Friday, May 31, 2013

Ramen Zundo, Chinatown

My ramen-loving friends from Street Food staged an Ippudo intervention and dragged me out of Westfield and down to World Square to try their new favourite ramen joint, Ramen Zundo.  After just one bowl of their "Zundo Black" I'm a convert!

We place our order at the counter and receive our magic number so the friendly waitstaff can deliver our bowls of heaven directly to our table. If 42 is the "meaning of life" does then mean that ramen is actually the meaning of life?

I order a hard-boiled soft-yolk egg ($2.00) on the side to add to my a fork. After three decades of trying to use chopsticks I finally give up! The only way not to make a fool of myself is to just bite the bullet and ask for a fork.

I think I've finally decided on my "go to" bowl of ramen - tonkatsu broth (pork) with black garlic oil.  I fell in love with this at Ippudo and I'm pleased to say that the Black Zundo ($11.90) version here is just as good. The broth here is not too thick so there is no overly oily, collagen rich mouth feel. I like the pungent, slightly burnt flavour the garlic oil adds and it's just a little bit salty too. The pork slices were so tender and melt-in-the-mouth and the noodles were soft, but not too soft. Perfection in a bowl.

Mr Shawn orders the Sea Salt Ramen ($11.00). Despite its name the saltiness in this soup is quite mild and the broth is quite clear and thin -- more like a Chinese wonton soup broth than a thick, rich ramen. I think this would be a great warming bowl of soup for when you're feeling a bit under the weather.

The Assari Tonkotsu Niboshi is Miss Chicken's ramen of choice and it's another really great soup.  This ramen is a lighter pork broth that is flavoured with one of my all time favourite foods - anchovies! It's slightly salty, but the anchovy taste is not overpowering.

Ramen Zundo is at Shop 1030 World Square - 644 George Street, Sydney.

Ramen Zundo on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mary's, Newtown

I'm trying to wean myself off of racing around trying to get to all the new "hip" places that open up in Sydney. Let's face it, it's tiring, costly and I'm getting kinda fat existing on a diet of sliders, tacos, fried chicken and cheesy fries (I think I've just listed my death row meal right there).

But when I saw a picture on Instagram of the cheeseburger at Newtown's newly opened Mary's -- part pub + part greasy American diner -- I just could not resist the junk food lure. I'd had heard talk that the cheeseburger at Mary's was as close to my beloved Shake Shack burger that you could get here in Sydney.

Mary's is located on Mary Street (no guesses where the name came from). It's a street I've walked down a thousand times before yet I've never really noticed this building before. Apparently it's had a million previous lives but I'd go out on a limb and say that this is by far the tastiest.

The space is fairly large, made more so by the addition of a mezzanine level that offers table services. We decide to sit downstairs (where you order at the bar) as it's closer to the bar for my beer loving companions (and closer to the loos for me)! I love that the place is still a bit rough around the edges and hasn't been tarted up too much -- it gives it that slightly Melbourne edge that we all love so much. It reminds me of what Newtown "used to be like" before the Max Brenner's and Gloria Jeans moved in.

I'm proudly told by Mr Shawn and Miss Chicken that Mary's serves Young Henry Beer - a local brew.  I feel pleased I can reply that Parramatta now has its own brew house and The Boy has given it his tick of approval. I have a sip of the Young Henry's - it tastes

The menu is fairly small which makes ordering a breeze.  I get heart palpitations just looking at all the fast-food (but done in a kinda slow way) goodness. I'll have one of everything please!

First order up is a plastic basket lined with greaseproof paper that somehow manages to contain the pool of creamy, oozy Mash + Gravy ($5.00). It looks a bit like something The Colonel would make but it's WAY beyond anything he could ever serve up. The mash is so creamy it's almost liquid and the gravy is nice and peppery. The thing with mash + gravy is that it's perfect for dipping things in to -- like Fried Chicken ($16.00 for half a bird). This chicken was great! The peppery note in the batter is what really made it for me along with the combination of moist meat and crunchy outer.

