I’d always thought of Chaco Bar as a yakitori place, and it is, but only for dinner. We went for a weekend lunch, and discovered that the lunch menu is all about the ramen. I picked the yuzu scallop ramen ($16), with one bearded Hokkaido scallop, a wanton, black mushrooms, leek, Japanese mustard greens (mizuna) and butter, plus an egg as extra ($3). I also ordered a yuzu and lychee soda ($7), which was huge, beautifully refreshing and possibly my new favourite drink ever. Now, the ramen was a first for me – I’ve only ever tried ramen with pork, miso or soy broth, but this was a seafood broth, and it was beautiful. It was lighter than the other kinds, although surprisingly rich, particularly with the butter stirred through, and the yuzu in the broth really helped balance it out. The scallop was a little bit chewy, but I’d never had a bearded one before, so that may be usual. The ramen had a perfect amount of bite, and I really liked the mustard greens, which also helped cut through the rich seafoodiness of the broth. The egg, as all ramen eggs are, was perfection, and I saved it until last (although the wanton was a close contender for best bit – soft skin, tasty insides). I will definitely be back!
Chaco Bar, 238 Crown Street, Darlinghurst NSW, http://www.chacobar.com.au/
Adelaide has some really rocking modern Asian fusion restaurants, and Fish Head joins the ranks with gusto. Offering Indonesia, Malay and Indian cuisine, the menu is exciting and fresh, just like the food. We went for dinner on a stinking hot weeknight, and ordered a bunch of dishes to share. First up, the tempura soft shell crab with a herb salad ($15.50) was utterly delicious – the crabmeat was tender, the shell crisp and the salad had a good amount of kick to it. The crispy pork belly ($12.50) paled a bit in comparison, and the staff didn’t explain there were only 3 pieces (4 of us were sharing), which was disappointing. But the mains were all excellent, starting with the gado gado ($17.50), drenched in peanut sauce with firm tofu and plenty of fresh vegetables, it was perfect and refreshing on a hot night. The highlight was definitely the butter chicken ($20), which we had with rice ($3.50 pp) and garlic naan ($3.50 pp). The chicken was super tender, and the curry had such depth of flavour I could have sat with a bowl all night. Highly recommended. We finished with a whole crispy barramundi ($35.50), which was very tasty but didn’t have a huge amount of meat, and a perfectly matched raw mango salad. Highly recommended.
Fish Head, 270 Morphett Street, Adelaide, SA, http://www.fishhead.net.au/
As you may be aware, XO is one of my favourite restaurants in Canberra, and I made it my first stop for dinner after coming back from holidays. My friend and I decided to only order dishes we hadn’t tried before, and so started with the KFC wings, marinated in buttermilk and served with kewpie mayonnaise ($10). It was a very good place to start. The wings had a perfectly crisp coating on the outside, but were beautifully tender and underneath. Kewpie was a perfect match and we didn’t speak much while devouring the portion. Next up was the sexy squid with sweet chilli salt ($16). This was another winner, and with a drizzle of lime on top, the combination of flavours really packed a punch. Finally, we had the Lo Bak Gou as our large plate, which is a radish gnocchi served in prawn chilli butter, with dehydrated scallop, prawn, lap cheong and dusted with umami ash ($30). This was probably the pick of the bunch. The gnocchi parcels were delightfully fluffy, and didn’t sit heavily in the stomach the way traditional gnocchi does. The seafood toppings were a punch of flavour, and the umami ash added to the mix. Maybe not the healthiest choices, but certainly tasty ones!
XO, 16 Iluka Street, Narrabundah ACT, http://www.xo-restaurant.com.au
One of my friends came to visit from Melbourne recently, and we met at Penny University for brunch. I was immediately drawn to the salmon-laden options, and decided to try the ‘Winter Fishing in Yemen’ ($21) and a fresh watermelon, apple and mint juice ($7.5). The dish comprised a freekeh risotto with miso salmon, roast fennel, cherry tomatoes and a 65 degree egg. The serving was huge, and I was impressed by the amount of salmon included – flakey, tender salmon, although to be honest, I couldn’t really taste the miso. The risotto had a fabulous texture, viscous and rich, although I found the whole dish rather salty (perhaps that was the miso’s contribution?), just a shade past the point of enjoyably salty. Fennel isn’t generally my favourite, but it worked really well in this dish, adding some good textural contrast, although the cherry tomatoes kind of stole the show with their charred, sweet pops of flavour. Spinach leaves and red cabbage completed the ensemble, enriched by the perfectly runny egg. The serve was a bit too big for me, and I was glad of the juice to help quench my thirst – enjoyable, but probably not a dish I’d go back for in particular.
