Social Hideout – Parramatta NSW Restaurant Review

Social Hideout is one of my least favourite cafes in Parramatta, and judging from the number of posts on this blog I feel like I have a broad-enough experience to hold an opinion on this. My first encounter with Social Hideout was in 2018, when my partner took me at the end of a run of ward cover night shifts (my last ever), at the start of my annual leave. Though this was well before the creation of this blog, and before I really started thinking about keeping track of what was good and what was bad, I remember my impression being that the cafe had seemingly spent a lot of effort in decorating, and perhaps could’ve better spent that energy into its food. I have the photos from that September 10, 2018 visit, though given it’s been so long and I honestly have no idea how it tasted I don’t think there’s really any point in my sharing them now. We had a red velvet latte, a taro latte, poached eggs on beetroot toast, and a french toast.

This first visit all the way back in my first year out in the real world of employment and dining out must have left a serious impact on my psyche however, as I spent the next four years trying to avoid going back, until I couldn’t. Dragged by my tail from the exhausted safety of my workplace Entrada Centre in Parramatta by a group of colleagues, I was to remember why I didn’t like this place.

The decor at Social Hideout remains as floral as ever, and though I had hoped that perhaps time and iteration might have resulted in some improvements in their food menu I was disappointed. The Lamb and Cheese Pot of Gold ($22.90) was an extremely salty mixture of tomato, slow cooked pulled lamb, beans, miso mushrooms, and labneh served with sourdough bread and butter. In my opinion this is definitely a dish that looks and reads better than it tasted – I just can’t understate how salty it was, the only saving grace being the bread, while it lasted.

I was glad to hear that opinions were not merely held by me, but also a number of my colleagues, who did not love their chicken-waffle dishes.

Ultimately I think that some cafe-goers want a place where they can take cute photos of their food with attractive floral backdrops, and some just want a place to have a nice meal. Some places manage to do both – the similarly named Social Society in Zetland (and actually quite close to Social Hideout’s Waterloo branch) comes to mind, but in my opinion Social Hideout just doesn’t cut the mustard.

My top alternative recommendations in Parramatta are Circa, Lil Miss Collins, and Homage.

Social Hideout Parramatta
2a/20 Victoria Rd, Parramatta NSW 2150

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?

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.

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

Café Modern Australian

COOH – Alexandria NSW Restaurant Review

COOH’s Bourke Road restaurant has long been on my list of places to eat at this year. We’ve driven past it countless times on our way to the other restaurants, but it’s taken us over nine months of living in the area to finally pay a visit.

COOH is situated in a high-ceilinged warehouse on Bourke Road. There is no parking available, and minimal street parking in the area, so we did a sneaky and parked at Grounds of Alexandria around the corner. It is a beautiful, large room setup, with a large bar and kitchen area on show. We had lunch on a Wednesday, the same time as what appeared to be a local mum and bubs group.

The potato chips with aioli ($8) were salty and ultimately unsatisfying. It is difficult to pinpoint what was wrong with them, and it was probably more a constellation of things that did not quite meet the mark. We found that we were quite aioli dependent with these chips, and ran out of the aioli early. Luckily we were able to get additional aioli at no charge.

I ordered the seared tuna with a spice crust, spiralised salad, jalapeno salsa, and avocado puree ($26). This was a dish I was quite excited about – there are some beautiful photos online of essentially sashimi tuna with a seared crust, and that’s what I thought I would be getting. I was wrong. The tuna that I ate today was almost fully cooked through, nowhere near as rare or raw as expected. While I enjoyed the flavours in the spiced crust I felt like the overcooking lead to a strange and unpleasant texture – no better than what I could make by myself at home. I enjoyed the spiralised salad, as well as the avocado puree, and thought the plating was quite nice. I could not identify any jalapeno salsa, and indeed didn’t realise it was meant to be part of it until I took another look at the menu whilst writing this review. I would not recommend this dish.

The Morrocan lamb and quinoa ($28) I enjoyed even less than the seared tuna. Most disappointing was the inexplicable lukewarm temperature of the lamb, almost as if it had been cooked and left to rest for far too long. The quinoa was also cold, which I just don’t feel goes well with a meat such as lamb, which is meant to be served hot. I enjoyed every other element of the dish – the plating, the mint yoghurt, the sweet potato, currants, and pomegranate seeds, but unfortunately the two title ingredients were a let down.

