Monday, 13 April 2015

Rengaya, North Sydney (13th April 2015)

Since returning to the North Sydney business precinct for work, I've been revisiting many of my old food joints and have not had the chance to check out new ones that have popped up so when SD Marketing Global invited me to a tasting at Rengaya, I was thrilled at the opportunity to check out a restaurant I've never been before and said yes!

Established in 1993 and conveniently located on Miller Street across from North Sydney train station, Rengaya is known to be Australia's first and finest yakiniku restaurant serving premium Wagyu with a beef marble score of 9+ and quality fresh seafoodYakiniku (which translates to 'grilled meat') is a style of cooking fresh, seasoned ingredients on a mesh and grilled over direct flame. Each table at the restaurant has a built-in grill where diners cook their chosen ingredients at their own pace. Besides Waygu beef and seafood, there are also other meats such as pork and chicken as well as vegetable options for the grill, plus plenty of popular Japanese dishes e.g. sashimi, udon, shabu-shabu, salads and sides to compliment your yakiniku.

Rengaya Japanese BBQ restaurant in North Sydney

Samurai warrior on display at the main entrance

Through the entrance glass doors, the sizzling sounds and aroma of delicious grilled meat permeates the air luring you straight in - one can't help but feel famished! At 6.30pm, the restaurant was beginning to fill up, groups of diners seen happily socialising over drinks and grilling food at their tables. I had the pleasure of dining with Yuri (SD Marketing Global) and Vanny (Nessy Eater) this evening - over the course of our shared meal, we got to know more about one another, sharing plenty of laughs and of course, our foodie and blogging adventures :)

Patrons enjoying Japanese cuisine at Rengaya

As part of my Washoku Lovers membership, I was entitled to a free drink at Rengaya of either a glass of Japanese draft beer (choice of Asahi Super Dry on tap or Suntory - The Premium Malt's value up to $9.50) or a soft drink from the drinks menu. All I had to do was present my membership card on order. If you love Japanese food, I highly recommend signing up for a Washoku Lovers membership. It's free to join and you get to score some freebies at participating Japanese restaurants. Each restaurant offers a different free food or drink deal to members - see website for more details.

The Kinako Milk from the soft drink options caught my eye so we ordered one for me to sample. Kinako (literally translates to 'yellow flour') aka roasted soy flour, is a common ingredient used in Japanese desserts due to its mild sweet taste and powdery texture. Mixed with milk or soy milk, this drink can be consumed hot or cold and is said to help maintain cholesterol levels making it a popular health beverage in Asia. The Kinako Milk at Rengaya is served chilled - a refreshing drink with a nutty flavour that leaves the distinct grainy feel on the tongue.

Kinako Milk ($5.90)

Our side dish of Namuru (similar to the Korean seasoned vegetables namul) is made up of five kinds of vegetables - bean sprouts, zucchini, shiitake mushroom, white radish and spinach - that is served raw or lightly cooked and seasoned with salt, vinegar, sesame oil or a combination of these seasoning. A great starter to nibble on while we wait for more dishes to arrive at the table. The seasoned mushroom is my personal favourite!

Namuru ($8.90) - 5 kinds of Korean flavoured vegetables

Feeling a little adventurous? Then try the Wagyu "Yukke", a tender Wagyu beef tartare that is served with finely chopped shallots, sesame oil, garlic and topped with a raw egg yolk. The quality and freshness of the raw beef is key in this dish (reduces the risk of bacteria contamination) so only order the yukke from reputable Japanese restaurants. To eat, break the egg yolk and mix it in with the beef.

Wagyu "Yukke" ($13.90) - Wagyu beef tartare served with finely chopped shallots, sesame oil, garlic & egg yolk on top

To eat, break the egg yolk and mix it in with the beef

Though the menu comes with a helpful anatomically correct drawing of the various cuts of beef, it is still quite a daunting task to narrow down a select few cuts especially if you don't know your beef cuts well. We opted for the Premium Wagyu Amusement which showcases a selection of the chef recommended Wagyu beef cuts - rib, loin, oyster, rib finger and ox tongue. The cuts were generously thick and lusciously marbled, glistening as it cooks on the mesh with any excess fat dripping off into the catch tray below. Like any good meat, you only need to turn it once during cooking. Cook the beef to your liking, then remove it from the grill using the tongs provided. Dip it in your choice of yakiniku sauce and enjoy. The meat is lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and tastes great on its own or with the sauce. A squeeze of lemon juice makes it all the more delectable. 