Our burgers arrive snugly wrapped in greaseproof paper. The basket is piled high with hot, crunchy chips that have the perfect amount of salt on them (FYI, chips dipped into mash + gravy = an OMG moment).

I opted for the Cheeseburger ($14.00) and Miss Chicken went with the Mary's burger (also $14.00) that comes with a bit of salad on it. Mr Shawn embraced his inner vegetarian and ordered the 'shroom burger ($12.00) which I had a bite of - loved the big, juicy, meat field mushroom that they've used in lieu of a meat patty.

Now onto the cheeseburger.  It's wrong  of me to compare it to Shake Shack as it's really nothing like it (I'm told that honour goes more to the Mary's Burger which I'm going to try next time).  If I had to make a comparison I'd say it's similar to a McDonald's cheeseburger - soft bun (though Mary's is a buttermilk bun) with a thin patty, tomato sauce, melty cheese, onion and my beloved gherkins. Unlike Macca's though the patty has real flavour to it -- it's quite smoky and peppery and the super soft bun is like biting into air.  As soon I finished my last mouthful I was wondering if I could order "just one more"?

Mary's is at 6 Mary' Street, Newtown.

Mary's on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 27, 2013

Balcony Garden: Harvest Monday #26

The caterpillars continued to wage war on my poor old tomatoes right until the very end.  I continued to pick the caterpillars off and turf them over the balcony. I'm not sure who won the war but I have a feeling it's not me. This guy had sneakily been munching away on the far side of this tomatoes and it wasn't until I leaned in for a closer inspection that I saw he'd demolish the whole back half of the fruit. Rude (although it's interesting to see the caterpillars always seem to "become" the colour of whatever it is they are eating).

We've come to the end of things with my tomatoes - another small bowl full were rescued from the garden before the caterpillar calls his friends over and has a dinner party on my poor old Tiny Toms. Some of the tomatoes have splits in them which I recently read is a sign of inconsistent watering...yep, I'd go with that.

It seems that it's not only the tomatoes under siege. I'd noticed loads of small holes and chomp marks on my eggplant leaves and for the life of me could NOT identify a culprit...until now that is.  Sneaky little guy hiding under a leaf. A little spider has also set up home in the eggplant but he's not eating anything other than bugs so he can stay.

I only ended with five eggplants growing and it took SO long - nearly nine months - to get them to a point where they are edible. The eggplants are so beautiful to look at that it seems a shame to cut into them...but if I don't eat them I'm pretty sure some else will! I'm not really sure how to tell when eggplants are ready to harvest but these guys seemed big enough so I risked it.

I always cut into everything I grow on the balcony as I'm paranoid about some nasty grub getting into my veggies (and also worried that someone else will get to eat the fruits of my labour). A quick slice and dice shows that these babies are all mine!

I also have two pots of basil growing - about six plants in all. They're not really doing well and to be honest I don't like the overpowering smell of it either.  I've made pesto twice with my basil...but what else to do with it?

So we have eggplants, tomatoes and basil all ripe at the same time - sounds perfect for an easy eggplant parmigiana I'd say (recipe from here).  The basil and tomatoes got added to a store bought jar of tomato pasta sauce and whilst the bulk of the sauce was from a shop it was nice to know that some of it was grown by me. There's also about 12kgs of cheese in there - so not a diet friendly dish (but really tasty)!

This eggplant parmigiana is another eggplant meal whipped up for the #meatFreeWeek challenge I participated in during March this year. I have to say cooking vegetarian for the week was really enjoyable and so much more easy than I thought. I didn't struggle for ideas which I thought would be my major problem and in fact could've done another week of pure vegetarian meals.  Not sure The Boy could've though.

You can view more Harvest Monday posts on Daphne's Dandelions blog.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ocean Room, Circular Quay

Miss Piggy (and her +1) dined as a guest of Ocean Room and Wasamedia.

Ocean Room is one of a handful of beautifully situated, fancy pants restaurants at The Overseas Passenger Terminal near Circular Quay.  I've been here once before but only for a few nibbles at the bar.  The bar snacks here were exceptional and I knew I wanted to come back...someday.