My trip to COOH was ultimately a let down. I didn’t really enjoy anything we had, despite the restaurant having generally good reviews online. My partner had good things to say about the space, and even considered it for some kind of formal occasion in the future, however the food was such a let down that it would be a veto.

Not my cup of quinoa.

COOH Bourke Road
90-96 Bourke Rd, Alexandria, NSW, Australia
(02) 9002 1333

Asian Fusion Fine Dining Korean

Soul Dining – Surry Hills NSW Tasting Menu Review

This is a review of the Soul Dining modern Korean tasting menu as at 13th November 2020. All portions shown were served for 3 people, at $65 per person.

Our first dish was Kingfish in kimchi water with avocado puree, white kimchi. We had six pieces between the three of us to be eaten in one mouthful each. The kingfish sashimi was tender and fresh. The avocado puree added a surprising dimension of creamy umami. The kimchi water added a mild tanginess that was not too kimchi for my partner (an anti-kimchi individual) to eat and enjoy.

The wagyu tartare with singo pear and egg yolk (yukhoe) served on tempura seaweed was special. The wagyu was soft and minced and the egg yolk mixed in expertly by my partner coated it with a level of umami. The tempura seaweed provided a nice crunch for a fun mix of textures. A great dish.

Kim’s grilled eggplant with anchovy paste, tomato jam, manchego

Kim’s grilled eggplant with anchovy paste, tomato jam, manchego was in my opinion the weakest dish of the meal . I guess I’m not a big fan of eggplant and the histamine feeling in the mouth and throat to begin with. I could not at all identify the anchovy paste. The manchego shaved over the eggplant provided a nice sweetness, and melted by the end of the dish.

Lamb backstrap in potato bun with cabbage salad, green tomato relish, cumin

The Lamb backstrap in potato bun with cabbage salad, green tomato relish, cumin was also a bit weak. The lamb backstrap was steak-form, not minced, and crumbed. It didn’t really feel like more than your standard burger. I wonder if our three person serving was the same size as the two person servings, but just cut in 3 pieces. My partner took a fork and picked up the middle piece first. She thought it was a bit too lamby and could’ve used more cumin, however both myself and her brother thought that the lambiness was just fine. This was one of the favourite courses for my partner’s brother.

The Half free range chicken ‘traditional way’ with Korean chilli glaze is basically Korean fried chicken with a twist. The chicken was fried but not battered. The meat was tender and juicy, and my partner thought it was more tender and juicy than the crispy chicken at Khoi’s Vietnamese in Surry Hills that we had had the previous night. The presentation was really nice with a nice mix of colours. A good dish.

Cinnamon Churros with espresso glaze, salted caramel ice cream, sea salt and coffee peanuts

The Cinnamon Churros with espresso glaze, salted caramel ice cream, sea salt and coffee peanuts would be my pick of dessert. The churros were nice and crunchy. I am not normally a fan of salted caramels and while it was true again today I did not mind it. I liked the difference in temperatures between the churros and cold ice cream.

Snow bingsoo with baked mango, mango sorbet, milk snow, honey and nutmeg

As a non-fan of honey, I actually quite enjoyed the honey in this Snow bingsoo with baked mango, mango sorbet, milk snow, honey and nutmeg. What I didn’t enjoy so much was the sheer volume of baked mango which added too strong a concentrated, sticky, and dry mangoness to this mango dessert. Despite this I enjoyed this bingsoo more than the last time I had bingsoo at Hello Happy in Strathfield.

The house provided this Green tea panna cotta with chantilly cream & strawberries, dango, rice syrup dessert for us for free. It was very generous of them to allow us to try all three desserts, as normally with two diners only one dessert is provided. It’s hard to judge this dessert as it was served last, after our palates had been sweetened by the previous two. The green tea panna cotta was not sweet.

The omija with five berries spritz was good. Not too sweet. The yuzu iced tea I thought was a bit too sweet, and not iced enough on serving. It could’ve done with a few more shakes to cool the liquid down a bit.

Overall we had a great meal at Soul Dining. Service from one of the Caucasian front of house staff was also very good. She was very friendly. $65 per person for a tasting menu of this caliber is also a very good price. I’d love to come back for a few more things on the a la carte menu, for example their octopus.