Built-in grill at the table to cook your chosen ingredients 

Wedge of lemon and yakiniku sauce

Premium Wagyu Amusement ($49.90) - chef's recommendation of premium Wagyu beef cuts: Wagyu Rib, Wagyu Loin, Wagyu Oyster, Wagyu Rib Finger and Wagyu Ox Tongue

I've had ox tongue at Korean BBQ restaurants in the past but they usually come thinly sliced unlike the thick cuts served in the Premium Wagyu Amusement. The chunky meat oozes in fat and beefy juices, melting in the mouth with each bite. Deliciously satisfying though personally I would prefer it in small quantities (no more than two pieces for me) as it is too fatty for my liking. 

Wagyu Ox Tongue in thick cut cooking on the grill

Seasoned lightly with salt and pepper, the grilled Wagyu Ox Tongue is juicy and tender

To help balance out our meat consumption, we also ordered a plate of Wrap-Up Lettuce Leaves which was eaten together with the meat. To make a lettuce wrap, first spread the homemade miso sauce thinly on the lettuce leaf. Dip your cooked meat in the yakiniku sauce then place it on the prepared leaf, topping it up with some sliced carrots, garlic and green chillies, then wrap and eat!

Wrap-Up Lettuce Leaves ($8.90) - lettuce, green chilli, carrot and garlic served with homemade miso dip

Making up a lettuce wrap with a bit of everything

The Stone Pot Mentaiko Bibimbap (with soup) is beautifully presented with namuru, egg, chilli cod roe and squid served on top a bed of rice in a hot stone pot, and comes with a bowl of piping hot miso soup and a sweet and spicy miso paste on the side. Loved the combination of textures and flavours - chewy squid, cooked egg and seasoned vegetables stirred in with fluffy short grain rice and bits of crunchy cooked rice in the mix with spicy paste to give it a bit of a kick.

Stone Pot Mentaiko Bibimbap (with soup) ($15.90) - vegetable, egg, chilli cod roe, and squid on rice in a hot stone pot

Mixed rice

To finish, we ordered two desserts to share: the "WA 和 (Japanese)" Plate and Shiratama Cream Anmitsu. The wonderful waitstaff gave us small dessert forks and individual plates which are chilled to help keep our desserts cool for longer. If you only have room for one dessert, then you can't go wrong with the "WA 和 (Japanese)" Plate made up of a variety of Japanese desserts - warabimochi (a jelly-like confection made from bracken starch and coated in kinako) served with sweet black syrup on the side, shiratama zenzai (sweet red bean soup with mochi) and green tea creme brulee accompanied with a cup of warm Japanese tea. For something a little more refreshing, opt for the Shiratama Cream Anmitsukanten (aka agar) with shiratama (mochi) and sweet red beans topped with vanilla and green tea ice cream, served with sweet black syrup on the side and seasonal fruits. Both desserts were lovely and not overly sweet.

"WA 和 (Japanese)" Plate ($18.90) - warabimochi with sweet black syrup, shiratama zenzai and green tea creme brulee served with tea

Shiratama Cream Anmitsu ($15.90) - Kanten with shiratama and sweet red beans topped with vanilla and green tea ice cream served with sweet black syrup and seasonal fruits

Drenching the dessert with sweet black syrup

Complimentary Japanese tea was served whilst us girls enjoyed our desserts and continued chit-chatting. Overall, the quality and selection of food at Rengaya was excellent, and service was friendly and prompt. Surprisingly, I didn't walk away smelling like yakiniku at the end of the night!

No doubt good quality food and service comes with a cost; Rengaya is not your everyday dining venue but one you would visit for special occasions or if you want to impress. Perhaps a more bang for your buck option is their all-you-can-eat buffet menu at $69 per head but be prepared to eat your money's worth within a 2-hour service window (last orders taken at 90-minutes and there is a $10-$30 charge for leftovers if you ordered more food than you can consume). 

I dined as a guest at Rengaya with thanks to Yuri from SD Marketing Global and Washoku Lovers.