The restaurant overlooks our glorious harbour with a prime position opposite The Opera House. Throughout dinner I keep take peaks out the window and feel slightly jealous of people who get to stare at this view all day (or for the lucky ones who live around here who get to stare at the Opera House whenever they please). Ah well, I get to stare into Everybody Loves Ramen's laundry window so I guess living in Parramatta has it's own perks too.

I'm catching up with my friend Miss M and we're here to sample the Ocean Room's new autumn 12 course tasting menu.  TWELVE COURSES! I was worried that I'd be over-full by the end of the meal but as with the way with Japanese food everything was light, fresh and well-balanced. I left Ocean Room feeling satisfied...and good.

I'd had a bit of a rough day so we eager to start our night off with a cocktail.  Miss M is more of a wine drinker but I twisted her rubber arm to join me in some cocktail fun.  My tipple is the Blood Orange and Plum Sour described as a "juicy whiskey sour with succulent blood orange and plum scotch whiskey, plum wine and blood orange juice, cinnamon orange syrup and bitters". It's just what the doctor ordered and I enjoyed the woody notes of the whiskey. Miss M  goes for a good old classic - the Mojito - and I'm told it's good stuff.

Our tasting menu begins with "Kaki" - freshly shucked Sydney rock oysters with Guinness, myoga (ginger) and a Yamazaki (whiskey) silk. The oysters were juicy, plump and still a little briny, fresh with a hint of sea water. I really enjoyed the silky, slightly sour "whiskey silk" that felt like jelly on the tongue.

Our second course, Ochazuke, brings a bit of theater to the table. I can tell we're in for an interesting + entertaining meal as our waiter pours cold-drip dashi and premium gyokuro green tea into a small bowl of Koshihikari rice crust, flame seared latchet (fish), umeboshi (salt plums) sorbet, wasabi dust. The flavours in this dish were really interesting - so many temperatures, tastes and textures in every mouthful.  The dashi + green tea "broth" was slightly salty, tasting of fish in a powerful, earthy (or ocean) way.  I loved the crunchy "rice crust" that reminded me of puffed rice and the sorbet was savoury and refreshing.

Moving on to course #3 and #4 we have Maguro - yellow fin tuna with Sicilian green olive + buffalo mozzarella drops, crystalised yuzu, soy pearls, tomato chips following by Shinjo - housemade croquette of tiger prawn & calamari, yuba angel hair.

The Maguro is basically a tuna tartare which requires us to mix all the elements on the plate together in order to get the best flavour out of the tender, soft tuna.  Amazingly this simple looking dish seems to contain nearly every flavour all in one mouthful; sweet, sour, salty and umani. I loved the Shinjo which reminded a lot of a Thai fish cake in terms of flavour and texture, and who doesn't love a salty, crunchy lotus root chip (rhetorical question I think as EVERYONE loves them).

The theater arrives back at the table with the arrival of the pretty-as-a-picture Onsen or "autumn vegetable collection".  The centre of the plate houses what is basically an oil-burner containing a rich, unctuous, salty anchovy and garlic bath that I can't get enough of. Along the rim of the plate sits fresh, seasonal vegetables for dipping.  So simple but one of my favourite dishes of the night.

The sashimi platter is so fresh and it feels like an incredible healthy dish of food to be eating.  I can't quite remember all the different fish appearing on the platter but I know we had some tuna and some salmon. There were quite a few varieties of fish that I'd not heard of before - some were very 'seafoody' in flavour and others fairly mild.

Interestingly I found the strips of wagyu beef in the Shabu to be quite "meaty" - almost in direct contrast to how delicate the thin slivers of beef actually were. The beef was served in a dashi consommé with grilled tofu and seasonal mixed vegetables.  I added the lime, chilli and soy dipping sauce directly into my broth which I thought helped counterbalance this meaty tasting dish.

I absolutely loved the Miso Cod - one of the Ocean Rooms signature dishes. The fish is fall-apart tender and lusciously sweet thanks to the orange miso it is cooked in.  I enjoy the savoury element the little piece of grilled shallot adds to the mix - a nice counterbalance to the sweetness of the miso.  The pile of ginger risotto offers a petite little carb-fix.

