Categories
Asian Fusion Chinese Japanese

Supernormal – Melbourne VIC Restaurant Review

Supernormal was our most highly-anticipated meal of our 2022 Melbourne trip, and boy did its expression of predominantly Chinese-marketed-as-Japanese fusion cuisine not disappoint.

We started our meal with this excellent raw bar starter of nori cracker, seared tuna, and bonito ($14 for 2 pieces). The cracker was similar to the tempura seaweed snacks that you can get at the Asian grocery store, but with greater substance and rigidity suited to holding its toppings. The seared tuna was fresh and tasty with a good texture (contrasting to other seared tunas we had on our trip, for example at Lover), and while the topping of ginger was perhaps over-represented, overall both the flavours and textures of this starter were excellent. This was perhaps the most Japanese dish of our pseudo-Japanese fusion meal.

The soy-roasted pumpkin seeds, a complimentary snack, were sweet, savoury and had a great crunch. Good to pass the time between dishes, not that there was much delay at all.

The Hunan-style beef tartare with fragrant chilli oil ($20) was again excellent, with a title reflective of its inspirations. It was fresh and spicy, with a flavour profile highly reminiscent of liángpí (凉皮), but with a rawness that most Chinese people would traditionally not touch. This tartare was one of the better of the many we had in Melbourne, with quite innovative flavouring and good quality meat.

The sesame flatbread with whipped cod roe ($12) was another outstanding showing. It’s almost crazy to think that you could find the Platonic ideal of shāobǐng (烧饼) at this Asian Fusion restaurant that pretends that it’s not Chinese, but that’s exactly what this is. The flatbread was fragrant, soft, and warm, aided by a very generous sprinkling of toasted white sesame seeds. The bread, though excellent itself, was brought to a whole other level entirely by the whipped cod roe dip, which was impossibly creamy and umami. The green oil on top of the dip, for those who are wondering, was explained as the oil of scallion, though to me tasted like nothing. Even if the greenness is just for aesthetics, I don’t think you can walk past this dish. It is a great bread.

As an aside, the diners on the table adjacent to us asked the waiter if roe was a type of sauce, and the man also remarked to his dining partner “I know this will probably scare most people” as their bread arrived. I am glad they are trying.

We interrupt this food review for a photo of Super Soda ($11), a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage.

Though I have much praise for many of Supernormal’s offerings, I must say that the New England lobster roll ($18) was not extraordinary. While the buttery, lightly-toasted brioche bun was excellent, the taste of the lobster itself (presumably the star ingredient) was very mild and smothered by a large predominance of mayonnaise. The bun was quite small for $18, and sharing this roll between two people was ill advised.

The duck bao ($32) with twice-cooked duck leg ,vinegar & plum sauce was very good. The duck leg had a salty and hard exterior with crispy skin, which cracked open to reveal moist flesh within which paired well with the fresh cucumber and tangy sauces. The “bao” of this dish was bao in the same sense as most Western iterations of the word – folded white steamed dough – a form I don’t believe actually exists in China. We found that, given the abundance of duck, a superior topping to bread ratio could be achieved by splitting the “baos” in half. Very good.

Another dish, another focus of Chinese inspiration. The slow-cooked lamb shoulder with eggplant, Yuxiang sauce, crispy garlic with a cabbage salad (small serve, $42) exhibited a strong Sichuan influence, rather than anything Japanese. Though our waiter helpfully suggested this half-size given how much other food we ordered, we found that even this small portion was quite large. The dish was replete in both má and là, with an additional element of tomato or vinegar flavour which was reminiscent of mápó tofu (麻婆豆腐). The lamb had a crispy semi-melted fatty layer atop which made for a good texture, especially combined with the crispy garlic coating. The eggplant was soft and flavourful, being an excellent soak for all of the sauce and juices, while the cabbage salad, seasoned with cumin, was just a bit too weird for me to want to eat it in any large amount. I don’t think cumin cabbage should be a thing.

For dessert we had the peanut butter parfait ($18), featuring a dark chocolate mousse that surprised me with its lack of coldness (I had misidentified it as an ice cream). It was good. It was all good.

For second dessert we got this massive box of Pocky ($2) from the vending machine downstairs. It’s actually cheaper than your local Asian supermarket?