Rengaya on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Sushi Hotaru Sake Bar, Sydney (5th March 2015)

If you're a sushi fan like me, then I'm sure you've at some point taken a number and waited patiently for a seat to come available at the ever-popular Sushi Hotaru on Level 1 of The Galeries Victoria but did you know there is ANOTHER Sushi Hotaru in town? I wasn't aware they had a similar branch just over a block away until SD Marketing Global invited me to a tasting which I was more than happy to accept!

Opened in mid-2013, Sushi Hotaru Sake Bar is located on Bathurst Street and like its sibling restaurant offers a large selection of freshly made sushi at $3 per plate (with exception for special plates - prices are clearly marked on the menu). At 6pm, there was no line in sight and the place looked fairly quiet with only a few diners scattered around the sushi bar. Upon entering, Jono and I were greeted with a friendly chorus of "Irasshaimase!" (meaning 'welcome' in Japanese) called out by the staff and were promptly shown to our seats by the maitre'dJ-pop music filled the air giving an upbeat ambience to this contemporary Japanese-themed restaurant. 

Sushi Hotaru Sake Bar on Bathurst Street

Customers seated around the sushi train enjoying their meals

Witness all the action in the open kitchen right from your seat

I immediately caught sight of their iPad touch screen ordering system and began flicking through the menu, ignoring the physical copy that was also available at the bar. The touch screen ordering system is one of the unique and fun things about Sushi Hotaru and makes ordering a breeze - you can take your time, mull over the choices and order as you go. Your favourite sushi not seen on the conveyor belt? Just look it up on the iPad, select the item and place your order, and before you know it, the chef would be meticulously preparing your sushi and have it served to your table in no time. Need to call a waitstaff for assistance? No more waving your hand around to get their attention; you can do this with an easy touch of a button. Effortless!

Order at ease using the touch screen ordering system

Jono and I selected a combination of items, some ordered via the touch screen and others taken from the sushi train. We started off with some drinks - a Sapporo Premium Beer (refreshing and crisp golden lager) for Jono while I opted for a non-alcoholic Lychee Calpis, a cultured milk drink with a slight acidic flavour likened to Yakult or Vitagen (the latter more familiar to those who grew up in Malaysia and Singapore) with the fruity sweetness of lychee. Brings back fond memories of drinking copious amounts of Vitagen when I was a kid!

Sapporo Premium Beer ($6.50)

Lychee Calpis ($5.50)

We decided to go with the staff recommendation and tried out their increasingly popular recent additions to the menu: LOL, Volcano and Hotaru Pork Bun. I'm not sure how they came about calling a sushi roll LOL - you can't help but laugh at the name and order it out of intrigue. Made with crispy prawn and cucumber dressed with a 'secret sauce' and sprinkled with little bits of batter (also known as tenkasu) on the top, this sushi is delicious on its own without the need for wasabi and soy sauce.

LOL ($3) - crunchy prawn roll with secret sauce

Combining two of my favourite seafood - salmon and scallop - Volcano was a clear winner for me even though it was quite a challenge fitting the entire thing in one mouthful. The sushi is made aburi style where the top/outer sides have been partially grilled but inner sides still partially raw. Whatever this mysterious 'secret sauce' is, it tasted pretty darn good in combination with the rest of the ingredients.

Volcano ($9.90) - seared salmon and scallop with tartar and secret sauce

The Hotaru Pork Bun comes plated with a small side of salad drizzled with miso dressing. The slow cooked pork is fatty and so tender that it falls apart easily, and is wedged in between a soft bun together with sliced red onion, Japanese mayonnaise and a piece of lettuce. Though a generous serving for one, it was lacking in robust flavour and perhaps needed a thicker sauce or spice to give it that bit more oomph.

Hotaru Pork Bun ($7.90) - bun with slow cooked pork

A generous piece of fatty and tender pork wedged in a soft bun

No visit to a sushi joint would be complete without sampling their sashimi - a good indicator for the quality and freshness of their fish too! The Assorted Sashimi comes with two thick cuts of salmon, tuna and kingfish respectively. Fresh and SO good :)

Assorted Sashimi ($7.90) - salmon, tuna, kingfish

The Soft Shell Crab was as expected - crunchy pieces of battered softshell crab and lettuce rolled inside nori and sushi rice, topped with spicy mayonnaise. The lotus root chip, however, was not crispy but chewy, perhaps having absorbed some of the vaporised heat from the cooked crab.

