Monday, August 31, 2009

Review: Shu Shin Bou, Sydney CBD

Apologies everyone for the radio silence but I have recently moved house and am now back in Newtown. I have a backlog of posts to make and the wonders of King St to eat my way through again so keep your eyes open for regular posts!

Well as I'm sure we're aware based on my reviews I'm a little wappanese in my tastes, so what better gift than a box full of freshly made mochi and daifuku rice cakes?

The new cake store at the front of the Miracle Supermarket in World Square is a real delight. Fresh, sweet and using wonderful ingredients the normal range of Asian flavoured sweets can be found here including goma (black sesame), azuki (red bean), brown sugar, peanut and konnyaku jelly. Fresh cream, fruit and chestnut daifuku are also included; due to the freshness of the products refrigeration is required unlike many giftable Japanese sweets and should be purchased immediately prior to gifting.

Being a gift I did not enquire about the price; I would expect mochi of this quality to run to ~$4 a unit.

Assorted mochi including a cut konnyaku and azuki mochi

Macha, azuki and cream filled mochi

So apart from the fact that the cakes are wonderful quality, fresh and traditional to make things even better? There's a discount docket running online and on inner city Coles dockets. Hmmm cake, discount cake!

Shu Shin Bou Mochi Store
Lower Ground
World Square Shopping Centre
(At the Miracle Supermarket)
George St
Sydney CBD

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Review: Shinara, Sydney CBD

Sometimes I find that walking on certain streets of the city and just trying somewhere random works out very well. Pitt St and all its Korea-Town glory are definitely high on the list. Mostly we were after somewhere we could get a drink and dinner in the same venue, not sure if we wanted to drink or eat more. Most of the Korean places looked a little crowded and then we chanced across Shinara.

We were a little put off by the number of nationalities listed on the poster, but all you can eat grill? Well we had to give it a go, especially when we spied the stocked looking bar in the bottom room.

Upon entry we were eyed a little suspiciously by the staff, it's Friday night, they're packed and we're white... they're not quite sure what to do. They're ever so polite though and place us at a table and take a drink order while they clear a table for us upstairs. Before we've even received our drink we are whisked upstairs to a table.

The whole place is packed solid with international students and families, all Korean; I'm not sure why they bother with the other nationalities on the poster, you can tell who the market is here. The whole place is very Asian from top to toe; the grill inset tables, the cups of rice tea and sujo scattered across every table, girls with long nails tapping bling covered smart phones; if you could chainsmoke in the restaurant it would be like just about anywhere in Osaka.

The premise is much like an ishiyaki - you order small dishes to grill in the table and hot or cold side dishes, desserts and drinks from the menu. To make matters better this is an all you can eat place.

There's two main "sets" the Standard Buffet for $29.50 contains a number of very common Korean dishes such as bipimbap, nori, vegetables, beef loin, pork belly, chilli chicken and the like.

The "Premium" Buffet which we go for is $39.50 and contains all of the standard items plus wagyu strip and sirloin, ox tongue, croquettes, tempura, kyoza, sashimi, ice cream and more.

Unlike a Western buffet this is more of the yum cha style approach, you press a button, the waitress comes and you order several small dishes which come out one by one. Generally by the time one set is mostly cooked it's a good idea to order the next. You have 90 minutes to order as much as you like, though unless you're drinking solidly I would be surprised if you manage to put away more than about an hour's worth of food.

There are two other Caucasians in the room, but they're with a couple of Koreans and I suspect may have been a "meeting the family" scenario. The Maitre'd is very sweet and tries to explain the system to us without being too condascending and is surprised when we talk merrily about food adventures in Asia and order plum wine. His initial cynicism immediately melts away as we enthusiastically order dishes of kim chi, dumplings and tofu in a way that defies our heritage. Our female waitresses are as easily impressed by our comfort and I see a couple of them sneaking looks at the fact that we can deftly handle the pincer like flat metal Korean chopsticks; they're all very helpful and seem remarkably happy that the Westerners were so keen on the food. All in all the service is quite rushed, but very friendly and helpful and far exceeds the speed you would expect on a busy Friday night.

