Thursday, June 25, 2009

Review: Darling City "Beer and Korean Food", Sydney CBD

I met up with some friends in the city after work last week and we were after something tasty but not too expensive. Korean was my proposal and met with agreement, usually I would have headed to Zozo who have amazing BBQ marinades however they were packed to the rafters and it was at least 30 mins wait. Instead my friends proposed Darling City, a restaurant they had become attracted to after the sign proposed Beer and Korean Food; things they enjoy greatly.

Beer and Korean food you say? We're in!

On arrival it has all the good signs for a city Asian eatery, it's lively, its busy but their churn is good enough to guarantee a fast table and pretty much everyone in the entire restaurant (save for ourselves) is a native of the source country.

Darling City is really in with the izakaya style experience, the food is hearty, the drinks are student cheap and plentiful, k-pop plays on wide screen TVs and an entire table of students is having a drinking contest; if you want a quiet night out this isn't it.

Korean appetisers complementary with service

If you're not used to Korean restaurants the appetisers come as a welcome surprise, they're often small titbits of pickles and salad or sauces to go with the food. It's all damn tasty and we are starving, the dichon pickle is amazing and the kim chi spicey and fresh. We wonder if this is a free refill establishment but the other dishes are so large we never get around to finding out. Word of warning: Korean chopsticks are needle thin and made of metal, even the Asian eater with us struggles to eat the slippery potato salad with them.

We take a peek at the other diners' tables and decide to be cautious with ordering; we order 2 entrees and 2 mains between 4 which is more than enough. We should have had an inkling based on the price of each dish but each is huge, filling and well worth the cost.

Bulgogi Bokkeum - Beef Bulgogi $24

The boy is a bit of a sucker for beef bulgogi, this isn't quite what we were expecting being a variant mixed with translucent rice noodles and vegetables but it is damn tasty and means that we don't require any rice. We all fall straight onto the platter rather than portioning out food.

Gun mandu - Fried dumplings $9

Every meal deserves dumplings; I think the boy was expecting 'pot sticker' style fried gyoza and is a bit disappointed that these are deep fried but they rapidly disappear and happy moans ensue after the tart dipping sauce is applied.

Kkanpunggi - Deep fried chicken with 'special' sauce $26

This is one of those simple hearty foods that is excellent with drinks and good even for the sober. A thick spicey batter is applied to chicken wings and deep fried - rather like an upscale version of KFC Hot and Spicy. It's very morish and hits the spot, it's a little heavy but not too oily. The special sauce is discovered to be a mix of ketchup and sweet chilli sauce but it goes well with the simple fried chicken. Our only complaint is that being wings rather than fillet makes it quite fiddly to eat - but this only serves to make us vow to return for the pork version.

Kimchijeon $18

My favourite Korean food is jeon the thick vegetable laced pancake; similar to the Japanese okonomiyaki but without the overpowering oil and creamy toppings. This one is huge, a good 30cm diameter and over a centimetre thick. It is strongly laced with both kim chi and chopped fresh chillis and is not for the faint hearted, my equally food loving friend and I devour it both while our partners look on in amusement. If you don't like spicey food I suggest you go for the shallot jeon since this is hot even for me and I have to keep coming back to it between other foods. Also those not strong with chopsticks really ought to request it be cut up, as pulling off pieces to eat can be difficult.

I stupidly failed to get pictures of the drinks, I think mostly because I was annoyed that being on antibiotics my dining companions were slurping down endless cheap tipples and I was not allowed to join in. The boy was shocked to discover an entire bottle of White Soju was only $7 and gave several very strong drinks out of it. Soju is Korean rice wine and more like vodka than wine; you may be advised to buy mixer if you're not used to shots. There is Korean beer on hand but we notice that all the Koreans in the room are drinking Japanese Sapporo ($6 per pint) so the beer drinkers stuck to this.

All in all it's not a high class establishment by any means but it's tasty good food done well and we'll definitely be coming back.

Darling City
379 - 383 Pitt St
Sydney 2000
Next to the City Convenience store on the corner of Pitt and Liverpool St

Phone: 9267 7979

Full licensed, limited Asian focus drinks menu
No reservation required

Monday, June 22, 2009

Kinosaki Kaiseki 2

We ended up staying in Kinosaki two nights, so here's a little peak at our second formal Kaiseki meal.

From Goth Goes Otaku 2 Kinosaki Onsen

Appetiser of ebi prawn with caviar, jellied eel, sweet egg rolled sushi, jellyfish sashimi (in the pot) and persimmon mochi

The jellyfish sashimi is one of the only foods of my adult life that I have immediately spat out involuntarily, the texture was unlike anything I recognised as a food product and my body ejected it without my input. I have eaten Jellyfish in Chinese hot dishes but this was unsalvageable and I quickly closed the pot and pushed it aside.

