Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sakana Ya: An ode to fish

The humble fish is rarely as pleasing as when done well in a Japanese restaurant. Japanese cuisine certainly has a way with fish, whether it's cooked or raw, which makes it all the more tempting to order the entire menu at places like Sakana Ya in Crows Nest.

Table setting at Sakana Ya, Pacific Highway, Crows Nest
The dining room at Sakana Ya, which is Japanese for 'fish shop', is very elegantly Japanese despite its location on busy Pacific Highway in Crows Nest. Perhaps it's the softly tinkling music, the deferential service, or that unmistakeably Japanese smell of soy sauce and frying oil.

Tamagoyaki - sweet egg omelette
The menu at Sakana Ya is traditional in all the right ways, adding to the feeling that we might have been in some Tokyo restaurant. We started on warm tamago-yaki sweet omelette, carefully formed into blocks and grill-stamped with the restaurant's name in Japanese.

This was served with finely grated daikon white radish to which I like adding a touch of soy sauce for flavour, not that the omelette needed it.

Deep fried school prawns
Whole fried school prawns aren't necessarily traditional Japanese, but these relatively large schoolies simply fried to a crisp and served with lemon were satisfying enough, although there are much more interesting renditions of the dish around town.

Sashimi
For lunch mains at Sakana Ya, there are a range of set meals plus donburi rice bowls in two sizes, in addition to a la carte options.

The sashimi lunch set included a generous plate of thick-cut assorted raw tuna, salmon, kingfish, kingfish belly, snapper and I think flounder. The firmer white fish of snapper and flounder had more of a textural appeal rather than flavour, especially compared to the fairly standard salmon and tuna.

But it was the kingfish belly that was the revelation: a softer, deliciously creamier version of the relatively clean-tasting kingfish that was a first time but I certainly hope not the last.

Miso grilled sablefish
From the extensive fish selection, available on the menu in a variety of cooking styles, the waitress informed us that the sablefish was by far the most popular with the local, often Japanese clientele.

I'd never heard of sablefish before, but the firm-fleshed fish also goes by the name of black cod. That's right, miso grilled black cod in the most traditional Japanese style, without the fanfare and price tag that would accompany it at a more modern Japanese eatery.

The fillet of dark-skinned sablefish was beautifully done with fine and firm flaking flesh and sweet miso overtones. The juliennes of a crisp, pickled vegetable on the side and steamed rice were the perfect accompaniments for the utterly satisfying dish.

Sides: rice, pickles, salad and miso soup
With the sets come the all-encompassing, meal-making sides including salty-sour cucumber pickles, all wrinkly and green; leafy salad with a creamy dressing; miso soup and steamed white rice. We could each barely finish all our sides, which added lots of variety to the meal and bulked out what otherwise could have been very rich and luxurious lunch.

Sakana Ya is about as traditional as it gets. Don't let the location or small dining room deceive you, this is the real deal, Japanese ode to fish.

Sakana-Ya on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 15, 2014

Noodle your way to dinner at Chefs Gallery Jamison

There remains a dearth of mid-priced dinner options in the CBD, cheap and casual Japanese and pasta aside. Attempting to fill that gaping hole is the second venue from the wildly successful Chefs Gallery, snuggled into a ground floor corner of Metcentre on George Street – best accessed through Jamison Street.

Noodle master in action at Chefs Gallery Jamison, Metcentre, George Street, Sydney
Launched in 2013, Chefs Gallery Jamison is a lite version of the original Bathurst Street restaurant. It has the suits lapping up hand-stretched noodles, dumplings and other elaborate pan-Chinese dishes through the week for lunch and now weeknights for dinner until 9.00pm.

Noodle dough
The eat-in space has been recently spruced up for more of a restaurant feel, although takeaway is still available.

At a (re)launch event in July we were treated to noodle making demonstrations and even allowed to try our own hands at it, alongside the master noodle chef with more than 20 years of experience spent honing their noodle craft. Suffice to say, it's not as easy as it looks - but it is good fun.

Rolling noodle dough

Stretching noodle dough

Stretching and pulling dough into noodles

Hand stretched noodles

Kingfish sashimi Chau Zhou style
Now a fully licensed venue with cocktail and wine lists, at the relaunch event we were treated to drinks and canapé versions of some of the cold dishes on the menu, including tataki wagyu beef and kingfish sashimi.