It also appears that my cocktail has run out so I decide to try the Rouge Royale - a fizzy strawberry drink with Martell VS, creme de peche, strawberry, orange, lemon juice, Angostura bitters and Clover Hill sparkling. I loved that my cocktail came with a rosemary swizzle-stick as it gives me another idea of what to do with all that rosemary I have growing.

I was a little confused when our waiter places the Butabara down in front of us - how exact do I open this little parcel without spilling pork broth all over myself? Ah, in a flourish a pair of scissors is brandished by our waiter and the top of our cellophane packet is snipped off to reveal a parcel of steaming simmered pork belly, melting tofu, yuzu chilli and ponzu. Loved this - the broth reminded me a lot of a tonkatsu pork ramen and that's never a bad thing.  The silky, soft tofu didn't "melt" however so we think that might be some creative menu writing?

I was really looking forward to the Sansui as I've been craving steak lately (the side affect of cooking mostly vegetarian food at home these days I think). Whilst I prefer to eat grass-fed meat there's no denying that the wagyu flat iron steak was flavoursome and tender, and incredibly well cooked. It was served with a Tasmanian pepper jus, an ENORMOUS and meaty quinoa crusted king prawn and an Americaine cream and agedashi taro potato "tower".

I like that the meal proper ends with a plate of edo-mae sushi.  It's a nice light note to end on -- and rather it's unconventional I think to go back to something light, rather than end on a heavier meat dish.  We're told that this sushi is an "authentic Tokyo style nigiri". 

I saw this dish arrive at our neighbours table about 10 minutes before we received our dessert and I actually thought it was a savoury dish of cold soba noodles carefully wrapped "around something".  I was jealous that we weren't getting it as part of our tasting menu as it looked so intriguing.  It turns out that this dish is not soba noodles but dessert.  Amaguri - is a chestnut mont blanc with green tea angel cake, spiced ice cream, chestnut puree and cognac persimmon.  It is topped with a little chestnut that looks like a little brain and it's the first chestnut that I've eaten and actually liked.

The Ocean Room is at the Ground Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal - Circular Quay West. Phone them on 9252 9586.

Ocean Room on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The (new) Marlborough Hotel, Newtown

Miss Piggy dined as a guest of The Marlborough Hotel for her first two meals. On the third visit she cracked open her wallet and bought her own lunch. True story.

Even though I walk past The Marlborough Hotel in Newtown every few weeks or so I failed to notice the whole place had shut down for a full renovation and make over. I think my eyes were distracted by that “other” Newtown pub that has also had a recent make over and ended up bright green like a radioactive frog.

The "new" Marly is bright, light, airy and fun. It’s also feels much more feminine than before with the decor (both inside and out) reminding me of a garden party. There are loads of comfortable upholstered couches, hanging baskets of flowers and astro turf . Gone are the dark, masculine booths, carpet and wood that adorned the old Marly. Don’t worry though boys as you can still get beer on tap and a good blokey feed. 

I like how "fun" the food options are at the new Marly Kitchen. It’s really good mix of that diner craze that is popular at the moment (cue the cheeseburger with fries) and good pub staples like steaks and schnitzels. It’s the best of both worlds.

The new menu also has some fun twists on regular pub items such as “chip nachos – there’s not a corn chip in sight. I really got a chuckle out of seeing the “Backyard Platter” listed on the menu – a perfect mix of Aussie BBQ favourites such as Jatz with cheese, cabanossi and dip – perfect food for sharing over a beer or three on a sunny Sunday (or Saturday) afternoon in the beer garden.

The new menu also has a REALLY large selection of vegetarian options on the menu which is a rare sight at a pub (or anywhere really). On my first visit I’m with VegeTARAian so we try a few of the non-meat options. We’re planning to come back with a bigger vegetarian group soon as there are SO many vegetarian choices we hardly made a dent in things.

