Ume Japanese Restaurant

I adore the Sydney restaurant scene for its selection of quality Japanese cuisine, and Ume was no exception. Awarded one hat by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide, the cosy restaurant on Bourke Street provided excellent service, food, and a delightful evening while my friend Alan and I exchanged stories from the past year.

I took this photo in the middle of a zebra crossing, much to Alan's fear of me getting run over.

I took this photo in the middle of a zebra crossing, much to Alan’s fear of me getting run over.

We opted for the 5-course set menu ($74), but I was able to switch my dessert for something chocolatey found on the 7-course menu. Some restaurants get grumpy at such requests and are unwilling to accommodate, so I was extra pleased in this regard. An extra reason to celebrate with my yuzu high ball ($16) and Alan’s Kaku whisky sour ($21)!

Yay Japanese cocktails!

Yay Japanese cocktails!

The first course was a truffle and shiitake mushroom Nagano-style dumpling, which was…amazing. Taste, texture, everything. When we finished ours, we definitely wanted more!

So yummy!

So yummy!

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Brunch at Bitton

My main reason for being in Sydney was to be a bilingual Mistress of Ceremony at my good friend Yang Yang’s wedding. A week before the big day, while her now-husband Ben was recovering from his bucks’, Yang and I had brunch at her favourite local cafe and bistro, Bitton, where we finally did some much-needed catching-up.

It was a pretty busy morning, but the staff were very efficient, returning to our table several times to take our order—as super regulars (regular supers? Super supers?), Yang and Ben usually order within seconds, while the indecisive little me sat there for quite a while longer, poring over the menu with more intensity than I approach my Shakespearean readings.

Tea itself was a difficult choice, because tea! I went for the Chai High Spice ($4.50), and the aroma itself made me super duper happy. Yang could smell it too, and she ended up getting some herself after her coffee (uh, we were there for quite a while).

Tea, glorious tea!

Tea, glorious tea!

Yang went for an eggs Benedictine with poached eggs, bacon, spinach, potato Rosti, and Hollandaise sauce ($19). This usually comes with smoked salmon, but Yang made a face at smoked salmon (whhhyyyyyy?!), and had bacon with it instead (okay, I forgive you, Yang).

Eggs Benedictine.

Eggs Benedictine.

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The chocolatey Choc Pot

Since my previous stint in Sydney, the Interchange above Chatswood Station has exploded into existence, and now houses a whole bunch of shops and eateries. Amongst these is The Choc Pot, which belongs to a growing number of independent chocolate cafes dotted throughout Sydney. When Anika and I realised we’d both be in Chatswood one afternoon, we decided to check out the cafe for a bit of chocolatey indulgence.

Now, I know there’s a huge variety of preferences when it comes to chocolate, and some of these change with time. When I was (much, much) younger, I adored white chocolate, and refused to touch anything beyond a very milky milk chocolate. These days, I’m the complete opposite: I love the darkest of dark chocolates (the bitterer the better!), and tend to avoid even milk chocolates (except in moments of desperation when I stop discriminating and would happily eat everything). Since I have such a strong preference for dark chocolate, I’m always a little hesitant to try out new chocolate cafes and shops in case I find them lacking in cacao and overloaded with sugar.

Unfortunately, I found The Choc Pot much too sweet for me. When Anika’s red velvet hot chocolate ($6.50) was served, I could immediately smell the accompanying sweetness. She enjoyed it, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be a fan. Meanwhile, I opted for a berries and orange black tea ($5), which turned out to be the perfect accompaniment for the noms.

According to Anika, this was pretty much red velvety.

According to Anika, this was pretty much red velvety.

We got the signature dish, aptly named “The Choc Pot” ($12), which is a molten chocolate concoction containing brownie-like bits. And yes, we opted for additional ice-cream ($2.50), because yay ice-cream! I thought the Choc Pot itself to be a little above average–sure, it had the chocolate as promised, but it was…nothing extraordinary. I would’ve preferred something richer, or perhaps less sweet, but alas. Anika liked it though, further illustrating that chocolate does indeed get very, very personal. ;)

The signature Choc Pot, with ice-cream and a juicy strawberry.

The signature Choc Pot, with ice-cream and a juicy strawberry.

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A Chinese feast at Oriental Jewel

My parents can be quite particular about Cantonese-Chinese cuisine, which, for me, comes with the advantage of dining with them at all the super yummy Chinese restaurants. Since they’re regulars of Oriental Jewel, to which I’m also quite partial, some of the dishes were complements of the chef, and not on the menu. I’ve also no idea how much the entire meal was supposed to cost, but I do have lots of photos and thoughts on the deliciousness!