THOUGHTS
We had a great meal at Supernormal, easily the best of our 2022 Melbourne trip. The dishes were hit after hit after hit, melding familiar Chinese flavours with new ingredients and ways of cooking. My one very significant complaint would be how this restaurant markets itself as Japanese-fusion, with its use of katakana in its branding and promotional material. I feel that, based on the selection of dishes that we tried as well as the wider menu on offer, Supernormal should be considered pan-Asian-fusion at broadest, and honestly probably Chinese-fusion for the most part. I think at the end of the day it’s just unfortunate that it’s harder to convince someone to spend $100 per person on “modernised/Westernised/fused” Chinese cuisine than on Japanese.

Go though, you will enjoy it.

Supernormal
180 Flinders Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9650 8688

Categories
European Fine Dining

LP’s Quality Meats – Chippendale NSW Restaurant Review

It’s been about a year since I first tasted LP’s class-defining mortadella, and about a year that I’ve been dreaming about dining at their Chippendale smokehouse and restaurant. After a couple of setbacks and false starts we finally found the opportunity to go last night, taking advantage of the tables left free by those spending Good Friday at home with family.

We chose the $65 tasting menu with the addition of a serving of smoked chicken. Whilst the serving sizes are in general fine, certain fixed serving sizes, for example for the pork loin, are not adjusted for odd numbers of diners, meaning that it is better value to go in a group of four rather than the five that we had.

The first item on our menu was the malted sourdough & butter. There was nothing really special here. The bread was crusty on the outside and a bit gooey on the inside, possibly reflecting its malted nature. The ratio of butter to bread was adequate.

The oysters with mignonette dressing were fresh and delicious, though not differentiable from any other inner city oyster. When ordered a la carte, these oysters are $5 each, which is quite expensive.

While I can’t remember the name of this off-menu metal dish of vegetables, it is probably LP’s rendition of giardiniera, a classic Italian salad. It is essentially a vinegar-marinated combinastion of cauliflower, capsicum, carrot and onion. Quite the tangy palate cleanser, paired with the salumi.

LP’s salumi plate, featuring fully in-house smoked and prepared (though not husbanded) mortadella, salami cotto, and saucisson was a treat. You’ve heard me wax lyrical about LP’s mortadella more than once now – this soft, mild smoked pork sausage is the best I’ve ever tasted. The salami cotto and sauisson were also good, both ssavoiding being too salty or overflavoured, as salumi often is. Whilst LP’s cold and cured meats are also available for sale from their in-house deli, the price of their mortadella at $77/kg was no cheaper than when I had bought it from Woollahra luxury butcher Victor Churchill, and I chose not to further indulge.

LP’s grilled beef tongue with smoked beef fat vinaigrette is one of their signature dishes, and for good reason. Unlike most renditions of beef or ox tongue, LPs slices theirs longitudinally rather than transversely, the end result being a visually arresting, tongue shaped tongue meal. The tongue is extremely tender, falling apart with minimal fork-based instrumentation, which is actually fully different to the hard and chewy mess that I get every time I try and cook it at Korean BBQ. Each mouthful is an umami bomb, thanks to the smoked beef fat, though perfectly tempered and matched by the tanginess of the salsa verde and vinaigrette components. This is a truly next level dish that I can recommend as a must try.

I’m not normally the biggest fan of mussels, but these steamed mussels in nduja were actually very good. There was none of the feared grittiness present in most low-tier mussel dishes, and the sauce was both umami and lightly spicy. This dish would’ve been even better with some bread to soak up the delicious sauce.

The pickled beetroot salad was very tangy. Not the most enjoyed dish around the table, but then again it’s LP’s Quality Meats, not LP’s Quality Beets.

The 800 gram pork chop with mustard sauce and grilled onions was pretty good, but not something I’d necessarily mention in a letter home. The meat was cooked well, the sauce was inoffensive, but apart from the size and spectacle of an entire giant pork chop cut and rearranged into shape there was nothing truly special about it. It’s sad that with 5 people we did not get a 1000 gram pork chop.

This mesclun salad, mixed herbs, palm sugar vinaigrette was pretty unexciting, and definitely not as exciting as the name.

This smoked half chicken in sauce pearà ($31 supplement) was an add on from the a la carte menu. I had heard a lot about the chicken at LP’s, and this dish certainly did not disappoint. The skin of the chicken was crispy, whilst the meat of the chicken was soft. The smoked flavour, mixed with the creamy flavour of the sauce pearà made for a mouth-watering, umami-filled dish. This chicken was well received around the table, and would be my other must-have at LP’s.

This dish of ember roasted pumpkin, chard, and anchovy did nothing for me. I thought that the flavours were too strong, with the pumpkin being particularly oversalted.

The chocolate tart with chantilly cream was made of very dark, semi-sweet chocolate. I liked it, and I think my girlfriend would have enjoyed this too, but she didn’t go so we will never know. It was a divisive dish, as a few of our friends did not like the bitterness.

