Sunday, 20 July 2014

Sushi Tanabe, Sapporo, Japan - 11 June 2014


My first post from my June trip to Hokkaido is about my meal at Sushi Tanabe in Sapporo. Sushi Tanabe is one of four restaurants to be awarded 3-Michelin stars in the one-off Michelin Guide 2012 for Hokkaido. Sushi Tanabe is located in Susukino, which happens to be one of the largest red light districts in Japan.  Sushi Tanabe is not the easiest restaurant to find due to its small signage, so make sure you have a map and directions with you. Otherwise you may find yourself surrounded by pink parlours and soapland stores...

This takes me to a short story that I wanted to share that makes my meal at Sushi Tanabe memorable for all the wrong reasons. After the meal, I was approached by a man as soon as I emerged onto the street, who spoke to me in Japanese. I had no idea what he was saying exactly, but I had a pretty good idea what he was up to. So I kept walking briskly towards Susukino station, shaking my head and saying no to him. But this man wouldn't give up easily and kept following me, continuing to speak to me in Japanese. After a while, when he finally worked out that I didn't understand a word he was saying, he asked me, "Do you want sex?" It wasn't til I sternly told him to go away did he get the message that I was not interested. Does every guy wandering around the streets of Susukino on their own at night come to Susukino for sex? Can't they be here for sushi?
Sushi Tanabe is on the second floor of the New Blue Nile building, in the district of Susukino in central Sapporo. The head chef and owner is Masashi Watanabe, who prior to his current venture ran a sushi restaurant at the luxury hotel Windsor at Lake Toya. Seats are arrayed around a wooden counter, the chefs preparing the sushi in front of you. By sushi bar standards, this was quite large, with a dozen seats around the counter and two tables. There were three sushi chefs working on the evening of my visit. Unusually for Japan, the sushi chef that was preparing my food not only spoke quite good English, but set out an English menu of the options, including three different set menus and a la carte choice. A plate of ginger pickled with garlic was put in front of me, I watched a chef grating some fresh wasabi root, and we were ready to go. - See more at: http://www.andyhayler.com/restaurant/sushi-tanabe#sthash.hMgcm0kZ.dpuf
Sushi Tanabe is on the second floor of the New Blue Nile building, in the district of Susukino in central Sapporo. The head chef and owner is Masashi Watanabe, who prior to his current venture ran a sushi restaurant at the luxury hotel Windsor at Lake Toya. Seats are arrayed around a wooden counter, the chefs preparing the sushi in front of you. By sushi bar standards, this was quite large, with a dozen seats around the counter and two tables. There were three sushi chefs working on the evening of my visit. Unusually for Japan, the sushi chef that was preparing my food not only spoke quite good English, but set out an English menu of the options, including three different set menus and a la carte choice. A plate of ginger pickled with garlic was put in front of me, I watched a chef grating some fresh wasabi root, and we were ready to go. - See more at: http://www.andyhayler.com/restaurant/sushi-tanabe#sthash.hMgcm0kZ.dpuf

The sushi counter, which seats around 12 diners
Any way, back to the restaurant. The head chef and owner of Sushi Tanabe is Masashi Watanabe, who previously had a sushi restaurant at the luxury hotel Windsor at Lake Toya (which houses the 3-Michelin star restaurant of French master chef, Michel Bras). Sushi Tanabe is different to other high end sushiyas in that there are three sushi chefs rather than one masterchef that serves the entire restaurant. My sushi chef for the night was Daisuke Fujiwara, who spoke fluent English.

Like other sushi bars, diners are seated around a wooden counter, where the chefs prepares the sushi in front of you. For me this was one of the joys of this meal, it was like theatre. I was enthralled by the sushi chefs' skills through the entire meal. From the meticulous knife skills on display to slice or score each fish to the almost flowing hand motions of the chef when he moulds each nigiri sushi into shape. This was as beautiful as any work of art, I reckon.

Sushi chef, Daisuke Fujiwara
The menu includes a nigiri set menu, three different omakase courses and a la carte choices. For the best experience I went for the large omakase course (16,500 yen excluding tax) that consisted of an appetizer, 5 kinds of sashimi, grilled dish, 12 pieces of sushi, miso soup and dessert. You can choose to replace dessert with "rare fish food", which I opted to do since I was here to indulge in as much seafood as possible (you don't go to a sushi restaurant for creme brulee, right?).
 