Soft Shell Crab ($3)

"This is not on our menu yet but please try," said the maitre'd as she placed the Chicken Nigiri Special (name yet to be confirmed) compliments of the chef on our table. The chicken is grilled and the sushi's lacklustre shade of white given a boost of colour with edible flowers and a sweet glaze drizzle. I do not normally go for sushi made with chicken (I tend to favour the seafood ones) so was pleasantly surprised the simple chicken nigiri tasted delicious.

Chicken Nigiri Special compliments of the chef

To finish off, we went for the Sakura Mochi dessert plate which is made up of the sakura mochi (pink mochi filled with red bean paste and wrapped with a pickled cherry blossom leaf), a small chocolate truffle and crispy 'gold fruit' (fried dough with a sugar and peanut glaze). An interesting experience for the mouth for each item has a different texture ranging from chewy and soft to biscuit-like crunch.

Sakura Mochi plate ($3) - sakura mochi, chocolate truffle, crispy 'gold fruit'

By the time we were ready to leave around 7.15pm, the restaurant was at near full capacity. We made use of the 'Call Staff' button on the touch screen to have a waitstaff tally up the bill, then headed to the payment counter up the front with chit in hand. The restaurant has minimum $15 spend for use of EFTPOS and credit cards (plus a 3% surcharge if using Amex) so be sure to have cash handy especially if you're dining on your own.

Overall, the quality of the food was good with plenty of menu items to choose from and ease of ordering with the use of the touch screen ordering system not to mention the speedy and friendly service. With little to no queues, I would definitely go for Sushi Hotaru Sake Bar for my sushi fix over The Galeries branch any day!

Jono and I dined as guests at Sushi Hotaru Sake Bar with thanks to Olivia from SD Marketing Global.

SUSHI HOTARU Sake Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Wicked - The Musical at Capitol Theatre, Haymarket (11th October 2014)

After a successful 2014 return season in Melbourne, the internationally acclaimed Wicked - The Musical is finally in Sydney! 

Most of you would have read L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or watched the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz as a kid, following Dorothy, a young girl from Kansas in her adventurous in the Land of Oz. Wicked - The Musical however is an adaptation based on Gregory Maguire's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West which tells the story of two unlikely friends - Elphaba (Wicked Witch of the West) and Galinda/Glinda (Good Witch of the South) - during the time before and after Dorothy's arrival in Oz. Reading the book prior to the show is not necessary though probably helps to give more context to the story (FYI: the book is not suitable for children). 

Source: Wicked The Musical Australia and NZ

Jono and I bought pre-sale tickets when it was released in April this year, splurging a hefty $143.46 per person for front-row seats in the dress circle. We've never sat in the dress circle at Capitol Theatre to date so I wasn't certain it was wise to pay this much but when we arrived at our seats, I was delighted - it was in the exact middle of the row and the view couldn't have been more perfect! The stage set had a steampunk theme with plenty of wheels and cogs depicting the inner workings of machinery. A giant mechanical dragon towered the stage, and the stage curtain was a map of the Land of Oz with Emerald City softly glowing in the centre. There was much excitement in the air as the theatre fills up with eager patrons - I've been looking forward to the musical for many months so was pretty excited myself :)

Steampunk-themed stage set with a giant mechanical dragon

The show promptly began at 8pm with the giant dragon coming to life and the curtains drawn back to reveal a huge clock face (references the painted clock and tik-tok dragon of the Clock of the Time Dragon in the book). The citizens of Oz were celebrating the death of the Wicked Witch of the West when Glinda arrives. She recalls the tale of how green-skinned Elphaba was conceived from an affair between the Munchkin governer's wife and a mysterious stranger with a bottle of green elixir. Act I continues with an extended flashback of the witches' lives starting with their meeting at Shiz University, their mutual loathing and Madame Morrible (Shiz's headmistress) making them roommates, to how the snobby and sometimes mean Glinda and the smart but often misunderstood Elphaba developed a close friendship, both falling for the same Wilkie prince Fiyero, and the young witches visiting the Emerald City together to meet with the Wizard. Realising the Wizard plans to use Elphaba to 'create a really good enemy' for the people of Oz, Elphaba runs away with Grimmerie (a book of spells) and used her newly learned powers to escape Madame Morrible and the Wizard's guards by flying away on a broomstick, a public defiance act seen as 'wicked' by the Ozians; Glinda, on the other hand chose to stay, becoming a respected public figure in Oz.

