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Japanese

Lantern by Wagaya – Sydney CBD Japanese Restaurant Review

The third convening of the Intensive Care Japanese Cuisine Research Society occurred on the 25th of October 2020 at Lantern by Wagaya in the Sydney CBD. The location, a mixed-purpose karaoke bar and Japanese restaurant run by Chinese people was chosen as it was one of the few venues that could accommodate us late in the evening. Our original plan was to choose a place that would be suitable to host our colleagues finishing work at 8:30PM, and while the kitchen at Lantern closes at 9PM, the venue itself is open until 2AM.

Ordering was via a touchscreen tablet system. There was an extensive alcohol menu which we did not really partake in. This same company runs Sushi Hotaru in the Galeries, which is as far more sushi focused venture.

The wagyu beef skewers (2 for $13) were miniature and expensive. One of my colleagues said that he enjoyed the tender texture of the meat, but I couldn’t really tell that it was wagyu. Nothing to write home about.

The agedashi soft shell crab with tofu ($11.30) was a good size for the price and venue, however I felt like the flavour was lacking. The crab did not feel fresh to me, and I wouldn’t recommend getting this one.

The salt garlic fried chicken (karaage) ($10.50) was also a good size, however I did not enjoy it either. My colleague who enjoyed the wagyu skewers was quite keen on this and wanted to order more, but personally I did not think it had a fresh taste to it either. I would go so far as to say that it didn’t taste or feel like it was freshly fried, but I wonder what shenanigans would have to be going on behind the scenes for that to be the case.

I feel like a broken record but I don’t think the takoyaki ($7.90) was special either.

I actually thought the homemade dumplings (5 for $8.80) were quite good. Probably a reflection of the staff’s Chinese background.

Chicken yakitori was, similar to the wagyu skewers, small and expensive. I did enjoy their taste however, and thought that the chicken was tender and cooked well. I guess it is something that’s hard to do too badly.

The Salmon Chazuke ($8.50) was one of the stars of the meal. It consisted of a bowl of rice, topped with salmon, soaked in hot tea, and came strongly recommended from my senior colleague who had seen something similar in the TV show “Tokyo Midnight Diner”. I really enjoyed the warmth and wholesome feeling that this bowl gave me. It is great value, and a must try at Lantern.

The aburi salmon nigiri ($11.50) was good and priced reasonably. The portions were large, and the flavour was not muddled by excess sauce, which is a problem many restaurants face. A recommendation.

I could’ve lived without the dragon roll ($14), which was eel sushi topped with lotus root. It was my first ever fried lotus root and not that memorable.

I enjoyed the seared kingfish handroll ($4.50). One of my colleagues ordered a chilli cod roe and tuna hand roll ($4.50) – reportedly middling, and the other the soft shell crab hand roll ($4.80) – unreported.

Our first big ticket item was the assorted daily sashimi ($40.80). Unfortunately it only came with 3 pieces of the fish and egg, so I can only do a partial review from personal experience. I enjoyed the salmon – I thought the quality was quite good. The octopus had a nice sweetness to it, as did the scallop. The oyster was served natural, however both myself and my intrepid colleague added in our own lemon sauce vinaigrette. The tamago was soft and passable not not a specialty. My partner did not enjoy the tuna sashimi however I cannot say on personal experience. I do not know about the scampi and was too afraid to even ask about it as I did not want to get a sympathetic allergic reaction.

The large beef sukiyaki with extra beef ($34.50) was an unexpected hit with the boys. We were treated to a large bowl of tofu, mushrooms and vegetables, and 12 slices of beef in total which we cooked ourselves. The taste was good, however I would recommend asking for some rice to go with it. I would also recommend loading up on extra beef, especially if you’re not going to get a mountain of other dishes that we got. Every $5 gets you 4 slices of beef.

Overall we spent $225 between the four of us on the food listed above, as well as an additional ume chazuke ($8) and a yuzu sparkling jelly sake 180mL ($9.80). I thought that most of the entree-style food was a bit middling, but the sukiyaki, sashimi, and chazuke were good. I was initially keen to get a booth for more privacy, however they were offered at $6/person/hour, which was too much for us, especially as we had no intention of doing karaoke. The restaurant was pretty empty though, and it didn’t really make a difference in the end.

While I had a good time with my friends and colleagues, the good time did not stem from the food itself, but rather the company. I would think twice before bringing colleagues back to Lantern by Wagaya.

2.5/5 carrots.

Lantern by Wagaya
591 George St, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9283 8828

Categories
Japanese

Spanish Sakaba – Willoughby NSW Restaurant Review

The suburbs North of the bridge are full of Japanese-flavoured adventures, however they are can be difficult to access to us mere mortals. My South Eastern Sydney colleagues had previously had dinner at Spanish Sakaba, but missed out on their famous wagyu ramen. We therefore made a special decision to cross the bridge for a second time as a group to give it a go.