My drink of choice for the night was yuzu umeshu. This was so good; I ordered at least three because yuzu (my favourite citrus fruit)! Refreshing, aromatic and not too sweet.   
So how was the sushi? It was without doubt the best sushi that I have ever eaten in my life (although I haven't had the opportunity yet to eat at any of the 3 star sushiyas in Tokyo)! It helps that Sushi Tanabe is in Hokkaido, the home to some of the best seafood in the world!

Not only was I blown away by the extreme freshness of the seafood, it was the tremendous variety that captivated me the most. This kind of variety is something that I have not encountered anywhere; back at home in Sydney, it's mostly salmon, tuna and kingfish.

Condiments to enjoy with sashimi: micro shiso, lime, sea salt, fresh wasabi
But at Sushi Tanabe, I was served over 20 different items, featuring Hokkaido crab, octopus, Hokkaido oyster, medium fatty tuna, abalone, sea urchin, sea eel and much more. Oh boy, each piece was orgasmic (I mean delicious) in their own way! The progression of the meal and how one course led to another was phenomenal and for me made this the ultimate tasting menu experience!

Then there are the things that the chefs do behind the scene. Each fish is expertly prepared to get the most out of each specimen. Some were served raw, some aged for a few days, some marinated in vinegar and/or salt, and others steamed or boiled. Then the chef would season each piece to perfection with the right amount of tare (sauce), freshly grated wasabi, salt, or lime juice. The level of care and attention to detail was evident with each bite.

And the shari (vinegared rice)! I love eating well cooked rice, and this was no exception. The rice had a wonderful balance of vinegar and sweetness and was served at body temperature. The chef moulded each nigiri into shape so the rice just holds together and collapses in the mouth, such that I could taste each soft, fluffy grain. The combination of the shari with the neta (topping) was sublime; I was in heaven with each bite!


The sushi chef's business card
At the conclusion of the meal, Daisuke-san gave me his business card and asked me to come back to Sushi Tanabe the next time I'm in Sapporo. You can pretty much guarantee that I will be back at Sushi Tanabe if I ever return to Sapporo based on this experience! This meal really opened my eyes to the art of sushi in Japan and the world of high end sushi. I would love to come back to Japan and try other high-end sushiyas like Sukiyabashi Jiro, Sushi Saito or Sushi Sawada to experience more perfection.         

Verdict
Highlight: Hokkaido seafood at its finest: crab, abalone, sea urchin, oyster, octopus... the list just goes on!
Lowlight: The dude that tried to sell sex to me and wouldn't give up easily as I was making my way back to Susukino station.
Overall: My meal at Sushi Tanabe is easily the best sushi I have eaten so far. The freshness and variety of seafood and the progression of one course to the next absolutely blew me away. This meal was most definitely a 3-Michelin star experience, worthy of a special journey.  9/10 (Outstanding)

Now you can feast your eyes on the best seafood I have ever eaten in my life :)

