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/
It has been way too hot to cook lately, so I met a friend at Betti Bravo’s for dinner to let them do the cooking. I started with a Mojito mocktail, which was refreshing with mint, soda and lime and, more importantly, a lot of ice. Our first plate was the Salted Cod Croquetas ($11, 3 to a serve) – these were beautifully fluffy on the inside, although the cod flavour was rather subtle for my expectations. I loved the spicy dipping sauce too – more please! Next was the Mexican Street Corn ($15, 4 to a serve), topped with chipotle aioli (seriously good), iberico cheese and lime. The lime really made this dish – there was heaps of cheese and the flavours worked in perfect tandem. For the main, we ordered the Paella with King Prawns ($33) and a Mixed Leaf Salad ($12) to lighten the load. The prawns were amazingly good, as were the mussels and pieces of fish and calamari (the latter two both plentiful) in the dish, and I loved the soft-but-not-gluggy texture they achieved. My friend, however, pointed out that there were no beautiful crispy bits of rice on the bottom, meaning it wasn’t served in the pan it was cooked in (a no-no for paella, apparently). The salad was simple and refreshing, and we were both glad of not having to do any dishes in this heat!
Betti Bravo’s, 6/2 Trevillian Quay, Kingston ACT, http://bettibravos.com.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 finally made it to Mexican Society, and I’m so glad I did. I started with a mojito, the perfect drink to accompany spicy food. I would have liked it slightly sweeter (and fizzy) but otherwise it hit the spot. First dish was a soft shell crab taco ($11.50 each) and it was a hard one to beat. The lime jalapeno mayo was hot, but it matched the outside-crispy, inside-tender crab meat perfectly. The fresh salsa balanced the dish and we could have happily eaten these all night. Next up was the kingfish ceviche ($15.90), which had a fabulous flavour combo of macadamias, pomegranate and orange in the curing mix, but as with most dishes of this style, all the seafood flavour was lost. I’d recommend getting some extra tortillas to mop up the sauce. Finally we had the slow cooked beef enchiladas ($25.90) with a side of sweet potato chips ($7.90). Holy cow, those chips were divine. The seasoning was some kind of magic chilli lime combination and we devoured them. A must-order. The enchiladas were the least spicy dish of the day, with plenty of sour cream, cheese and coriander to add flavour. The beef was super tender and tasty to boot. I can’t wait to come back for more!
Mexican Society of Chinatown, 140 Gouger Street, Adelaide SA, http://mexicansociety.com.au/
Jones & Co has a great summer menu, with plenty of cold food options to enjoy in the warm weather. I had a weekday lunch with friends, and we started with Pacific oysters. We tried the mignonette ($3.5 each), bloody mary and kilpatrick ($4 each), with the latter being the pick of the bunch (although the mignonette was beautifully refreshing too). Each oyster was huge, fresh and plump, and I could have eaten a tonne more. Next up were the pork belly bao ($6.5 each), with fatty, crisp pork and a great combo of hoi sin sauce and kewpie mayonnaise. Tick. The zucchini flowers ($17 for 2) were delicate and tasty, although trickier to share with 4 people, packed full of goats cheese and honey, done in a poppyseed tempura (for photos of all dishes, check out my Facebook page). We loved the sashimi plate ($24), which had slices of salmon, tuna, kingfish and scallops, and then followed on with the large meat board ($34) – packed with cold cuts, terrine, pickles, beetroot relish and char-grilled bread. Yum, yum, yum. Every dish was done well, beautifully presented and tasty. Oh, and I’d recommend the cucumber mojito mocktail ($9) – very refreshing!
Jones & Co, Cnr Giles & Kennedy Street, Kingston ACT, http://jonesnco.com.au/
I found Casa Lastarria on my first day in Santiago and knew I had to eat there. Pushing through my jetlag, I stopped by for an early dinner on day two, and was not disappointed. I started out with the Pulpo Asado (CLP $7900) – octopus cooked on the grill with an olive tapenade and confit potato. I am a huge fan of octopus, and this meat was so perfectly tender, octopus will never be the same again. The grilling added so much flavour, although I didn’t think the tapenade matched the dish at all in terms of flavour. Next up was the steak. I hadn’t yet realised that portions here are huge and you definitely don’t need an entree and main, so I was faced with a giant piece of skirt steak, served with potatoes, asparagus and a creamy dipping sauce. Unfortunately the skirt was tough and chewy, so that dampened the experience. The flavour of the beef was fabulous though, and I gobbled up the grilled asparagus quickly. There was no way I could finish the dish, so that was that, but I’d recommend sticking to one main or a selection of the excellent entrees.
Casa Lastarria, José Victorino Lastarria 70, Local 1, Barrio Lastarria, Santiago Chile, http://www.casalastarria.cl/