night but the fact that they had the warmest customer service, especially in light of the bustle of their store. I think that there are lots of restaurants out there who could learn a thing or two from the owners of Shanghai Nights - all customers understand the fact that a restaurant is busy and would be happy to stick to time limits and seat restrictions - if you're nice and polite about it, then the night concludes happily with satisfied customers. A huge thumbs up from me for satisfying all these criteria! =) Definitely worth a repeat visit!

Shanghai Nights
275 Liverpool Rd
Ashfield NSW 2131
PH: (02) 9798 8437

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dear Readers: Broadening Horizons

This is a note to all my faithful readers and fellow bloggers out there to say that I will be jetting off tomorrow on a visit to Vietnam and Hong Kong during which I will not be able to access the blog to make any updates. That is not to say that there will be no one here to keep you company - AY will be here for a little longer before he meets up with JL and I in HK in a few weeks.

Hopefully the experience in Vietnam will broaden my perspective and understanding of food in general - there is much to be gained from learning about the culinary cultures from all around the world. Perhaps it would give me newfound appreciation of food; perhaps it will challenge what I already know. All I can say now is that I'm so wonderfully excited and nervous at the same time browsing through all the potential street food that I'm going to encounter (you couldn't begin to guess just how much time I've spent trawling through EatingAsia) and the variety of cooking courses on offer while I'm over there.

I will be taking PLENTY of photos during the visit - don't you all worry about that. Except I'll only be bringing my compact point-and-shoot in order to travel lightly. So wish me luck and I'll see you all on the other side of what will undoubtedly be an enlightening experience!

Ciao bella!
Love, WX

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review: Dante Ristorante, Leichhardt

There are a few things in life I often get cravings for: KFC Mashies, Coffee, and most importantly, Italian food.

When such cravings arise, contrary to popular belief, they often do the world a whole lot of good - especially for those who are as indecisive as I am when it comes to picking a place to eat. So when JL called up the other night asking what I wanted for dinner, the choice was simple.

"Dude, dude, I'm CRAAAVING for Italian. I feel like smacking my face in a bowl of spag bol."

Next thing I knew he had made a booking at Dante's (Italian Forum) and I was jumping into the car ready to nom.

Bruschetta - $12.90

First up was a lightly flavoured Bruschetta to start the night off. Call me slow on the uptake, but I only recently discovered that the word is not pronounced as "Brushetta" but "Brusketta". Seriously? Seriously. I know eh? Eyeopening isn't it? And here I am calling myself a foodie. Gosh, guess you really do learn something new everyday.

Chef's Homemade Gnocchi with Veal Ragout - $18.90

As I delved into the Pasta menu, my eyes lit up as my world of favourites begin to collide. Gnocchi? Veal Ragout? All on the one plate? I think I nearly fainted. The dish was absolutely delightful and full of robust flavour. The veal was delectably tender and the soft pillows of gnocchi were simply superb. My only beef was that there wasn't more of it.

Linguini Scampi - $25.90

With a little pressure, JL chose Linguine with Scampi as his main for the evening (the alternative being spaghetti bolognaise - which little did he know he was going to have the following night at Borruso's).

While not being entirely a fan of scampi sashimi, these ones were cooked to perfection and absolutely to die for. Serve was a tad on the scrimpy side, but what was there was delicious. The scampi oil which coated the linguine was also highly aromatic and full of flavour.

Dante Ristorante
Piazza, Shop 39
23 Norton Street
Leichhardt, NSW 2040

Tel: (02) 9550 0062

Friday, January 8, 2010

Awards: Our Lovely Blog & Over The Top

Awards awards awards! A heartfelt thanks to all of our dedicated and supportive readers and especially to JacqBetty for presenting us with these two respective awards!

I'm feeling extremely guilty because I've left this so late - apologies to Jacq from Penguin Says Feed Me! Be sure to check out her blog! Thanks so much for awarding us with the Our Lovely Blog Award which dates back to November.

According to the rules of this award, I must accept the award, post it on my blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award, and their blog link. Pass the award to 8 other blogs that you’ve recently discovered. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

And the award goes to...

This award was given to us, from our new-found foodie friend, Betty, at Betty's Bites earlier this week! Thanks so much to Betty for choosing us to receive the Over The Top Blog 

As part of the award, I had to answer 35 questions with single-worded answers and pass the award to 6 other bloggers!