Prawn and pork wontons in Shanghainese spicy sauce
One of the favourites of the night were the particularly plump pork and prawn wonton dumplings: bouncy meat-flled delights in a chewy wrapper, coated in that spicy, roasted chilli oil that I adore. Several of these with dry noodles really is a meal sorted.

Vegetarian spring rolls
I skipped the vegetarian steamed buns in favour for the vegetable spring rolls; which are unlike any other you'll see around town. Jam-packed with an interesting, not-cabbage-dominated vegetarian filling, I enjoyed the unorthodox, lacy-batter wrapper but the pale but crisp rolls can be a little too oily.

Macanese style pork burger
The star of the night was the mini pork buns which take inspiration from a sort-of street food in Macau. There were (big call ahead) just about the best thing between two slices of bread I've eaten all year.

Basically a particularly unhealthy Asian burger, the buns comprised two miniature deep-fried mantou bread buns sandwiching a seriously seasoned and tenderised pork fillet, doused with a spiced mayonnaise and served with some perfunctory shredded iceberg lettuce.

I'm not even a burger/slider person but these were so messily good that I had to have seconds, and maybe thirds.

Wagyu beef cubes with black pepper sauce
More substantial dishes like thick hand-stretched noodles with prawns and thin, green spinach noodles with mussels also made the rounds that night, but I kept going back for the delectable cubes of grilled wagyu beef, served with an umami-rich black pepper sauce that had me thinking good old pub steaks.

Salt and pepper house-made egg and spinach tofu
The fried cubes of the house-made spinach tofu were outstanding – the tofu being eggy, silky and so satisfying. In a salt and pepper seasoning, the crisply battered cubes on tofu topped with a layer of spinach understatedly demonstrated the extreme techniques and effort that go into Chefs Gallery's dishes for a humble meal.

House-made egg and spinach tofu with preserved vegetables
I came back for that tofu when returning for a quiet weeknight dinner. Once the thoroughfare through to Wynyard station is closed off, Metcentre is pretty quiet and only accessible from Jamison Street and clearly, only for those in the know.

The tofu, this time served with a dice of pickled mustard vegetables, was just as impressive as at the launch with a crisp surface and wobbly innards, making for a great starter to share.

Beef in spicy Sichuan soup with handmade spinach noodles 
We went with soup noodles for the cool night, and especially having seen the experts make it with such ease and finesse. The hand-stretching gives the noodles a fantastic, chewier texture and you end up with noodles of varying width and not machine-made uniformity.

The spicy beef soup noodles featured the thin green spinach noodles in a Sichuan chilli spiked soup, topped with thin sheets of tender beef, spinach and juliennes of carrot and bamboo shoot. The richly coloured umami-rich soup had that distinctive heat tingle from the chilli and pepper, and made for a huge serving.

Handmade noodles in chicken soup
Equally large was the chicken soup based plain noodles, served with spinach, carrot, fried shallots and omelette strips, and fried salt and pepper pork chops on the side.

Clearly forgetting my newfound penchant for spicy and flavour-packed dishes, I found the plain noodles – which are meant to be pure, clean and cleansing – a little bland; helped along by the super hot chilli oil from the condiments selection on every table.

Fried pork rib with five spice salt and lemon
While the pork chop should have been the highlight and redeeming flavour addition, the tender pieces were sadly lukewarm although tasty with a five spice, salt and pepper mix for dipping or sprinkling on top, alongside lemon.

The noodle soup servings are actually quite huge, more than enough for a well-priced dinner, while the a la carte menu is probably a step up in pricing. Nonetheless, Chefs Gallery has noodled its way into the CBD for lunch and now, dinner.

Food, Booze & Shoes attended the launch party as a guest and dined with vouchers, with thanks to Chefs Gallery Jamison and White Communications.

Chefs Gallery Jamison on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When push comes to The Push

Posted by Hendy

I needed no nudging or pushing into a lazy Sunday lunch in The Rocks' newly renovated small bar, The Push, beneath the Russell Hotel, at the southernmost point of The Rocks precinct on George Street (or the beginning of The Rocks if you're coming from the CBD).