The Yuzu slushy ($8.80) was quite good, but very expensive and small.

The deep fried wagyu gyoza (4 for $10) were pretty good. The filling was more complex than the usual cabbage pork stuff that you get at most Japanese restaurants in Sydney. My brave senior colleague had the great idea to ask for an extra gyoza for an extra fee, so that we could each have one.

We each ordered a Trio Wagyu Ramen ($29.29), which was served in a large, hat-like dish (see above). This was a mixture of oxtail, sliced beef, and tri-tip in a thick chicken and beef soup. I liked this, however thought that the fatty meats made the soup too thick and rich. Apparently the wagyu oxtail ramen without the other two meats comes with a lighter soup.

The chef served the five of us a complimentary wagyu salad with horseradish dressing. In my opinion this was actually the best dish of the meal, and we were so surprised that we were offered it for free. It was really delicious, and it had plenty of just-charred meat. The horseradish dressing added a great flavour to the dish. I would honestly pay for this if I could, but I don’t think it’s even on the menu.

The Angus Beef Katsu with Chips ($27.80) was not what I expected. First off, $28 is a super expensive for a burger and chips. My colleague who had been here before said that it was a classic Japanese burger – I thought this would be some epic level hamburg. What it actually was was a katsu crumbed beef steak with cabbage and tonkatsu sauce. I thought it was good, but not great, and definitely not $28 great. The chips were fine. Normal shoestring chips.

The Chips with Osaka sauce ($7.50) were just fine. Neither strong nor weak.

My overall verdict is: good, expensive. Avoid beef burger. Get beef salad (try to order off the menu)

Spanish Sakaba
537 Willoughby Rd, Willoughby NSW 2068
(02) 9967 0575

Spanish Sakaba Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Japanese

Kibuna – Mascot NSW Japanese Restaurant Review

Look. This is a difficult one. I’ve been to Kibuna numerous times since I’ve moved to the area. Some of their food hit well, some of them miss.

I’m a stan for their Okayama crumbed oyster. (not pictured). It is a must get.

Their soft shell crab roll is only ok.

The spicy teriyaki chicken don got me through a night shift once, it was the only thing to live for at the time, but it was not perfect.

I once had ox tongue that I thought was ox tail (what a surprise).

The swordfish collar was a daily special and a bit fishy for me.

Their ramen (not pictured) is a bit forgettable. I’ve had their pork negi chashu ramen, chicken yokozuna ramen, and their pork spicy tantan ramen and none really wowed me.

Overall a good place and I will be eating here again, hopefully eating in rather taking away. Skip the gyoza.

4/5

Kibuna
1123 Botany Rd, Mascot NSW 2020
(02) 8338 8688

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Japanese

Manpuku – Kingsford NSW Restaurant Review

We dined in early July 2020, just as COVID-19 social distancing restrictions had started to be eased in NSW. I was very impressed by Manpuku’s commitment to hygiene and social distancing, and even looking back on our visit four months later the care that they took to protect their patrons and staff was outstanding.

Okonomi sticks (2 for $7) , with bonito, sauce, mayonnaise were way too sauced and tasty for me. Good portion size for price, but I wasn’t a fan.

Gyoza were completely non-memorable

Karaage Curry

The Karaage Curry ($18) was the most special Japanese curry I have ever eaten. The chicken karaage was stock standard, good. What was special was the curry sauce, which had beef meat and offal stewed inside it, giving it a complex and beefy taste. The serving was quite large, and the ratio of curry sauce and chicken karaage to rice was perfect. I can recommend it.

Kono Deaini Kanshashite Aijou to Jonetsu Komete Isshoukenmei Tsukutta Uchirano Icchan Sukina Manpuku Shiawase Ramen

Manpuku’s self-proclaimed specialty ramen is the Kono Deaini Kanshashite Aijou to Jonetsu Komete Isshoukenmei Tsukutta Uchirano Icchan Sukina Manpuku Shiawase Ramen. This name does not actually describe the ingredients, which is a ramen with soy based chicken and pork broth. They say that they are the only store that has this ramen, however I guess any restaurant could say the same if they strung together random words in a row. I didn’t think the ramen tasted really special. Their curry was more suited to be called a specialty.

4/5

I’d take a mate here for the curry alone

Manpuku Kingsford
482 Anzac Parade, Kingsford 2032
02 9662 1236

Categories
Japanese

Nakano Darling – Darling Square Sydney CBD Izakaya Review

Is it a restaurant? Is it a bar? The answer is it’s probably both. I had walked past Nakano Darling in Darling Square n-number of times before a few of my colleagues decided we’d get dinner and drinks there one October night. I had never been keen on Nakano – after all, what kind of izakaya doesn’t offer yakitori? – but was willing to give it ago.