Tara is keen to try the Vegetable Schnitzel ($17.00) which is something VERY VERY rare to see on a menu anywhere. We’re told the schnitzel is made from “seitan” which Tara pronounces like “satan” (who staunch meat eaters might think concocted this “non-meat” schnitty) but I thought it was pretty good. The flavour is good (quite nutty) and the texture was somewhat meaty (like a sausage perhaps) but more “bouncy” which makes sense seeing as this product is basically pure gluten. We had the vegetable schnitzel with a side of mushroom gravy (all their gravy’s here are vegetarian) along with some stellar, creamy mash, and fresh, crunchy batons of vegetables.

The minute I spied the Chip Sandwich on the menu ($8.00) I knew that I HAD to have it. The chef tells us it’s something that he’ll often eat in himself while working in the kitchen so he thought why not put it on the menu. I tell you the man is a genius! This simple, but delicious sandwich will bring back memories for just about every poor uni student or British backpacker who has whipped themselves up a chip sambo to ward off certain starvation.

The Nacho Fries ($18.00) are a tasty and interesting twist on your regular nachos. We have all the usual suspects - salsa, guacamole, cheese and beans - adorning, not crunchy corn chips, but big fat steak fries. The creamy guacamole has a mild heat to it and the salsa is vibrant and colourful, offering a burst of freshness with every mouthful.  I really loved the spicy beans -- they have a good amount of smokey + spicy = tasty! And can I just say how much I LOVE liquid cheese. I kinda want to burst into the kitchen, find the liquid cheese bottle and empty into my mouth. But, that would be wrong (or would it)?

I'm back a few short days later I really need to try the cheeseburger as I'm still on my quest to find a Shake Shack doppelgänger. Whilst there are loads of meaty options on the new Marly Kitchen menu I need to get my cheeseburger craving sorted first before I can move on. 

The cheeseburger is very substantial and it comes with fat, steak chips - so I think it's pretty good value for $16.  It's gloriously messy to eat and my little rectangle of wax paper looks like something akin to a crime scene by the time I'm finished - a good sign of enjoyment I'd say.  The burger comes on a sweet, pillowy brioche bun (as they all do here) which is soft and fluffy from being steamed before serving. The juicy pattie is generously sized with a hint of pepper and is blanketed in a layer of melty cheese AND my beloved liquid cheese. The whole lot of topped off with a squirt of tomato sauce + mustard. I am happy!

I brought my meat-eating work buddy along so that I could get snaps of some other options for carnivores but she was too tempted by the Veggie Burger not to order it! This thing is HUGE and a much less messy affair to eat than my lovely cheeseburger (or perhaps she is just a more coordinated eater). The burger has a flavorusome veggie pattie, sweet potato, beetroot and tomato amongst other things and my friend says that it's really good.  I didn't spy any liquid cheese on there though...perhaps because I ate it all?

I'm back again, this time for a Friday team lunch (paying my own way this time FYI).  The courtyard is really nice area to spend our lunch hour -- a nice respite from our artificially lit cubicle farm.  I'd already decided last visit that I was going to order the steak sandwich ($18.00). The Marly's steak sandwich is a departure from the type of steak sambo I'm used to seeing.  The steak was thin ribbons of tender meat - not the huge chunk of steak I was expecting (making it really easy to bite through). Other than that it had all the usual suspects - lettuce, tomato, beetroot, cheese + big fat steak chips. I cannot get enough of these chips!

I also knew from my last visit that I really NEEDED to try one of The Marly's waffles (all $8.00) each.  I'd had my eye on the pulled pork waffle but when one of my teamsters hinted that she'd like to try the fried chicken waffle I was happy to go halvies (after all a waffle AND a steak sambo is a bit much even for me).  The waffles themselves were quite crunchy, but softened up thanks to a generous dollop of gravy. The fried chicken was EXCELLENT, so excellent that I was sad I was sharing. The batter was super crispy, and just a bit peppery and the tender white meat was still nice and moist.

One of my colleagues had the fried chicken burger -- I'm getting this next time for sure if the chicken inside is anything like the chicken that comes with the waffle.  And here's a picture of a salad - just to prove they do salads (or deconstructed prawn cocktails actually).

 The Marly Kitchen is on the ground floor of The Marlborough Hotel -145 King Street, Newtown.

Marlborough Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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