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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ramen Kaio is a new ramen restaurant that has opened up this month in Crow’s Nest. I was put onto Ramen Kaio by a guy who was previously big in the NSW HSC online forum space in 2010-11. He now works at PwC and I don’t know if he’d appreciate me putting his name on here.
The long and short of it is that Ramen Kaio has some of the best chashu I’ve ever had, and definitely the best that I’ve had in Australia. The chashu absolutely melts in your mouth, and according to their Facebook page they flame sear their meat just before serving.
I had the spicy ramen with level 3 spiciness and extra chashu. The level 3 was not as spicy as I would have liked, but I had to accommodate my partner who is less spice tolerant. The soup flavours were good, and I also enjoyed the included bamboo and bean sprouts which I thought I would have to pay extra for. I can definitely recommend getting extra chashu. It’s not that there’s not enough in the standard dish (indeed there is, they purposely cover half the bowl with it), it’s just that it’s so good.
The black garlic ramen was my partner’s pick, and one that we were less enthused by. The flavour was good, with a rich cooked garlic taste, but unfortunately we found the ramen as a whole to be too oily. I suspect that’s part and parcel of getting a black garlic ramen, and if it had been less oily it wouldn’t have been so garlicky. I would not get this particular dish again, but understand that others may like it.
I found the gyoza at Ramen Kaio to be underwhelming. There were only 4 for $7 or $8, and the flavour was quite mild and unexciting.
We also had the karaage chicken at Ramen Kiao. I liked that it wasn’t as battered as most, and the large chunks of chicken, but otherwise it was not special. My partner liked it less than me.
Overall I think Ramen Kaio does one thing well, and that’s their great cha-shu. None of the other stuff we tried really stood out. I’d recommend giving the place a visit, just for their cha-shu ramen alone. Save your money and skip the sides and the $9 beer.