Omakase  
Appetiser - shrimp, bamboo shoot, scallop, and cold soup with junsai. The shrimp was sweet and a beautiful springy texture. It was served with its head, so I could enjoy all of the goodness inside. The scallop was slightly chewy. I love the texture of junsai: slippery, gelatinous and bursting in the mouth. 
Hokkaido crab (kani) - The first course of the night was one of the best of the night! This was some of the best crab that I have ever eaten and it was clear why Hokkaido is so famous for its crabs. The strands of crab meat were sweet and delicate. The crab was served with its roe, which was rich and so flavoursome. 
Flounder (hirame) - Very mild tasting fish with no overpowering flavours. The flesh was firm and slightly chewy. The freshness of the fish was very apparent with no hint of fishiness.  
Octopus (tako) - Another one of my favourites. The octopus was very tender and not chewy at all. The octopus is massaged for some time during preparation to tenderise the meat. Not only was it sweet, the octopus also had a deep rich flavour that I had never tasted before in an octopus. A Japanese wine jelly was served with the octopus for acidity.       
Spanish mackerel - Strong tasting, oily fish that was served with chives and pickles to cut through the richness of the fish.    
Hokkaido salmon (sake) - served with its skin and layer of fat attached, the salmon had a silky almost buttery texture as it melted in the mouth.
Hokkaido sardine, eggplant, shirauo - The sardine was grilled and filled with its roe. The eggplant was pickled. The shirauo was served as a thin, crispy cracker.  
Hokkaido oyster - The oyster was gently steamed. Whilst I usually prefer oysters served natural, the flavour of this oyster was amazing. It was sweet, briney and a lovely oceanic taste. 
Chawanmushi - This is probably the best steamed egg custard that I have ever eaten. It was smooth, silky and slightly soupy. The dashi stock was unbelievably good: sweet and filled with delicate umami flavour. And there were strands of delicious crab inside the egg custard. 
Grilled baby squid - This was the 'rare fish food' that I opted for over creme brulee. It tasted like the dried squid snack.
Squid (ika) - The flavour was sweet and delicate. The squid was scored to tenderise the flesh, which made the squid almost milky in texture.  
Medium fatty tuna (chu-toro) - Check out the marbling of this specimen. Almost like wagyu beef! The medium fatty tuna had a wonderful, well-balanced flavour and melted in the mouth. I'm in heaven now! 
Gizzard shad (kohada) - Strong in flavour like the mackerel, medium oil content, and soft texture. Yum! 
Sweet shrimp (ama-ebi) - Sweet, lovely creamy texture that melts in the mouth. Just divine!
Horse mackerel (aji) - Classic nigiri topping. Fresh, pristine quality, fatty, rich in flavour and  without a trace of fishiness. Amazing!  
Surf clam (hokkigai) - Mild ocean aroma, flesh was soft and chewy. Delicate in flavour and the sweetness of the clam became more evident with each bite. The clam was seared slightly to give a nice smoky flavour.
Snake shell (tsubugai) - Oceanic flavour with mild sweetness and crunchy texture.
Abalone (awabi) - Easily one of my favourite pieces of the night! The abalone was steamed, was so tender whilst retaining a slight bouncy texture and had an incredibly deep flavour. The abalone's liver was pureed to create a dark green sauce that was rich, creamy and paired beautifully with the abalone.
Sea urchin (uni) - I was salivating at the sight of the chef carefully topping the oblong block of rice with tongues of sea urchin. The rich, creamy texture of the sea urchin is heavenly in the mouth. A heavy sweetness and aroma of the sea urchin filled the mouth as I ate it. What else can I say besides, best!  
Salmon roe (ikura) - Oh my goodness! The bursts of umami with each roe bursting in the mouth together with the slighty sweet and vinegared rice and crispy nori sheet... I am lost for words. So good!   
Miso soup - Delicious miso soup with an excellent dashi stock, served with slippery,earthy mushrooms. Supposedly aids digestion of fish at the end of the meal.   
Sea eel (anago) - The sea eel was so soft and melting in the mouth, almost souffle like. Delicious with the sweet, umami sauce and topped with specks of lime zest for acidity. Another highlight! 
Egg omelet (tamago) - This "dessert" piece marked the end of the omakase course. The tamago was light in texture, almost like a sponge cake. The flavour was slightly sweet and wonderfully savoury. Best tamago I have ever eaten!
Kuruma shrimp (kuruma-ebi) extra 1,000 yen - I decided to order another piece from the a la carte menu despite being quite full. I love the bright red rings that form after the kuruma shrimp is boiled. The shrimp was well cooked: sweet in flavour and a nice bouncy texture. I would have liked the flavours from the shrimp head to be incorporated in this piece.   

Sushi Tanabe
Address: 3 Minami 5-jo Nishi, Chuo-ku| New Blue Nile Bldg. 2F, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan 
Contact no: +81 11 520 2202
Website: http://sushi-tanabe.com/

Saturday, 19 July 2014

How to Order Online with Menulog - Oriental Ricebox


The last thing that I often want to do after a long day in the office is to have to cook dinner. Sometimes I just want to go home and chill out. This is where online ordering websites like Menulog (http://www.menulog.com.au/) come in to give me a day off from the kitchen. A number of restaurants on Menulog also provide home delivery service (free deliveries for orders over $25), so you can truly have a lazy night in.

Thanks to the good people at Menulog, I received a $30 voucher to test out their website. It was freezing outside so I needed something to warm the soul. Thai curry fits the bill well so I decided to use the voucher to order a few dishes from Oriental Ricebox in Burwood for dinner with my folks and have them delivered to my doorstep. 

The Menulog website is easy to use and there are heaps of restaurants to choose from (over 3500 restaurants). And as I will find out later, it's a very reliable service (and free to use too). Here are the simple steps you need to follow to order your meal on Menulog:

Step 1: Go to www.menlog.com.au and type in your suburb
Step 2: Choose your restaurant
Step 3: Select yummy dishes that catch your fancy
Step 4: Fill in your details so the delivery man knows where to go (including the delivery time)
Step 5: Time to pay so enter your credit card details
Congratulations! You have successfully placed an order with Menulog :)
You should then receive an SMS to confirm your order from Menulog
Now the waiting game. I chose to have my food delivered at a later time (at 6.30pm) and my food was promptly delivered just after 6.30, to my growling stomach's pleasure.