In Act II, Elphaba visits her wheelchair-bound sister Nessarose who has now become the governor of Munchkinland and notoriously known as the Wicked Witch of the East having stripped the Munchkins off their rights to leave Munchkinland (in order to keep Boq with her). Criticised for not using her powers to help Nessarose, Elphaba enchants Nessarose's ruby slippers enabling her sister to walk. Learning that Nessarose is no longer disabled, Boq attempts to leave Munchkinland in pursuit of Glinda upsetting Nessarose who then casts a spell from the Grimmerie to make Boq fall in love with her but the spell backfired and shrunk Boq's heart instead. To save Boq, Elphaba transforms him into the Tin Man so he could live without a heart (much to Boq's horror) and she leaves Nessarose for good.

Whilst escaping the palace for a second time after failing to treat with the Wizard, Elphaba bumps into Fiyero who confirms his love for her and runs away with Elphaba. Glinda, feeling betrayed and crestfallen tells Madame Morrible to spread a rumour that Nessarose is in danger to lure Elphaba. Instead, Madame Morrible creates a cyclone which brought Dorothy's house to Oz and crushes Nessarose to death. Elphaba arrives too late to save her sister, falls for the trap and is captured by the palace guards when Fiyero intervenes, allowing Elphaba to escape making himself captive. To prevent Fiyero from feeling the pains of torture, Elphaba turns him into the Scarecrow.

The Wizard sends Dorothy and her friends (Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion) to kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Elphaba captures Dorothy, refusing to release her until she gives up Nessarose's ruby slippers. Glinda travels to Elphaba's castle and persuades her to release Dorothy. Although Elphaba refuses, the two witches forgives one another for their mistakes and acknowledges that they became who they are because of each other. Elphaba gives Grimmerie to Glinda, and shortly after, Dorothy throws a bucket of water at Elphaba who appears to have melted leaving Glinda to find the black hat and a green elixir bottle to be all that remains of her old friend. Back in Emerald City, it was revealed that the Wizard was Elphaba's biological father (the Wizard has the same green bottle). Glinda orders the Wizard to leave Oz, puts Madame Morrible into prison for murdering Nessarose and announces the death of the Wicked Witch of the West to the public. Meanwhile, back at the castle, the Scarecrow comes to the spot where Elphaba was melted and knocks on the floor. A trapdoor opens revealing a much alive Elphaba and the two leave Oz, never to see Glinda again.

The musical was 2 hours and 45 minutes long with a 20-minute intermission between acts. Lucy Durack and Jemma Rix were fantastic in their roles as Glinda and Elphaba respectively wowing the audience with their amazing vocals and musical theatre repertoire. The energy and ditziness portrayed by Lucy in the song Popular was wickedly hilarious, cheerfully vain and adorable all rolled into one, and you cannot help but be blown away by Jemma's memorable solo Defying Gravity closing off Act I. Their duet - What is this Feeling? - with its comical lyrics of the witches' mutual loathing definitely got the audience laughing in stitches. Overall the cast, singing, set and costumes were great though Jono and I both felt the music could have been better - a reduced orchestra was used in this production and we couldn't see any strings in the pit... 

Jemma Riz as Elphaba and Lucy Durack as Glinda. Source: Wicked The Musical Australia and NZ

We had a rather special end to the performance tonight - the audience were applauding away at the cast when Lucy called the music and clapping to a halt, delivering two important announcements: the 2014 
Rob Guest Endowment Gala Concert which was happening on Monday 13th October at Capitol Theatre showcasing performances of six young musical theatre performers alongside some of Australia's leading theatre stars including the cast of Wicked, and Jemma Rix celebrating 1000 performances in the show which the audience under Lucy's guidance joined in to sing a modified version of the 'Happy Birthday' song to Jemma. 

