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Asian Fusion Café Japanese

Devon – Surry Hills NSW Restaurant Review

My partner and I are big fans of Dopa – Devon’s offshoot donburi restaurant in Darling Square. We’ve been going regularly over the past few months, however it had been a long time since we had dined at the mothership in Surry Hills.

We went suckered in by pictures of uni laden foods on instagram, and I made my partner promise me that she would let us leave and eat somewhere else if they had run out (as is often the case at Dopa, I’m sick of being baited and switched).

We dined on a Sunday morning in an empty restaurant, much different to how it was like when we had last dined in 2019. As predicted, they were out of uni, however a craving for a pork katsu sandwich prevented us from leaving.

My partner had a matcha latte while I, as an inferior Asian, had an iced matcha soy latte. While I can’t speak for my partner’s drink, I can say that my iced matcha soy latte was not as good as the one that I had at 101kissa. There was just something so powdery and nice about the iced matcha soy lattte from 101kissa, whereas this one was a weird blend of sweet and bitter that didn’t tickle my tastebuds in quite the right way.

Devon’s pork katsu sando ($16) is cut into two portions and served in a cardboard box. The sauce is spread evenly through the sandwich, which is a selling point, however this is where the compliments end. I felt that the pork itself was not as juicy or tender as in the pork katsu sandwich I had at Cafe Kentaro. I also felt that the sandwich was overbreaded, with the bread to filling ratio too great, adding an unneeded and unwanted blandness to the taste. The size and construction of the sandwich halves were also inferior to the three pieces at Kentaro, and made the sandwich difficult to eat.

While Devon’s pork katsu sando probably stands fine on its own to a person who has never had a good pork katsu sando, it fails in comparison to that at Kentaro, a few kilometres away.

I didn’t enjoy the salted egg yolk cheesy curly fries ($13). Perhaps it’s because we’ve had just so much salted egg yolk foods in the past few weeks that I’m sick of it, but I think the more likely reason is that these chips were oily but dry. Their thinness did not help, as the higher surface area to volume ratio increased the radiative heat loss from the food, making them too cool and yucky too quickly.

My partner ordered the omurice with salmon sashimi in ponzu sauce. We were quite surprised to find that the omurice was served separately to the salmon. The salmon was cold but the omurice was warm. While the omurice itself was quite delicious with its mushroomy gravy, I don’t think it really worked as a combination. I wonder if it’s the responsibility of the wait staff to sway you away from bad choices. Either way, that was not what happened here. What happened here was a thoroughly noncohesive dish.

I’m sad to say that I didn’t really enjoy our trip to Devon. While I love their rice bowls at their Haymarket offshoot Dopa, our trip back to the mothership was disappointing.

Devon Cafe
76 Devonshire St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9211 8777

Categories
Café Japanese

Kurumac – Marrickville NSW Cafe Review

Kurumac’s hanging basketball

Kurumac is one of the first Asian cafes I ever visited, and one of the ones that got me hooked on the concept. An inner-west spin off of Kirribilli’s cool mac, Kurumac delivers some of the best and only Japanese-focused breakfast and brunch in the city, with the added benefit of not having to rub shoulders with the sleazy political types that haunt its North Shore sister. While most Asian cafes do their best to fuse both Asian and Western flavours, Kurumac proudly serves a focused Japanese meal.

Assorted sashimi seafood, sushi rice, miso soup

The Assorted sashimi seafood, sushi rice, miso soup ($19 when eaten in June 2020, now sadly $25 in December 2020) is a revelation. It was the first and still one of the best sashimi bowls I’ve ever had. The top layer of salmon sashimi is lightly grilled and slightly sauced to perfection. The salmon roe is delicious and it is clear that they took effort to source some high quality produce. The scallops are sweet and fresh, as are the cooked prawns. The miso soup was the perfect accompaniment to the remaining rice at the end of the dish. While not mini in size, I would consider this a mini-version of Simulation Senpai’s Hoseki Bako, very high quality but missing some of the luxury elements.