Penny University, 15 Kennedy Street, Kingston ACT, http://pennyuniversitycafe.com/
I know I’m behind the crowd on this one – Soi has been dishing up noodles and other delicious things in the city for a while now – I finally stopped in for a weeknight dinner with friends. You order at the counter and I picked the chicken yakiudon ($15) and a cup of genmaicha ($4), my favourite Japanese tea. I’m usually wary of restaurants trying to do too much – the menu has Thai, Japanese, etc. – but the yakiudon was pretty good considering it isn’t a specialty Japanese restaurant. Whilst the vegetables weren’t totally authentic (pumpkin?), the flavour and texture mix worked well – the mushrooms were particularly good. There were plenty of bonito flakes and I really liked the yakiudon sauce – it clung well to the noodles, although was quite salty and left me thirsty. Luckily I ordered the tea – it came in a large mug and was a great example of genmaicha. The restaurant is nicely organised with plenty of seats and a fun mural on the back wall brightening the space. The staff were friendly and efficient, and for the price point, the food was good value and tasty.
Soi Noodle Bar, Shop EG08, Bunda Street, Civic ACT, http://www.soinoodlebar.com.au/
Sadly, Akiba don’t offer their $18 Bite and Bolt lunch in December, but that didn’t stop us heading in for a team lunch. We got a tonne of plates to share (yes!), with some particular highlights. Firstly, the bao/bun. We ordered the pork belly bun ($8 each), served with asian slaw (including pickled cucumber, yum!), char sui and kewpie mayonnaise. The pork was fatty and tender, the bun soft and springy, and the slaw plus sauces packed a great flavour punch. Yum. The next highlight was undoubtedly the Shanghai noodles with pickled shiitake mushrooms, garlic and chilli ($13) – the noodles were thick and looked handmade, and the sauce stuck well to them, making each mouthful fabulous. The mushrooms stole the show, though – plump, tart, earthy and garlicky all at once, I’d highly recommend this dish on any Akiba share table. We grabbed a serve of my favourite Japanese Fried Chicken ($20), and then tried the fried rice ($21) – it all tasted like that wonderful part at the bottom of the pan that picks up all the flavour and crispiness. With a large group, the value is excellent – this food is made to share.
Akiba, 40 Bunda Street, Civic ACT, http://www.akiba.com.au/
I dined as a guest of The Hungry Buddha, but all opinions remain my own. I can’t believe I’ve never eaten at The Hungry Buddha – when owner Lachhu invited me to the soft launch of their new Belconnen store, I jumped at the chance. We started our Nepalese feast with mo mo, traditional chicken dumplings served with a homemade pickle ($9), and the makkai fry ($8.50), a tasty, hot serve of corn stir-fried with onion and spices. Both were perfect to whet our appetites, with paired well for textural contrast. Next up were the curries, the main game. We shared a range of curries between the group, and I started with the butter chicken ($19.50) – rich, incredibly tasty and with perfectly tender chicken, this dish is definitely a crowd-pleaser. Next up was the jhaneko daal ($17.50) – one of the spicier dishes of the evening, the yellow daal had perfectly cooked lentils matched with a cocktail of herbs and spices (including Himalayan herb jimbu) – highly recommended. We rounded the evening off with a bowl of khasi ko masu ($20), a Nepalese-style goat (on the bone) curry with a vibrant, although slightly heavier flavour. Definitely a great way to eat, trying a range of flavours with friends.
The Hungry Buddha, 8/8 Luxton Street (top floor), Belconnen ACT, http://thehungrybuddha.com.au/