Bohae Plum Wine - $22 for a bottle

I have a serious weakness for plum wine (ume-shu in Japanese). The Korean equivalent is much less sweet than the Japanese type but it's still damn drinkable, though I'd have preferred it on the rocks as I usually drink it, the Koreans only seem to understand small flat liquor glasses. If you aren't drinking alcohol then there's various cold teas and water included in the buffet.

And on to the actual buffet food...

Marinated Wagyu Sirloin and Wagyu Steak

I mostly left the wagyu steak to the boy but the sirloin strips went amazingly well with the sweet Korean soy dipping sauce.

Kim chi (of course!)

Beef sirloin and pork belly

Really the pork belly needed to be cut before cooking, but we'd worked that out by the second round.


Agedashi tofu

It's never as good in Korean restaurants and the sweet soy was a little much but I do like fried tofu nonetheless

Grilled pork neck

Buttered corn

Garlic cloves in Sesame Oil

Ice cream

There was other food but I seem to have gotten too involved in eating it and not enough in photographing it! Croquettes, chilli and shallot jeon, chilli chicken, green tea ice cream and really about 3 rounds of every dish above seemed to appear. I would have liked some sashimi or similar but not in the heat from the BBQ.

Shinara was a real hit with us, but we love authentic Asian cuisine and are used to the hustle and bustle of immigrant eateries. There are some reviews out there on the internets that are quite poor but these seem to be from the kind of people who wanted elaborate table service and loathe a waitress with poor English skills; We are not those people. If you like a rowdy good time, reasonably priced drinks, table cooked food and hearty Asian eating then I highly recommend. This is definitely going into my regular rotation of casual eateries to meet up with friends in the city.

Shinara Grill and Lounge
Shop 1, 338 Pitt Street
Sydney, 2000
(02) 9262 9218

Fully licensed
Rowdy student atmosphere
Booking not required by expect to wait on a busy night for a table

Food Porn from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing board.

Take a series of photos of thick juicy burgers.

Add recipes and product information about the cheese.

And then take the dulcet tones of Patrick Warburton and play the loving, mouth watering soundtrack over the website.

It's the foodie equivalent of Hustler. Ooooh so good.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Review: Mezzapica Cafe, Leichhardt

Once upon a time I lived in Newtown with all the myriad of wonderful late breakfast cafes available to that part of town. Leichhardt has plenty of eateries but not so many actual cafes, but we've been missing Sunday brunches and so we're on a mission to find the perfect brunch venue in walking distance of home.

Unfortunately Mezzapica isn't it.

We'd gone on the strength of them advertising Corn Fritters on a street sign the previous weekend, they are a particular favourite of mine and I was really looking forward to it. On arrival we found it was a once off and they didn't have them, nor apparently the ingredients in the kitchen to make them off menu (?!).

Evidently the girl who lives next door to the cafe treats it as her living room, she kept noisily wandering between the table and her front door and the wait staff were mucking about with her somewhat innappropriately in front of the other customers and at a volume that was entirely distracting. We had to fetch our own menu from inside after waiting some time at a table, though admittedly a waitress did eventually come out to take our order, she did not however fix the wobble in the table or bring us cutlery. Not a great start.

Espresso coffees $4.00

The coffee itself was fine, a nicely generic Giancarlo espresso, however the soy milk they used in my flat white was god awful. The temperature was quite cool also, often I leave my coffee for a few minutes before drinking, in this case I drank it straight after serving. The boy's latte was distinctly average but with real milk not as offensive as my own.

3 egg omelette - salmon, spinach and cheese with toast $13

The salmon was additional and the dish was quite bland, it would have been forgettable without the addition of both salmon and salt. An average but not exciting omelette.