The award-winning Broadway musical commences its Sydney season at Capitol Theatre from 20th September before bringing all its 'wickedness' to Brisbane in 2015. Hurry and get your tickets from ticketmaster while the show is in town - you'll be spellbound!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Feijoada - Brazilian Black Bean Stew (7th August 2014)

One of my favourite Brazilian dishes is their national dish, the feijoada - a hearty black bean stew with beef and pork. The word feijoada stems from feijão (Portuguese meaning 'beans') and is actually a dish of Portuguese colonial origin; you will find variations of the same dish in former Portuguese colonies in other parts of the world. Traditionally, the feijoada is made with poorer cuts of meat (pork ear, tail, and/or beef tongue) but nowadays, it is made with an array of quality fresh, salted and smoked pork and beef products - no longer a 'poor man's dish'.

I was first introduced to feijoada by my friends Andrew and Rose when I was living in Wellington. Andrew had lived in Brazil for several years and it was there that he met his Brazilian wife Rose. Feijoada is a dish made for sharing and was normally served during winter - friends would gather round at their home on a Sunday afternoon, chipping in by bringing along bits of the ingredients that make up the dish and help out with the cooking. As it takes a couple of hours for the dish to stew, we would have a few caipirinhas and snacks including pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) before the main course. Most of us would have at least two servings of the feijoada - oh yeah, it was GOOD.

After pestering Andrew for quite some time for the recipe, he has finally posted it up on his blog - yes! With spare time up my sleeves, I decided to recreate the complete dish today - feijoada served with garlic rice, couve (collard greens), farofa (toasted manioc flour) and slices of orange - just like how we used to have it. The recipe is quite long and takes awhile to get all the ingredients together before cooking but your efforts will pay off at the end, rewarded with a delicious belly-warming stew. Crank up the stereo to some samba tunes while you labour away in the kitchen!

Feijoada - Brazilian Black Bean Stew (adapted from Andrew's recipe)

Prep time: overnight soaking of beans + 30-45 mins
Cook time: 2 hours 30 mins

Serves 6-8

500g black beans
500g various pork-based sausages and chorizos
2 bacon rashers, diced
500g corned beef, cubed
2 bay leaves
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

(day before) Rinse the beans in a large bowl. Fill the bowl with enough water to completely cover the beans and leave to soak overnight in fridge.

1. Heat up the oil in a large stock pot. Add in onion and garlic, sauté till soften.
2. Add in meats and fry for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add in bay leaves and beans. Mix all the ingredients then fill pot with enough water to cover and simmer on low flame for 1 hour with lid on.
4. Prepare ingredients for rice, couve and farofa (see below).
5. Remove sausages and chorizo from pot. Cut them into bite-size pieces and return to pot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Continue to simmer on low flame with lid on for another hour, periodically giving the stew a stir.
6. Cook the following in this order: farofa, rice, couve.
7. For a creamier feijoada, take 1/4-1/2 cup of beans from the pot and blend till smooth. Return bean mixture to pot and stir it in.
8. Serve feijoada with warm rice and couve, farofa and slices of orange. Garnish with some parsley.

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
250g farinha de mandioca (manioc/cassava flour)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt butter in a pan. Sauté onion till soft.
2. Gradually add in the farinha de mandioca, mixing it in as you go. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

1/2 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cup uncooked rice, washed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups hot water

1. Heat the oil in a medium pot or saucepan. Add onion and garlic, sauté till soften.
2. Add in rice and salt, stir fry rice for 1 minute. 
3. Add hot water and cook rice on low flame lid on for 20 minutes. Serve warm.

2 large bunch collard greens, stem removed and leaves sliced into thin strips
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste

1. Heat up oil in a pan. Sauté garlic till fragrant.
2. Add in collard greens and sauté till colour turns bright green or starts to soften. Add salt to taste. Serve warm.

Ingredients for feijoada: black bean, onion, garlic, bay leaf, corned beef, pork and chorizo sausages, and bacon

Feijoada with rice, couve, farofa and orange

Andrew's version of the feijoada uses corned beef in replacement of carne seca (salted cured beef) which is more commonly available in Brazil. You can tweak the recipe to include your favourite bits of beef and pork products staying heavier on the pork side, and if you're feeling a bit more adventurous, throw in some salted pork trimmings and/or jerked beef. Farinha de mandioca can be purchased at Brazilian specialty stores though I was happily surprised to find it for sale at my local suburban deli. Collard can be replaced with other Asian greens - I've used choy sum (Chinese flowering cabbage) this time and bok choy in previous attempts and both works just as well. Make the complete feijoada or keep it simple and have just the stew with rice. 

