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/
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/
Gumshara is a happy place for me. Not because of the ambiance, or the décor, or the service; Gumshara is pure bliss for the taste buds. I know I’ve said it before, but this really is the best ramen in Australia. I ordered the tonkotsu ramen with a ramen egg, which is ready in a flash and served in a humungous bowl. There are two things that make Gumshara the best. One: the noodles. The ramen here have such great bite – it’s really very satisfying eating them, almost like the most perfect al dente pasta. Two: the broth. Ok, so this isn’t going to do your cholesterol any good, but who can resist a rich, thick, fatty, salty pork-bone broth in winter? Not me. The broth has a way of coating your mouth, like a layer of porky velvet. Mmm. The pork slices are tender and fatty, and I always like to add a sprinkling of sesame seeds for extra flavour. As always, the ramen eggs are the best, with the gooey, runny yolks and marinated whites that I can’t get enough of.
Gumshara Ramen, Shop 211, 25-29 Dixon Street, Haymarket NSW, no website.
Akiba is a standing favourite of mine, and I hadn’t been back for a while, so stopped in with friends for a long weekday lunch. We were seated in the nicely-heated outdoor area, and had plenty of time to peruse the menu before someone came to take our order. We started with the kimchi and angasi pancakes (serve of 4), which were topped with sriracha sauce and bonito flakes. Whilst small, the pancakes packed a punch and whetted our appetites for the rest of the meal. Next up was one of my favourites from Akiba – the fried chicken. Hello mounds of deep-fried chicken goodness topped with a tonne of cheese! Alone the chicken is a bit dry, but with the added sauces (not 100% sure what they are – one is a spicy chilli, the other is a mayonnaise of some sort, but they look deceptively like ketchup and mustard respectively!) the whole thing lifts up another notch. We fought rather politely over the last pieces. Finally we shared a plate of Singapore noodles, which was a real highlight. The ingredients were fresh and there were tonnes of prawns and the portion was really generous. Really great food for sharing.
Akiba, 40 Bunda Street, Civic ACT, http://www.akiba.com.au/
Shimbashi is a favourite of mine – they offer consistently authentic quick Japanese food, although I must admit, I do have a ‘go to’ order that I pretty much always pick. This visit was no exception – we stuck with the teriyaki salmon set, which includes quite a decent-sized bowl of teriyaki salmon on a bed of rice, plus a plate of soba or udon served either hot or cold. The teriyaki sauce on the salmon isn’t your average out-of-a-bottle sauce – it’s sophisticated, having just the right amount of sweetness without being too much. The salmon is perfectly cooked into heavenly flakes, and the Japanese rice is so tasty with the extra sauce. The soba is handmade, so has a nice springy texture, and the soba sauce is again just right – well-balanced and not too salty. I particularly like the tempura bits you are served to scatter on top, and the spring onion adds great flavour to the dish overall. There’s a reason I keep ordering this dish – it’s great value, has great flavour and takes me back to Tokyo. What more could I ask for?
Shimbashi Soba & Sake Bar, 17 Liverpool Street, Melbourne VIC, http://www.shimbashisobamelbourne.net/
Gondola Gondola is my new happy place. I started with the Weaboo cocktail ($18) – rum, yuzu liqueur, nashi pear shrub, lime, mint and soda. This drink was basically refreshment in a glass, well-balanced and perfect for a hot day. Up first was the salt and pepper bean curd ($12), fried so lightly that it formed the thinnest, most perfect skin over the soft curd inside. It’s super salty (in a good way), and the salad it’s served on packs some heat and epic ginger action! There were a generous 6 pieces to enjoy. Next up was the banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake, $22) with pork mince, prawn and sprouts, served with lettuce, purple leaves, mint, coriander, carrot and pickled cabbage. Whilst it looked big, this was a fairly light dish – a bit like san choi bao in that you wrap the ingredients in the lettuce and add sauce. Messy, but a great mix of textures and flavours – the coriander in particular brings it all to life. Finally, we had the bun cha ($22), which was our pick of the night – the pork was utter perfection, with a super crispy skin and tender meat, plus the noodles were fabulous! Everything here is packed full of flavour and perfect – take me back!
Gondola Gondola, 1 Peel Street, Adelaide SA, http://www.gondolagondola.com.au