Grilled samlon congee, salmon skin

The grilled salmon congee with crispy salmon skin ($17) was so good that we had it twice. The congee is warm and wholesome, with a nice serving of grilled salmon and a topping of delicious salmon roe and shallots. The grilled salmon provides a umami flavour that permeates the entire congee, while the crispy salmon skin on the side adds a delightful crunch with an additional burst of salt. The preserved vegetables on the side are more sweet than salty and thus help to add balance to the dish.

The Pickled mustard, Cod Roe Omlette, Rice, Tonjiru Pork and Veg Soup ($19) is the weakest of all of the dishes I’ve had at Kurumac. The top half of the egg was nice, but it wasn’t immediately obvious that the cod roe would be in discrete parcels of saltiness and spiciness rather than mixed in with the egg – this led to lost opportunities as it was quite a while into the dish that I found them. The soup of strong onion and radish taste was a bit too salty and tasted a bit too agricultural for me. I wouldn’t recommend this dish.

Spicy cod roe melt

The spicy cod roe melt ($12) is an expensive but delicious piece of toast with a huge amount of heavy, rich spicy mentai mayo on top. This was one of the dishes that rekindled my interest in cod roe, and I actually tried to recreate it at home to much less success. Not Kurumac’s healthiest dish, but well worth a try.

Japanese Style White Toast, Seaweed Butter

While the spicy cod roe melt is a heavy and decadent piece of bread, the Japanese Style White Toast with Seaweed Butter ($6) is much lighter. This is a simple dish of a very thick piece of toast (in my opinion it is too thick) and a small bowl of seaweed butter. The seaweed butter provides a nice umami flavour, but in my opinion is a bit too mild to enjoy with such a large quantity of bread, even when fully spread over the toast. This would suit individuals with a more delicate palate.

The seasonal milkshake ($9.50) changes with the season. Mine was a large kiwifruit milkshake made with gelato from Newtown’s Mapo (one of my favourite gelato stores). It is huge and expensive, served within the metal milkshake tumbler. I would recommend the Hojicha Milkshake, available for the same price, if available.

The Latte ($4) is just normal coffee.

The Matcha Latte ($4.50) is quite good, served in a nice little stone cup. It is not sweetened.

CONCLUSION

You may be able to tell that I really like Kurumac. It’s one of my favourite cafes in Sydney, and I expect that as time passes and their menu changes you will also see new items added to this review.

5/5 basukettobōru.

Kurumac
107 Addison Rd, Marrickville NSW 2204
(02) 8593 9449

Kurumac Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Categories
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
Café Japanese

Sandoitchi – Darlinghurst NSW Cafe Review

You will recall from that last week I visited Cafe Oratnek in Redfern, where I ate a very green and legumey meal whilst I watched my senior intensive care colleague chow down on a deliciously juicy pork katsu sandwich. What you won’t recall (as I haven’t told you yet), is that I was struck down by such an acute and severe pork katsu sando envy that I went to Sandoitchi to get my hit the following day.

Pork sando

The pork katsu sando ($13) was disappointing. Where the katsu sandos from Oratnek and Kentaro are all thriller no filler, warm and delicious, Sandoitchi’s has more than its share of filler. The cold slab of cheese and various salads do nothing but ruin the temperature of the sandwich. The pork itself was nowhere near as juicy as its competitors, and the presentation also left something to be desired. I can’t recommend this sandwich.

Swordfish and bacon sandwich

The swordfish and bacon sandwich was actually very good. The swordfish was nice and tender, even for my partner, which was a major sticking point the last time she had swordfish. The bacon added a degree of salty umami that complemented the swordfish quite well, and this was overall a very nice package. I can recommend this.

The strawberry sando ($13) is pretty authentic to the classic Japanese convenience store strawberry sandwich, only at around four times the price. The strawberries are quite tart and don’t have much sweetness, but this is made up for by the sweet cream.