The savarin au rhum, essentially wet sponge cake, was also just fine. The cream in both of the desserts was quite good, described aptly by my colleague GL as tasting of a melted vanilla ice cream.

VERDICT
Thank you for reading my pegfeed. The chicken and beef tongue were truly standout dishes that I would recommend a visit to LP’s for, whilst some of the other dishes – salads, mostly – did nothing for me. I had a good time, but would’ve had just as good a time ordering the big hitters off the a la carte menu.

4.5/5

LP’s Quality Meats
16/12 Chippen St, Chippendale NSW 2008
(02) 8399 0929

Diners: JW, HWJ, NT, GL, CJP

Categories
Fine Dining Japanese Latin American

Nikkei – Surry Hills NSW Restaurant Review

After a couple of aborted attempts at eating at Nikkei over the past year, my partner and I finally made it over there to try their $88 pp Japanese-Peruvian tasting menu, inspired by the apparently quite significant Japanese diaspora in Peru. This is a restaurant from the group that runs Osaka Trading Co (which I did not love), but is much better.

The first thing I noticed and enjoyed was this sweet wooden communal dining table. It looked expensive, perhaps carved out of a single tree, and potentially a lot of money. I’d love to have one of these tables in my home one day, to entertain no one. The second thing was this nice drinks menu, bound in a very Midori Traveler’s Notebook esque leather covering, complete with a little bit of patina which I hope continues to develop as the restaurant continues to exist.

Our first little nibble were the empanada bites, two of which were allocated to each diner. These small deep fried bites were crispy and crunch, mostly unidentifiable generalised fried stuff (perhaps it is the edamame but reconstituted?) filled with a small amount of surprisingly large-grain choclo (Peruvian) corn and topped with parmesan cheese. The smoked mayonnaise topping and bottoming, which held the bites to their paper base, was well liked by my colleagues around the table.

These Hokkaido scallops were quite special, presented in a huacatay (Peruvian black mint) butter, tangy acevichado (ceviche-like) salsa, and tiny balls of arare cracker. The scallops were sweet with a nice torch-born sear to them. The sauce that they were bathed in was both creamy and citrusy, while the lightly puffed arare cracker added additional textural interest, like tiny rice puffs. I would recommend eating this with a spoon to not miss out on all of those beautiful flavours in the sauce.

While not all colleagues around the table were impressed by the ceviche de pulpo, I actually thought it was quite good. This was a classic-ish ceviche with a nice tender octopus instead of fish, bathed in a marinade of lime juice and spices, and served with cancha corn, or toated corn kernals. My partner, lover of citrus but hater of certain seafoods, enjoyed this dish, as did I. I thought the flavours were quite bright and fresh, and again enjoyed the variety of textures and flavours offered by the crunchy toasted corn.

The causa sushi is in my opinion an attempt to innovate just a little too much. On offer was a piece of scampi nigiri topped with ikura, and a piece of yellowfin tuna gunkan each. The twist here is that Nikkei has used a mashed-potato base as opposed to rice, an ingredient we were told is common in Peruvian cuisine. While I had a bit of hesitation to eat raw scampi (thinking back to this allergic reaction I had at Moxhe) I told my two anaesthetic colleagues that I was for full resus and went to town on the first scampi I’ve had in a very long time. I think I might have become desensitised.

The seafood was fine, the scampi was sweet and the cubed tuna a little spicy and actually quite tasty. Unfortunately I wish they had just stuck with rice though, as the texture of the causa just didn’t do it for me. Poor rice in sushi can mean the difference between good sushi and bad sushi, and not-rice sushi just makes it all that much worse.

The wagyu maki that followed renewed my sadness that the causa sushi was not just regular sushi. The rice in this was actually quite good. The lightly seared thinly sliced MBS8+ rib eye was well liked by one of my learned colleagues, though to be honest I was less of a fan of the meat itself, but still a fan of the overall package. I enjoyed the mixture of yakinku sauce and anticucho sauce, a sauce we were told was commonly used in Peru for grilled chicken, as well as the crunchiness of the vegetables rolled inside the warm sushi rice.

The chuleta de cerdo was again another dish that was well liked by all the friends around the table except me. I personally thought that the Tokachi-style kurobota pork rib eye was a bit too fatty for me – certainly there was enough lean meat to go around, but perhaps my first piece was just 40% fat and it just set a bad tone for the rest of the dish. I can’t criticise the meat’s tenderness or sweet-savoury flavour, but it is just unfortunate that the texture of the first bite was offputting. What I did enjoy thoroughly in this dish was the delicious sweet potato chips, which were thin, tasty, and went well with just a bit of the meat’s sauce. This dish was served with some charred lemon to squeeze onto the meat, but I didn’t find that it improved my experience. Again – the three other diners on the table universally loved this pork but I just need to tell you how I feel.

