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Night Noodle Market 2015, Sydney

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Another year, another Night Noodle Market, another chance for me to empty my wallet on various Asian street foods.

The annual Night Noodle Market kick started last (last) week, lighting up (or fogging up with all the furious meat sizzling) Hyde Park once again from Thursday 8 October to Sunday 25 October. As a part of Good Food Month, Sydney, the Night Noodle Market brings together Asian restaurants from all over Sydney and Australia to bring us an experience that we sorely lack in Australia, night markets.

The joys of late night food runs, where you’re not just stuck with fast food chains or kebabs (don’t get me wrong, I adore kebabs), where you can wonder down the streets at 11pm on a weeknight and it’s bustling with people sizzling skewers, ladies scooping piping hot soup noodles or icy cold sweet treats into plastic throw away containers while lights, sounds and amazing smells waft from every corner. That to me, as someone who loves food a bit too much and midnight snacking, is what dreams are made of! It is also probably the main reason why I want to live in Hong Kong for a year, instead of doing London, like a normal person does when they get that overseas working holiday urge.

The Night Noodle Market tries to recreate that exact experience, but in our own backyard, where there’s even a little bit of greenery to go with it!

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I must say, in the last few years the Night Noodle Market has come a long way from its humble beginnings. I admit, I wasn’t a massive fan after experiencing the Night Noodle Market in its first year. To me, it was just a poor attempt at gouging at people’s pockets and charging festival pricing for meals that could be easily obtained just five to ten minutes down the road. In the first year, Good Food Month, just brought together a bunch of restaurants from around the CBD. These restaurants seemed to just serve their standard dishes in smaller quantities and at massively over inflated prices and don’t forget the 30 minute or more wait for anything even remotely good and the lack of seating because it was so darn popular. I wasn’t going to pay that much and wait that long for something I could get down the street. So during the first Night Noodle Market, instead of waiting at the Mamak’s stall, I decided to just go to Mamak, at their actual store in Chinatown instead. In hindsight it was a pretty good night.

Ever since then, I haven’t been super keen on the Night Noodle Market. That, and me now being a three hour drive away probably contributed, instead of a stop over after uni. Flash forward thee years and it looks like things have changed! I now have to walk past the wafting smells of barbecued meats and other fantastic goodies each night to get home. So naturally, instead of eating dinner at home, I’ve been dropping by and getting a different treat each night.

The Night Noodle Market has definitely gotten a lot cooler over the years. There are now fantastic eateries from around Sydney and even some interstate and festival only stalls showing up as well! Plus, you’ve got eateries doing goodies that you can’t really get at their standard store, like Messina and Wonderbao, N2 and Black Star Pastry and Miss Dipity and Mr Bao doing awesome collaborations. Then there’s One Tea Lounge offering miso caramel and Everyone Loves Ramen’s ramen tacos. Pretty awesome right?!

So what caught my eye at the Night Noodle Market? This is the bit where I post pictures of things.

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Well, who can go past the dessert lovers dream? Messina meets Wonderbao with the David Bao-wy ($12), deep fried bao with salted coconut sorbet dipped in white chocolate mango ganache and rolled in crashed cashews. This tasted a lot better than it looked. Actually, it looks quite nice in real life, we just take horrific photos. So don’t let this put you off, just check it out on Instagram.

If I had to describe this bao in one word, it would be ‘rich’ but not necessarily in a bad way, especially if you like decadent desserts, then this is going to be right up your alley. But it’s definitely not for the faint hearted or I guess anyone with heart problems to be honest. This bao brings together a super fluffy while crisp deep fried bao with creamy sorbet and a splash of ganache to top it all off cos it wasn’t already flavourful and sweet enough.

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Although I wasn’t able to finish this whole bao myself, purely because it got too much, I actually enjoyed the bites that I did have. The bao was probably my favourite part. It was super fluffy, airy and light, as you would expect from the amazing people at Wonderbao. Thanks to the deep frying, the bao had a lovely crisp shell which contrasted the fluffy interior. Inside the bao, there was a lovely and smooth coconut sorbet. Finally there was the white chocolate and mango ganache which I thought brought the majority of flavour to this little bao. Finally cashews because no one ever said no to cashews right?

After having this David Bao-wy, I definitely think I’ll be dropping by Messina again to try the Great Balls of Fryer. Not a massive fan of peanut butter ice cream but fried ice-cream, I’m all there.

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After having the super sweet David Bao-wy from Messina on my first night, I was back but this time for something savoury and who can go past Ramen tacos ($18 for 3) from Everyone Loves Ramen. With the set, you get a miso beef with iceberg lettuce taco, a terriyaki chicken with spring onions and baby radish taco, and a pork belly with coriander and Sriracha mayo slaw taco. I’m not sure if you can buy these separately, I didn’t really notice an option for it on Everyone Loves Ramen’s menu but if it’s your first time trying these ramen tacos, all three are worth it, each are quite different in flavour and taste.

I really didn’t do these ramen tacos justice with my ‘amazing’ photography skills (this seems to be a running theme so far. I swear, I’ll improve). Nevertheless, they were tasty. It’s a simple concept, deep fried egg noodles with flavoursome meats and some veggies for garnish. The ramen taco shells tasted exactly like what you get in a chow mein but a lot crunchier, you also get that mildly eggy flavour and that deep fried flavour that I know I’ve described so well. I know that sounds totally gross but if you like fries, fried chicken or the baos from Messina than you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Although tasty, I must say like anything made out of ramen noodles that isn’t actually soupy ramen, where it be a ramen burger or these ramen tacos, the structural integrity just isn’t there. Expect meat, iceberg lettuce and pieces of red cabbage everywhere.

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As for which combination I liked best, it was definitely between the chicken and the pork. The beef just didn’t stand up to the others at all. Too stringy and combined with the iceberg lettuce it was just all a bit too boring. Now the chicken and the pork, those were just packed with flavours. For me, I would have to say the pork. Awesome fatty and crispy cubes of pork coupled with creamy and flavourful red cabbage slaw. The perfect combination of big flavours and contrasting textures. The pork is what I’m going back for next time. If you can buy them separately. Which I’m not sure I can.

Well, thats it for now. Stick around, I promise there will be more. Well I’ve already got the pictures, now I’ve just got to write them up before the event ends this Sunday. If you haven’t been already, head over soon.

In the meantime, feel free to read our post from the Enlightened Night Noodle Markets in Canberra, 2015. I notice a few of the stalls that we ate at and wrote up are the same like Hoy Pinoy, Daniel San, Roti Road, Teppayaki Noodles, Span Thai and etc.

 

Ivy and the Fox, Acton

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Over the long weekend (woo right?!) we decided to pop over and try the somewhat newly opened Ivy and the Fox, situated in the extremely beautiful and picturesque Old Canberra House in the ANU. Ivy and the Fox is the newest cafe from the brains behind the absolutely delicious (and my current favourite cafe in Canberra) Fox and Bow down in Farrer. So when I heard that this was opening up I actually got more excited than I normally do when I hear about a new place opening.

The first thing that struck me about Ivy and the Fox was its amazing location. Maybe it’s the emergence of spring but the place surrounding Ivy and the Fox is just so great to look at. Tall leafy trees overlooking the lake in the distance with beautiful grass and shrubs everywhere. It makes you forget for just a moment that you’re literally a 5 minute drive from Canberra’s CBD. It’s one of the perks of this place that’s easy to overlook, the ability to get so close to a really natural setting whilst still being essentially ‘in the city’ is something I’m starting to appreciate more and more as I spend more time in Canberra.

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Ivy and the Fox seems to understand how beautiful its surrounding is, with huge open windows and copious amounts of outdoor seating to let you soak it all in. In addition, I was shown this little crate full of picnic rugs that were available for use as well, so you can sit outside and soak in the sun while dining on delicious goodness from Ivy and the Fox.

The menu here at Ivy and the Fox is quite similar to that at Fox and Bow though with a few key differences to cater for the slight differences in expected clientele. Where Fox and Bow is bombastic and creative, Ivy and the Fox takes a more subtle, nuanced approach, taking much loved classics and giving them a slight twist, which I felt fit perfectly with the surrounds.

As always, enough about things that aren’t food, time for some food talk!

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I was exceptionally hungry that morning, having breakfast at roughly 1pm so I opted for the big boy, the king of the hill, the…well you know. Anyway, this is the Mr. Fox ($19.9), eggs (mine were fried), chorizo, bacon, tomato, avocado, hash brown, toast and morcilla. I’ve mentioned countless times in the past about my love of morcilla and/or black pudding, so it must be no surprise to anyone that as soon as I saw morcilla as part of this dish, everything else just fell away, and I couldn’t have been happier with my choice.

This is essentially the big breakfast here at Ivy and the Fox and it definitely lives up to it! This was a mountain of food and me, in my hungry 1pm state was eager to devour the whole thing. The best part about this dish was simply the fact that it was simple and a classic. I know, weird thing to appreciate but there’s just something comforting about seeing great ingredients being cooked up and just having the quality of the produce do most of the talking. The bacon in particular was incredibly smokey and quite thick cut, so you could tell it wasn’t just the same bacon you get at the supermarket. Another thing I want to draw attention to was the delightful hash brown, which was shredded strands of potato, jammed together and deep fried. The contrast in texture between the crunchy heavily fried edges and the soft inners was just awesome.

All in all, this was essentially a big breakfast, so it’s pretty hard for me not to love something like this, it’s classic and simple, with each piece coming together on the plate bringing its own strong flavour to compliment each other. Did I also mention that morcilla was here? Because morcilla is freaking delicious, especially this one at Ivy and the Fox.

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Here’s our second meal from Ivy and the Fox, the Senorita Fox ($19.9). This is (at least from the name) the sister dish to the above Mr. Fox and shares some similarities, but where Mr. Fox is classic and simple, the Senorita Fox is presented quite artfully and definitely has a lot more creativity around its ingredient choices and plating. When this dish came out, what hit me first was the fantastic presentation. I know how easy it is to get sauce swirls and all that but still!

This comes with two poached eggs, ocean trout, avocado and grilled haloumi, all served on top of a thick piece of toast. This was much lighter and dare I say, more health conscious than the Mr. Fox, with a lot of the flavour coming from a lovely earthy pesto spread around the dish. Something I particularly enjoyed was the addition of the grilled haloumi. I love cheese, pretty much all cheeses, so if you can figure out a way to add cheese to a dish, and keep it classy, then I’m all over it.

Who am I kidding, I don’t really need things to be kept classy, we just need more cheese on everything.

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As always, whenever we order a serve of poached eggs, we play poached or pwned! As you can see in the picture above, (apologies in advance for how destroyed it looks) these came out poached! There was a thin layer of overcookedness to it, but overall a pass with flying colours and one of the better ones I’ve had here in Canberra. Plus, I prefer it like this than outright uncooked. So I’m not complaining.

Overall I enjoyed this dish and it was a great little counter to the heaviness of the Mr. Fox, and it was far better looking too! Which of course is all that matters, right?

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We also needed something tropical to usher in Spring and ended up with the El Macho ($7), which had pineapple, pear among other things (sadly I can’t find the menu online and I’m terrible with these things, so the price might also be wrong). I usually don’t expect much from juices, which is honestly a bit strange since I’ve had so many good ones since I started dining at cafes in Canberra, but this one was, again, a pleasant surprise.

One thing I loved was the presentation, a fantastic juice is one thing, but to give me a cute little umbrella to go with it? That’s impressive! Seriously though, I really liked this. As soon as I ordered it, I already had a few regrets despite the waitress calling this the ‘best juice in the world’ because I thought that perhaps the pineapple was going to be a bit too sour for me. I am happy to report that I was wrong on this, and that this juice was a fantastic way to feel summery even though we’re only in Spring. It was light, refreshing and definitely tropical. I recommend this.

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In what was an extremely pleasant surprise, we were also given complimentary Babycinos to finish off our meals. Earlier in the meal, the owner Alex came by and mentioned that he remembered us from when we had brunch over at his first place, Fox and Bow down in Farrer. At the end of our meal we were told this was to thank us for the continued support which was a fantastic gesture, since who’s going to turn down a free coffee!

First of all, I should mention that I don’t really know coffee, so my take on the quality of this coffee should be taken with a grain of salt, but I thought this was about as good as any coffee I’ve ever had, and I’ve had them from perennial fan favourites like The Cupping Room, Penny University, Lonsdale Street Roasters and many more. One thing that I can comment on is the fantastic little smiley ginger cookie that was included with the babycino! The ginger cookies were fantastic, we ended up chucking ours into the coffee and letting it soak up all that coffee goodness before munching into it. Not sure if that’s the way to do it, but well, we liked it.