We went on a weekend evening after work, which meant that while parking was literally right next to the restaurant, it cost $8 instead of the usual $5. We shared a 300mL bottle of kizakura sake ($22) between the four of us, a can of nonalcoholic fuji apple cider each ($4), as well as a variety of nibbles. Allow me to elaborate further.

Chicken Karaage, yu-rinchi

This is the largest serving of chicken karaage ($24), with which we paid an additional $2 each for mentai mayo and yu-rinchi dipping sauce. I really liked the karaage. It had a surprising tangy vinegary flavour that is nonstandard for karaage and thus I had not anticipated. This sour and delicious marinade made me want to keep on eating the chicken. The mentai mayo and yu-rinchi dipping sauces ended up being a bit superflous in my opinion. The yu-rinchi was mostly untouched, and the mentai mayo ended up being used for other dishes. The karaage stood strongly on its own flavouring.

chive and egg omlette

This was the chive and egg omelette ($9.90) which was mostly nonremarkable. I liked that it was not overcooked and that the egg was still somewhat yolky, however think that it would have been better if the chives were more finely chopped so that they could be more evenly distributed throughout the dish. It had a subtle and nonmemorable flavour to it.

corn butter

The corn butter ($11.50) had sweet corn in butter and cheese. I did not personally enjoy it, however I cannot speak for my colleagues. This is a dish you would commonly see at a budget Korean diner.

stir fried wagyu

The stir fried wagyu ($11.50) was the biggest disappointment of the night. It had a mere 4 tiny pieces of beef for us to share, and indeed was more full of capsicum and other vegetables. Truly an unenjoyable disappointment.

The gyoza (3 rows for $24) was some of the best gyoza I have ever had. Probably the best. They came out super fresh and piping hot, and the meaty and juicy fillings stand out above any other gyoza I have had at a restaurant in recent times. We loved it so much that we ended up getting a second serving at the end of our meal.

Overall I found that the gyoza and karaage are standouts among the food, while the others were quite missable. We did ask for some mackerel and were not told that it was unavailable until we queried it about an hour later. The overall vibe of the place was very nice and authentic, with many reminders posted in our booth to drink and be loud in each other’s company.

Definitely a place to visit with a group of friends. Not a place to go by yourself or as a couple. Can recommend, and could recommend even more if they added yakitori to their offerings.

UPDATE – 03/03/2021

Nakano Darling was the restaurant that started it all for our group of intrepid intensive care foodies, and after a further 21 meals together we found ourselves back at this Darling Square izakaya. We were keen to try some of the items that we had missed out on during our last visit, as well as some new menu items and old favourites – the gyoza and chicken karaage.

Orion beer tower was $48 for 2L. Our health minded group did not have the power to finish it between the four of us.

The chives and egg omelette ($9.90) had actually completely changed from our last visit in October 2020. The omelette’s construction is now far more loose and soft, with less of a hard flat surface than before. The taste and texture of the omelette is now improved, and I actually quite enjoyed it.

The vinegar cured mackerel (shimesaba) ($11.50) – a cold dish that is heated by a torch just prior to serving, was actually pretty great. The vinegar marinade soaked well into the mackerel’s flesh, producing a sour-umami hit with each bite. I’m glad we were able to come back for this, as it had been sold out on our previous visit.

The takowasa ($5.90), a small dish of raw octopus heavily flavoured with wasabi. It was a bit of an adventurous order but actually turned out to be quite nice. The octopus was chopped into very small bits and had a really crisp texture when chewed. The flavour was good and fresh, though I can’t say much for the COVID-safety of the dish (2 of our 4 have been already received the Pfizer vaccine though, with one more scheduled to receive it the following day).

Following on from the octopus theme, the octopus karaage ($8.50) was unfortunately a bit more boring than the rest of the meal. It was just a standard dish of octopus, battered and deep fried, served with a wedge of lemon. Nothing special to see here.

The Japanese Beef Curry with croquette ($15) was nice but not really a plate amenable to sharing. The beef was cooked straight into the curry sauce, with bits of muscle, fat, and connective tissue mixed in. The option of topping (karaage, croquette, cheese, or mini veg) was a bit limiting, and we would’ve liked to have been able to order multiple toppings as add ons. Generally a good curry though, with the sauce being a standout, similar to though just slightly beaten by Manpuku’s in Kingsford.

VERDICT
I can definitely recommend Nakano Darling as a place to drink and eat with your friends and colleagues. 5 stars.

Nakano Darling
14 Steam Mill La, Haymarket NSW 2000
(02) 8957 4301