I wasn’t crazy about the ensalada de verano. I thought that while they did innovate a little with some spicy yuzu kosho, the leaves were a bit bitter. Whatever. It’s vegetable.

This matcha alfajor dulce de leche ice cream sandwich was actually quite good. A bit difficult to crack without smushing the ice-cream out from under the biscuit, but really quite pleasant tasting. Not too sweet.

THOUGHTS
I quite enjoyed the opportunity to eat all of these Peruvian ingredients (particularly interesting corns and sauces) that I’ve never had the chance to eat before. Some of it was quite different, but still tempered in the familiarity of all the Japanese food that my partner and I tend to eat. I quite enjoyed the raw seafood based dishes at the start, moreso than the cooked dishes towards the end, but I do think that overall Nikkei gets a recommendation from me. Many blessings to this crew. (I also enjoyed the unobtrusive but good and knowledgeable service.)

Featured colleagues: AG, LMMH

Nikkei Bar & Restaurant
216 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 8880 9942

Categories
Japanese Korean

By Sang – Rosebery NSW Restaurant Review

We had a weekday dinner at By Sang, a relatively new Japanese restaurant with some Korean influence sitting on the old Sanpo site in Rosebery, opting for the $70 per person 6 course degustation and the addition of the futomaki. Though not everything lived up to expectations, certain elements of our meal were actually quite good.

We started with the WA Scallop Tataki with salmon roe, and finger lime. The scallops used in this dish were plump and sweet, and matched well with the tangy flavours of the yuzu dressing and finger lime. I wasn’t sure if the greenery was meant to be eaten, and ultimately it remained untouched as we consumed the seafood. I thought this entree was definitely not bad, though my partner wasn’t a huge fan. I think this dish usually comes with some creme fraiche, but ours did not.

The sashimi dish consisted of slices of atlantic salmon, Ora king salmon, red emperor, cuttlefish, kingfish, and tuna (akami). The choice of using both regular salmon and king salmon (also known as chinook salmon) was an interesting one that I would not have made, though I guess perhaps it was a way to introduce novice salmon eaters to the higher quality of king salmon by way of direct comparison. The sashimi course was as fine as most sashimi generally is, though I did feel that the kingfish tasted a bit unusual.

The futomaki (?$35 supplement) of akami, toro, tamago, takuan, scallop, uni, and ikura was an unfortunate weak point. Though enticed by the inclusion of premium elements like uni and toro in this roll, we found that the mish mash of multiple seafoods and flavours per bite-sized piece made it exceedingly difficult to appreciate any individual element. While the overall flavour was good and certainly not bad, we just found ourselves disappointed that this is where we were steered towards when we asked our very enthusiastic waiter about the toro nigiri special. We probably should’ve ordered that instead.

The NSW wagyu tartare with ssamjang, garlic ponzu, wasabi aioli, parsley, and potato crisps was up next. This menu item should’ve been a slam dunk given our recent fondness for steak tartare and my partner’s general love of all things potato, but was again unfortunately a bit of a let down. My main criticisms here would be that the meat itself had a bit of an unfortunate chewiness to the texture, whilst the flavouring was too heavy of sesame oil and salt to my liking. op/;.This really was a Korean fusion take on the classic French dish, and whilst I love my Asian fusion cuisine in general, not all attempts at innovating on a classic are going to be successful. In comparison, the Korean fusion beef tartare at Soul Dining in Surry Hills is a master-stroke, and should be considered first port of call before the one at By Sang.

The NSW sand whiting tempura with papaya salad and white ponzu was a turning point in the meal. While I couldn’t identify any papaya, the moistness of the fish deep fried in a light tempura batter as well as the grated salad and citrus dressing were all very pleasant.

The second consecutive cooked fish dish of the night, the NT Humpty Doo barramundi with grilled wombok and Japanese butter curry was also very good. The fish was grilled to perfection, with a nice crispy skin and moist flesh. The butter curry sauce was particularly good, with a light flavour that tasted a level or two more complex than your average grocery store Japanese curry.

Our first choice of dessert was the Hitachino beer ice-cream, which came impaled by a bit of crispy biscuit and resting on a bed of crumbs. The ice cream was really special, with a pleasant sweetness intermingled with a distinct but unoffensive beer taste. Though our waiter told us that they don’t make their ice cream in house, I can’t actually find anywhere else online to buy this – and believe me I tried.