Eggs Florentine - English muffin, wilted spinach, smoked salmon, poached egg and hollandaise $12

I honestly think you could put hollandaise on a bathroom sponge and I'd eat it, so I still enjoyed the dish. The sauce was thicker than I like and I suspect it was premade in a larger batch, but well balanced and tangy nonetheless. The poached eggs could have been a little less cooked for my taste but the salmon was fresh and good quality for a breakfast cafe, the spinach well cooked and the muffin not overly greasy. My biggest complaint was that the meal sat heavily on my stomach due to the rich sauce and made for a difficult walk home.

After the slightly flat meal we discovered they only take cash, something we were not informed of on entering or ordering. Luckily I had cash on me, but my boyfriend's breakfast treat turned into a meal I shelled out for making it a little more sour than it already was.

Don't get me wrong it wasn't *bad* and I'd still attend ifyou were invited there but it's just a very average cafe and a very average breakfast. We shall be trying other brunch venues over time, I feel no need to return to this one.

Mezzapica Cafe
128 Norton St
Leichhardt 2040 NSW

No bookings taken
Family atmosphere
Cash only

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Review: Becasse, Sydney CBD

Who doesn't love a degustation? It had been a while since The Boy and I had done a proper date night and so we headed to Becasse as we had never been though I had been impressed with their food at various food events (not to mention somewhat in lust with the Plan B Wagyu burger).

Overall impressions are quite good, I believe it truly deserves the number of hats that it has won and the Chef of the Year to Justin North. I will say though that some of the items in the menu ran a little flat, but were off set by some wonderful highlights that pushed the entire meal into an upper echelon. The wine matching was well done for the food, though a little impersonal compared to some tasting menus where the wine is matched to taste. Unfortunately in our case we didn't have a sommelier on the floor and so it was wait staff that only know the items they are presented with on the menu.

The service was attentive but not top class; we were served by a large number of staff, most of whom only served two dishes, without the continuity of service this caused some problems. For one thing it took 90 minutes to receive the first three dishes and we were left waiting for long periods between courses, this didn't improve until the majority of the restaurant had finished and left. The boy didn't get a steak knife to go with his beef dish and this made it difficult to eat when the beef was so rare, additionally no one noticed when I dropped a knife nor did they offer to replace it. They missed an entire wine from the list however as this was the Gerwurtztraminer I wasn't too upset, and we were going to ask for it to be replaced with an additional glass of the Tokaji which they gave us due to enthusiasm about the wine regardless, but in other circumstances this would have left me raw when we paid additional for a sparkling at the beginning of the meal.

Additionally the atmosphere was a little stifled, on first arrival I felt a little unwilling to speak at my normal volume, it felt like being in a food library. Thankfully this dissipated as the matched wines were brought out, but there's something about the beige interior and relative openness of the tables that makes you feel like you shouldn't speak up. Mind you we did spend half the night giggling at the conversations next to us so I guess it's with reason.

The table next to us (sadly not in frame) did a dish substitution on the Jewfish which I wish I'd had the knowledge of their menu to complete as they were presented with a Rabbit and Duck dish that sounded absolutely to die for not to mention completely matched to my tastes. Otherwise they kept us entertained for much of the evening as the female partner did not seem to be comfortable in such a calibre of restaurants making regular comments about the size of the dishes, her unwillingness to eat parts of the food and her feeling remarkably overdressed for the occasion. Mark my words people; the wealthy don't feel the need to dress up for such a dinner. The partner ended up looking on jealously as we were discussing the wine with the wait staff, either that girl had better learn her food or they're in for a rocky future methinks.

But enough dissection of the restaurant, on to the food!

Springfield bottled water - Sparkling and Still $10 a bottle.

If it's not obvious you should *always* get water with such a meal, the volume of the wine and the need to cleanse between dishes makes this vital. If you're unwilling to pay for water ask for regular servings of tap water.

N.V. Chandon Blanc de Blanc $14

Not a truly great sparkling, but being a pure Chardonnay sparkling lends a little difference to my usual line up and the only other sparkling by the glass was the Roederer at $28 which I find far too full a palette for before a large meal.