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So that’s everything we had here at Ivy and the Fox. I must say, Fox and Bow did something fairly spectacular when it crept up on me and became my favourite cafe in Canberra. With that said, I expected pretty big things when Ivy and the Fox was announced and I’m pleased to say it fully lived up to those expectations. I had a great time here, the food is delicious, the location is beautiful and the service, charming. This is a place that I’d love to go back to, and since I was told they have live music on Sundays, I might have to make that the day for my next journey down here!

Ivy and the Fox

Old Canberra House, Acton

Facebook: facebook.com/Ivyfoxfood

Opening hours: 

Monday to Thursday

8:00am to 4:30pm

Friday

8:00am to 7:00pm

Saturday to Sunday

8:30am to 4:00pm

Ivy and the Fox Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Joe’s Bar, Kingston

I think we’ve come full circle now, there was a time long ago when most restaurants you’d see around were named after someone in the attempt to make them seem more friendly, more relatable. Places like Lulu’s Cafe, China Joe’s, Uncle Jeff’s Vietnamese, any Thai restaurant (unless they went with the ‘thai’ pun option which was also super popular). Then after that came the modern era of places using words no one really understands, but if you go back in time or speak another language, it is actually a word that they use often for clean living or something. Places like Autolyse, Temporada, Mocan & Green Grout. Now I don’t have a particular preference when it comes to the names of restaurants, but I will admit I do have a slight nostalgic twinge at the thought of those old favourites and it is with great pleasure that I get to talk about a place named Joe’s Bar, presumably named after a man named Joe. Or woman named Joanne. You know, sometimes they shorten it like that.

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Joe’s Bar is the newly opened Italian inspired eatery and bar located on the ground level at the East Hotel in Kingston and complements Ox Eatery as another reason to venture out to the East Hotel whenever you can. I’m not usually one to jump out of my seat to try and attend newly opened places since I hate waiting in lines, but whilst I was browsing Instagram, I kept seeing pictures of cool little cheese plates and drinks coming out of Joe’s but they weren’t just traditional Italian goodies and drinks, each and every one of them had a cool and modern twist. And flowers, heaps of flowers, when I saw that, my hipster instincts kicked in and I knew I had to check it out.

Stepping into Joe’s Bar, the first thing that hit me was how quirky and cool the decor was, but second to that was the fact that it actually wasn’t super busy at all! I was kind of expecting a huge rush simply because of how Canberra seems to get whenever a new place opens up, which, I should add, is really nice to see as someone who is invested in the growth of Canberra’s food scene.

The decor is probably best described as a Frankenstein of hipster and rustic and it’s something that I really enjoyed. I know I say hipster a lot but it’s 2015, there’s just a lot of hipster things around these days. There’s a lovely wooden, vintage feel to the place, as well as a ton of ornaments and lights that seem thrown together in a way that doesn’t really work, but at the same time totally does. Sometimes I feel like my true calling is not in the realm of ‘describing things I don’t understand’. This is one of those times.

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Here you can see a few of the cool little things that make up Joe’s Bar’s character. Personalised coasters, cool little rocky candle holders and lemon slices in your tap water! Fancy! In addition, you get these cool little number cubes when you order that signifies what table you are. It’s these sorts of things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things but at the same time, I find really cool and is what sets a place apart from others. Also, stacking these little number boxes would be hell and I appreciate that kind of effort.

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First up, we got some Complimentary popcorn with rosemary, pecorino and olive oil. This was a welcome surprise; soon after we ordered we were presented with a complimentary serve of Joe’s special popcorn, and the smell itself was enough to get us drooling. Strong wafts of cheese oozed out of this dish and we were pretty hungry anyway so we started diving in straight away.

I am not a huge popcorn fan, lets get that out of the way first. When I go to the cinema, I generally will opt for chips, though I am acutely aware of how awkward it is to eat crunchy chips in a cinema, so might turn to gummy bears if I’m watching something particularly dramatic, but the point is, I’m not a huge popcorn guy. With that said, this popcorn was freaking delicious. Really cheesy, oily and just rich and decadent. There were just loose chunks of cheese everywhere, and depending on what ended up in your hands, you’d end up with a really rich cheesy mouthful, or a more relaxed one. Later the waitress came over and noticed we demolished our first bowl and offered us another one, which we gladly accepted. We kind of turned into popcorn people for one night.

A couple of days later, I actually tried making this at home myself, since it was absolutely amazing and I thought the ingredients were fairly basic, it should be quite easy right? Well I was wrong, my one turned out about a quarter as nice. The pecorino wasn’t as rich, the rosemary wasn’t nearly as edible, and overall it just wasn’t tasty at all. I’ll figure it out one day I’m sure. (Please help me I have no idea what I did wrong with it).

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Our first ‘main’ of sorts was the Polpettine di carne ($22) pasture-fed Cape Grim beef meat balls in vine ripened tomato sauce with crusty bread. So funny story with this dish, (it’s not that funny) I ended up picking it purely because of something I saw on TV recently. So on the show ‘No Reservations’ with Anthony Bourdain, there’s an episode where he goes to Italy and does, well food stuff. Anyway, at one point he goes to his camera man’s mother’s house and she cooks up this massive pot of Ragu and for 10 minutes it’s them just going on and on about the virtues of using bread to soak up sauce and how amazing it is, and the camera is just zooming in on them contorting bread into these shapes, soaking up sauce and shovelling it into their mouth.

Needless to say, I had to do it, and that is why when I saw this on the menu, I jumped at it.

The dish itself was pretty much what I was expecting. The meatballs themselves were really nice, good quality meat and slightly pink in the middle. I’m not sure if this is how Italians do it, but it wasn’t really heavily flavoured at all, and I found myself cutting open the meatballs, and then dipping the meat back into the sauce to coat it again. Luckily, I loved the sauce, which was a really rich, sweet and had chunks of tomato throughout it. This was quite nice, I prefer to have meatballs with a little bit more going on (my sister makes these amazing meatballs with rice in them which I absolutely love, in hindsight I should probably just ask her for the recipe instead of reminiscing about them) but I knew heading into this version at Joe’s that authentic Italian meatballs’ let the quality of the ingredients shine, and that’s exactly what happened here at Joe’s Bar.

This dish definitely satisfied my desire for dipping bread into sauce, and the lovely staff at Joe’s seemed to know it, and provided me with an extra serve of bread on the side. Really good, and would recommend if you’re at all interested in authenticity.

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Next up was the Lasagne al sugo di maiale brasato ($22) slow braised chianti pork ribs deboned and sandwich between handmade pasta sheets topped with grated pecorino and fresh nutmeg. This was probably my favourite dish of the whole night, and that was surprising because I wasn’t expecting much from it at all. The slow braised pork rib was the highlight here, it was shredded up and just gave the whole dish this amazing texture and ensured that what you were eating hadn’t been processed in the slightest.

The flavour of the pork permeated throughout the whole dish and was easily the star attraction here. It was smokey, mild, and extremely tender. The actual sheets of pasta were fantastic as well, really well made and with a slight char on them that gave a wonderful crunchy texture to the rest of the dish. Most lasagne’s that I have, (of the Sara-Lee variety) are heavy on the sauce, and that’s what you taste the most of, but that definitely wasn’t the way Joe’s Bar had opted to do their lasagne. The sauce was muted and took quite a back seat to the strong flavours of the pork. I appreciated this move, although that could’ve been because I was also eating the rich sauce of the meatballs at the time. In any case, I really loved this lasagne and would recommend it to anyone. Except a vegetarian I suppose.

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Next up, we ordered the cheese plate, or Di formaggi ($18) imported testun al barolo (grape infused pecorino), whipped goats cheese, taleggio lombardo, gorgonzola dolce, truffle honey, dried baby figs, candied pistachio and crostini. I’m not sure how much detail I’m expected to go into with a cheese plate, but let me start by saying this was just a beautifully presented plate. Not sure how much anyone cares about this sort of thing, but look at it!

The cheeses were all amazing but the highlights for me was the grape infused pecorino, the gorgonzola and the truffle honey. The grape pecorino was just a really cool cheese, and something I’ve never had the pleasure of trying before. It was a standard strong flavoured pecorino, but it also had this sweetness throughout it. The gorgonzola was a really mild blue cheese, and whilst I generally love blue cheeses, I do tend to get tired of how rich they are over time. This didn’t happen with the gorgonzola cheese at Joe’s, it was mild and delicious, and I managed to get all the way through it and even wanted more! The truffle honey on the other hand was exceptionally flavourful and rich. The flavour of truffle was incredibly strong in the honey, it almost felt like truffle oil in goo form. There’s a danger that it’s actually too rich for some, but as a huge truffle nerd, I loved it.

My favourite part of this cheese plate was the fact that you didn’t just get the typical cheddar, brie and blue combination. Most of the cheeses on this plate were really different, and I appreciated that change of pace.

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Our second cocktail of the night was Joe’s mandarin Negroni ($14) mandarin infused Campari, Cinzano rosso vermouth and fresh mandarin juice. This was actually quite the shock for us! When we read the description with all its mandarins, we were kind of expecting something light and sweet (of course we had no idea what a Negroni was) so when this popped out, it was shocking to say the least. If you’re a fan of hard Negroni’s or hard liquor at all for that matter, then this is actually really quite nice. You could taste the mandarin elements through it, and unfortunately we did end up stealing some of the lime’s from the dark & stormy to kind of weaken this drink somewhat. We did enjoy it, it just needed a little bit of a tweaking. If you’re someone that can handle their alcohol, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this. Probably.

I kind of wish I got a recommendation from the staff at Joe’s Bar, the drinks menu was absolutely massive with plenty of local and imported wines as well as classic cocktails and a decent list of ‘Joe’s cocktails’, which included many classic cocktail but all with a modern twist to them and some flowers, plenty of flowers. I’m sure they could have recommended me something sweet and fruity!

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For drinks, we ordered a Joe’s dark & stormy ($16) Hayman’s Sloe gin, Cinzano extra dry vermouth, orange bitters and fresh lemon. Dark and stormy is actually my go-to cocktail whenever I see it on a menu because I love ginger beer. The dark and stormy here at Joe’s was really nice, full of lemons and limes and not too harsh on the alcohol. I’m not really a hardcore alcohol drinker so I’m not going to pretend I know what I’m talking about, but I did enjoy this.

Our time at Joe’s Bar was honestly fantastic. The service was really attentive, the food delicious, and the drinks tasty! The decor of the place is quirky and inviting, and it’s a place that adds wonderfully to the already delicious Italian shoe print in Canberra.

Joe’s Bar 

East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston

Website: joesateast.com/

Facebook: facebook.com/joesateast
Click to add a blog post for Joe's Bar on Zomato

Grease Monkey, Braddon

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I’ve been eyeing out Grease Monkey for a while now, every since I first saw construction begin on the corner of Lonsdale Street and Elourea Street in Braddon, I’ve been wondering what awesome new eatery would join the diverse, extensive and hispter restaurants, cafes and eateries already available throughout Braddon. Wow, I’ve started a lot of posts with that recently haven’t I? Well, Braddon has had a lot of construction and I guess I just have a very simple thought process. Of course, after the construction finished, the waiting game started. But as of last Friday, Grease Monkey opened up for service for the first time and to my absolute joy, Grease Monkey focuses on one of the finest haute cuisines in the world, American food!

The menu at Grease Monkey includes all good things that you would expect to find from any good American joint, including burgers, southern fried chicken, mash and gravy, milkshakes and what not. To top it off and to add an Australian edge, Grease Monkey is also a bar with plenty of beers on tap, as well as wines and cocktails. When we visited during the first weekend, Grease Monkey was only serving drinks indoors, which was a bit of a shame since the outdoor beer garden was awesome but I assume they must be in the process of getting their outdoor licences.

Being a bar and eatery, there is plenty of seating indoors and outdoors, though if you went on the opening weekend, you wouldn’t have noticed because it was absolutely packed! There are a couple of booths indoors for groups and plenty of standing tables, they’ve clearly tried very hard to ensure any horizontal surface can be eaten upon. Outside you’ll find a lot more group seating, plus Grease Monkey has plenty of heating outside so the Canberra cold is remedied a bit. The decor is cheeky with monkeys as the recurring theme throughout the store.