Our second choice of dessert was the Peanut Brittle Miso Caramel Sando, which while looking like a giant macaron was more of an ice cream sandwich. Also quite good.

THOUGHTS
There were a few hits and a few misses at our first visit to By Sang, though our experience got markedly better once the cooked food and desserts started rolling out. If I could do it all again I would skip the tasting menu, skip the futomaki and tartare, and go straight to the a la carte menu. I also expect that as the restaurant matures some of their kinks will be worked out and menu optimised. I do hope they keep on their current staff though, who were very attentive but not to the point of being overbearing. Whatever they do, I really hope they keep the beer ice cream on the menu.

By Sang
304/1-9 Rothschild Ave, Rosebery NSW 2018
(02) 7251 9251

Categories
Asian Fusion Fine Dining Modern Australian

Odd Culture – Newtown NSW Restaurant Review

Fermented things have recently and unfortunately become my enemy, and so naturally one of my last dines of the year was had at one of Newtown’s newest wine bars with a focus on cultured and fermented foods.

The Beer Bread ($5 for 3 pieces) was your classic house-made sourdough with salted cultured butter. It wasn’t mindblowing, but it did actually have a bit of a beery flavour to it, which made it many times more interesting than yet another bread. And a soft, salted butter and bread is always a winning combination.

The delightfully small and expensive fish on toast ($10 each) was an interesting and probably South East Asian inspired mouthful of mango and fish. The toast base was extremely buttery, with a mouthfeel that reflected its many unseen layers. The scallop sashimi, as well as possibly some other white fish, was soft and sweet, and complimented by the soft ripe mango. The jalapeno advertised was not easily found. This was a really great snack, but I wish it were a bit larger or a bit less expensive.

The beef tartare ($20) was a bit different to the normal formed slab of raw meat, instead in this mixed in with puffed rice and seasonings. Herbs were used to great effect in this dish, imparting a unique flavour. It was however a little bit physically difficult to eat, and a bit of cracker would’ve gone a long way.

Recently burned by a $12 fermented tomato, I was a bit hesitant and wary about the tomato dish, ($22). It turned out however that I was foolish in my concern, as one taste of this tomato dish was able to justify their price. The tomato in this dish was fresh but umami, and delightfully sour but also tempered by the creamy soy milk yoghurt on top. It was an unexpected but wonderful fresh type dish, even suitable for vegan-types.

The chicken liver pate ($16) was really good. I particularly enjoyed the thick cut and lightly salted potato crisps, which had such an amazing crunch that is probably better than any other potato crisp I’ve ever had. They had the perfect size and structural integrity to scoop up (probably too many) gobs of rich, silky smooth chicken liver pate and deliver them to my mouth. The fish sauce caramel base was inventive and delicious, and while my girlfriend didn’t like this dish she was wrong. I only wish that these same chips could’ve been available to scoop up the beef tartare.

The blood pancake ($26) with pork jowl, fried egg, and maple syrup was much sweeter than I thought it would be. Looking at the photo and ingredients list you would likely imagine a savoury dish, but the truth of the matter was that even if the pancake had been savoury in and of itself, the swimming pool of maple syrup would’ve taken care of that. Despite the pork jowl and blood, the pancake was ultimately only a little bit savory, the majority of the flavour coming from the maple syrup which soaked through the entire cake. While I did enjoy the interesting texture, I think ultimately this leaned too much into the sickly sweet side of the flavour scale.

The koji roasted chicken ($42) was good but not a revelation. Juicy, succulent and tender, the chicken was well cooked, with a koji-miso flavour. I didn’t realise that there was congee in the dish, which I am only just seeing now looking at the photo. That might have added something to the experience, but really (and my girlfriend will attest to this) I can cook something similar and not spend $42 doing it.

This semifreddo ($16) with black sesame and white chocolate was very good. Specific details escape me but even the bed of crumbs was delicious.

The panna cotta ($14) with fig leaf and blueberry was visually interesting but orally mediocre. A good choice if you like juicy stewed berries, but a boring choice if you can choose the semifreddo instead.

COMMENTS
Overall I quite enjoyed our meal at Odd Culture. Many of the dishes were very good, and even the least good dishes were at least OK. I’d probably not go again until their menu changes, but could recommend it to a colleague or friend. The chairs were sadly not comfortable.

Odd Culture Newtown
266 King St, Newtown NSW 2042
(02) 8317 3057