Tuesday, 22 July 2014

NomNom: Tsukemen.... Tsukemen..., Sydney

Who wouldn't be familiar with Ramen? : Japanese noodle soup dish, usually served with Chinese style noodle, arguably most popular with thick chashu pork pieces for the carnivores (although there are a lot of options for toppings - ranges only limited by the chef/ramen joint), to plain seaweed or green onions for the more purists.

The soup stock can generally be categorized into four type (trust me, I looked up Wikipedia :P): Shio (salt based), Tonkotsu (pork based), Shoyu (soy sauce based), and Miso. With these four, and sometimes combination between them, it caters to a lot of different tastebuds.

Lately I have been on the hunt for good ramen around Sydney - but not just your usual Ramen noodle in soup: I seek for the perfect Tsukemen. 
Tsukemen is a type of Ramen where dry noodle is served with usually thicker (more condensed and intensely flavoured) soup stock to be used for dipping. And from my adventure, apparently it's very hard to get this right. Some joints have the soup stock too thinly flavoured, some too strong, and some are just... well ... not worth mentioning.

There are two places that I have visited but do not put on a review here. One is because it's very disappointing I don't think it's worth a review, the other is pretty decent, but I didn't bring my camera.

One that disappointed me: Ryo's Noodles (125 Falcon St, Crows Nest). Their tsukemen (A$15) is served with cold soup. While the serving was very generous (lots and lots of noodle, served with good chashu, not very good egg - it was very hard-boiled, not the half-cooked type I am accustomed to, bamboo shoots, and nori sheets), the soy based soup was quite thin and hardly tasted of anything at all. 
Gone are the days where I got so excited making a trip to the northern part of Sydney for good ramen. Maybe it's because of the constant queue and demand, maybe it's something else - their ramen (even the much loved Chijire Tonkotsu Spicy Ramen) do not appeal to me anymore. 

The other place that I tried but did not take pictures of is Ramen Ikkyu (Shop F1A, 401 Sussex St. Food Court Chinatown): their tsukemen (A$14) is served with soy based soup as well, but I found this a much better version than Ryo's. Adequately flavoured as much intense as soy based soup could go. 1/2heart found it too salty though, and somewhat I agree. However, this soup is not meant to be drank straight up. It's meant to be used as dipping 'sauce' for the dry noodles.

And for the rests, these are what I have tried. If you know a good place in Sydney selling tsukemen that I have not reviewed, let me know ;)

MENYA NOODLE BAR (Shop TG8, 8 Quay St, Haymarket)

Menya

Menya (5 of 6)

Karami Miso Tsukemen - At $10.90, the most economical tsukemen with decent flavor. The soup is chicken and miso based, so it is somewhat light but still have adequate flavor to dip your noodles into.
Perfect ni-tamago (egg) with half-runny egg yolk. You can also choose between thin or thick noodles.

Menya (1 of 6)

Menya (2 of 6)

Whilst I'm on tsukemen quest, 1/2heart loves ramen too - specifically the ones in black garlic oil. So It's worth mentioning that Menya also does good Black Garlic Oil Ramen. I could totally taste the smokiness and smell the lovely aroma.

Menya (3 of 6)

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RAMEN-KAN (90 Hay St, Haymarket)

RamenKan (1 of 3)

They have two versions of tsukemen (both A$10.50), and I chose the Spicy Tsukemen. The soup is pork based and the noodles came with generous pork pieces (more generous than Menya's, though not as tender). Good consistency of noodles as well, however the soup flavor was a bit flat for me. Since it's pork based, I expected this to have more depth to it.

RamenKan (2 of 3)

RamenKan (3 of 3)


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ICHIBAN BOSHI (Level 2, The Galleries, 500 George St, Sydney)
Located just across Kinokuniya, this place is always packed, so had quite an expectation for a good tsukemen, but unfortunately I couldn't satisfy my tastebuds at this place

IchibanBoshi (1 of 4)

When I was there, they did not have the Tan-Tan Tsukemen (boo), so I ordered the normal Tsukemen instead (A$13). BUT! The dish did not come with ni-tamago (double boo!), so had to order that as a side.
You can choose to have spinach noodle instead of the normal (yellow) noodle, though - so I did just that.

IchibanBoshi (3 of 4)

Good Noodles, OK soup (not enough packed with flavor IMO), not enough chashu (only one thin sliver of pork)!