Cold roasted pork with lime

Another abundant sashimi platter of whole boar fish, ebi prawn, squid, snapper, salmon, kingfish and abalone

Egg tofu with caviar and broiled prawn

Grilled snapper with ginger shoot

Beef tataki

Wagyu shabu shabu with fresh sesame dipping sauce

Cooking the shabu shabu

Tempura of capsicum, pumpkin and white fish (unknown type)


Soup and gen-mai-cha

Osuimono with simmered hamo

Fresh orange

And of course you can't forget the ume shu (plum wine)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Review: Bistro Kobe Brand 神戸ブランド亭, Kobe Japan

After a long train trip around Japan back from our onsen stay we decided to stay local to our hotel in Harborland in Kobe and so asked the concierge where to eat some Kobe Beef, they suggested this bistro in the Mosaic centre near the water.

Harborland is a sort of shopper's resort paradise, it's rather like doing to the Marina Mirage area on the Spit in the Gold Coast. Lots of flash hotels and flashier department stores with wide paved avenues and a sense of quiet security on the ground floor. It's almost deserted at night lending it a slightly creepy feeling with the brightly lit ferris wheel slowly turning over head.

From Goth Goes Otaku 2 Kobe

The only sad thing about this restaurant was that we were obviously there in the quiet time and there was only one other couple, as the waitress look dejected and started to pack up the restaurant 6 couples turned up too late... I get the impression they don't actually need the custom and make all their money during the day and summer holidays.

Obviously we were onlly there for a big slab of Kobe, but this was as rather cute bistro trying to be a French provincial restaurant and so some of the Western style options were rather nice. The wine was all locally made and the colour of cordial though so we avoided it and stuck to shochu mixes.

Kobe Beef Croquette 600 Yen

I'm a sucker for croquettes and the Japanese do wonderful ones with big crispy flakes of bread, who could turn down a meal of kobe beef croquette? Minced beef and mashed potato covered in a crunchy golden crumb and deep fried to perfection.

In Japan absolutely everything *except* beef is ridiculously cheap and so for the princely sum of 650 Yen (about $8AUD) I got the following items added to my meal as a set.

Salad with French dressing

Onion Soup

Real bread with real dairy butter

Both are a rare commodity in Japan where all the bread looks beautiful but tastes like McDonald's sugar buns and the limited dairy industry has meant an increasing shortage on butter. After a week of margarines and soft fluffy breads this was a real god send.

Coffee (in simply delightful Noritake porcelein)

But bother all that and on to the beef!

200g Kobe Sirloin with Red Wine sauce 7500 Yen

Wanting an Aussie size steak in a Japanese restaurant drew a few blank stares from the staff and I caught the chefs peaking out to watch the boy eat it. To be honest I really think the Wagyu at home is as good or better for my tastes, the meat here is cut thin and grilled too much and lacks that melting mouth feel of aged beef. This size was too much even for the meat-mad boy who would later be ill for much of the evening due to the excessive amounts of fat in the Kobe. Nonetheless he enjoyed it at the time!

I however saw the word Foie Gras and knew what I was ordering...

Petit Fillet of Kobe and Foie Gras 3500 Yen

The small fillet was actually a much better cut for the type of meat and you could see the buyer's remorse on the boy's face as I ate mine; the thicker cut and smaller fillet leant themselves to keeping a slight moist gelatinousness to the meat. Add a red wine jus and some foie gras and I'm a happy lady, any foodie can imagine just how rich and delightful this dish was.

In all honestly I really feel as if a good marbled wagyu, or preferably for me a piece of wagyu aged beyond compare is actually better meat, but really this was certainly good and definitely worth the experience of trying Kobe in Kobe. If you're in the area and looking for a Western style steak using Kobe beef I would definitely try this restaurant as the staff were lovely and the ambience very nice, especially as most Kobe beef restaurants only serve shabu shabu or sukiyaki this is worth a look in for the steak lover.

Incidentally though the choice of restaurants was too limited to make good blogging fare I will always recommend those wanting a Western hotel in Japan to stay at the New Otani hotels which are immaculate and reasonably priced, check prices on for the best prices. They always have beautiful bars on the top floor with immaculate views, here is our view from the Kobe Harborland hotel.

