Saturday, 23 February 2013

Quay - 15 October 2010

Today’s entry is an old one: dinner at Quay back in 2010 (unfortunately as this is an old review, I do not have many notes, everything I write is from memory, so you will have to resort to staring at pieces of art on the plate; I am sure you won’t be disappointed any way!).

Quay needs no introduction. Widely considered the best restaurant in Sydney and one of the top 50 restaurants in the world! The views here are obviously amazing and the food is even better! Great views and great food don’t usually go together, but that is not the case at Quay.

We decided to take the plunge after seeing Peter Gilmore’s snow egg featured on Masterchef and we booked about 4 or 5 months in advance as Fridays and Saturdays are solidly booked out. I remember at the time Quay’s website could not cope with the level of traffic and the the restaurant was inundated with callers desperate to try the snow egg. To say I was looking forward to dining here was an understatement, months of anticipation!

The guests that you see lurking around above are guests at a wedding reception, wow! For any of my friends who are considering a venue for a wedding reception, please consider Quay and invite me too haha !

Today we went for the 8-course tasting menu (my wife went for the vegetarian option of course). To start things off we had this amuse bouche: a brilliant mushroom consomme with a slice of truffle. It was amazingly clean and flavoursome!   

First Course: Smoked eel & sea scallop pearl, horseradish
Vegetarian first course: Raw Chinese artichokes, pickled kohlrabi, celery, horseradish creme fraiche nasturtiums & pea flowers

Two visually stunning appetizers! The one thing that I love about Quay is the freshness of the ingredients, in particular the vegetables and flowers that are straight from Peter Gilmore's garden! 

Second course: Salad of pink turnips & breakfast radishes, pickled beetroot, goats curd, blood sorrel, olives, pine resin, balsamico

A very good salad. It was wonderfully fresh and there were lots of good textures. Beetroot and goat's cheese are perfect together.

Third course: Gentle braise of pearl oyster, Southern rock lobster, shaved squid, lettuce hearts tapioca, scallop velvet, oyster cream, wasabi flowers

A brilliant seafood course! Since I am a lover of all things from the sea, I was in heaven.

Vegetarian third course: Silken tofu, baby spinach, lettuce hearts, garlic chive flowers, spring onions, ginger, soy & mirin glaze

This was an amazing vegetarian course and my wife's favourite savoury course of the night! The tofu wonderfully silky, the glaze full of flavour, earthy mushrooms and spinach. Beautiful combination!

Fourth course: Butter poached coturnix quail breast, chestnuts, truffle, bitter chocolate pudding, milk skin, walnuts 
Apparently the quail is first poached on the bone in a salted quail stock, then taken off the bone to finish poaching in a clarified butter. The meat is infused with flavour and the chestnuts, walnuts and truffle give the dish an earthy component and wonderful texture. Although this was a very good course, it was probably my least favourite savoury course out of a meal full of highlights.   

Vegetarian fourth course: Organic heirloom carrots, cumin, fennel & celery seeds, comte-infused curd, roasted almonds, quinoa, comte broth
I reckon the vegetarian dishes are actually more visually stunning than the standard dishes! This course looks great.

Standard Course 5 - Poached Blackmore wagyu fillet, Tasmanian wasabi, morels

All I could remember about this dish was the beef was so incredibly tender, melted in my mouth and so flavoursome. 

Vegetarian Course 5 - Shitake, enoki & king mushrooms, truffle custard, mushroom consomme

My wife and I love mushrooms so we loved this course. You might notice that the vegetarian tasting menu starts to get a bit repetitive now. A lot of the courses share similar ingredients / elements. I think we have seen truffle custard, truffles, mushrooms and mushroom consomme elsewhere... 

Standard Course 6 - Slow braised Berkshire pig jowl, maltose crackling, prunes, cauliflower cream, perfumed with prune kernel oil

AMAZING! This is a signature dish and is for a reason. Brilliant 'crackling' (according to Peter Gilmore, it is virtually impossible to create a crackling with  pork jowl due to the large fat content, so the crackling is made with maltose), As you can see the pork jowl is very very fat! But who cares, it was so delicious! The sweet and salty elements in this dish are perfect together.    

Vegetarian Course 6 - New season white asparagus, lentils, faro, hazelnuts, quinoa, truffle custard

More quinoa, truffle and truffle custard (how can one complain though - maybe Quay feels sorry for vegetarians so they load you up with truffle)!

Course 7: Jackfruit Snow Egg

The dessert that EVERYONE comes to Quay for. The dessert definitely deserves its reputation. It is one of the best desserts out there. The granita is very refreshing (wonderful palate cleanser). The flavours of the ice cream and the poached meringue inside are truly amazing. And then you have the cruncy shell created from the maltose tuilles. No words can do justice to how great this dessert is. Unfortunately I did not take a picture of what it looked like inside, but basically it resembles an egg (ice cream = yolk, meringue = white).   