But first, some decor! I’ve always loved the Chinese theme–some of it might seem a tad kitsch or overdone, but I just love the lantern lights and the bamboo steamers.

Yay for getting there early enough to take photos of tables, not random strangers!

Yay for getting there early enough to take photos of tables, not random strangers!

Yay bamboo steamers!

Yay massive bamboo steamers!

One of the restaurant’s signature dishes is an epic Cantonese double-boiled winter melon soup, which is made to order with prior notice, and, to my knowledge, is a rarity amongst Cantonese-Chinese restaurants in Sydney.

Amazing soup!

Amazing soup!

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An excellent evening of food and drink at Tapavino

The crowded, warm, and cheery Tapavino, tucked away in one of Sydney’s side streets was the perfect place to catch-up with a high school friend on a rainy and wintery (by Sydney standards) evening. My friend Tracy chose the place, and golly, I was so glad she did, because everything about it was amazing!

Firstly, I loved the bustling atmosphere–Tapavino‘s one of those places where you need to cosy up with your company and raise your voice to be heard, but you’re happy to do so because of the positive energy and good cheer surrounding you. It’s where you’d go to meet an old friend, with whom you can talk about everything and nothing, or perhaps spend a hearty evening in the comfortable company of a loved one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tapavino reminded me of the well-loved bars in Europe, where the delicious food and wine form just the beginning of a great evening.

The bustling bar.

The bustling bar.

More loveliness!

So much loveliness!

I realised that evening I’d never had white sangria before, so Tracy and I got a glass each—it was fruity, fresh, and simply delightful!

I think I've been spoilt for white sangria now...

I think I’ve been spoilt for white sangria now…

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Ramen and other goodies at Ippudo

As my Londoner and fellow-Aussie-expat friend Ardo put it, we must always do the noodle rounds when in Sydney. I couldn’t agree more, so we decided to hit Ippudo, a reliable international chain that satisfied my ramen cravings for the day (and then some). The closest branch for the both of us was Macquarie, which has a limited but solid selection of goodies.

Ardo went for the Karaka Men set, which came with karaage chicken and a mini salad ($20). The Karaka Men contains Ippudo‘s original tonkotsu (pork bone) broth with spicy miso and ground pork. It had been about a year since I’d had the beautifully deep-fried karaage chicken, and aaaaahhhhh…!

THIS CHICKEN.

THIS CHICKEN.

They had a student deal available to everyone in the whole entire world, so when I showed them my QUB card, I got a complementary choice of side, and went for the wee pork bun.

Deliciousness!

Deliciousness!

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Golden Lotus’s Vegan Ubernoms (featuring David Ma’s photography)

Yes, “ubernoms” is totally a word–and also a totally apt term for the food at Golden Lotus, a Vietnamese vegan restaurant situated in the vegan-friendly (and gelato-studded) Newtown. I had the pleasure of hitting both the restaurant and a nearby gelateria with a group of vegan and omnomnivore friends in Sydney, including blogger and (superior) photographer David Ma, who has provided all the photos in this post.

Lillian here is pouring tea very gracefully.

Lillian here is pouring tea very gracefully.

We all flipped through the menu and chose a dish each to share, as you do. And what better than to start with some moreish rice paper tofu rolls ($5.80 each)?

Some lovely rice paper rolls.

Some lovely rice paper rolls.

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Sampling the entire menu at est.

After the somewhat disappointing service at Sepia, I was a little apprehensive about visiting est. with my family the following night for dinner. Have my years in Europebigland raised my fine-dining expectations to ridiculous standards? Are my pseudo-serious lamentations about lack of Australian culture and appreciation for fine things grounded in depressing reality? Or have I just become an unjustified snob, despite my working-class-to-bourgeois upbringing?

But from the moment we were greeted by the maître d’hôtel and led to our table, all those questions and anxieties dissipated. Sepia‘s service must’ve been an exception, because yup, est. definitely knows what they’re doing.

Loving the atmosphere!

Loving the atmosphere!

Since there were four of us and the four courses all had four options, it was the perfect opportunity to sample everything on the menu. Each of us decided on our top choices for each course, and bam! Nomfest! Most of the dishes were solid, with a few standouts, and I’ll be commenting on them in the photo captions, while I’ve nabbed the course descriptions from est.‘s website. Unfortunately, I’m a newb when it comes to low-light photography (and photography in general, come to think of it), so these mightn’t all be aesthetically pleasing–but in this case, please don’t judge est. by my amateur point-and-shooting!


Cocktails

gorgeous george: jameson & chivas whisky, grand marnier, dom benedictine, lemon, bitters, shaken together ($22)

Perfect for a whisky-lover!