  1. Where is your cell phone? Desk

  2. Your hair? Black

  3. Your mother? Multi-tasker

  4. Your father? Knowledgeable

  5. Your favorite food? Sushi

  6. Your dream last night? Life

  7. Your favorite drink? Water

  8. Your dream/goal? Traveller

  9. What room are you in? Landor

  10. Your hobby? Photography

  11. Your fear? Loneliness

  12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Everywhere

  13. Where were you last night? Hoyts

  14. Something that you aren’t? Disorganised

  15. Muffins? Dry

  16. Wish list item? Lens

  17. Where did you grow up? sydney

  18. Last thing you did? Comment

  19. What are you wearing? Jeans

  20. Your TV? LCD

  21. Your pets? Zilch

  22. Friends? Awesome

  23. Your life? Hectic

  24. Your mood? Questioning

  25. Missing someone? Friends

  26. Vehicle? Yaris

  27. Something you’re not wearing? Jewellery

  28. Your favorite store? Incu

  29. Your favorite color? Blue

  30. When was the last time you laughed? AW

  31. Last time you cried? Forgot

  32. Your best friend? WF

  33. One place that I go to over and over? Home

  34. One person who emails me regularly? AW

  35. Favorite place to eat? New

And the award goes to...
I'm sure many of those I've selected have already received a similar if not the same award - sorry about that, but it just means I really like your blog! =)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Food: Another Perspective

There are plenty of restaurants out there which provide us with visually appetising presentations of their dishes - but what if hypothetically they presented it like this?

For those Mario fans!

What about the Linux enthusiasts?

There are plenty more images where this came from so check out Oddee! Thanks to Urban Detective for  satisfying the foodie in me and showing me this website! =) Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Review: The Malaya, King Street Wharf

One can never have enough excuses to go out to eat. If you're anything like me, then the "my birthday" excuse can never be used too many times.

For me, after waking from the Etch-induced food coma, I headed towards The Malaya at King Street Wharf to feast myself in an evening of luscious Malaysian cuisine.

The scene was perfect, albeit a little cloudy - but the gentle lapping of the waves outside were more than enough to produce a wonderful calm and beautiful evening out of the grey.

Service here was highly attentive and professional. I must confess that I did feel a little rushed by the waiter, but to be fair we knew we only had a 1.5hr booking (December babies have to always duke it out with Xmas parties at restaurants), and at the pace we were going, we wouldn't have even managed to start ordering before the time was up.

San Choy Bao - $18 (per serve of 4)

Not long after we ordered, our entree arrived steaming hot and bursting with flavour. Despite being a "Westernised" dish, I could seriously not care less when we ordered this because I just absolutely adore devouring a well plated San Choy Bao. The lettuce was crisp and fresh, cut neatly to form a near-perfect circle to wrap the spicy wok-fried mince filling.

Once the table was cleared for the mains, our mini banquet proceeded to take shape fairly quickly. Dish after dish were brought up to our table and we happily lined them down the long table for sharing. We were kindly informed by the staff that rice was charged per head, which meant the boys could eat to their hearts content and refill until their stomachs burst. It most certainly brought a smile to everyone's face.

Mee Goreng - $22

I'm usually no fan of the REAL meegoreng, preferring the fake, MSG-coma-inducing packet stuff. This one here was an exception, and definitely worthwhile for the meegoreng lovers out there.

Chicken Rendang (Dry Coconut Base) - $25

Beef Rendang (Tomato Base) - $25

Beef Rendang (Dry Coconut Base) - $25

So you may be wondering how on earth we ended up with three different Rendang dishes? Truth be told I have no idea, except that we each ordered one dish and this is how it turned out. The dull side of things is that we did end up with three Rendang dishes, but the bright is that I LOVE rendang, which was why I chose the Beef Rendang in Dry Coconut Base pictured above. There's an added bonus in that this also provided the perfect opportunity to conduct some surveying of taste palates and comparative studies.

My findings?

There was a consensus that the Dry Coconut Base outstriped the Tomato base by two lengths of a horse. However we were evenly split between chicken lovers and beef lovers. I'm an avid beef rendang lover, and no amounts of moist chicken could trump that. So I'm a little biased going in to make the judgement that: Beef Rendang in Dry Coconut Base wins!

Nasi Goreng - $19

Emperor Nasi Goreng - remember the Telstra ad? - Undoubtedly another usual favourite making an appearance. I love the freshly wok-fried taste that the rice somehow captures during the cooking process. It's one of those things that you have no choice but to eat out for because unless you have a commercial sized wok burner at home, there is no simple way of replicating that somewhat smokey flavour in home cooking.

King Prawn Laksa - $24

DW distributing the laksa

Laksa - a regular DW favourite - and possibly the reason why I eat Laksa at work 95% of the times when I work with DW.

As you can see in the pictures, the prawns were bursty and large, no doubt soaked in a lot of bicarb. But you know what? It tasted great, and I was too sad that there wasn't enough broth to share around all the individual bowls.

Chicken Kapitan - $25

Prawn Kapitan - $29

Much like the Rendang, we also ended up ordering 2 different Kapitan dishes. Prawn wins hands down, and the consensus was that it was the best dish on the night. The lightly battered prawns were soft and fully soaked up the sweet and spicy flavours of the coconut curry sauce. The prawns were much like the ones in the laksa - large, sweet and bursty with every bite.