Feijoada is a quintessential comfort food for a cold winter's day. After feasting on such a rich and heavy meal, I think I'm quite ready for that afternoon siesta...

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Ippudo, Sydney (29th July 2014)

Since Ippudo expanded its overseas restaurant and opened up their first Australasian restaurant in Sydney in December 2012, I have paid patronage to the Japanese ramen chain every couple of months. Whenever I crave for a delicious piping hot bowl of ramen, Ippudo is where I would go to and their ramen never fails to hit the spot. So when SD Marketing contacted me to write a review of my favourite ramen restaurant, I was thrilled and said yes! 

Located on Level 5 of Westfield Sydney, this sleek modern Japanese restaurant is not hard to miss. The entrance with its wooden wave-like ceiling and black and red hues are pleasing to the eye, and often, a long queue can be seen outside the restaurant. Ippudo does not take bookings and despite the line, it hardly deters the continuous flow of customers happily waiting for a table. Since I was often eating on my own, I would bypass the queue to get in and instead, head over to the takeaway area to get my ramen and dine in the food court; on days when I have companions and more time, I too would get in line just for the experience of dining in.

Ippudo on Level 5 of Westfield Sydney

Bar at the entrance

Upon entering the restaurant, you would be greeted by the chorus of "Irasshaimase!" (meaning 'welcome' in Japanese) called out by all the staff to incoming patrons. At 6pm, the place was already near full capacity, hungry customers seen eagerly slurping up their bowls of ramen. Su Wei and I were seated just behind the bar and was served by the wonderful Jeremy - he was warm and super-friendly, and got us into giggles throughout the evening with his silly antics and playful winks whenever he was at our table :) 

Hungry patrons fill the seats inside the restaurant

Once you're in the restaurant and seated, everything happens pretty fast. Various waitstaff would turn up at our table - one handing out the menu and explaining today's specials, another topping up our glasses with water, a third setting up our table with chopsticks, cutlery and napkins, and before you know it, the first dish arrives at the table. 

The popular Ippudo Pork Bun is a definite must-order for me whenever I dine at Ippudo. It has been awhile since I was last here so was pleasantly surprised to see that the price for the bun has stayed at $4 (the same price since launch) and still tasted as good as I remembered - soft, fluffy bun with tender braised pork belly, crispy lettuce and Japanese mayo wedged in the middle. They are so good I could happily have several of these as a main on its own.

Ippudo Pork Bun ($4) - steamed bun with braised pork and Ippudo original sauce

Mmm, soft fluffy bun and oh-so-tender meat - heavenly!

If you have any questions about the menu or need some help deciding what to order, the friendly and attentive staff at hand would be more than happy to assist. We were having trouble deciding which a la carte dishes to get (there were 13 dishes to choose from and they all look equally good) and our waiter Jeremy came to our aid, narrowing down the list to just two: the Samurai Ribs and Lamb Hacho Miso Sauce. "Definitely go for the ribs," said Jeremy, highly recommending them. We were concerned of the serving size since we still had a bowl of ramen each to come but were told that the a la carte dishes were small as they were nibbles, usually to accompany drinks prior to the main course. I guess we'll be having them both then!

It didn't take very long for our dishes to arrive at the table, both presented artfully on pristine white plates. I like how the staff serving our food would give us a quick refresher of what we ordered, telling us the name and a brief description of each dish served. The Samurai Ribs was a clear winner for me - two pieces of pork spare ribs flavoured with a dark (koikuchi) soy sauce reduction, served with orange puree and seven-spice chili pepper (shichimi). The cut of meat was more similar to a short rib, slightly meatier than the usual spare rib you would expect and has a layer of fat which is crisp on the outside, its juices oozing into the mouth with each bite. The meat was cooked till tender and falls off the bone easily with the prod of my knife and fork. The rich saltiness of the sauce is beautifully balanced out by the tangy sweetness of the orange puree, and a sprinkling of chili pepper gives it a bit of a kick. Did you know that the sauce underneath the ribs is actually a written Japanese character 侍 meaning 'samurai'? How cool is that!