The Push, George Street, Sydney
Most recently a wine bar, The Push was renovated about four months ago to capture the elegant, moment-in-time feel and mood of the 1800s and 1900s. It also attempts to capture the true essence of 'The Push' gang of that time: a group of larrikins that were commonly known to harass sailors in the area back in the 19th century

Nautical remnants dot the venue including ship ropes, turbines, ship blueprints and other old artefacts that hint at a curious history in this very place.

The bar
Licensed till midnight with capacity for 120 patrons, The Push brings small bars into The Rocks area.

The plush leather couches, brass fixtures, chequered tables and relaxing ambience of The Push attracts more regular office workers during the weekdays and younger crowds on Fridays and Saturdays, and a fair share of tourists.

Larrikin cocktail
To kick off lunch we ordered the Larrikin; a signature cocktail combining Jack Daniels bourbon and Tuaca, muddled with lime, mint and ginger ale.

A refreshing cocktail served with lots of ice and likened to a mule, the Larrikin's herbaceous, slightly bitter and sticky sweetness works for some and not for others.

Strawberry Jam Mocktail
We also had a mocktail which used base elements of strawberry jam and plum bitters, topped off with apple juice. Like candy in a glass, this berry, sugary lolly-like mocktail was a clever use of the elements and pleasing to the non-drinker.

School prawns, Cajun spiced, preserved lemon mayonnaise
For food we started with a bowl of whole fried school prawns which were crunchy but not as greasy as others I've seen. Flash fried in a Cajun spiced batter, these prawns made for a great starter with a wedge of lemon and a dollop of light preserved lemon mayonnaise for condiments.

Sliders: pulled lamb, pork rib, crispy seitan
The highly-recommended sliders are available in three variations; pulled lamb, pork rib or a vegetarian seitan gluten.

Served in mini brioche buns, the pulled lamb slider was nice and moist, served with mashed peas - my pick of the three.

The pork rib slider had a curry flavouring, which was a refreshingly different take rather than the pulled pork that's still everywhere in Sydney. The vegetarian seitan slider would have been a winner with a little more seasoning on the gluten filling.

Herb battered barramundi, house made tartare, hand cut chips, mashed peas
Classic fish and chips at The Push featured barramundi fillets in a golden batter with nice crunch and quite light with herbs, lemon and maybe even some garlic. The fish was served traditionally with mushy peas and chunky potato chips in a small metal basket, while the aioli and lemon cheek were put to good use for the dish.

Shepherd's pie with slow cooked lamb shoulder, crushed peas, sebago mash, watercress
The Shepherd's pie that arrived next is one of the more popular mains at The Push. Packed with slow cooked lamb shoulder and gravy, and topped with a layer of sebago potato mash balls, it's easy to see why.

The pot pie was served with large portion of watercress on the side and more mashed peas, while the potato mash was light, fluffy and rather addictive. The lamb shoulder filling was like a hearty winter's lamb stew and appropriately filling for a cool Sunday's lunch.

House salad with frisee, radicchio and rocket, sliced radish, zucchini, white wine vinaigrette
To balance out the richness and fried-ness, we also ordered the house salad. Combining radicchio, frisee and rocket leaves with radish rounds and zucchini, the salad was fresh with a good balance of bitter, tangy and crunch.

ANZAC crumbed macadamia ice cream with rum butter sauce
For dessert, it had to be the Anzac biscuit-coated macadamia ice cream with a rum sauce, which can hardly get any more Australian, or exciting for this fan of the oats-based traditional Anzac biscuit.

Coated with a crumb of Anzac biscuits, the ice cream ball had satisfying chunks of macadamia nuts that combined for all round sweetness and butteriness.

The rum butter sauce was sharply sweeter than the ice cream, though it worked quite well with the relatively toned down crumbs and ice cream.

Endeavour Vintage Growers golden ale
To cap off the lunch, and in honour of The Push and their sailor victims who certainly wouldn't have minded a drink, we had the Endeavour Vintage Growers golden ale which is one of four beers available on tap alongside Little Creatures Pale Ale, White Rabbit White Ale and Heineken.

When it comes down to it, The Rocks is an important part of Sydney history and will always attract tourists as a result. Joining the likes of iconic pubs The Glenmore and The Australian, the newly renovated The Push will undoubtedly help to refresh the suite of traditional pubs and bars around The Rocks and nudge it into a new era.

Food, Booze & Shoes dined at The Push as a guest, with thanks to Agency G.

The Push on Urbanspoon

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