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Everything about Grease Monkey looked awesome, from the menu to the decor to the atmosphere. It was really cool and felt like walking into another very awesome and popular restaurant in Sydney, Mary’s. It was so similar that it actually raised a few eyebrows. The menu, from the breakfast options to the different burger offerings to the milkshakes to the sides even the deep fried chicken, everything was almost an exact replica of Mary’s. Then there was the way that Grease Monkey presented their burgers with this cool burger art on the wall (see the above image). Its a pretty cool way of letting people know what’s in the burger right? Well, May’s CBD store kind of has the exact same picture.

If you told me Mary’s and Grease Monkey were franchises of each other, I would not be surprised. In fact, I would be more surprised to hear that they aren’t – that’s how similar these two places were.

I absolutely love Mary’s so I was a little disturbed by this. It also raised my expectations exponentially. As much as I tried to sample Grease Monkey in a completely open and separate light to Mary’s, I couldn’t help but compare back to my good experiences at Mary’s. It’s just hard when the menu items are exactly the same. The deep fried chicken, breakfast options, the signature burger ‘the Greasy’s’ and mushroom burger are exactly the same! I mean, yes every American place probably has these same burgers, sides and what not but probably not to this extent, so comparisons were commonplace for us during this meal.

When the food came out, Grease Monkey’s had unfortunately dug itself into a little hole before we even bit into it. It was competing with some of the best burgers I’ve had in Australia and I already had a lot of disdain for the (at least to us) outright copying of another restaurant. However, after digging into my food, I must say I was left pretty impressed with how it tasted!

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We of course ordered the quintessential American classic, the Double deluxe ($17), double beef, double cheese, bacon, Grease Monkey ketchup, onion, pickles, mustard and Greasy’s sauce. Of course this wasn’t the only burger that we sampled at Grease Monkey’s but come on, a double cheeseburger at an American burger place! When we saw it on the menu, we knew we had to get it and we weren’t disappointed! Look at that thing, it looks like something straight from Five Guys in New York!

Not only did the double deluxe look like a delicious American burger, it also tasted like one. The burger had super thick and meaty patties, there wasn’t any spices or crazy flavours in these patties – just good old beef mince with a bit of salt and pepper to keep the meatiness strong. Both patties were cooked just past medium rare, I imagine they were aiming for medium rare but I gave them a pass based on how busy it was in there.

In between the patties, there were two generous slices of melted American cheese that oozed everywhere when you bit into the burger. It was absolutely amazing, the textures, melted cheese mixed with the soft and flavoursome minced beef. To get that level of melt without a foil wrap makes me think the crew at Grease Monkeys were cooking the patties with cheese sitting on top, connecting the gooey cheese and beef patties together.

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Outside of the perfect combination of cheese and meat, there were a couple of other elements to this double deluxe which made this the deliciousness that it is. To add to this burger, there was fried bacon. The bacon was done really well, though I would’ve preferred much crispier bacon to give this burger some different textures, but I’m sure a lot of people prefer this softer, fattier and moister version.

My favourite part about this burger is the lack of any type of salad. It’s a cheeseburger, it’s not some frankenburger hybrid where you get a cheeseburger and add some iceberg onto it. Some people attempt those kinds of things and it leaves me shaking my head. This burger has no lettuce, no tomato and absolutely no pineapple or beetroot. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I eat vegetables occasionally, even on burgers, and there have been many times where I’ve gone to Paul’s Hamburgers in Rockdale and gotten a burger full of beetroot and pineapple.

The key difference however, is that Paul’s focuses on Australian burger, not American ones. Grease Monkeys on the other hand is an American burger place, so imagine my surprise seeing their Full Service burger on the menu. I guess I should commend them for attempting to extend an olive branch to our Australian palates, but I do believe it takes a certain kind of cultural unawareness to actually order a Full Service burger. I commend Grease Monkeys for providing the option, but when in an American burger place, you need to order the most American burger and that my friends, is the Double Deluxe!

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On to something equally as American but with a little more soul, the Dirty bird ($15) with Southern fried chicken, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and Greasy’s sauce. While the double deluxe ingredients list read like the classic Mary’s burger, it tasted quite different (in an equally enjoyable way). However, that wasn’t the case here with the Dirty Bird. The Dirty Bird actually tasted very similar to Mary’s version of a deep fried chicken burger. I should mention, that this isn’t a bad thing either because the Mary’s deep fried chicken burger was absolutely amazing!

My favourite part about this burger was how absolutely generous Grease Monkey was with the ingredients! Although it tasted like the Mary’s burger, there was just so much more of it. The deep fried chicken was huge, and the meat to bread ratio was absolutely fantastic. Of course, not only was there a lot of it but the meat was also cooked perfectly. The southern fried chicken was super moist on the inside while on the outside it was crispy with plenty of awesome deep fried batter. Actually, it kind of reminded me of KFC chicken, just with a mildler flavour and a more crunchy outer shell.

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To bring more flavour to the burger, there was the Greasy’s sauce. I’m sure this is some sort of super secret recipe, so I have no idea whats in it. But when I sampled it by itself, it did remind me a bit of Big Mac sauce and who doesn’t love Big Mac sauce?!

Finally, with all the big flavours, the was a little bit of lettuce, onion and tomato added to this burger. I should be clear that whilst I think vegetables don’t belong on American cheeseburgers, they absolutely do belong on deep fried chicken burgers. The salad helps to break up the stronger flavours of the fried chicken as well as the Greasy’s sauce. There were big flavours, mild ones and lots of different textures. The whole thing in one little burger, pretty awesome stuff.

I haven’t spoken about it yet but all burgers at Grease Monkey’s come with a side of fries. Originally, I thought the burgers at Grease Monkey’s were pretty pricey. I mean, $17 for a burger and its probably half the size of a Brodburger, so I wasn’t super impressed. It’s not value for money or anything and I originally kept thinking back to Mary’s burgers, which are about $10 for the standard and $12 for the more interesting burgers (like this deep fried chicken one). Anyway, when the burgers came out, I realised that fries are included, and that definitely softened the blow a lot. At Mary’s, a side of fries is about $4. This makes Grease Monkey’s burgers on average only about $2 more expensive, which is absolutely fine. You know, the Canberra surcharge and what not.

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Our final burger from Grease Monkey, something for the vegetarians, the Nimbin ($15), crumbled portobello mushroom, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and Greasy’s sauce. This burger was surprisingly nice for a vegetarian burger. If you’ve ever eaten a vegetarian burger, you’ll know that they generally don’t quite live up their meaty equivalent. Most vegetarian burgers come with either a chickpea or lentil patty of some kind, which includes some corn, peas and what not. These are normally deep fried, soaked in oil and not really my favourite kind of burger. If you’re lucky or at a nice cafe, their vegetarian burgers normally come with a mushroom patty, like here at Grease Monkey.

I’ve had a couple of mushroom burgers now and this is by far one of the most creative and tasty ones I’ve ever had. What makes this one so unique and tasty? Well, the crew at Grease Monkey have coated a field mushroom in breadcrumbs and then deep fried it. This has so many benefits! Firstly, it adds a lovely crispy and crunchy texture to the burger, which you normally don’t get in vegetarian burgers. If you think about it, there aren’t many crispy elements in standard vegetarian burgers. Secondly, it adds that lovely fried flavour which lets you know you’re doing something good for your belly and lets you know you’re actually eating a greasy, delicious and flavoursome burger. Finally, it also does a great job of containing all the mushroom’s juices. I love the mushroom juice, it adds plenty of flavour and moisture to vegetarian burgers BUT! It also makes the burger really messy and kind of unpleasant to eat. Trust me, you don’t want mushroom juices dripping down your arm as you’re munching into your burger. So its pretty awesome when that doesn’t happen, since the lovely breadcrumb crust is soaking it all up.

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Thanks to the deep fried mushroom patty, this burger reminded me a lot of the Dirty Bird burger. The strong flavours of the fried mushroom was complimented and balanced by the assortment of salads, including sliced tomato and lettuce. There was also some creaminess from the Greasy’s sauce and the gooey cheese which was melted and almost infused into the mushroom patty. To be honest, I think the deep frying of the field mushroom also helped to ensure the mushroom patty didn’t get too salty. This was a massive plus for me as I tend to find mushroom burgers can get really overwhelming and salty towards the end. Here, I didn’t really have that problem at all.

As mentioned previously, each burger came with a side of fries which were ‘standard’ cut. That is, not shoestring or steak, just that standard size of fry. The fries here are actually really delicious, and I’d consider getting a side of them all on their own, which I think says a lot, since I already get a decent amount with my burger. I’m not sure if any of you readers are from Sydney, but in Cabramatta there is this big corner with a Red Lea chicken shop on it. This chicken shop serves my favourite fries and it’s all because of this lovely paprika spice mix that’s generously sprinkled all over them. The reason I mention that is because the fries here at Grease Monkey have a similar red powder on them. Absolutely delicious, though I may be a little biased.

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On to some of the sides at Grease Monkey’s, first up the Mash and gravy ($3). I enjoy all mashed potato dishes, and this one was no different, especially for $3! When I first took a spoonful of this mash and gravy, I was expecting something super rich, buttery and creamy. Something really artery clogging and unashamedly American. Something where the potato is so smooth because its laced entirely with chicken fat, where each spoonful just slides down your throat. The mash and gravy at Grease Monkey’s wasn’t quite like that, which may or may not be a positive for some, but it was a lot more homely and almost English, if I dare say.

Here, the gravy was super flavoursome and meaty. However, instead of being rich in that creamy and buttery way, it was really peppery. The potato also had a lot more structure to it and for once, I could actually taste the potato! This is very different to my experiences with KFC potato and gravy (which I still love of course) but sometimes it kind of nice to know that what you’re eating used to be an actual vegetable at some point in its life. There was also a good proportion of gravy to mash, which means you don’t end up with plain old mash without the peppery and delicious gravy. We almost ruined this because we were busy dipping our chips into it, but the gravy ended up holding out til the end!

For $3, you get a decent amount of mash and gravy. Its not a lot or anything but between the burger and the chips, we shared a single serving of mash and gravy between a couple of people and it was plenty.

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We of course couldn’t help but grab a side of Greasy fried chicken ($12, 3 pieces). So, when I originally saw this on the menu, I was pretty keen to try it out, I love deep fried chicken! Most Tuesdays, you’ll see me in the KFC line. But for $4 a piece, I definitely hesitated. Plus, Grease Monkey is a pretty hipster place, I wasn’t really expecting anything generous. To be honest, I was kind of expecting three chicken wing sized pieces and I think with that kind of expectation, we could only ever really be impressed with what we ended up with.

Well from the above image, you can see that its actually pretty decent. For comparisons sake, the chicken pieces at Grease Monkey’s are about the size of a KFC or Chicken Gourmet chicken. I know its not as cheap as Chicken Gourmet or KFC but hey, that’s what we get for loving hipster food. Yes, there are also four pieces of chicken as opposed to three. I have no idea what happened there, it just came out like that and we definitely weren’t complaining. To be fair, I don’t know if it’s because we got a bunch of drumsticks and they were compensating, or perhaps they decided to show a bit of charity to us. At the end of the day, don’t expect four pieces because I have no idea how this occurred.

The chicken itself was really quite delicious. The best way to describe it is a cross between hot and spicy KFC, and original recipe KFC. An amazing combination if I do say so myself. Have you ever been eating original recipe and thought ‘wouldn’t it be awesome if this was a bit crunchier?’ Or have you ever been eating hot and spicy and thought ‘this would be so good if it had the herbs and spices of original recipe!’ If so, this is the chicken for you! It’s pretty much original recipe but crunchier. I know it’s kind of doing this a disservice by comparing it to fast food KFC, but I’m terrible at describing things and this is the shortcut I’ve chosen. I really enjoyed this chicken, I probably wouldn’t go gaga over it considering it’s $4 a piece, but if you’re someone that regularly pays for Korean Fried Chicken, then you’re probably not going to really mind here.

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Finally a drink to wash all the goodies down, a Smoky bacon and maple milkshake ($6). While its not obvious, Grease Monkey actually serves some pretty cool milkshakes. On the menu, there is a little note right at the bottom about the milkshakes but you have to speak to one of their crew members to find out what flavours are available. When we were there, Grease Monkey had two different flavours, this smokey bacon milkshake and a chocolate peanut butter milkshake.