IchibanBoshi (4 of 4)


**---**

IPPUDO (Shop 5021, Level 5 Westfield Shopping Centre, 188 Pitt St, Sydney)

This is another always-packed place. Their ramen are always good and consistent in quality and taste. If you came here during lunch or dinner hours .... good luck. Sometimes the line outside could make my stomach cry.

Ippudo (2 of 7)

Price wise, it is the most expensive Tsukemen I have ever tried (A$17). Good noodle, great thick chashu, and the flavor is intense. Too intense, infact, for my taste. A pity for me, because the myriad of flavour combination in the soup - pork and bonito based broth - can actually be really good. In fact it would be perfect if they notched it down a tad.
Their tsukemen is limited-time/seasonal only though, so you may not find it the next time you dine there.

Ippudo (1 of 7)

Ippudo (4 of 7)

Ippudo (6 of 7)

1/2heart would like to note that Ippudo's version of black garlic oil ramen is the best. It is expensive though (A$17 without egg, A$19 with one).

Ippudo (3 of 7)

Ippudo makes perfect ni-tamago, look at this beautiful curve leaking with golden yolk goodness.

Ippudo (7 of 7)

**---**

RAMEN ZUNDO (644 George St - World Tower, Sydney)
Saving the best for last - my favourite tsukemen joint (and any type of ramen in general).

RamenZundo (3 of 7)

RamenZundo (2 of 7)

RamenZundo (1 of 7)

They have three type of tsukemen - all pork based. You may try the original version, but ever since Zundo started serving the Gyokai Tsukemen (A$12.90), this is my favorite tsukemen, Ever. By Far.

With Gyokai version, the soup is infused with dried fish (4 types apparently, but hey who would have counted) and the thickness and flavor of the soup is just right to properly infuse the chewy thick noodles. The chashu pork are also diced into smaller pieces and incorporated in the soup. It just added that much extra flavor when they hit your tongue. Just beautiful. If Ippudo's version is too intense, this one is just perfect.
You can also thin down the dipping soup a bit by asking the waitress for extra soup.

The tsukemen does not come with ni-tamago though... :( So had to order on the side to make this a truly perfect meal for me.

RamenZundo (5 of 7)

RamenZundo (6 of 7)

1/2heart would also like to add - although he thinks Ippudo's version is (slightly) more superior, he thinks Zundo's Black Garlic Oil Ramen (Rich Zundo Black or Light Zundo Black. Go Rich, I'd say) is great value for money and actually very tasty. In fact, in a normal course of day, he'd choose Zundo's over Ippudo's.

**---**

And thus hereby my tsukemen quest (ongoing) for now. I wonder if I will taste a better tsukemen than the one I have had at Zundo in Sydney or elsewhere... . 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

NomNom: Sushi of Masuya, Sydney

Part of the Masuya International restaurant group, Sushi of Masuya open their door from 16 June 2014. 1/2heart and I are fans of Masuya (12-14 O'Connell st, close to Wynyard station) and Miso (World Square), and we were excited to see another establishment from the group, closer to Haymarket. We knew that dining at one of Masuya's restaurants wouldn't be cheap, but we knew we would be getting quality - the most important aspect of Japanese food, in my opinion.

We were right.

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At around 12 p.m., the place was almost deserted. Looking at their lunch menu, I could not divert my eyes from their Eel (Unagi) and Anago Chirashi Sushi Set ($23.50).

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I love eel, and Sushi of Masuya did not disappoint. Fluffy japanese short grain rice covered with generous slices of unagi and anago, slathered with sweet teriyaki-like sauce. The set comes with Agedashi Tofu and Miso Soup, as well as a small portion of radish/daikon pickles.

For the uninformed, Anago is salt-water eel. The more common one found in Japanese restaurants is the thicker and the more chewy Unagi, which is fresh-water eel. Anago is considerably thinner, usually smaller, and less oily than unagi.

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My preference? They are both good - I enjoyed the unagi as I could not find or taste any small bones usually found in cheaper quality ones. The anago has cleaner taste though.

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Look at those beautiful gems

1/2 heart opted for Sashimi Set ($18.50), also inclusive of Agedashi Tofu and Miso Soup.

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The sashimis were, well, fresh. Very clean tasting, crunchy pieces of fish. And you can't really go beyond that.

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So impressed we were with our lunch session, that we decided to come back for dinner and tried their a-la carte menu :D
While lunch was a quiet affair, Sushi of Masuya was packed with patrons during dinner.

We ordered Beans Goma-Ae ($5.80) for appetizer. Crunchy beans tasty sesame dressing. I wanted to also order their Salmon Fin Kara-Age, however unfortunately they did not have that.

