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/
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’ve been meaning to try Lilotang’s $18 bento lunch special for a while, but finally got around to it on a Friday afternoon. After a busy morning at work, entering the cool, sleek space felt like stepping into an oasis. My friend and I both ordered the braised beef oyster blade with roast carrot bento ($18 each), and I added miso soup for an extra $3. I was particularly excited to see the potato salad in the bento, which is a Japanese side-dish staple. But first the beef. Braised to perfection, the beef melts in your mouth, eat portion chunky and tender and flavoured with a slightly spicy sauce. I was surprised they gave you a spoon, but it was evidently to drink the sauce with (we both cheated and poured it over the rice – so good). The roast carrots retained a bit of their crispiness, so they weren’t just mush, but had the right amount of give. I really liked the balance of having heavy potato salad, slightly heavy beef and rice, and light salad in the bento – the citrus dressing on the lettuce was lovely and refreshing. As always, I devoured the pickles and could have eaten several more. The bento are such great value and incredibly tasty. Love you long time, Lilotang!
Lilotang, Burbury Hotel, 1 Burbury Close, Barton ACT, http://lilotang.com.au/
Dear Ippudo, it has been a while, but I’m back. I’ve missed you, so rather than getting straight into the ramen, we started with a plate of the sesame cucumber, which was sliced and dusted with sesame, chilli and a delicious oil that probably isn’t good for you but which was incredibly tasty. I mean, how do you make cucumber taste that good? I’ll definitely come back for that one. I decided to try your Akamaru Shinaji ($16) ramen – your original tonkotsu broth was beautifully rich and fatty, with that tongue-coating thickness from the garlic oil and miso paste. The thin slices of pork belly were tender, and each bite of spring onion lifted the pork into extra-deliciousness. I had a moment of panic when I realised my favourite part of ramen was missing – what, no egg? – but you had me covered, it’s easy to order as a side ($2). Oh and the noodles were cooked nice and bitey, just the way I like them. Washed down with a glass of hot umeshu (plum wine), the whole meal was a delight. Let’s do this again sometime soon. Cheers, Sharon
Ippudo, The District, 436 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood NSW, http://www.ippudo.com.au/
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge fan of Japanese curry – it’s what I always bring to dinner parties and was my favourite meal at the dormitory I lived in Tokyo in 2009. So I was pretty excited to hear that there was such a thing as the Tokyo Curry Lab. Yes, it’s touristy-overpriced, but come on, look at that curry! I went for the eggplant, tomato and mince curry, which is one of the spicier options. As we sat at the funky stools, we learned about the history of curry on the creative paper placemats – it also had good tips for curry stain-removal! The curry came out on a huge plate and whilst it didn’t fill the whole plate, I couldn’t finish all of mine. There wasn’t a huge amount of eggplant, but it was topped with grated parmesan cheese (it sounds weird, but was really tasty). There was a real kick to the sauce and I kept it separate from the rice so I could use the rice to cool down. The flavours were strong and it was definitely not a standard Japanese curry, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Tokyo Curry Lab, Tokyo Tower, 4 Chome-2-8 Shibakoen, Minato, Tokyo Japan http://tokyocurrylab.jp/