I love a good peanut butter sandwich and what not but when used as an ingredient in sweets and drinks, I find it gets pretty rich and sickly, so I opted for the smokey bacon milkshake. Plus, I think I must have a thing for bacon milkshakes because last time I was at Mary’s, I opted for the maple bacon milkshake. Must be a thing!

The smoky bacon milkshake didn’t quite taste like actual bacon itself, instead it tasted like all of the spices and flavours you associate with bacon, without tasting specifically like bacon. Weird concept I know. In fact I’d say the prevailing flavour of this dish was actually the maple, which came across as cinnamon. Overall, it wasn’t really rich, sweet or creamy, making it a lovely balanced and enjoyable drink that you could rip through easily without even noticing. This is something we did, and regretted, because it was completely gone by the time the food came out.

Don’t make our mistakes, conserve your shake.

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There you have it, my visit to Grease Monkey. I must admit, I was very disappointed to see a replica of a famous Sydney restaurant. Ah, I should probably dial that back a bit. It reminds me a lot of Mary’s.

However, at the same time, the food was absolutely amazing and done really well. So, I feel like I must totally applaud the chef and kitchen crew for taking on these ingredients and this known concept and turning it into something absolutely amazing that Canberra sorely lacks.

Will I be back, knowing that its kind of a rip off? Maybe! I tend to take stands against things like this, no one likes a fraud or rip off but the food here was good enough for me to just really really want to eat it again. As someone that has eaten all over America, it’s really wonderful to see American food done right, and that’s what this is, American done right. The food here is actually fantastic and some of the best American I’ve had in Canberra. So if you’re craving some of that good old greasy stuff, head down to Grease Monkeys to get your burgers on.

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Go apeshit over these burgers cos they’re good. We stole that line. From them. Above.   

Grease Monkey

19 Lonsdale Street, Braddon

Website: greasys.com.au

Facebook: facebook.com/greasemonkeycanberra

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The Schnitzel Haus, Braddon

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Coming soon Now Crumbing!

Braddon has been going through a huge resurgence recently with a ton of fantastic new eateries opening up over the past couple of years. I probably didn’t need to mention that because of how often Canberra news outlets love talking about the “Braddon transformation” but you know, it kind of feels good to say something a bit newsy. Makes me feel legitimate. A bit.

Anyway, The Schitnzel Haus is something I’ve been looking forwards to for a really long time now ever since I saw the construction start up next to Hopscotch on Lonsdale Street. There was a fair bit of time when I had absolutely no idea what was coming, and to be fair I kind of just thought it’d be another hipster cafe. Do not get me wrong, I love hipster cafes as much as the next guy with black rimmed glasses, but between 80/20, Mood, LSR and Elemental, I feel like Braddon is a bit hipster cafe’d out, so imagine my glee when I found out this was going to be a casual den of crumbed meats!

The Schnitzel Haus is a really nice place, with a vibrant yellow decor that screams summer and bees, I feel like I’m walking into a cafe in a beach side town, instead of a cafe in Canberra, 2hrs and 30mins from any waves. What I noticed as soon as I walked inside was the freshness of a place that wasn’t at all trying to be vintage or hip. The Schnitzel Haus at it’s core is a casual place serving a casual food, and, again, as much as I love a hipster cafe, I do really appreciate places that aren’t afraid to be different.

We went to The Schnitzel Haus for lunch, and at the time only I (Ouk) was hungry, so Lily just kind of sat there and took pictures. Outside of how awkward that was, I felt I needed to mention that because we only ended up with one schnitzel. Sorry!

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As with any good The Schnitzel Haus customer, schnitzel was the order of the day, but not just any schnitzel, the Original pork schnitzel ($21.90) with mushroom sauce. So here at the Schnitzel Haus you get a fair bit of choice, and it can be a bit overwhelming so I’m going to try and explain this, because it took me ages to work it out myself, and no one wants to waste time looking at menus!

First you get a choice of the schnitzel itself, either chicken, pork or veal. I went with pork because I personally believe that the pig is the best animal out there as far eating it goes. I am a huge fan of  everything that comes out of the humble pig, from bacon to belly, it’s just all absolutely fantastic! I know that there’s going to be a lot of clamour for veal since it’s kind of the ‘fancy’ option but I’ve been burned too many times with veal schnitzels in the past. I remember a time when I went to Goni’s up in Marrickville, Sydney for a schnitzel (if you’re into absolutely massive schnitzels I recommend you give that place a try!) and against the judgement of a friend of mine, I pushed for the veal. Cue spending the entire night chewing away at what had to be the rubberiest piece of meat I’ve ever had the good fortune of eating. Since then I’ve been a bit wary about crumbed veal so I stay away from it, though if you try it and it’s ok, please let me know! Outside of that you get to pick a sauce, out of mushroom, peppercorn or creamy garlic, which comes alongside your chosen schnitzel in a little cuppy thing.

Ok in hindsight it’s really not that complex. But the menu is massive, with various options including schnitzels topped with sausage, prawns and various flavour combinations which give you cool themed schnitzels like the Mexican or the Italian and so forth. You can also get schnitzels in burgers and a hotdog schnitzel, pretty cool aye? Oh and for anyone out there who doesn’t like crumbly goodness, there are also salads and mod oz entrees (and dessert!).

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Here’s a close up of the schnitzel itself. Normally I’d say $21.90 is a lot for a schnitzel, and to be fair, it still kind of is. You’re probably thinking ‘Why should I pay this much when there are hundreds of schnitzel specials out there for just $10?’, like the one across the road at The Civic Pub. You’d probably have a point if you had that thought; this isn’t the biggest schnitzel in the world, measuring about 15cm lengthways but what I can say about it is that it’s quite possibly the tastiest schnitzel I’ve ever had in my life. Most schnitzels you get in those schnitty specials type joints are just pieces of meat tenderised to hell, crumbed with abandon and then chucked in the deep fat fryer. Still delicious, but there’s a certain lack of care taken with something like that. You might be able to see from the above picture that the texture and colour of the schnitzels here at The Schnitzel Haus is a little different. While it’s been coated in breadcrumbs just like any other schnitzel, a key difference is that there are little specks that show the herbs and spices that have gone onto this thing, and it’s really something that you’ll notice and appreciate with each bite that you take.

In addition to this, the schnitzels here are oven baked, not deep fried. I’m not someone to talk about healthiness so I won’t delve into that aspect of it, but this also has a secondary effect. The baking as opposed to deep frying gave the crumb an uneven crunch, which is actually an awesome thing. You have some sections and edges which are dark and charred while others remained light and crisp. It turns the humble schnitzel into a really fun meal with some slight variations in texture as you’re eating. I love super crispy and crunchy food, but I’d probably get really tired of it if the entire thing was like that and appreciate the variation that this cooking style affords. This schnitzel was noticeably lighter than other schnitzels I’ve had as well, so it didn’t grow to be too much as I was working my way through it.

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So there you have it, our trip to The Schnitzel Haus. Just one schnitzel unfortunately, but this place impressed me more than enough to get me to come back and try some of their other dishes. They’ve got some standard options like salads and burgers, but something that really jumped out at me was a schnitzel hot dog! I’m imagining bits of schnitzel in a roll, and there’s one with mashed potato and gravy in it so that has got me fairly excited. The Schnitzel Haus somewhat surprisingly has a full bar as well, and I saw that it had Canadian Club and Dry on tap! Which I’ve never seen before at a bar so that was a bit cool/weird!

All in all, this was a really nice experience and I really enjoyed the product itself, it probably won’t replace the cheap $10 schnitzels from my diet entirely, since you really can’t beat that amazing deal, but whenever I feel like treating myself, this will definitely be up there in the list of things that I’ll partake in.

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The Schnitzel Haus

5 Lonsdale Street, Braddon

Website: theschnitzelhaus.com.au/

Facebook: facebook.com/theschnitzelhaus

Opening hours:

Monday to Sunday

11:00am to late

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Belly Bao, Chinatown

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This is a sad and yet wonderful story of missed opportunities and new found loves. To put that all into perspective, it’s really about a restaurant closing that I never got to try, visit or see. I can write like a real writer sometimes. Sometimes. Anyway, so last week we ate at Belly Bao, which is situated in the Good God Small Club, down on, ah, well it’s near the Three Wise Monkeys Bar.

The sad part of this tale is that, as you know, I’m a fiend for all things American and previously at Good God there was a lovely little (or so I hear) establishment called The Dip. The Dip specialised in amazing hot dogs, buffalo wings and other awesome American things. My sister swore by that place and she told me to go there constantly, yet I never listened. Sadly, sometime last year The Dip closed without me ever having a taste of its hot doggy goodness. This event has left a void in my heart that I’m sure I’ll never fill. That’s the sad bit. On a more positive note, the empty space in Good God (and my heart) has been lovingly filled by an entirely different kind of meat in a bun concoction, Belly Bao!

Belly Bao specialises in those delightful Taiwanese treats, the bao. To me, a bao is essentially a sidewards taco made out of the white stuff you get on the outside of a pork bun, which is then usually filled with slow cooked pork. My first experience with a bao was at Ippudo, in the Westfield food court on Pitt Street. Since then, I’ve pretty much been on the lookout for these little gems because I freaking love these things.

We ended up Belly Bao on a Friday night and the first thing that we noticed (outside of the cool cave-like decor) was that there weren’t really that many tables at all, and take-away didn’t seem to be an option. With this in mind we did what any good person would do in an overfilled food court. That is, we stood around near tables of people who had empty plates in front of them, and tried to mentally will them into leaving. And it worked!

I hope you like bao’s, because that’s essentially all we ordered!

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First up, the classic, the Slow braised pork belly bao ($6.50) with pickled mustard greens, coriander, crushed peanuts and kewpie mayo. This is the one that started it all. The braised pork belly bao from Ippudo is what made me fall in love with these things in the first place and the one here at Belly Bao is no different. In fact, it makes me love them even more! So I guess I should get something out of the way first. I personally enjoy the baos here at Belly Bao more than the ones I’ve had at Ippudo, which I guess shouldn’t be a massive surprise to most. In the end of the day, Belly Bao does specialise in baos hence, they really are amazing! And I still do love the ramens at Ippudo.

The braised pork in the middle of this bao is extremely soft and tender, and practically falls apart as you eat it. If you look at the picture above you can see that there’s a ton of fat on this piece of pork, and that the pork itself is cut extremely thick. These are both good things. I’ve had a ton of bao’s in my life and if a place skimps on the pork then it’s dead to me. Belly Bao definitely did not skimp on the pork. A lot of people out there might be thinking “ew that’s so much fat” and to be honest it is a lot, but you have to trust me on this one, the fat makes the dish. It needs to be there. Although the fat is super important, the pork is easily the star attraction of this dish. The sides also do a great job of ensuring that the pork doesn’t become too much but onwards to the most important element. The pork is actually quite sweet due to the sauce that it was simmered in, and the crushed peanuts add some contrasting crunchy flavour as well as some saltiness. The pickled greens cut right through the richness of the meat and it’s what keeps this bao enjoyable the entire way through.

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Secondly, here is the Soft shell crab bao ($7.50) with watercress, chilli aioli and lemon vinaigrette. Like with the pork belly bao, this was absolutely fantastic. It was just punches of flavour left, right and centre. You have the strong and rich flavour of the crab, with is enhanced by the chilli aioli which is full of flavour and gives every bite a little kick but nothing too spicy or unbearable. Of course, this along would have been too overpowering and super sicken real quick. Hence, this is where the watercress and lemon vinaigrette comes in. Both these elements, cut right through the richness of the crab and the creaminess of the aioli, with a hint of bitterness from the watercress and a lovely citrus zest from the lemon vinaigrette. Together these four things bring perfect flavour and balance to eat bite.

I just realised that I haven’t spoken about the bao skin yet! I guess normally wouldn’t, since its a pretty straight forward and basic element to the overall bao but here at Belly Bao, I think their bao skins deserve a special mention — because they’re amazing! I’ve had my fair share of baos, these by far have been the best skins. They were super fluffy, moist and had just a hint of sweetness to them. But the thing that makes these skins the standard out, is the size or portion. The crew at Belly Bao have balance these perfectly, ensuring that the denseness of the bao skin doesn’t overpower and take away from the flavour of the fillings. I know it sounds stupid but it makes all the difference!

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Here’s a combo picture because that’s how they arrived and it just looked too pretty (and risky to pull out on to a dish to photograph separately). I’ll probably just talk about them left to right.