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Chicken Katsu ($16.80) was coated in generous panko crumbs, very crunchy and deceptively light tasting despite them being deep fried. It did not come with any rice though, so we had to order a bowl of rice ($3).

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The star dish of the night would definitely be Wagyu Steak in Miso Sauce ($38.80). Sirloin piece of wagyu beef with marbling score of 7 (pretty good), it is freaking expensive. But the moment I bit into the meat, slathered with that tasty miso sauce - all was forgotten. There were only me and the juicy tender beef (no dice ever of me being a vegetarian there -_-). When 1/2heart let out an appreciative guttural moan after tasting his first piece of the steak, I knew he felt the same.

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447 Pitt St. (cnr Pitt & Campbell St), Sydney, 2000
ph: 02 9280 0377

Sunday, 8 June 2014

NomNom: Lotus Dumpling Bar, Dawes Point; Vivid Sydney 2014

"You have to try this dumpling bar. It's delicious!", My colleague walked up to my desk, surrendering a bill receipt for me to reimburse. I looked at the receipt and I remember raising my eyebrows: it was a $150+ lunch bill at Lotus Dumpling Bar.
I knew he had a lunch appointment with our clients, and I knew there were three people in total - including him - for the lunch affair. Fair enough if it was at some upscale restaurant, but $150+ at a dumpling joint for three people? (They did not even order any alcohol, mind you)

"What did you guys order?", I asked him, a bit bewildered, while checking the itemised order on the bill receipt. Duck pancakes, dumplings, dumplings, and more dumplings... .

"Dumplings," He said nonchalantly, "Anyway, give this place a go. It is excellent."

That was a few weeks ago and I quickly brushed his recommendation off; After all - for me, Din Tai Fung or Chef's Gallery are already epitomes of expensive dumplings.

Until last night - the second last night of Vivid festival for 2014. With all the road closures, 1/2heart and I parked our car closer to Chinatown and decided to walk all the way to The Rocks and Circular Quay to enjoy the light festival.
Then we got hungry. Then we spotted Lotus Dumpling Bar. Then I remember my colleague's enthused gushing recommendation.
Between Lotus and an also-expensive pizza joint across the road, we decided to give this place a go, and am glad that we did.

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Lotus is chic. There is no doubt about it; from the semi-indutrial decor, the china dishes, even the tea cups (by the way, tea for two costed A$5, and it's free refill). But what about the food? After all, I came here expecting a lot.

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The first dish: Jade Seafood Dumpling (A$13.80). Once you get past the thought that each piece of these dumplings costs more than $3, you'd be happy to taste delectable pretty dumplings filled with juicy prawns, mushroom and peas, enveloped in perfect dough. The jade green color is apparently from spinach, but for me it just gave a nice color (I'm mad about green) and just made it more enticing to eat.
Have to give my toes up for the skin texture: perfect thickness - they hold the fillings very well - and no hint of sogginess, they bounced inside my mouth.

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Pan Fried Pork Buns (A$10.80) had perfect crispy bottoms and when eaten, exploded with juice from the ground pork inside.

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Next came Prawn & Pork Wonton in Spicy Sauce (A$9.80). I ordered this thinking it would be a similar version of Din Tai Fung's - the one that I love so much. However, this one was quite different: instead of the usual tangy sweet and spicy sauce I was accustomed to, Lotus' wontons were not as spicy. I was a bit taken a first (chilli-freak over here), however treated as a different dish altogether, it was actually quite good. The cloudy sauce had nutty sesame taste, the wontons were moist and glided very easily the moment they touched my tongue - bouncy and flavorsome.

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Lotus Fried Rice with Duck and Asparagus with Mustard Flavour (Small - A$16). I ordered this as I figured the past three dishes were not enough for the two of us. Wanting to avoid ordering more dumplings, I thought this would be a good stomach filler.
Small portion turned out to be a good portion for two, however this was probably the least satisfactory dish for the night. Though the rice had good texture and still had very mild mustard flavor (dotted with mustard seeds too), it was quite lacking in flavor - we had to put some soy sauce and chilli into it to make it more of our taste.

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So, the verdict? I have to admit my colleague is right: Lotus is a great place serving excellent dumplings. Taste (apart from that fried rice), texture, quality - they hit the spot. Just don't think of the bill.

Shop 3a / 16 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay

Satisfied with our dinner, we braced the cold night onto The Rocks and Circular Quay vicinity to treat our eyes to Vivid light show. With some pictures from the night, I finish this blog post :)

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