Bistro Kobe Brand 神戸ブランド亭
Kobe Harborland Mosaic Centre
Level 2 Shop 40
1-6-1 Higashikawasaki-cho, Chuo-ku
Kobe, Hyogo 650-0044
Tel. 81-78-360-1722
Access Map in English

7 Days 11am to 10pm
Fully Licensed

No reservation necessary but I would get a table well before 8:30pm

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Review: CoCo Curry House, Sannomiya Branch Kobe, Japan

The boy has a serious weakness for katsu curry and I'm not adverse to it myself; we'd been trying to kill a hankering for curry and an attempt to find a CoCo Curry of which I have fond memories. We'd all but given up shopping on our last day in Kobe when we just wanted to fall over and die. At this point we saw the welcoming yellow sign and walked in to rest our feet and fill our tummies.

Unfortunately we noted the fine print of "we have a menu in English" after we'd ordered in Japanese. Damnit.

The food is decidedly family fare yoshoko - Western food done Japanese style; you can tailor your curry sauce to your preferred taste and get it with your choice of meats, breaded or otherwise. Being tired and hungry we opted to cheat and get the standard Pork Katsu Curry. If I'd had access to an English menu though I'd have got some croquettes, damn the Japanese do good croquettes.

Handmade Special Hirekatsu with Curry Rice 880 Yen

We ordered the "special" fillets which are handmade fresh and contain a higher grade of meat than normal. The Hirekatsu usually means the fillet of pork rather than the loin, though there is little other difference, it just depends what type of meat you like and how the meat/crumb ratio is.

Handmade Tonkatsu Special with Curry Rice 880 Yen

If you are so inclined though there are any number of varations to katsu curry you can have; sweet or spicey sauce, low or seering heat, crab or mince croquettes, squid, mushroom, eggplant, beef, hamburger and multiple kinds of pork. Keep in mind for the Aussies that beef is very expensive in Japan and you will only get one or two mouthfuls of meat in your sauce.

The rice here is much like that at any fast food lunchtime place - not great but edible. The meat and sauce however are wonderfully good quality and much better than more expensive places we have been to. CoCo Curry is definitely one to keep your eye out for when you want recognisable food or are just dying tired after shopping/site seeing; there are multiple locations in all the major cities in Japan.

Tasty sauce

This is a thick tonkatsu/BBQ style sauce that you can add to the curry which really makes the flavour pop. Unfortunately I think it does so through MSG as I had a reaction to the food for some time afterwards. There are also endless pickles and other condiments that one can add if so desired.

One thing I will say about CoCo is that you should under no circumstances drink their iced coffee. I drank a lot of iced coffee in my time in Japan, this was hands down the worst. Worse than 80 Yen generic vending machine coffee, worse than on the plane, just awful. It was so bad that I forgot to take a picture.

CoCo Curry House - Sannomiya

Opposite the JR Sannomiya Train Station Entry

Soft drinks only
Walk ins okay

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Kinosaki Kaiseki 1

Nothing beats an onsen holiday, pottering around Japanese style rooms in yukata doing nothing but drinking, eating and bathing, it's my kind of holiday. Onsen vacations aren't often cheap but the room cost includes amazing food, our room at the Oyado Seri Onsen Ryokan was 16 000 Yen per person (around $180) but included this dinner that would have easily run to $100 on its own in Sydney and an equally large breakfast. Additionally they gave us free tickets to all the baths in town and transported us for our entire stay meaning no entertainment, food or taxi costs the entire time.

Much as formal Western dining follows a pattern of appetiser, fish, poultry, meat and so forth formal Japanese dining has a pattern of appetiser, raw dish, simmered dish, grilled dish, rice and dessert; with additional courses at the behest of the chef.

From Goth Goes Otaku 2 Kinosaki Onsen

Our room in the Onsen Ryokan

My place setting and the beginning of the appetiser course

Squid, ebi prawn and sea snail

Fresh local crab, during Winter the Kinosaki special is snow crab from the sea of Japan. This came with a yuzo and mirin sauce that I am unable to find a recipe for but was mouth wateringly amazing and had both the boy and I, not usual crab fans in histerics.

Sashimi boat including whole trout, squid, snapper, ebi, salmon, scallop and kingfish.

The entire boat was mirrored so that we each had the full set of sashimi courses.

Red bean rice with broiled prawns in a fish stock bouillabase

Grilled mackerel with lima bean and pickled ginger shoots

Hand spun spinach udon with gratted yam, wasabi, salmon roe and sturgeon roe (caviar)

Wagyu beef, peppers, onions and asparagus for grilling

Fugu, sugar snap bean and eggplant tempura

Shelfish and fern osuimono

Spinach and white fish cha-han


Gen-mai-cha - toasted rice tea with a glass of ume-shu (plum wine) on the rocks behind it

Local vanilla ice cream and kiwi fruit

One of the other very old world nuances of onsen ryokans is that you are often appointed a parlour maid to serve you your food and meet your needs during your stay. This is our lovely server Yoko who was more than happy to help us out by naming the ingredients we didn't recognise and the importance of each item.