Dry vodka martini with both twist and olive $16

Having shared one too many Vesper Martinis with a work friend earlier in the week I really wasn't up to the punch of the boyfriend's vodka martini, but it was a well done impression nonetheless and obviously used a grain vodka of some quality.

Canape - Mascarpone, lemon and herb mousse on a buttery parmesan round - Complimentary

Apperitifs were served with a complimentary canape while we decided what to order. There is an alternative wonderful Black Truffle degustation menu on at Becasse at the moment however much less of it was to my taste and it seemed difficult to match to another tasting menu when there was an unmatched number of dishes in each. Thankfully the boy decided to have the standard dinner degustaton with me!

The following dishes are all included in the degustation at a cost of $130 for food or $190 with matched wines.

Sourdough, pumpkin and rosemary breads served with olive oil emulsion and smoked pure butter.

Amuse bouche - Celeriac and potato veloute

I admit I do like the trend of putting small veloutes and soups in espresso cups, I find it's an elegant method of service and forgoes the need for a soup spoon. The tangy creme fraiche went perfectly with the sparkling wine.

Salad: Salad of heirloom tomato basil with golden tomato and olive oil sorbet - matched with 2007 Caves de Pouilly-Sur-Loire, Coteaux du Giennois, Loire Valley

I admit I don't think this dish was necessary given the existence of the canape and amuse bouche and it felt a little... unexciting. The olive oil sorbet was marvellous rather like a chilled virgin olive oil mayonessa, however it would have fared much better for a lashing of balsamic.

Appetiser: Carpaccio of John Dory with Thai flavours - Should have been served with 2008 Leabrook Gewurtztraminer, Adelaide Hills, however I didn't receive it :|

After my usual complaint that you can't seem to get a high class meal without a ceviche or carpaccio included this dish really blew me away and was one of the highlights of the meal; the meaty fish was lightened by a soft thai dressing, shavings or chilli and crisp bean shoots. Highly recommended; I cannot stop thinking of the mouth feel of the fish.

Fish Course: Seared swordfish and config squid in a citrus sauce vierge and squid ink noodles - matched with the 2008 Tscharke, Girl Talk Albarino, Barossa Valley

I can't think for the life of me why I forgot to get pictures of all of the wines however this Tscharke was wonderful and will be making it into my drinking rounds in the near future.

The swordfish was good but not outstanding, however the squid ink noodles were dark, delicious and chewy in a way that reminded me of konnyaku jelly.

Fish Course 2: Roast fillet of jewfish potato gnocchi and saute of mushrooms - Matched with 2006 Surveyor Thomson Pinot Noir, Central Otago

The crisp skin of the jewfish was an amazing counterpart to the juicy flesh however the highlight of this dish was the creamy pan friend gnocchi that melted in the mouth in an eye rolling manner; such a delightful texture is rarely found in any food.

I just love Pinot Noir with a strong fish, the pairing with the jewfish was well thought out and just heavenly. Unfortunately the wine servings were a little generous and I was finding myself juggling glasses by the end of the meal. At the front of this photo is the Blaufrankisch, the middle is the Syrah and the back is the Pinot.

Poultry course: Mosaic of smoked ham and confit chicken salad of baby turnip and apple, mulled cider gel - Matched with 2006 Nittnaus Blaufrankisch, Burgenland

I probably would have preferred this dish after the salad and it seemed odd to have a cold dish at this point of the meal; even if formal dish orders were being maintained. The mosaic was excellent, fresh, cool and just perfectly seasoned. I thought the cider gel was unnecessary and a cloying texture with the cold meat.

The Blaufrankisch was franky very disappointing; the rich raspberry colour of the wine was enticing but left dead with an almost non existant nose, flat dull peak and extremely short impression; With the cold saltiness of the dish this was a total disaster.

Meat course: Slow cooked suckling pig with peas, pancetta, cos lettuce, potato puree and sage jus - Matched with 2005 Stags Leap Petite Syrah, Napa Valley

For me this was the true pinnacle of the meal and the sort of dish that makes this restaurant such a winner. Slow roasted suckling pig roasted to a creamy fat perfection that melted in the mouth, offset with a rich reduction and sage jus and just the right amount of fresh vegetables and top shelf potato puree. Backed up and rounded in aftertaste by the strong hearty Californian Syrah I have only the highest praise for the construction of this entire course.