Samurai Ribs ($18) - pork spare ribs flavoured with reduction of koikuchi soy sauce served with orange puree and seven-spice chili pepper

Seasoning my pork rib with some chili and a drizzle of orange puree

Su Wei, on the other hand, preferred the Lamb Hacho Miso Sauce - two lamb cutlets grilled medium rare (they are cooked to your liking) drenched in a thick sweet and smoky sauce, served with fried eggplant. The darkness of the miso sauce may not seem appealing to the eye but goes very well with the juicy lamb and plainer eggplant. I was struggling to get the last bits of meat off the bone towards the end, eventually giving up on the cutlery and using my hands.

Lamb Hacho Miso Sauce ($20) - grilled lamb in a slightly sweet Hacho miso accompanied with fried eggplant

Ippudo is famed for its ramen and my all-time favourite is their Akamaru Shinaji made with Ippudo original tonkotsu broth that is enhanced with a special blended miso paste and fragrant garlic oil. The gleaming black garlic oil distinctly stands out on one side of the cloudy pork-based soup and is accompanied with thin ramen noodle served firm to the bite, chasu pork belly, black mushroom and shallots. A small red ball of miso paste and minced pork sat perfectly in the middle. The first mouthful of the soup is often a slight shock to the tastebud due to the mild bitterness from the garlic oil but after a few more mouthfuls, the flavour really grows on me. Su Wei went for the Akamaru Special which was the Akamaru Shinaji served with a side of Special Toppings which included more pork belly, black mushroom and shallots, as well as roasted seaweed and flavoured bamboo shoots. There is also the option to choose your own ramen toppings from the menu - the flavoured egg is my personal favourite.

Akamaru Special ($23) - Akamaru Shinaji with a side of Special Toppings

Akamaru Shinaji ($16) - Ippudo original tonkatsu broth enhanced with special blended miso paste and fragrant garlic oil. Served with thin noodles, pork belly, black mushroom and shallots.

Special Toppings ($7) - assortment of pork belly, roasted seaweed, black mushroom, shallots and flavoured bamboo shoots

I love how Ippudo always has specials giving return customers like me plenty of opportunity to try out their new creations. As part of their winter season special, Ippudo has brought back two brushed up versions of last year's most popular ramen - the Miso Tonkotsu (available from lunch) and the Spicy Black (available from 3pm). Daily servings for these specials are limited so you need to get in early before they sell out. I was fortunate they still had both this evening and opted for the Spicy Black Special, a spiced up version of the standard Tan Tan Men with an added kick of extra black garlic oil, topped with special miso paste, chashu pork belly, bean sprouts and coriander. Like the Akamaru Special, my ramen too came with an extra serving of assorted toppings. 

The spiciness of the broth is said to be balanced off with the sweet fragrance of the special sesame paste mixed in. Rich and intense in flavour, I could feel the edges of my mouth tingling from all the peppery spice with each slurp of the soup. Jeremy provided us with pepper and sesame seed grinders to spice up our ramen to our liking - I think mine is pretty spiced up, no need for more! The soup was a lot more gelatinous than the lighter Akamaru, and perhaps I was beginning to feel full from all the nibbles prior so didn't feel I enjoyed the ramen as much as I would like. Probably skip the entrees and go straight for the Spicy Black next time. 

Spicy Black Special ($24) - spiced up version of the standard Tan Tan Men with an added kick of extra black garlic oil. Topped with special miso paste, pork belly chashu, coriander and bean sprouts. The Special Toppings is served on the side.

All mixed in and ready to eat!

"More pork bun?" teased Jeremy when he came back to check in on us after our table was cleared. Oh I wish - I was totally bursting at the seams, there was no way I could fit more! But rest assured, I will be back very soon. With the cold winter days looming, nothing beats a wholesome hot bowl of delicious ramen to warm me up!

Su Wei and I dined as guests at Ippudo Sydney with thanks to Sana from SD Marketing.

Ippudo Sydney on Urbanspoon

For all you Ippudo lovers out there, you would be pleased to know that a new store will open in Chippendale around mid-September this year. I can't wait to check it out!

New store address: 
Level 1, RB07, 28 Broadway, Chippendale, NSW 2008

And here's a little video teaser the marketing folks have put together to whet your appetite :)