First up, the  the Panko crumbed chicken breast bao ($6.50) with lettuce, pickled radish, secret sauce, coriander, as well as coriander aioli. To me, this bao tasted like a really high quality schnitzel sandwich but with an awesome Asian twist. This might sound a bit derogatory but its definitely not, I kind of (absolutely) love schnitzel sandwiches. The chicken in this bao was extremely juicy, and I personally have a really strong preference for panko crumbs so that hit the spot perfectly. Panko is a Japanese breadcrumb that’s a lot lighter, larger, and a bit sweeter than the more standard breadcrumb that you get from Woolies. If you’ve ever had tempura anything, then you’ve probably had Panko crumbs before, and loved them too obviously.

The people at Belly Bao were really smart with this dish because a panko crumbed chicken breast isn’t nearly as rich or overpowering as a piece of braised pork. So with that in mind, the additions to this bao are equally not as powerful, instead of the pickled greens that you get with the pork belly bao, here we get straight up lettuce, bit of freshness, but nothing too crazy. No need for peanuts either since the crunchy texture is already there thanks to the panko crumb, and to accommodate how that might go down the throat, there are two separate sauces to keep things moist. Really appreciated the thought that went into this, and I really enjoyed the bao as well.

Secondly, in the middle of this picture, we have the Crackling roast pork belly bao ($6.50) with crackling, pickled radish, coriander and kewpie mayo. This was the second pork bao that is on offer at Belly Bao, they really do caters to all us pork lovers out there. First, the fatty and moist stewed pork belly, now the crispy pork crackling. If you look at the picture, you can see that this pork is just as thick as the braised pork from above, which is another awesome sign and makes me respect Belly Bao immensely. The pork in this bao is pretty drastically different from the slow braised pork from above, it’s been cooked in a different way and the result is a much firmer piece of pork that doesn’t have that distinctive Asian pork flavour. To me, that’s actually a really good thing, because I would’ve been a bit annoyed if both the pork options ended up tasting largely the same. The pork here reminded me heavily of the roast pork you get from Asian BBQ houses, and I love that pork so this was definitely a good thing.

The crackling on this bao was pretty interesting, it wasn’t just on the side of the pork where you’d naturally expect it to be. The crackling was cut off, and placed in the bao sideways, like a chip layer. Again, I need to commend the guys at Belly Bao on all the thought that went into this bao. If you think about it, leaving the crackling on the pork would have lead to a bit of a disaster (okay, maybe more of a mess) when you bit into your bao. By placing the pork in the bao with crackling separately on the side the way they have, the crew at Belly Bao has ensured maximum crackling coverage, and minimisation of mouth harming errors. Pretty cool.

Last but not least, the Crispy tofu bao ($6.50) with cucumber, peanuts, crunchy onions, coriander, chilli and sticky sauce. Something for all the vegetarians out there. I must say, I really do appreciate the menu at Belly Bao, we’ve kind of gotten to a point where hipster places are no longer offering options for people with dietary requirements, i.e. those places that only other one item. How about those of use who don’t eat meat, or don’t like fish, or only eat white meat?! Here at Belly Bao, theres something for everyone, from vegetarians, to fishcetarian to your sweet tooth’s out there. And the best part?! The alternative options are actually really tasty, the crew at Belly Bao haven’t just included these other options to ensure that everyone is covered, instead these options are actually here to please your belly.

In this veggie bao, there are amazing flavours and various flavours in each bite that you take. From the crispiness and freshness of the cucumber, to the crunch of the peanuts and onion. There also plenty of flavour from the chilli and sticky sauce and of course, to round it all off and absorb all the goodness, you have your amazingly light and crispy fried tofu. Only a slight word of warning for this bao, the chilli is legit, this thing has quite a kick to it.

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For all you people who thought ‘I NEED SUGAR AND DESSERT URGGGHH’ then the Strawbelly bao ($6.50) is for you! It is a golden fried bao, with a log of vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberry slices which are then drizzled (or drowned) in condensed milk! Decadent. That’s the word for this. The golden fried bao is fantastically crunchy but also airy once you get into it. It’s honestly kind of like a funnel cake, from the US. That is, essentially a donut with all the doughy bits gone and replaced with a crunchy and fried outer shell while still remaining soft and airy inside. Definitely not dense at all. Yeah I did a terrible job there, I guess more reason to try it!

The ice cream log is, of course, fantastic, since it’s a giant log of vanilla ice cream covered in strawberries and condensed milk. This was really a lot better than it had any right to be. I thought that this dish would be cool to look at, but not much in the taste department since it seemed a little gimmicky, but I was completely wrong. This ended up being one of my favourite bao’s, sitting just behind the crispy pork probably.

There’s also a banana version which comes with nutella, I opted for strawberry because it’ll be a cold day in hell before I say no to condensed milk, but it’s something to keep in mind for the dessert fiends out there.

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Good God, being a bar and all, serves some pretty delightful beverages and it would be remiss if I didn’t speak about a couple of them. To wash down our baos, we grabbed a (left) Spirit Walker ($12), Bulldog gin with fresh line, orange bitters and ginger beer. I’m a very boring drinker sometimes, and when I find something that I kind of like, then I’ll generally stick to it. This is because there are a ton of drinks that I just don’t really enjoy, mainly because of my terribly immature palate, but nevertheless, it’s what I enjoy.

I actually remember one night out with my sister; we went through the cocktail menu, picked some out that spoke to us, and she promptly went up to the bar to order. While she was up there, she noticed that they had this special cocktail called the ‘Sazerac’, and she considered for a quick moment whether to just grab it or not. At that exact moment, some other girl was at the bar and she completely lost her mind saying ‘OMG is that the Sazerac?! I must have it! One Sazerac please!’ So of course, my sister ended up walking back to our table with a Sazerac in hand. It essentially tasted like fire in liquid form, and we both hated it, and subtly cursed that other girl for expressing her love for it so enthusiastically.

So I guess the point of that whole story is that, when I see something that looks like a Dark n Stormy, I’m going to order it, and I’m probably going to like it! This particular one was pretty good, the orange bitters was a nice little twist on a standard recipe, and I polished this off really quickly. If you like ginger beer plus anything, then you should get this because it scratches that itch!

Our second drink, (the one on the right) was the Japanese Cowboy ($12), dry plum wine, vodka and sweetened soda. This was really refreshing and a good complement to the overall richness from all the baos that we had. It had just the right amount of sweetness for me, not too much making it taste like candy water, but enough so it doesn’t taste like pure alcohol, at that point, I might as well just take shots. The plum wine also definitely came through, giving you that lovely sweet and almost yuzu and cherry like flavour to it. Overall, love it!

I thought the drinks at Good God were pretty awesome, based off the two that we tried. Plus, the other ones available on their drinks menu looked really creative and tasty as well, must come back in the future to sample a couple more of them out, like the jugs and shots!

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The decor at Good God is really quite cool, the entire bar is downstairs and half of it is all cavey, whereas the other half is just a normal dark bar. We liked it so much we took a picture of the coaster, because why not?

Belly Bao

Good God Small Club, 53-55 Liverpool Street, Sydney

Facebook: facebook.com/bellybao

Instagram: @BellyBao

Website: bellybao.com/

Opening hours:

Wednesday to Friday

5:00pm to 10:0pm

Saturday

6:00pm to 10:00pm

Click to add a blog post for Belly Bao on Zomato

Akiba, Civic

Last weekend I finally got the chance to visit the hotly anticipated Akiba restaurant and bar which opened up in mid December. I’ve been wanting to visit Akiba since I first heard about it and saw the massive red sign go up over the ActewAGL Building in Civic back in mid 2014. Like any good Canberran, I normally get really excited to try out new restaurants when they come out in Canberra but I was especially psyched about Akiba opening up! I think Canberra has a lot of really good restaurants but there are still lots of areas where Canberra is still lacking and Japanese is definitely one of those for me. I absolutely love Japanese food, it’s the one thing I always crave for and the first thing I seek out whenever I go to Sydney. So when I heard the new restaurant was named Akiba, I knew we were getting something Japanese related and then my hopes were confirmed in a Good Food article. To make things even more exciting, Akiba is the brain child of the crew behind Canberra’s much loved Sage Dining Rooms in Braddon, that I’ve eaten at twice before and absolutely loved it!

Much like with Aubergine’s Temporada, Akiba has been designed for the youngsters of Canberra. Akiba is as hipster as it gets in Canberra and much like anything you would find in Surrey Hills or Brunswick. There is plenty of flannel, short shorts and curly moustaches on offer here, though at the same time there are also elements of Japanese pop culture, with pink and green neon lights and bright cityscapes. The menu at Akiba also reflects this Japanese theme and hipster vibe with plenty of new, summery and interesting cocktails as well as old classics, international ciders, beers and Akiba pop’s on the drinks front and plenty of scrumptious Asian and Japanese inspired share plates for food and raw dishes as well.

Akiba’s menu is available on their website. However, the menu I received when I was there for dinner on a Friday in early January was a little different. My menu had less options, like we didn’t see the chicken baos or beef short ribs dumpling but I think the raw dishes and most of the mains were pretty similar. No idea why it was like this, maybe Akiba was short on chicken or beef short ribs that day, or maybe these dishes didn’t do very well during December so they’ve been removed from the menu.

Here is the menu that I had in early January at Akiba.

Akiba food menu 

Akiba drinks menu

I know I talked a little about the menu before but I guess I have more to say! So when I first read up on Akiba and what the team at Sage had planned, they talked about Akiba being new Japanese with a modern twist.  I was pretty excited, I absolutely love Japanese food, as mentioned earlier. So when I heard about Akiba, I thought Canberra was finally going to see a really high quality Japanese place. Unfortunately, and this is purely a personal issue I believe, but I find Akiba’s menu a lot more Asian inspired than Japanese specific. Yes there is sashimi, a modern take on okonomiyaki, supposedly ‘Japanese’ fried chicken but a lot of the other elements and some of the flavourings of these Japanese inspired items were actually just plain Asian. Probably not a big deal to most (since they’re all the same anyway, I kid) but to me, as a staunch lover of all foodstuffs from Japan, it was a disappointing development. More about that later. Based on the fact that Ippudo in Sydney do pork baos, it kind of makes me want to say that baos are Japanese, but I’m pretty sure Monofuku made baos famous or at least I’ve never seen anything like it when I went to Japan. Outside of this minor note, Akiba’s menu was pretty interesting.

Okay, lets actually see the goodies at Akiba.

First up the Soft shell crab bao ($9) with pickled baby gem and creamy ponzu. Despite my silly “bao’s aren’t Japanese!” rant up there, I’m pretty happy Akiba is serving baos, I absolutely love baos and already find it a struggle to get one in Sydney as it is and they’re even rarer in Canberra with only really Mork’s in Kingston offering them. Additionally, Akiba so far is the only place in Canberra that does a soft shell crab bao.

I’ve had quite a few baos and Akiba’s bao lives up to the quality you would find at Ippudo and other places in Sydney. The actual bao (white bready part) is really nice and fluffy, with a silky smooth film layer on top whilst being really airy and soft inside. It had a slight hint of sweetness to it which worked really well with the sour and savoury flavours of the soft shell crab filling and sauce. The crab was really nice and crispy whilst not being too oily and sickening, while the sauce brought all the flavour, creaminess and a hint of contrasting sourness to this bite size treat. Soft shell crab always has a habit of making me feel oil sick, which is weird because I can polish off a hell of a lot of KFC. Not sure what it is, but thankfully the crab here wasn’t like that. Finally there was a lovely piece of lettuce which helped a little bit to milden the strong flavours and add a little bit of colour as well. Just keeping things healthy and whatnot.

We also grabbed a Pork belly bao ($8) with char sui and asian slaw. Again like with the soft shell crab bao, the bao here was fantastic with plenty of fluffiness to it and a little bit of sweetness. I’m probably not giving this the attention it deserves, so I’ll try now. A lot of places that do buns in Melbourne and Brisbane, I tend to find have absolutely massive thick dense buns. I absolutely hate it, I’m not sure if I’m the general population here, but when I’m eating a pork bao, the bao portion essentially exists to offer the least flavour resistance as possible whilst keeping my hands clean. When all you taste is actual bready bao, it kind of takes away from the amazing innards and it’s just something that has always frustrated me. Anyway. Moving on.