So how was the food? It was great for takeaway! The curries were all tasty and they arrived piping hot; this confirmed why Oriental Ricebox is featured in the SMH Good Food Under $30 guide.  

The curries were decently priced too around the $13 or $14 mark. The portions may not big, but you get lots and lots of sauce (My Kitchen Rules judge Manu Feildel would never complain about lack of sauce here). Perfect with a bowl of fluffy boiled rice!

Fruity Duck Curry ($14.50)
The fruity duck curry consisted of pieces of roasted duck in a spicy red Thai curry sauce, with pineapple, cherry tomatoes, grape, apples and cucumber. 

"Mosman" Beef Curry ($12.50)
More sweet than spicy, the Mosman beef curry (in reference to the restaurant's former home in the North shore) came as tender chunks of beef and creamy potatoes simmered in coconut milk, and Thai massamun curry.

Green Chicken Curry ($12.50)
Green chicken curry was just as expected: hunks of chicken and vegetables in an aromatic, spicy Thai green sauce with kafir lime leaves and basil.

Vegetarian Red Curry ($12.50)
And for my vegetarian wife, we ordered a mild vegetarian red curry to cater for her low tolerance to spicy food.

I am satisfied with Oriental Ricebox and the Menulog service. Menulog is very easy to use and with so many restaurants serving many different cuisines, it probably won't be too long before I will use Menulog again. 

I received a $30 voucher from Menulog. Thanks to Joshua Sorell for arranging this opportunity. Opinions are my own.       

Oriental Ricebox
Address: 131 Liverpool Rd, Burwood NSW 2134
Contact no: (02) 9744 9929 
Website: http://www.ricebox.com.au/


Oriental Ricebox on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Devon by Night - 10 July 2014


Devon Cafe is one of my favourite cafes in Sydney; I have been here for breakfast countless times (due to its close proximity to Central Station and to occasionally treat myself to something special before work just because it's Devon). Devon Cafe has a knack of coming up with new crowd-pleasing dishes that keep showing up on Instagram feeds, thanks to people like me.  These 'greatest hits' include the likes of Devon's Ultimate Toastie, Lost Little Bread, Eggs Blini and Breakfast with the Sakumas.

Devon Cafe is now in its second week of offering its new dinner menu (or Devon by Night) on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays nights. Head chef Zachary Tan has created a menu that features dishes that are influenced by his Malaysian heritage. Zach informs us that a tasting menu is being planned and is not on offer yet. So for the time being, only an a la carte menu is available.  

Devon by Night's Malaysian inspired menu calls for South East Asian beer
So does Devon by Night give us more cracking dishes to add to its growing list of greatest hits? I decided to organise a meal with Elena from Ellie's Belly Adventures, Crystal from Delectably Degusting and Crystal's friend, M to find out.

We sat at the back of the cafe, which had a cool, grungy feel with walls grafittied in funky street art. The lighting in this area however is not the greatest; but with the assistance of M and her trusty mobile phone light, there was the necessary lighting for 3 food bloggers to happily snap away. Thanks M for being patient with us, particularly with our fussing over what the optimal angle for each plate of food is! 

Kacang Puteh - spiced fried chickpeas ($3)
Memories of salted peanuts / peas sold in a paper cone from Malaysian hawker stalls came flooding back to Elena when she saw Kacang Puteh on the menu, so she suggested that we order a cup of these to snack on. These spiced fried chickpeas were incredibly addictive, with its crisp exterior and soft, melt-in-your-mouth centre.

Chargrilled corn, coffee miso butter ($4 each)
Our first proper course arrives and it is a spear of chargrilled baby corn each. The baby corn was served on its husk and dusted with coffee powder, both of which which our waitress warns us not to eat as they are for aesthetics only. I love fresh baby corn (not the canned stuff please) for its nice, sweet flavour and its crisp texture. The smoky flavour that the corn had taken on from the chargrill, together with the umami of the miso butter made for one delightful baby corn. Only problem was, it was over too soon.

KJI fried chicken - Korean style chicken wings, go chujang and peanut sauce ($15)
Next up was a definite crowd favourite in KJI fried chicken. The chicken wings were coated in a very crispy batter and served with a sweet and sour go chujang sauce with peanuts for us to smother the chicken wings in.