Course 8: Preserved wild cherry compote, coconut cream, chuao chocolate crumble, milk meringue crystals, cherry juice and chocolate sorbet

I was hoping to get the other famous dessert, the 8 texture chocolate cake but didn't get it. I actually don't remember this dessert. All I remember is that it was no where near as good as the snow egg and not particularly memorable. 

Petit fours

Highlight: Snow egg!
Lowlight: There weren't many negatives. I would say the vegetarian tasting menu is a bit repetitive.
Overall: Quay is the pinnacle of dining in Sydney. Gorgeous food with amazing views.  9/10 (Outstanding)

Quay on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Chur Burger - 21 Feb 2013

Ever since Plan B was closed following Justin North's Becasse failed move to Westfield, I have been looking for the burger mecca in the Sydney CBD. For those that have never tried the wagyu burger at Plan B, it was in my opinion the best burger in Sydney, hands down. It had a nicely toasted bun that is not soggy, a big fat juicy beef patty and a tasty melted cheese (i.e. less is more). The other big plus is that it was $10, so very reasonably priced (unlike the wagyu beef burger at Rockpool Bar and Grill that is priced at $24)!  How I miss Plan B so much, but I digress...

So in my ongoing search for the go-to place for burgers, I decided to venture out to the recently opened Chur Burger, which is in a narrow laneway behind Albion St Kitchen (i.e. the backdoor of ASK). Chur Burger is owned by Warren Turnbull and is open for lunch. The burgers here come out of the ASK's kitchen so I was really looking forward to a great burger. It was quite busy today so obviously there are other people like me who are looking for their lunchtime burger fixes.

On the menu is 6 different burgers: Beef, Chicken, Pork, Fish, Veggie and the special Korean BBQ Chicken with kimchi (of course!). There is also the chips with smoked chilli salt (which I didn't try today, but I will come back for those another time).

Today I opted for the beef burger and the Heilala vanilla milkshake. So here's what I think of the burger...

Beef Burger

It was a grilled beef burger with cheese, tomato jam, Gherkin, and mustard mayo. Nicely toasted bun, check. Big, fat juicy beef patty, check. Tasty melted cheese, check. All in all, a burger with great flavours. Plus it is priced at $10, so I am definitely happy with that.

However, being the fussy eater that I am, there are always things that could be better.  Although the bun was well toasted and held together nicely, it was slightly soggy because of the mayo (admittedly this is not a huge deal since the mayo was yummy). Also, the beef patty would have been even better if it was cooked closer to medium rare (in my opinion the perfect way for a beef patty to be cooked in a burger). Although by no means was the beef dry, it was cooked around medium to well done.

So in my opinion, the burgers here are very good, but not quite as good as the former Plan B (the good ol' days). Having said that, I would be more than happy to come here for my lunchtime burger fixes!

Heilala Vanilla Milkshake

And the milkshake was very good. You can see when you lift the lid that there is quite a lot of vanilla in the milkshake. Also the milkshake is quite refreshing, not too sweet and quite light. So a great drink to go with the burger.

I left Chur Burger a happy man and made the long trek back to work, which is probably a good thing for me to burn off all those calories I had just ingested!

Highlight: Burgers (obviously) prepared by the kitchen of the former Assiette. Chur, bro! (Apparently chur is Kiwi slang for awesome).
Lowlight: Chur Burger is incredibly busy so be prepared to wait.
Overall: Great selection of delicious burgers at a reasonable price point. I will definitely be back to try the other burgers and the chilli chips. 7/10 (Great)

UPDATE 5 August 2013
Recently I had the opportunity to try Chur Burger since its reopening following a horrific fire that broke out in its kitchen that has since resulted in the permanent closure of Albion St Kitchen. Warren Turnbull decided to convert 48 Albion St into a burger joint, which has proved to be incredibly popular with the masses. I hear that Chur has been churning out 3,000 burgers a week! Chur Burger was my first stop on a Friday night mini food crawl which also included a great margherita pizza at Vacanza and some awesome from local favourite Bourke St Bakery. I hear that Warren is considering opening a second store. I am thinking Newtown, Bondi or Manly are good locations for this second store.   

I decided to give the fish burger ($10) as well as the king fish ceviche ($10) a try, and here’s what I thought:

Crumbed fish fillet, pickled cucumber, lemon mayo, dill ($10)
I enjoyed the fish burger. The fish had a nicely crumbed and crunchy. What I enjoyed the most about this burger was the combination of pickled cucumber, which gave the burger a lightness and freshness, and the zing from the lemon in the mayo. However, I felt the fish itself is a bit lost amongst the brioche bun, coleslaw cucumbers and the crumbs. The beef burger, in my opinion is the better burger out of the two. 