The pork belly in this bao was heavily flavoured, making it taste a bit like stewed pork. It also had a crunchy skin to it, this is probably the crunchiest pork belly I’ve ever had in a bao. Personally I prefer a softer pork, but I’m sure there’s an audience out there for pork with a lovely crispy edge. There was also a nice bit of crunch and texture from the pickles and Asian slaws, these two condiments also added a lot of contrasting flavours to the bao with plenty of creaminess from the slaw and sourness from the pickles. I did find the addition of Asian slaw quite interesting, I’ve never seen anyone else do it like this but it added some lovely creaminess to offset the crunchiness of the pork, and gave it all a smooth flavour to go down easily.

As tasty as this pork bao was at Akiba, I think I prefer the pork bao over at Mork’s but that may purely be a preference thing. It’s a softer, more tender pork and I’m normally not a massive fan of super creamy foods. I found that the mayo on this dish made it really difficult to taste the pork flavour coming through, and isn’t that why we’re all here? For the pork!?

Next up, the Sweet corn pancake ($8) with chilli caramel and togarashi. I’m assuming this is Akiba’s take on okonomiyaki, a Japanese savoury pancake. I’ve had a couple of okonomiyaki’s in Japanese restaurants in Sydney and generally I enjoy them. The ones at Akiba are slightly different to the traditional Japanese pancakes that I’m used to. These sweet corn cakes were quite dense with a decent amount of corn kernels spread throughout them and I swear, I think there were also chunks of camembert cheese as well. I know it doesn’t say it in the description but I definitely tasted something cheesy every now and then in these sweet corn pancakes! With that said, I really enjoyed the cheese, which gave you pockets of creaminess and a really strong contrasting flavour every now and then. Finally, there was a sprinkling of togarashi, which is a Japanese spice flake and a sweet glaze as well. The spice flakes added quite a bit of kick to the pancakes while the glaze gave it a fruity sweetness. The sweetness was a bit much for me to be honest, the corn was baked into the pancake itself and made it plenty sweet, but the addition of that glaze just took it over the edge. It wasn’t much of a problem though, I just scraped the glaze off to the side and the dish was really quite nice once I did so. Again, for anyone with a solid sweet tooth out there, this could work for you!

Next up, something from the raw menu, the Kingfish sashimi ($12) with coconut, nam jim and coriander. This was an interesting and tasty little dish, with elements of Japanese and South East Asian cooking throughout it. The base dish itself was Japanese but the flavours came straight from South East Asia with plenty of creaminess from the coconut milk and sweetness and sourness from the nam jim Thai dipping sauce. There was also coriander, which in my opinion is another flavour synonymous with South East Asian cuisine and deep fried garlic bits which brought lovely scent and texture to the fresh kingfish.

Overall, it wasn’t what I was expecting from a sashimi dish, which tends to focus more on bringing out the flavours of the fresh fish. Here at Akiba, the flavours were really strong and really overpowered the kingfish, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though I personally felt it was a bit of a waste of what I imagine was very high quality kingfish. If in fact, it was low quality kingfish and they were trying to mask it from me, then they have done an amazing job. It’s definitely different from what I was expecting but it sure was tasty. Plus, Akiba’s two other sashimis, the tuna and salmon had much more traditional Japanese flavours. So I guess note to self, if I want a traditional sashimi, maybe order one of the traditional sounding ones.

Our final small sharing plate, Natural oyster with ume mignonette ($10). We decided to also grab a serving of the oysters. I’m a little iffy when it comes to oysters, I’m not a massive fan of them but I’ll enjoy one every now and then. However, most of the times when I see oysters on the menu I tend to pass, mainly because I don’t see the point of having oysters with bits of bacon in it or completely covered in cheese sauce. You can’t really taste the oyster anymore, whats the point?! Anyways, here at Akiba it was different and in a good way! Akiba’s two oyster offers were simple and both focused on providing flavours that would bring out the deliciousness of oysters. For ours, the oysters were drizzled in a tangy sauce with a little bit of garlic and some lovely fruity flavours from the ume. The other oyster option also had a little bit of tang but instead of ending on a sweet note, it gave you some warmth and spice with ginger.

Onwards to our large share plates, first up the Japanese fried chicken ($14) with lemon braised onions and parmesan. This appears on Akiba’s menu as ‘JFC’. At first, we were like, what on earth is ‘JFC’ after some hard thinking someone realised it must be Korean fried chicken but seeing as Akiba is all about being Japanese, they renamed it Japanese fried chicken. Bit of a pointless story but maybe it will save someone else the trouble of wondering.

The chicken itself was quite nice, you could hear the crackling of the outside as you picked up a piece of chicken to put into you mouth but as you bit into it, the crispiness was replaced with tender and juicy chicken meat. The chicken was flavoured with a lovely herb and spices mix, it wasn’t overly powerful like say, a KFC or Taiwanese chicken place, just enough to give it a bit of flavour past flour and chicken. The coating on this chicken was a fantastic breadcrumb mix, probably panko based on the Japaneseness of it.

As you can hopefully see from the picture, there was a very generous grating of parmesan cheese which was surprisingly amazing, it’s one of the food combinations that I’ve just learnt recently and I’m very thankful for this knowledge.  Finally, to top it all off, there was a generous amount of sweetned onion which really helped balance out the richness of the chicken. I’m not 100% sure why this was Japanese fried chicken as opposed to Korean fried chicken, Amierican fried chicken or just plain straight fried chicken but nevertheless it was some fine chicken.

Secondly, the Beef short rib ($20) with tamarind caramel and thai basil. The meat here was perfectly cooked by the crew at Akiba. It was amazingly soft and tender. We were sharing it, and when I went to split it apart, a knife was not needed, I just broke it apart with a fork and, to be honest, whenever meat does that, I’m instantly in love with it. I didn’t even really need to chew to be honest, that was how well cooked it was. It might not be obvious by now, but this was definitely the highlight of the night for me, the meat had a lovely soy flavour to it, and had spices deeply imbued into its flesh. Unfortunately, (at least for me) the meat was covered with a really sticky and sweet sauce which I found a little much but I’ve never been a fan of sweet and meat together, even though they rhyme. I’m a steak sort of person, just give me my meat, and make it taste the most like meat. I mean, if I’m going to go and have animal, I’m going to want it to taste like animal you know? I don’t want to waste things here. Having said that and even for a non sweet lover, I found this beef short rib really enjoyable, all I had to do was scrape the sauce off it and bite into it, which was sort of a theme with this place. The thai basil also really brought home the Asian flavours and added some vibrancy to the dish and helped me feel like I was doing something good for myself. Which I wasn’t.

Finally, some dessert, Tofu cheese cake, anzac crumb and pandan jelly ($8). We just couldn’t look past this, I love tofu but I’ve never really heard or seen it in dessert form (unless you include silken tofu in ginger syrup) and I couldn’t really imagine something like a cheesecake made out of tofu done particularly well but I assume, if it’s on the menu they must have perfected it. This deconstructed cheesecake definitely lived up to expectations, I didn’t even realise it had tofu in it, it just tasted really creamy and cheesy. The texture felt right too, it was perfectly smooth. The anzac crumb brought plenty of sweetness and flavour to the cheesecake, with the pandan jelly adding some texture but not much flavour or sweetness. Without reading and knowing that it was pandan jelly, I would have just assume it was green jelly, which was really sad because I absolutely love pandan and wished it played a stronger role in this dish. Overall, still an interesting and tasty dish to end our meal on.

Since it was so hot, we decided to grab a couple of drinks as well, Pineapple, coconut and chilli Akiba pop ($7) and Strawberry and mint Akiba pop ($7). Akiba offers a handful of homemade sodas, I’ve had a couple of the ones at Sage and absolutely loved them, so when I saw this on Akiba’s menu, I knew I had to give it a try. I really love Sage’s house made soda’s for their creative, absolutely unique and interesting flavours and the Akiba pops were no different.

The Pineapple, coconut and chilli Akiba pop ($7) was super fresh and fruity whilst being quite mild and not overly sweet. I know the combination of flavours sounds really weird but somehow the crew at Akiba made it work perfectly and I promise you it tasted nothing like a pina colada. Even though pineapple was the strongest ingredient, it wasn’t the most prominent flavour here. Instead they managed to just bring out the flavours of the pineapple without bringing out its sickly sweetness, which was completed with the mild sweetness of the coconut water. The whole drink ended with this lovely after taste that at first I couldn’t quite but my finger on. After a while I realised it was the chilli! There was absolutely no spice to this drink so I have no idea how Akiba did it, but you could taste the actual flavour of chilli. It was a real eye opener and something I hadn’t experienced before. I absolutely cannot wait to try some of their other Akiba pops.

Also! If you want something a little more, for an extra $5, you can add a shot to whatever alcohol you like to any of the Akiba pops. Akiba provides some recommendations but they’re more than happy for you to choose something else.

Finally, the Summer Spritz ($12), sake with lychee and coconut. This was a part of Akiba’s house made cocktails and was really fantastic. There’s something to be said that perhaps the drinks here at Akiba were more impressive than the food! There’s nothing like a colourful and fruity cocktail that isn’t overly sweet and sickly. Yes, I’m finally growing out of my alcohol sweet tooth (slowly) and acquiring a taste for things like beer and even dry whites! Not reds though, red wine is just something I feel like I’ll start drinking if I ever start smoking cigars or something. Definitely something cigar’y about them.

As far as a lovely drink that was sweet but not too sweet, this drink was perfect. The flavours of the sake really came through strong and hit you in the face as you took each sip, the lychee and coconut water flavours only really come out towards the end and quite subtly too. This drink definitely screamed summer to me, fruity and refreshing. I can see myself enjoy something like this summer spritz once all this rain clears up!

Overall, I enjoyed my meal at Akiba. It didn’t quite live up to my expectations and I’m sure that affected how I felt about a lot of the dishes but theres a massive chance that my expectations were built on absolutely incorrect assumptions, especially the one about how Akiba was meant to be quite Japanese because I definitely felt that was lacking and complained a fair deal about that in this post. Nevertheless, if I forget that point, all the dishes that we got at Akiba were quite solid, tasty and relatively affordable for the hipster theme and vibe. I think now that I know what to expect, I’ll definitely have to give Akiba another chance. Plus, the bar was fantastic and I’m sure that’s Akiba’s biggest selling point.

Akiba on Urbanspoon

The Rum Bar, Kingston

About a month or so ago, I finally got the chance to head out to The Rum Bar on the Kingston Foreshore. I’ve always wanted to try it out but I never found the right circumstances, until now. I had to organise a quick catch up where the sole goal was to talk about bespoke suits and for some reason The Rum Bar screamed out to me as the most appropriate location to have such a chat, I mean, come on, RUM BAR.

We heeded out on a Thursday night, the weather was lovely, the sun was just setting and there were quite a few people at The Rum Bar, but it wasn’t packed by any means but I imagine this isn’t the case anymore with summer in full swing. I must add, I really like that The Rum Bar has one to two really big tables for large groups, its always nice to know that there are some awesome and nice places to grab a drink or two and a bite to eat when you’re with a big group of people.

The Rum Bar has a tapas menu full of treats to share with a couple of people, okay three people to be exact. Both our arancini and sliders came in sets of three. During this trip to The Rum Bar, I managed to grab a couple of treats, all of which were really amazing. I saw a couple of others things I definitely want to come back to try, like the eggplant chips, buffalo wings and orange espresso creme brulee. Outside of The Rum Bar’s goodies, I’m sure they’re also famous for their wines and fancy cocktails. I didn’t grab any but they’re there. For the cocktails, I noticed that they had quite a few of the much loved classics as well as some more interesting house made concoctions.

Alrightie, time for some food talk.

First up the Arancini balls ($14), pistachio crusted roast pumpkin and wild mushroom arancini balls served with a sweet tomato relish. As you can see, the arancini comes on a stone plank in a serving of three and you can see they’re fairly pretty looking, which is always positive! I can also gladly say, they were as pleasant on the taste buds as they were on the eyes. Even those in our group who are total meat lovers enjoyed these vegetarian arancini balls. Each ball was bursting with flavours from the pumpkin and mushrooms, there was also a piece of goats cheese in the centre of each ball, adding some edge and creaminess to the arancinis. The texture was also great, super crispy on the outside and perfectly soft with a little bit of chewiness from the cheese on the inside. It’s a bit surprising to say, but these were probably the highlight of the night.

I probably shouldn’t have said that, because logically, it’s kind of all downhill from here. Oh well.