Sate babi - Penang Hainanese style pork sate with a sweet potato sauce ($16)
Devon's version of popular Malaysian street food, sate babi, came as chargrilled pork skewers served with a sweet potato and peanut sauce. The sweet potato sauce was delicious and there was plenty of it to go around. Any trace of this sauce was mopped up with the toasted breads that came with the skewers. 

Devon's lobster roll - lobster, radish, tatsoi, kewpie ($15.50 each)
Then an army of the much-anticipated lobster rolls arrived. I insisted that we order one each as there was no way I was going to be sharing. Each roll is filled with half a lobster tail, radish, tatsoi and kewpie mayo. The brioche roll is fluffy and buttery. Each bite of this roll was a delight and I soon realised why this lobster roll will become one of Devon's most Instagrammed dishes.

Chargrilled jumbo prawns with Penang Hokkien mee flavours ($29)
More chargilled goodness! The chargrilled jumbo prawns were finger licking good; they were sweet, meaty and smokey. The prawns came with a dipping sauce containing spicy, tangy Penang Hokkien mee flavours. But the prawns arrived with their heads decapitated (so unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to suck up its wonderful head juices).

Aunty Yulia's short ribs - beef short ribs slow cooked in Indonesian sweet soy with spicy tomato and basil relish ($28)
Aunty Yulia is Noni's mum (Noni along with Derek Puah are the owners of Devon Cafe) and these beef short ribs are inspired by her recipe. The short ribs are slow cooked in Indonesian sweet soy; the beef was so tender that it falls right off the bone with just a fork. Aunty Yulia, you sure can make damn good ribs!   

Yes, the meat falls right off the bone!
To the side of the short ribs was a spicy tomato and basil relish, which was not just spicy, it was fiery hot, just the way I like it. 

Chinese egg custard, shiitake, fungus, yellow needle flower, Chinese fried bread and Perigord black truffle ($29)
Next dish is the one that we had all been waiting for, well the truffle-crazed fanatic in me at the very least. The pungent aroma of fresh WA Perigord black truffles wafting through the air had the four of us swooning! Truffle is like a powerful drug that I have an addiction to; I just can't get enough of that wonderful, intoxicating aroma! 

Digging in! Spoonful of trufflely goodness!
Whilst the star of the show was definitely the truffle, the Chinese steamed egg custard plays a wonderful supporting act. The egg custard was wobbly, soft and silky smooth. The egg custard contained shiitake mushrooms, fungus, yellow needle flowers and goji berries. There were also crispy batons of Chinese fried bread, but these really couldn't really be dipped into the egg custard. This course was my favourite course (for the time being).

Dessert time! We made a conscious effort to leave enough room for dessert, so we decided to order 2 of each dessert to share between the four of us.

Fried ice cream bao ($7 each)
First dessert is a fried vanilla ice cream coated with coconut, covered with kaya jam and served in a bao. The bao was soft and fluffy. And the coconut flavours were delicious. But unfortunately the ice cream had completely melted and ran all the way down our hands by the time we took our first bite. So this dessert felt like eating fried coconut batter in a bun rather than having fried ice cream.

Popsicles ($6 each)
These were tamarind and chilli popsicles. They were refreshing and had a pleasant sweet and tangy flavour with a nice chilli aftertaste. The taste of the popsicles reminded me of hua mei (Chinese preserved plums), a childhood favourite of mine.

Coconut jelly, guava sorbet, freeze dried pineapple ($11)
And last but not least, is the dish that stole the show and clear favourite!  The entire table was silent as we savoured the amazing flavours inside this little glass cup. A spoonful of coconut jelly, sago, guava sorbet and freeze dried pineapple was so refreshing, sweet, fruity (duh!) and delicious. This is one that I will definitely be coming back for! 

Verdict
Highlight: Coconut jelly, guava sorbet, freeze dried pineapple. And egg custard with fresh WA Perigord black truffle. 
Lowlight: No bookings are taken for Devon by Night and the popular items (such as lobster rolls and egg custard) sell out on busy nights, so grab a table early to avoid disappointment. 
Overall: It was a fantastic night out at Devon by Night filled with lots of delicious food that's ideal for sharing. Most of the dishes we tried were enjoyable; I think it's time to include the lobster rolls, the truffle egg custard and the coconut jelly with guava sorbet on Devon's growing list of "greatest hits". 7/10 (Great) 

Devon Cafe
Address: 76 Devonshire St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
Contact no: 02 9211 8777

Devon Cafe on Urbanspoon