Kingfish ceviche with coconut, tomato and jalapeno ($10)
I love kingfish ceviche so I was immediately drawn to it when I was looking at the menu. This one is a good interpretation. It’s a nice refreshing snack and a great way to start off a meal. The combination of contrasting flavours from the coconut, tomatoes and jalapenos is not one that I have tried before in a ceviche. I quite enjoyed these flavours. The only problem was that I thought the ceviche was too salty.
Warren Turnbull and his staff in the open kitchen churning out burgers
The menu
Beer and burgers are perfect companions
What I sat on: a cushion attached to 2 buckets

 Chur Burger on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

International Nippon Australia New Zealand Club, 20 Feb 2013

Thought I would start doing a series of short blog entries about places I like to go for lunch.

Nippon Club is one of my favourite spots for a Japanese lunch in the Sydney CBD since its authentic. It is kind of hidden and very easy to miss.  You need to walk down a flight of stairs to get to the restaurant. The decor is a bit rundown with carpeted floors and papered walls. It is an RSL after all...

Also, please excuse the quality of the photos, they are taken with a Nokia E71 as I did not have my camera...

Today I came here for lunch with my friend, SP. I usually come here for the lunch sets, but today I decided to try something from the a la carte menu, the special chirashi.

Everyone gets a simple bowl of miso soup and salad to start off the meal.


Basically a bed of rice topped with sashimi (tuna, salmon, kingfish, scallop), prawns, roe, tomago (egg), seaweed, pickles, radish etc. A simple meal, but a pleasant one. All the sashimi was fresh, the tuna was my favourite. Tuna sashimi at a lot of other sushi places in the CBD (namely the train places) is not pleasant. It has chewy, flakey texture. But not here. Lovely flavour and the tuna just melts in your mouth. I also liked the tomago. Tomago is generally quite bad in Sydney as it is overly sweet, which is not how it is done in Japan. Again, not here. It was nice and savoury with only a bit of sweetness. My only complaint is that this was not a big box for the $23 I paid.

Lunch Set        

SP went for the teriyaki chicken and sashimi set, which also comes with rice. I have had the teriyaki chicken before. It's pretty good. The sauce is tasty and chicken is moist. Again the serving is not very big. But I would say the lunch sets are better value than the a la carte options.

Highlight: The fresh sashimi prepared by the Japanese chef.  
Lowlight: The portion sizes for $20-$25 lunch
Overall: A casual, authentic Japanese diner with the staples executed well. 6/10 (Good)

International Nippon Australia New Zealand Club on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Takazawa, Tokyo - 19 Nov 2012

Here are some photos from our dinner at a small restaurant in Akasaka, Tokyo called Takazawa. There are only 3 tables here with a maximum seating of 10 people per night. Reservations must be made at least 2 months in advance due to the limited seating. The kitchen is essentially a one man team (36 year old Yoshiaki Takazawa) supported by 2 young assistants. The front of house is managed by the chef’s wife, Akiko, who speaks perfect English. 

This is a restaurant that is all about food and providing warm, personalised service to its customers (btw every table on the night had different menus that have been catered based on dietary requirements, how many times you have been etc) without the fanfare of starred / hatted restaurants. Akkiko was very nice to me when I was making the reservation via email and was able to prepare a special menu for my wife, who is vegetarian. The restaurant is not covered by the Tokyo Michelin guide. As other foodies will gush, if this restaurant were covered by Michelin it would be awarded 3 stars in a heartbeat, as I will try to show and explain to you in my pictures.
What you get when you dine at this restaurant is an absolutely amaaaazing experience that will make any foodie jealous. It is not just about eating food, it is an experience, one that will be remembered for life. You will be wowed, all 5 of your senses. Watching chef do his finishing touches to each dish is like watching a magician putting on a show conjuring up magic tricks. Each dish is carefully crafted and so clever. Chef Yoshi is a genius!! The food looks so good on the plate. But the thing is, the food TASTES better than it looks! So here are the photos...

Finding Takazwa is a bit of a challenge. It is on a small street and there is no signage. All there is a glass door with the restaurant's name

Here are our menus for the night, which provides very brief descriptions of each course for that air of mystery. The descriptions sound simple, but the food is anything but. The food is complex and highly technical.

This is the bench where the chef plates up and puts finishing touches to dishes. It was more like a science lab than a kitchen bench top with the number of test tubes, blow torches and liquid nitrogen used. Watching the chef at work is one of the things that made the night special...

 Amuse bouche

Soup encased in a white ball. I had curry soup and my wife had pumpkin soup. Once you put the spoon in your mouth there was an explosion of flavour!

Amuse bouche 2: Truffle?

Actually it's not really truffle, only the slice is truffle. It is a croquette. My one had pork and potato. My wife's had potato only. It was soooo good. So crispy and tasty. A prelude of the brilliant dishes to come....