Our second set of tapas for the night was the BBQ beef short ribs slider ($18), BBQ marinated beef short ribs served on mint brioche buns with apple cider slaw and jack cheese. This again came out on a stone plank, in a serving of three. This one was probably the prettiest dish we got. There is something about burgers that is just really cool looking to me! Then you take them and make them mini?! Well you can see where this is going. Of the three sliders, there was one that was absolutely spewing with beef short rib meat which was awesome but not very photogenic, so I went with a more standard looking one. The beef in these sliders were extremely tender and felt like they were stripped off, mashed up and covered in a BBQ sauce concoction because they were quite sweet, saucy, and really flavoursome. The coleslaw added a lot of sourness, which I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of, but I’m starting to realise that X + coleslaw in a mini slider seems to be a pretty common thing now, so I’ll just enjoy the ride. The meat though, was just fantastic and made this slider definitely worth trying.

Next up, the Baked wheel of brie ($10) infused with rosemary with a side of caramelised garlic and white wine served with house made bread. I can be a terribly cheese eater, if I’m alone, there are times where I’ll just eat the centre of a brie and avoid the wax skin. Yes, all you real cheeser’s should recoil in fear. This made me a little nervous when ordering this baked brie. I was not quite sure how much I would like or enjoy it. I’m glad to say (as I’ve done multiple times in the past) that I was completely wrong about having any doubts here, this was delicious and my second favourite dish of the night! I’m not sure if The Rum Bar removed the wax but I definitely couldn’t taste or feel any as I was getting into it. The whole wheel was so soft and the flavour was so strong with the addition of rosemary really coming through.

Here is a close up of the wheel of brie. With this amazing brie there was also a of pot caramelised garlic and some crispy thinly sliced breads. The garlic was really nice, sweet and went perfectly with the savoury and rich cheese. To top it all off, the bread added all the crispness that you needed. In one bite size, there was just so much flavour and so many contrasting textures as well. I should probably explain this more, it’s honestly kind of…soupy? The baked cheese is baked so much that it loses any kind of structural integrity and is just this, thick goo. It’s also incredibly hot, so I wouldn’t try and put my finger in there or anything. The bread crackers were also really important, the cheese was just way too rich to have on its own and towards the end, so the bread really helped to balance it out. You don’t get a massive amount of bread so it’s quite important to ration the bread as much as possible.

If there is one thing on The Rum Bar’s menu that everyone has got to try, this is it. Even if you were only there for drinks, definitely share this with some friends or something because did it something that should not be missed, for anyone! Unless you’re allergic to cheese or something, if so maybe avoid this. Oh, though a slight word of warning, probably not the best dish for just one person. As delicious as it is, its actually quite rich, so it could get quite sickening but I shared this with two other people and by the time I was done, I didn’t really want much more. It was absolutely delicious, but yeah, very rich.

Our final dish for the night was the Kickin Kraken chicken ($16) Southern fried buttermilk chicken breast with a Kraken spiced rum dipping sauce. With the opening of Smoque, and discovering B-One in Civic, I’ve kind of had a lot of fried chicken recently, this is in addition to my copious amounts of KFC but that’s probably not too relevant. In any case, when I saw this on the menu, I knew I had to have it, because I just love fried chicken wherever I can get it! This chicken had a wonderful texture, really crunchy with fantastic skin. The flesh inside was really juicy as well, this chicken was definitely cooked just right, not too long at all, which I understand isn’t really easy to do with chicken, so I appreciated that.

The spiced rum dipping sauce was really quite sweet, and we used bits of it but I didn’t really have much of it. More to do with personal preference I should add. I’m just not a huge fan of that whole sweet and savoury thing, most people are, so I’m sure you’ll have a much better time with this sauce than I did. Something I feel I should mention about this chicken was that it was honestly pretty bland. The skin wasn’t heavily spiced or herbed at all, so the whole thing just kind of tasted entirely like chicken. Pure, unchanged chicken. It wasn’t bad by any means but it just wasn’t what I was expecting, considering how much I loved the other dishes at The Rum Bar. This chicken was the dish I liked the least out of what we ordered, I imagine if I liked the sauce, I would’ve loved this dish a lot more.

I’m pretty annoyed I didn’t try out The Rum Bar until now. Everything we had was pretty damn delicious (minus the chicken but thats just one off) and the other goodies we didn’t try looked really appealing too. I will definitely have to come back very soon to try some of the other treats as well as the cocktails which looked pretty fantastic. I’m not much of a wine person, so I don’t know if the selection was good but the wine list looked quite extensive. Anyways, I can see this being a pretty regular spot for us over summer this year.

The Rum Bar on Urbanspoon

Wood & Coal, Civic

Wood & Coal is a new restaurant that took over Babars spot in the Canberra Centre that opened in the middle of the Family & Community Day and the Labour Day long weekend. I remember because when Babar closed they pretty much put up the sign for Wood & Coal straight away and since I walk past it pretty much every time I finish work, it just kind of burned a hole in my brain and I ended up wanting it. Real bad. Didn’t help that after the sign went up it took freaking ages to open, so the hype really did build up for me. Over the Labour Day long weekend, I was in Brisbane for work and saw online that Canberrans were trying out Wood & Coal! So after getting back to Canberra, I had to try it out, I mean come on, wood, coal, imagine the wonders you can create from such things!

Wood & Coal’s layout is pretty neat. They’ve really fitted out the shop well, on the side that sits in the Canberra Centre, Wood & Coal has those Mediterranean arched walls. I know its not much but to me, it makes me feel like I’m over in the Greek Islands, instead of cold, rainy and gloomy Canberra. Though I must say, the menu isn’t that Mediterranean. There are some pretty Mediterranean menu items, like the loukoumades, and meats on a spit but there are other parts of Wood & Coals menu where it seems they’ve taken elements of hipster and then put their own twist on it, like the banh tit (which translates pretty weirdly from Vietnamese, should probably be banh mi tit, since banh could include cake, cookie, bread or any sort of dough or pastry where as banh mi refers to bread roll or bread slices), I also noticed a cocktail called kawaii.

Okay, so I normally talk about my entrees first, then my mains followed by the sides that I get. However, for Wood & Coal, I’m just going off the order we received our food in. Although Wood & Coal, does have separate sections for their entrees and mains, and they’re designed as a stand alone dish, they recommended to us that we should probably share, which of course is a bit ‘in’ at the moment. There’s a huge tasting menu for $69 per person, but we resisted that temptation and just grabbed a whole bunch of different plates to share. Alright, now for food talk.

First up, our large plate for the night, a Char-grilled beef short rib ($36) with pickled king oyster mushroom, potato, cauliflower and black kale. The picture doesn’t really showcase this very well but this was an amazingly pink and fatty piece of meat that was just wonderful. The meat was exceptionally tender and cut away really easily, and was covered in a light soy like sauce. The picture doesn’t show it, but in the back, there was a potato, cauliflower and ham concoction that was kind of a potato bake lasagne. Really compressed slab of ingredients and it was really fantastic, would have loved for a bit more! The mushrooms were pickled but I personally couldn’t really taste that portion of it, just tasted like braised mushrooms, which I love so that wasn’t a big deal, and the kale was quite crunchy and gave it all a bit of texture.

As I ate more and more of this dish, I started to realise it was pretty damn salty. Didn’t help that mushrooms were involved, and that the kale was drizzled in a fairly salty sauce. The only relief from the saltiness was that potato slab and in hindsight that’s probably why I loved it so much. This dish started off so well for me, and after a few bites I was willing to say it’s one of the best pieces of beef I’ve ever eaten, but over time the flavours just compounded and overwhelmed me. I’ve always been pretty sensitive to salty flavours though, our friend Kang ended up finishing the night at Wood & Coal with the beef short rib as his favourite of all, so it definitely seems like a preference thing.

Our second plate for the night was a goodie from the spit, the Pork spare ribs ($32) with cajun spice. This picture isn’t hugely appetizing, I know but for me, this was the highlight of the whole night! This dish was when we started to realise there’s a slight disconnect between the menu item and what actually comes out in Wood & Coal. This might be our faults for not being cultured enough or whatever but when I see pork spare ribs, I kind of expect bones to be involved at some point, and seeing Beef short rib sliced the way it was up there was a bit of a surprise too.

I should probably talk about the dish itself though, the pork came out in 3 big ol chunks of pork, sitting in a mild apple glaze sauce. It honestly reminded me more of pork belly than anything, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I was just expecting to get my hands dirty on this dish. The pork was lightly seasoned and the smokiness from how it was cooked on the spit was definitely present here. There wasn’t a huge layer of fat so this didn’t get sickly at all, just a really nice piece of pork that went down extremely easily. I’ve mentioned this before, but if pork skin is available, I want it to be extremely, extremely crispy. Unfortunately at Wood & Coal, this is not the case, the skin isn’t chewy or bad or anything, but not really crispy at all. Overall, I loved this dish though, and if I won the lottery, I’d order it a lot more often.

Our final spit item, the Yearling lamb ($45) with oregano, garlic and rosemary. This is another one where the picture probably doesn’t make your mouth water. While I appreciate the little garnishes of green leaves everywhere, I suppose there’s only so much you can do with sliced up bits of lamb in a bowl. The lamb was seasoned really lightly, which seems to be a theme for Wood & Coal who like to showcase the meats themselves, something I’m all for! The lamb was laying on top of a garlic and oregano yoghurt sauce that was quite sweet but really worked well with the lamb. My only complaint for the sauce was that there wasn’t enough of it! So many times we were trying to rub each piece of lamb into as much sauce as it could hold, and by the halfway point, nearly all the sauce was gone.

I’m not sure if all spit roasted lamb is like this, but this lamb was really quite tough and chewy. Kang mentioned that in the past, if you don’t want the lamb to get tough and chewy you need to eat it right off the spit, without it cooling down. I’d say, for me this was a bit of a disappointment, the flavours were all there, and the garnish was really nice, but for me, texture has a lot to do with how much I enjoy my meat, and the texture was a let down here.

Every item from the spit is served with some pickles and condiments that differ night by night, on our night, Wood & Coal was pairing their meats with Pickled cauliflower and celery. We ended up with two serves of this, which was great because I thought it was really tasty. The cauliflower and celery were both heavily pickled with a lot of sourness to them, this really helped with balancing the strong flavours and the heaviness of the meat. The cauliflower and celery were surprisingly crunchy and crispy considering how flavourful and moist they were. They were served cold and were really quite sour, and we ended up using it similar to how ginger is used in Japanese places, as a palette cleanser and to get your tongue ready for the next meat that was on the way. It was pretty good at that job.

Finally, our small plate for the night, the Hiramasa kingfish sashimi ($20) with sourdough, buttermilk, smoked fish paté, dill and fennel salad. This was a really nice little treat, really contrasted everything else we had and was really nice to end on before moving onto the desserts. The kingfish itself was really nice, it was a welcoming freshness after all those meats and had a lovely smooth texture to it. Each slice was cut perfectly in my opinion, not too thin leaving it rather flavourless, but not too thick and overwhelming.

There was also plenty going on around the kingfish. The dish was dotted with creamy buttermilk which also brought a little bit of sourness to the fish. I know the description doesn’t include it but I swear there was olive oil as well (you might be able to see it in the image as well), this added this rustic and Mediterranean element to it. Plus on top of all these flavours, there were also plenty of little textures, bits of fennel here and there, and some smoked fish pate, which I found really interesting. Overall, I really liked this dish, the only downside for me was the size and the price. For $20, you only get about five to seven slices of kingfish. Its not a huge amount of fish considering for $21 at Temporada, I got a full plate of Hiramasa kingfish. I really did like this dish, I just wish I got more kingfish or it didn’t cost as much as it did. Picky I know.

We only managed to get one side, and the side we got was probably the most common of all, Chips ($10)! These were served with with feta and oregano oil. We were kind of joking as we ordered it, but this became the silent saviour of our meal, because it was such a great side for all of the extremely rich meats. Even on their own, these chips were pretty nice, they were nice and chunky with a lot of flavour to them. I really love the fact that Wood & Coal used steak cut chips because it just fir so well. I know this might sound strange but the way the chip is cut makes a big difference to how they taste. Like these steak cut ones are really hearty, while shoe string fries are crispy and wouldn’t have done such a good job as meat taste deflector. Don’t get me started on crinkle cut. Wood & Coal’s decision to garnish these chips with feta and oregano oil was really inspired. The feta had a saltiness to it that did a great job of replacing the whole sea salt thing, while having a whole lovely creamy side to it all. I enjoyed the feta so much that I started to wish there was more feta throughout the chips, not just on top. The oregano also added another element of flavour to the chips, bring some great earthiness and made the chips smell really nice too. Not sure if it’s obvious, but I really liked these chips.