$210 for 3 diners including drinks
4.5/5 (lean 5)

SOUL Dining
204 Devonshire St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 8593 4957

Modern Australian

Ripples Chowder Bay – Mosman NSW Restaurant Review

In what was sure to be an unexpected outcome for Sydney Dining Group, the recent mention of Ripples Milsons Point amongst Sydney’s latest COVID-19 hotspots actually helped bring the Ripples brand to prominence, one of a few reasons why we chose to dine at Ripples Chowder Bay for dinner tonight. We felt that Ripples’ ability to avoid a major catastrophe with their previous COVID-19 case meant that the restaurant was likely to have good ventilation and hygiene practices. It was, after all, our friend’s first time out since we ate at Acre in June.

Of note, street parking was $18.50 for 3 hours. We overstayed (it was difficult to predict how long we’d be) but were not ticketed.

We were initially seated in a spacious dining room inside, but moved outside to attempt to find more cross ventilated pastures on the deck. Unfortunately, because of the adverse weather, the deck was covered in a thick plastic shroud – something I had experienced at one of Sydney Dining Group’s other restaurants, Aqua. This meant that the outside dining area actually put us in far closer proximity to other patrons, without an increase in air changes per hour – something that greatly worried one of my senior colleagues.

We started with a plate of Chorizo & Mozzarella Arancini (5 for $16). I enjoyed the arancini but found it difficult to spot the chorizo. My partner, a big-time arancini fan, was not impressed. This was, believe it or not, one of the best value dishes of the meal.

These king prawns with orange, fennel & chervil ($28) were such bad value that it should have been criminal. What we got for $28 were three little cooked prawns, and a bit of citrus salad. I savoured my $9’s worth of prawn, which I found to be sweet and yummy, as well as my few allocated orange and salad bits. Our consensus opinion was that this starter was OK in taste, AWFUL in value. I think any reasonable restaurant with a sense of decency would hesitate to charge more than $15 for this tiny dish.

My gastroenterology colleague’s pick of main was the Confit Duck with cabbage, wild rice & red wine jus ($38). I thought this duck was very good, however judging from the size it must have come from a very small duck, perhaps one that had just hatched not too long ago. This is the best confit duck that my partner and I have ever had, although that’s not saying much as we have tended to avoid confit duck from Western restaurants ever since our first few attempts. I enjoyed the tender and juicy nature of the meat, as well as the delicious red wine jus.

Whole Market Fish (baby snapper), Tomato, capers & zucchini ($42)

My senior colleague’s pick of main was the Whole Market Fish, Tomato, capers & zucchini ($42). The market fish of the day was baby snapper. I enjoyed this dish and had this the most as it was closest to me. I liked the generous serving of vegetables, as well as the nicely oven roasted white flesh. Quite wholesome and good value compared to the rest of the meal.

Lamb Rump with peas, zucchini, mint, yoghurt & lamb sauce ($38)

Our next main was the Lamb Rump with peas, zucchini, mint, yoghurt & lamb sauce ($38). I had only a very small corner piece so it is a bit difficult for me to describe it. I thought it was nice, however, for them to have cut it up into bite sized slices. I thought that the meat was better, more flavourful, and more tender than that at COOH, a recent comparison.

Green Beans with crispy eshallots & lemon oil

A side of Green Beans with crispy eshallots & lemon oil ($12) was shared, however my colleagues did not seem to keen for it. I was personally grateful for this high greenery dish.

The Soy Panna Cotta with pineapple, coconut, sugar sauce & coconut gelato ($16) was my senior intensive care colleague’s first introduction to the concept of panna cotta, but otherwise not memorable.

The White Chocolate Mousse with chocolate crumb, passionfruit & mango sorbet ($16) was memorable for its strong sour passionfruit taste, small size, and large price.

The Lemon Tart with pistachio, meringue & pistachio gelato ($16) was not bad, however not as good as similar lemon tarts at around the $7 mark.

Ripples at Chowder Bay was an expensive but ultimately forgettable meal. Whilst I enjoyed the roasted baby snapper and confit duck, pretty much everything else could have been skipped. This is especially true for the desserts, which were all boring and expensive. We paid $291 between the four of us for the above listed foods and a $65 bottle of middling red wine, and a bit of condescension from our waiter when we asked for a recommendation for said wine.

Ripples Chowder Bay was fine only in terms of the price.

3/5, don’t recommend.

Ripples Chowder Bay
Building 7 C, Chowder Bay Rd, Mosman NSW 2088
(02) 9960 3000