Perfect for a whisky-lover!

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Crazy lazy lunch at Sepia Sydney

As soon as I had my Sydney dates finalised, the lovely Anika and I started planning an epic meal–one that would require several months’ notice to gather the necessary funds. We decided on the 9-course degustation at Sepia, one of the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide’s three-hatted restaurants, and Vittoria Coffee’s Restaurant of the Year in 2015.

Needless to say, Anika and I were both super excited about our Sepia Friday, and were pretty much ready for a three-hour meal that ended with us rolling down Sussex Street, happily watered and fed. And despite a few disappointments here and there, our overall experience was pretty amazing.

Before I start on the individual food and wine pairings (which were mostly hits, had some misses, and some super duper hits), I want to say that for me, fine-dining is about the entire experience, which includes attentive and knowledge waitstaff, the correct assortment of tableware, and an atmosphere conducive to the holistic enjoyment of dishes and drinks that have been thoughtfully created and presented, and should be consumed with the same level of respect and consideration. Additionally, when I’m forking out a decent amount for such an experience, I expect the restaurant’s quality to be much more than just the food–and unfortunately, I found the service rather lacking. The sommelier was the only person who gave us the impression of being amenable to answering our questions, whereas practically everyone else was quite brusque, impersonal, and  indifferent. I found this very disappointing, and though I tried not to be affected by the service, I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed my meal significantly more had the staff been more pleasant.

Right–onto the food! Sepia was pretty darn good in this aspect, and almost every dish had Anika and me making all sorts of inappropriate noises in public. The restaurant’s Japanese inspirations are quite evident in its emphasis on seafood, which suited us just fine because mmm, seafood… (Also, I feel I should apologise for some of the sub-optimal photos–my seat wasn’t exactly photography-friendly, and I kept trying to avoiding my camera’s shadow.)

For the amuse bouche, we had light and crispy crackers with a delicately seasoned tuna tartare, complemented by seaweed. This was our first gastronomical impression of Sepia, and we were both quite pleased.

Amuse bouche: rice crackers with tuna tartare.

Amuse bouche: rice crackers with tuna tartare.

1: Sashimi of Yellow Fin tuna, Jamon Iberico cream, avocado, baby radish, ponzu, pork crackling.
2004 Crawford River “Reserve”, Riesling. Henty, Australia.

I felt this was the weakest dish of the set. I wasn’t impressed by the quality of the tuna, and the overall flavours just didn’t do anything for me. I’d actually go as far as call it quite bland—the dish was certainly overshadowed by the Riesling, which was delicious.

1: Sashimi of Yellow Fin tuna

1: Sashimi of Yellow Fin tuna

2: Bonito, fried potato, poached quail egg, caviar, roasted chicken powder.
2013 Perticaia, Trebbiano Spoletino. IGT Umbria, Italy.

Whatever reservations I had from the first course were immediately blown out of the water with this beautiful concoction. Anika commented on the quail egg really doing it for her, but for me, I loved the combination of flavours and textures—taking the first bite was a joyous occasion that had me grinning in that dopey foodie fashion.

2: Bonito and co.

2: Bonito and co.

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Satisfying my chicken rice craving at PappaRich

Last Thursday was supposed to be my “day off” eating…and then my family decided to go to PappaRich, a Malaysian chain that’s opened a branch in the Macquarie Centre since I was last in Sydney. My craving for Malaysian food–more specifically, for Hainanese chicken rice that’s quite popular in South East Asia–is indeed an occupational hazard: one of the Shakespearean films about which I wrote for my recent chapter on “Asian” adaptations is entitled Chicken Rice War, a comic, post-modern take on Romeo and Juliet, wherein the two families run competing chicken rice diners. So yeah, I’ve been craving chicken rice since June, and there’s none to be found in Belfast. Occupational hazard, indeed!

Wendy and I both have too-sweet-teeth (which will eventually render us toothless), so we had to have a Matcha Rocks and Open Sesame to drink ($7.50 each). It came with ice-cream and a spoon–what more needs to be said? :D

Matcha (green tea) on the left for Wendy, and black sesame on the right for meeeeeee.

Matcha (green tea) on the left for Wendy, and black sesame on the right for meeeeeee.

As customary of our family outings, we each pick something from the menu. Mum is quite a noodly person (perhaps evidenced by our trip to Chefs Gallery the previous day), so she went for a bowl of that. (Embarrassingly, I don’t recall which–but it wasn’t that good, so isn’t really noteworthy.)

Oodles more noodles for mummy.

Oodles more noodles for mummy.

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