Course one: Ratatouille

A terrine of 15 different vegetables that has been out together to form a beautiful mosaic of colours. We were told to eat this in one bite. Visually stunning, yet so delicious. The vegetables are so crisp and have a nice crunch. There are a lot of different flavours happening here...


Homemade bread with rilletes made with pork from Okinawa. The bread is some of the best I have ever had! The rilletes, amazing! I am not usually one for pâté. But this was so yum, just tasted like spreadable pork. I of course did not let any of it go to waste so had a very thick spread of it on my bread lol

My wife's bread came with macadamia oil.

 Course 2: Powdery Dressing 

This is Suzuki (sea bass) from Hida region. The powdery dressing is Yuzu, up which created a misty effect which I unfortunately couldn't capture on my camera. This was a wonderful dish. The sashimi so fresh and the citrus from the Yuzu is a beautiful complement

Vego powdery dressing with local seasonal vegetables. A very fresh dish. My wife definitely got her fair share of fresh veggies for the day. Everything here was fresh and ordered on the day by the chef

Veg Course 3: Mushroom cappuccino

A special course that the chef has created just for my wife, which made her feel special lol. The autumn leaves are a nice visual touch. Serving the dish on a tree stump is so cool! There was a mushroom tempura and a mushroom soup with froth to make it look like a cappuccino. The tempura is not oily at all and the batter is very crisp. The soup has so much mushroom flavour!! Yum!

Course 3:  EZO venison tartar

This is essentially a modern version of steak tartar. Instead venison is used and sea urchin, instead of beef and egg. Also comes with a tuile, which was wonderfully thin and crisp, and lots of truffle.  

I was told to mix it all together and enjoy! This was so good, one of the best things I have ever eaten!

 Veg Course 4: Potato and butter

This looks like it is just a whole potato. Of course it is not. The sauce is Gorgonzola and hazlenut. There is also some slices of truffle.

The "potato" is potato purée with butter encased a casing made of bread. Potato and butter are a match made in heaven!

Course 4: Candleholder

This is perhaps the most clever dish I have ever seen. The presentation is brilliant. Looks like a candle...

... But not a candle! The 'candle' is actually a pear sauce with a rosemary petal for the wick. The dish is a foie gras creme brûlée. The aforementioned things are spread on the crisp bread to be enjoyed. The creme brûlée is divine! And how a savoury creme brûlée should taste like lol

Course 5: Breakfast at Takazawa 

I love this dish!! Such playful presentation. It's a slow poached egg with truffle, a prefect combination. This was served in a chicken soup for me and a vegetable stock for my wife. The 'cornflakes' are potato flakes. Absolutely delicious.  

Veg Course 6: Hot Air Balloon

An assortment of vegetables in a creamy sauce. Tastes so good. The bag helps retain all the favors, nothing is lost...

Course 6: Dinner on forest

This is my favorite dish of the night. Loved the presentation. The tree branch is made of cork and looks so cool. The leaves have been torched with a blow torch to give a smokey aroma, like a bush fire...

Wagyu beef cooked perfectly rare. So tender and so full of flavor!! Apparently chef has gone all over the country to search for the best Japanese beef. He does not want his beef to be too marbled i.e. fatty, which is what is found in department stores and commonly used by other chefs. Unfortunately I forget which region the beef is from, it's not of the famous ones like Kobe. Maybe Kyushu?

Course 7: Blue Cheese 

Of course this is not really blue cheese, it just looks like it. It is a white chocolate cheese cake with pistachio. It is sooo good, best cheese cake ever!

The cheese cake is served with a palette cleanser, a port granita. Wow! I can certainly taste the alcohol, what a nice palette cleanser!

The fruits are mango and grape and mango, both have been soaked in wine

Amuse bouche
Even the petit fours are absolutely amaaaazing...starting from the right: Hoji tea meringue, chocolate with Japanese chilli and salt, Yuzu marshmallow, kinako (soy flour) cake.
Dining here was such a great experience that I bought the photo book with some beautiful shots of Takazawa's creations over the years. Something that I will treasure.
With a message from the master himself. Thanks to Yoshi and Akiko for such a memorable night and the life changing dining experience!

Highlight: Everything!
Lowlight: Nothing! Everything was perfect. Maybe, the fact that we won't eating here for a while...
Overall: Best meal I have ever had, period. The food here has changed my perspective on dining out completely. No other restaurant I have ever dined at comes close to matching what we experienced at Takazawa. Service here is warm, attentive and not intrusive. Yoshi and Akiko are a perfect team and make dining here an absolute treat! Yes eating here does cost a heck of a lot of money, but I do not feel any regret whatsoever spending every yen we did here. In fact I am definitely going back here next time I am in Tokyo! 10/10