Meat course: Roast rib and braise of Gundooee organic wagyu saute of chestnuts and sprouts and celeriac puree

My partner's main was frankly disappointing for what was an amazing array of ingredients; chefs seem almost afraid to cook wagyu properly these days and while we both like our meat rare this was blue to the detriment of the meat being the wrong temperature and texture, particularly when paired with the celeriac puree. The brussel sprouts were tangy and balanced the richness of the dish - or would have if only my boyfriend ate them, I did so thankfully on his behalf.

Pre-dessert: Yoghurt pannacotta, pineapple gratin and pain d'epice

All was forgiven with this amazing pre dessert palette cleanser, the gratin was evidently made from the freshest pineapple and was sweet without being cloying; it completely flushed the mouth after the rich fattiness of the meat course. The sweet creamy pannacotta contrasted wonderfully and mixed well with the coriander jelly; the mix of tastes and textures in the mouth was truly unique and superbly balanced. Another unfaultable item.

Dessert: Banana crème brulée salted peanut brittle and milk coffee sorbet

I am usually uninspired by banana however I cannot pass a salted toffee or peanut brittle and I was not disappointed here. The crisp shell cracked into many pieces and revealed a creamy dairy pudding laced with slices of soft fresh banana and covering a layer salted peanut brittle pieces that induced me to unintelligible noises with every bite. The kind of dessert I dream about.

Dessert: Rhubarb and mandarin goats’ cheesecake burnt butter ice cream, lemon balm and honey crumble

I feel as though the goats cheese used in this dessert was too strong and perhaps included only for sake of exoticness however otherwise enjoyed all elements of the dish, the boy who had actually ordered this for himself was underwhelmed and shockingly left half of it behind. If I hadn't been so full from the rest of the meal I'd have tried to finish it myself.

2003 Chateau Dereszla, Tokaji "Furmint", Tokaj

Remarkably the dessert wine is the one we were holding out the most for. My partner having not grown up in the somewhat wine flushed household I did doesn't have the palette for wine and is being introduced as best I know how - through the fortifieds and back down (watching him foolishy try to take on the unsubtle Syrah was a delight!). One of my most celebrated maneuvres to date has been to introduce him to Tokay. In Australia this is a sweet syruppy muscadelle wine that has the mouth feel of mead but a taste akin to a lighter port. In Hungary this is a different affair and we were keen to try the Dereszla after so many winter tipples of Buller's Tokay. This is a very different wine indeed, lighter and less sweet more like a Semillon dessert wine than an Australian Tokay; good and a fine accompaniment to the dessert but not inducing the kind of hungry eyed eagerness in my wine-destitute partner that I am so trying to encourage.

There was a cheese plate on offer that I was intending to order however I hit the wall somewhere around dish 6 and there was no space for either cheese or coffee, despite the amazing petit fours I spyed about the room and the fact that I had skipped lunch in favour of the grand meal.

All in all a high class meal at a pure pinnacle in some areas and very flat in others. While I am sometimes overly critical of high class food, and possibly overly complimentary of homely cooking executed well, I expect that a meal that costs $370 lives up to its princely price tag. North's food is excellent however some of it is a little unexciting for those who eat good food regularly; often dishes are elevated purely by a single excellent item. If he managed to make more of his dishes match those elements perfectly, or bring all the items to the same standard he would be truly world class rather than just one of Sydney's finest.

After the disappointing service at Balzac Becasse definitely had a leg up, the staff knew the wines, announced each dish with refined formality and interacted well however there were still elements drawing criticism and I would possibly advise that a mid week attendance or a la carte meal would probably be preferred to the Friday night degustation we attended.

204 Clarence Street
Sydney 2000

Fully licenced
Reservations imperative
Formal dining environment