We settled on two desserts for the night, first one was the Olive oil sponge cake ($18) with blood orange custard, red velvet cheesecake ice cream and olive soil. This was an interesting little dessert. It looked absolutely amazing with the super dark cake and the vibrant hot pink ice cream, and to match its funky appearance, it also tasted pretty weird! The cake was really interesting, I’ve never had an olive oil cake before and after this, they’re definitely something I’ll keep an eye on in the future, very different. It’s not obvious that it’s olive oil but when you bite into the cake, you can tell that there’s is definitely a flavour to it that’s not your standard vanilla but it’s really hard to put your finger on it. I can’t say I really loved this cake, I’m sure as far as olive oil cakes go, this is probably up there with the best of them, though it’s definitely a flavour that I probably need to get used to. The cake itself was really light and fluffy, there wasn’t much sweetness to the cake itself due to its olive oil nature, but texture was really up there! They also had some sweet snow on top, which I thought was a cool little visual effect, and made the taste pop as well.

Surrounding the cake was a strong and flavourful red velvet cheesecake ice cream and blood orange custard.  The red velvet cheesecake ice cream was amazing! I normally dislike red velvet, I think it’s the most overrated cupcake, or cake flavour around. Everyone absolutely loves it but all it is, is a bit of vanilla and a bit of cocoa with the redness coming from a reaction between the vinegar, buttermilk and cocoa. That’s the classic red velvet, now it’s red food colouring or beetroot, so what’s the big deal. For this particular red velvet though, they added cheesecake, which is essentially cream cheese! This was awesome, it made the red velvet flavour quite mild and really brought out the cream cheese flavours, making it quite a bitey ice cream. This was coupled with some creamy blood orange custard, which had a lot of citrus to it as well as some slight bitterness. Together the contrasting flavours of the red velvet cheesecake ice cream and the strong citrus blood orange custard really brought some great flavours and elements to the olive oil sponge cake.

Our second dessert was the Big John’s loukoumades ($18) with caramelised banana, popcorn honeycomb, hazelnut ice cream and pistachio. I was so excited about this dish, I absolutely love loukoumades, every time the Canberra Multicultural Festival comes around, I’ll buy a couple of boxes and work through them over a couple of weeks. That’s how much I love them, if anyone else knows of a way to get some without having to hoard them in February, I’d really be interested in that. They’re just so amazing, super light and fluffy on the inside, with a super crispy shell from the quick deep frying that they undergo. After the loukoumades are cooked, they are normally soaked in a honey syrup and then sprinkled with various nuts for crunch and texture.

Here at Wood & Coal, it wasn’t exactly like that. This dessert wasn’t bad but it is not a loukoumades. The loukoumades just tasted like donuts to me, there was no crispy outer layer and the inside was really doughy and dense, exactly like a donut to be perfectly honest. Like if this plate was called Big John’s donuts, I would be perfectly happy but I was really craving loukoumades after seeing Wood & Coal’s menu weeks before I came and to get this, I was pretty disappointed. Though, as a donut, these are pretty fantastic, so if anyone out there is keen for a set of $18 donuts, you could do a lot worse than these at Wood & Coal.

The rest of the dish was great. The ice cream was quite delicious thought I don’t think mine was hazelnut. For one, it was pretty white to cream in colour, secondly it just tasted like yoghurt, which was fine because I thought it worked quite well. I didn’t actually know the description had hazelnut as the ice cream flavour. My yoghurt ice cream was rather mild but the sourness really helped to break through the heaviness of the donuts and the sweetness of the other elements on the plate, so maybe it was better off this way! There were pretty big sweet elements in this dish, like the three chunks of berry jam that I got in my dish, which again isn’t in the menu’s description, but were a pretty welcome addition. They were great and really added some lovely berry flavours to the donuts but they did get quite rich, so the sour yoghurt flavours were really useful there. This was an extrmely busy dessert, with a whole lot going on, in addition the ice cream and loukoumades itself, there were just heaps and heaps of little bits of crushed nuts, banana cream custard, popcorn honeycomb scattered everywhere. This dish definitely had a lot going on, and it was pretty tasty and worked well together, its just the fact that the donuts were called loukoumades that made me feel quite lukewarm about this dish.

Wood & Coal was a pretty cool dining experience, its a nice addition to the Canberra Centre and I can see myself coming here a few more times over the coming months with workplace farewells and Christmas lunches coming up shortly. Plus, I did see that they had a lunch only menu which includes souvlaki and wraps, which sounds pretty cool. I’m sure I’ll give that a go shortly.

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Cho Cho San, Potts Point

As a part of my recent food adventures in Sydney, we headed out to Kings Cross to try out Cho Cho San. This was my first time in Kings Cross, I’ve never been there before. I’ve heard a lot about it and seen it on TV but never visited, it’s not really my scene but it does have plenty of good food, so this time, I decided to trek out and give it a try. I honestly was a bit hesitant about it still, blame my vulnerability to media spin, and played it safe and went on a Monday. Ouk has been to Kings Cross before, apparently he had a Groupon for a Brazilian BBQ joint a couple years back and he had a couple of interesting stories about his time there. The bouncers in Kings Cross are apparently pretty interesting guys! Anyways, we learnt that if you head out the Victoria Street exit, you don’t have to see any of the stuff Kings Cross is famous for and Victoria Street is where all the food joints are including Ms.G’s so yeah we didn’t really see too much of that reputation at all.

Anyways, we headed out onto Victoria Street and began walking towards Cho Cho San, its about a 10 minute walk, unless you get lost like us. We headed up and down Macleay Street, we even ended up behind Cho Cho San on Rockwell Lane, it really didn’t help that we were running late for our booking. Cho Cho San doesn’t really have any street signage so we just never really saw it. The only signage was inside the restaurant! So if you’re walking past you have to be looking through Cho Cho San’s glass door to see its sign! Not cool when you’re rushing. I think it’s also next to an art gallery or something. It’s in a pretty historical looking building that’s bluish or greyish. Hope this helps someone else find Cho Cho San. Once you get in, its a simple lay out, quite industrial, no colour just white, greys and pretty clinical. Or modern, I think it’s referred to as modern. There’s quite a bit of seating once you walk in, there are a couple of tables for medium to bigger groups and plenty of seats for two people. We managed to get a table instead of a bar spot, which was good for me because I always have heaps of takeaway food from places we ate at earlier in the day.

Anyways less rambling, time for food talk.

First up, the Beef tataki ($18) with wild rice and ginger dressing. Firstly I feel like I should throw down an all encompassing general comment, and it is this: The food at Cho Cho San was amazing! I didn’t know much about Cho Cho San, I saw a couple of pictures online once, liked them and decided to check it out hence I had no idea what I was in for. I wasn’t even sure it was Japanese until I got there. Boy was I impressed, everything at Cho Cho San was delicious including this tataki. I don’t get these much and the few times I have, I didn’t really enjoy it, I almost always prefer tartare, but this time was very different. My previous experiences tended to be too salty and not very tasty. Here at Cho Cho San it was quite the opposite.

The meat was amazingly fresh and super soft, I barely had a chew it. There was just enjoy soy on the beef to give it some amazing flavours but it was really quite a simple dish. There was also a hint of ginger to it but very mild and only really came out as an aftertaste. Underneath the generous amount of beef, there was some wonderful black rice. I’ve had black rice a couple of times before, mainly in this Vietnamese dessert that I used to always have but I never knew it could be used for anything else. Here, it added a great deal of charcoal flavours to the beef which was a great smokiness to what was essentially raw beef. It’s also much tougher in texture compared to white, brown or multigrain rice which was a good thing because it added some great texture and crunch to the meat. As it was wild rice instead of just standard black rice there were also bits of that puffy cereal rice that you find in oats or granola. It added some wheat flavours which played of perfectly with the smokiness of the black rice. Such an amazing dish. Every element worked and made it better and better!

Next up the Soy glazed wagyu beef ($36). We were initally toosing up getting this or the Japanese style charcoal chicken, and boy am I glad we went with the wagyu! I’ve eaten a lot of steaks, and this, to be realistic, isn’t really a standard steak as you’d normally get in a standard steakhouse, even a good one. With that said, this is the best steak I’ve ever eaten. Apparently the wagyu is a grade 9, the menu doesn’t state this, we only found out because we asked the staff at Cho Cho San to give us a recommendation on whether to go with the chicken or wagyu and it came out while he was explaining our options. I find this really awesome because most places will just rave and make a huge fuss about how they have grade 7 wagyu so the fact that Cho Cho San uses grade 9 and doesn’t even feel like talking about it really said something about the quality of food they’re aiming for and I appreciated that. Grade 9 is standard for them, not amazing.

This steak was amazing. It was the most tender steak I’ve ever had, almost like a slowly smoked brisket, but not quite. I barely had to chew this, it just broke apart so easily and melted away in your mouth, the marinade did a great job of breaking down the fibers of this meat without sacrificing any of the taste. There was also so much flavour to it, this wasn’t just a normal salt and pepper job, I wouldn’t really be able to explain the marinade but it had oyster and soy sauce overtones to it that were just wonderful. You could still tasty the meaty goodness of the wagyu, the soy here just accentuates the flavour of the meat, but didn’t take anything away at all.

Look at the redness of the wagyu. I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to steaks, I just like them rare, or blue, anything more than that and I’m probably not going to love it. The one at Cho Cho San though, was cooked perfectly rare. Another thing I wanted to pay particular attention to was the wonderful marbling of fat within this steak, there was a maze of thick fatty deliciousness throughout and the char barely made a mark on the rest of the flesh. Every piece was like this, it was almost 30% fatty goodness and this was just huge for flavour. If I had to guess, this cow didn’t do anything, it ate well, live well and then fed us well. Simply amazing, and I salute the cow for its sacrifice! I did find this a little hard to see while I was at Cho Cho San. They do the whole low lighting fancy restaurant thing, so I didn’t notice the fat. Ouk had to point it out and even then I struggled but it came out of lot better via this photo. If you like steak, beef, or even soy sauce. You’ve got to try out this dish.

The dish also came with a few spices and condiments. The orange stuff was like a chilli flake mixture. The yellow stuff was pure horseradish and finally the green was a ball of wasabi. We didn’t end up using any of the condiments on the beef. Outside of the fact that we don’t really like spicy things, the meat but didn’t need it. It was simply too good on its own. Even if I enjoyed chilli foods I would think twice before using these, I really wouldn’t want them to overpower the flavours and taste of the soy beef.

Our final dish for the day, the Tuna with avocado and pickled eggplants ($22). I think Cho Cho San forgot this dish, we had to ask for it. I felt kind of bad, it was way past last orders when we noticed. They didn’t make a fuss about it or anything, they didn’t even ask us if we still wanted it or were happy to cancel it. About 10 minutes after we asked, this plate came out. The tuna was perfect, fresh and delicious. The tuna sat on a bed of pureed avocado with bits of pickled eggplant here and there. The avocado was great adding lovely flavour and creaminess to the tuna. The pickled eggplants were very strong and flavourful. Didn’t taste great on its on but a little bit of eggplant with a couple of diced bits of tuna and some avocado puree worked great. The saltiness of the eggplant with the creaminess of the avocado, all on the perfect base of tuna.

Finally, we grabbed a Banana soft serve ($7) with peanuts and caramel. This was awesome! Not only does it look great, but it tasted amazing too. The soft serve was pleasant and sweet but not overly so and sickening. There was a lovely banana scent and flavour to the soft serve but for once its not the artificial banana flavour, it was real! This reminded me of a simple dessert my mum use to make for us in summer. She would get finger bananas that had gone past it and were too ripe. She would flatten them and coat one side with coconut cream and salted crushed peanuts and then freeze it. This soft serve tasted exactly the same, just a different texture I guess. A much better one actually, so I essentially got the best of both worlds in this treat. Delicious banana and creamy and smooth soft serve. Plus the soft serve had a little bit of caramel and crushed peanuts on it as well. Talk about nostalgia!

I really had no idea what I was in for when I decided to eat at Cho Cho San but boy am I glad that I did! Everything was simply delicious, fresh and too notch. If you love your raw goodies like tuna, salmon, scallop and what not. This is definitely worth a visit. If you like good steaks and spending money, then I could not recommend a better place. I guess Cho Cho San really has something for everyone. There are veggie plates as well! Definitely worth the trek out to Potts Point for!
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