Coffee is by Single O, and just fine.

OVERALL
I came looking for a classic pork katsu sandwich, and in this regard I left disappointed. What did appeal to me, however, was the swordfish and bacon sandwich, which I hadn’t expected (it’s not on the online menu). If you’re looking for your classic pork katsu sando I think you’re best sticking with Kentaro in Surry Hills or Oratnek in Redfern. If you’re looking for something a bit different, Sandoitchi in Darlinghurst is a reasonable bet.

3.5 sands + 0.25 spooky witches / 5

Sandoitchi
Shop 3/113-115 Oxford St, Darlinghurst NSW 2010
0491 092 958

Categories
Café Japanese

Cafe Oratnek – Redfern NSW Restaurant Review

I first visited Cafe Oratnek in May 2020, before this blog existed. The height of the COVID-19 pandemic back in May meant that Oratnek was open for takeaway only at that time, and it was not until very recently that I had an opportunity to have an eat-in meal.

The main stars of the Oratnek menu are basically the same as that at its sister store Kentaro, a mere 1.2km away. The wisdom of opening two of essentially the same cafe within a 15 minute walk of each is, in my opinion, questionable, however both establishments seem to have a healthy amount of patronage. If I were in their shoes I would have rather done a North-South thing like Cool Mac and Kurumac (though there’s a lot of competition for Japanese food North of the bridge), or even have opened up the second store in an affluent, Asian-centric area like Eastwood or Strathfield.

There is plenty of outdoor seating for the COVID-paranoid, but the lack of cover over the courtyard of this terrace-style house means that the sun is very much blaring and angry. Something to be aware of – you might want to wear sunscreen.

Port Katsu Sandwich

Oratnek’s pork katsu sandwich ($16) is essentially the same as Kentaro’s – a thick pork cutlet, lightly battered and deep fried for a juicy, tender outcome sandwiched between Japanese bread, cabbage, and mustard. Compared to Kentaro’s I think that Oratnek’s is not as oversauced and has more cabbage, but I’m not sure which one I prefer more. Both are delicious.

On my second visit to Oratnek I recommended the pork katsu sandwich, a known quantity, to my senior intensive care colleague and ordered myself the Salmon Rillettes & Legumes On Toast ($16.50). Unfortunately for me I didn’t really realise just how much legume would be involved. There was really only a smattering of salmon rillette, which in my opinion wasn’t quite enough for the thick toast. The sheer greenery and legumery was overpowering, and I found it a marathon to finish all of the crisp legumes provided to me. While some Japanese chefs may have earned the title “Legume Magician”, I would hesitate to offer this title to Oratnek based on what was presented here. Given the weighted composition of the dish I would more readily recommend it to a vegan rather than someone with no dietary restrictions.

Matcha Brownie

The matcha brownie is yum. A little bit bitter, sweet but not too sweet.

The mentaiko linguine ($22) I had back in May was the first time I had had mentaiko anything in Australia. The mentaiko topping was creamy, and enough to coat all the strands of pasta. I really enjoyed this dish, however after the past six months of tastemaker development I now consider this to be a bit overpriced. Cod roe is readily found at Asian grocery stores and isn’t that expensive.

The Kobe Hayashi Rice ($23) I didn’t really enjoy. It may very well have been the travel time, though the lukewarm onion beefiness was quite disappointing to me. Reasonable to try again fresh.

My partner enjoyed the Classic Omurice ($20 – no pictures) but hilariously told me that she didn’t think it was quite a classic, authentic omurice (not knowing the name of the dish).

VERDICT
Oratnek and Kentaro have the best pork katsu sandwiches I’ve ever had in Australia. In that sense they offer something special and are worth paying a visit to. A few of their other dishes are a bit hit and miss, but it’s likely that you will find something else you like in Oratnek’s diverse Japanese menu.

A recommendation. Bring a hat.

Cafe Oratnek
4 Pitt St, Redfern NSW 2016
(02) 8394 9550