This is on my list of recommended dishes - something which you MUST try if you ever visit.

Overall, The Malaya may be a bit pricey for Malaysian food - but you really do get what you pay for. Excellent and attentive service, delicious food, and a great view for an extra pizzazz. It may not be Temasek, but heck I wouldn't mind coming back here again.

The Malaya
39 Lime Street
King Street Wharf
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel: (02) 9279 1170

Monday, January 4, 2010

Review: Ju-Rin, Crows Nest

The birthday celebrations never seem to end. You have a big party and invite all your friends but sometimes you miss that intimacy so you organise another smaller dinner with your close friends. But what of the family? This evening, we my night out with my parents, to a restaurant I had only discovered earlier this year and happens to be a single hatted Japanese restaurant in Crows Nest.

When we drove past, trying to find street parking, there was evidently a steady flow of people coming in and out of the restaurant. Eventually, we settled for a council carpark round the back and made the short walk to Ju-Rin. At the point that I was making my way to our table, I got a phone call from an unknown number, and when I picked up, I realised I was actually talking to the waiter on the phone from Ju-Rin who was making sure I was still coming even though I was only 5 minutes late. Some people may take this as a sign of rushing the customer but I thought that this was definitely a sign that they have a really good turnover of business. Even as we were sitting there for the duration of our dinner, there must have been at least four groups of people who came in asking for table availability. If you're lucky, you might get ushered to the sushi counter but otherwise, I would advise that you make a booking in advance! All the tables that you can see which are empty are actually all reserved and only minutes before, had people sitting in them!

The first thing I do when I sit down, isn't to look at the menu they've put in front of me, but I make my way to the back near the sushi counter, where they have a huge glass display with all the specials. I found it a bit inconvenient having to go to the back and stand amongst all the other diners to actually see the display. Having said that, I think the selection of specials on the board more than compensate for that inconvenience. From that board, we ended up ordering the Wagyu Karubi Salad and the Grilled Premium Duck Breast. Upon my mother's request, we also got the Special Jumbo Roll.

The Wagyu Karubi Salad was quite tender and I really liked the flavour of the wagyu matched with the light dressing of the salad. I was a bit disappointed that they weren't a bit more generous with the salad itself so I wasn't quite satisfied with the amount of greens I ate.

Wagyu Karubi Salad $15.80

Duck. Mmmmm...Just thinking about it makes me salivate. The Grilled Premium Duck Breast arrived in a dainty little box, nicely presented with a variety of salt which was extremely salty! I'll make sure I ask what that is next time. The duck was extremely tender and I could tell it really was premium. I think I could have eaten another few boxes of that!

Grilled Premium Duck Breast $15.80

The Special Jumbo Roll on the other hand was generosity in all sense of the word! Due to the sheer size of the roll, it was extremely filling and I likened it to the Korean variety. I was a bit unsure of the value though, it was the most expensive out of all the dishes we ordered and I didn't think it quite lived up to the 'special' title.

Special Jumbo Roll $25.00

From the menu itself, we also ordered a Soft Shell Crab Roll and a Tempura Moriawase (Assorted Tempura) both of which are favourites of mine when I go out for Japanese cuisine. The Soft Shell Crab Roll was beautifully cooked but once again, I would have liked a bit more of the crab in the roll - they seemed a bit stingy on that front but admittedly, the price was cheap. Amongst all the dishes we ordered, I'd have to say the Tempura Moriawase was my favourite. It was fresh and not too oily either, and I loved the way they arranged it - presentation of a dish always gets bonus points from me!

 Soft Shell Crab Roll $11.80

Tempura Moriawase $18.90

Finally, since it was my birthday dinner, I decided to try some sake. I have next to no knowledge about sake, even when I was in Japan, my Japanese friends chose for me so I picked randomly. Having said that however, I would like to learn more about it, so keep watching this space and one day, we'll have a feature entry on sake! I chose a 180ml Nanbu Bijin Junmai Ginjyo Hiya-Oroshi which is a brand called Southern Beauty which uses Ginginga, a type of rice from the Iwate Prefecture. Origin aside, I was told that this was best served cold. My verdict? I think I like hot sake more but it'd take me a while to try a larger variety. For me, any sake is better than beer and wine!

Nanbu Bijin Junmai Ginjyo Hiya-Oroshi (180mL) $13

Since it was my birthday, I think I was being a lot more critical of what I was feeding myself but overall I'd have to say, I really loved the experience. Everyone who served us were friendly and helpful, and the food was really delicious. I will definitely be going back multiple times to try the rest of the specials up on their board!

316 Pacific Highway
Crows Nest NSW 2065
PH: (02) 9966 5811