I’m a highly price-conscious consumer of food and other small luxuries, and while I will happily shell out for something truly special, sometimes I do need to be convinced that a meal is “worth it”.
I didn’t have any of this soy cappuccino ($4.50) as I was pre-nights but I really enjoyed the look and feel of this cup. They sell their mugs for around $50 on their Etsy store, and it looks like woman has bought 13 of their 16 items ever sold. I’m not currently in a suitable financial position to spend $50 on a small mug that I will never use (my mugs are in the litre-range, excellent for loading up on the disgusting but healthful material that is psyllium husk), but many of their creations are quite beautiful.
My partner isn’t usually an oyster eater, but these Magaki Pacific Oysters ($5 each) had enough random toppings on top to make her venture out of her comfort zone. These particular oysters were topped with salmon roe and flowers, which did add a nice fruitiness to the oceanic flavour mix. Again, love the bowl.
These Gobo Chips ($13.50) with wasabi mayo were a bit too fibrous and slimy for me. Any supposed health benefits, for example from burdock root’s relatively high fibre content were probably well balanced by the battering and deep frying.
We quite enjoyed the Snapper Ramen ($24), with its nice in house tonkotsu base, baby bok choy, and lightly seared fish. The yuzu kosho was described by our waitress as something we could use to add flavour, as was the vegan capsicum butter, which I felt was a bit redundant as that is the general purpose of any flavouring or topping. The flavours of the soup were nice overall, and perhaps the two above mentioned additions hindered rather than helped it. I enjoyed the fish but would’ve liked more.
The Area 51 ($36), a seared toothfish ochazuke was unfortunately quite similar in taste to the snapper ramen. It was probably our own fault for choosing both of these dishes rather than something different. My main complaint carries over from the snapper ramen, there being only a small amount of toothfish at this relatively large price, though my secondary complaint is the less than ideal broth to rice ratio. It tasted nice, but it just tasted like more of the same.
We spent $88 between the two of us, with one drink. While we did eat quite a bit of food, I still have difficulty reconciling the substantial price point for what was ultimately good but not super-special.
We had a really great meal at St Kai, a Japanese-inspired cafe with great food, but not that many Japanese people on its staff.
The tantanmen ramen with miso pork ($22) was a really good bowl of ramen. The broth was incredibly thick and rich, heavy on the umami and heavy on the creaminess, with the perfect amount of spice from Mama Liu’s chilli oil (thinking about this now, I might actually pick up a jar for home). The noodles were very jīndao 筋道 (a term which I think is being slowly eroded by the increasingly popular “Q” of Taiwanese origin) in texture, with great chewability and springiness. I enjoyed the included greenery (seaweed and bok choy), and there was plenty of meat in the bowl for neither of our two adult humans to not feel like we missed out. An additional thoughtful touch to our experience included the provision of a pre-warmed share bowl, which I have a photo of but will only post on request because that’s not why you’re here. Overall a great bowl, quite elaborate for a breakfast, but actually somewhat breakfasty in its flavour.
Next, the first of two breads. The folded dashi eggson soft milk toast ($21), allegedly with flying salmon roe as per the menu but thankfully with non-flying salmon roe in reality was a treat. The eggs were perfectly cooked, just a little bit runny but still with some of its own structure. The dashi and bonito powder added a high degree of umami to the meal, whilst the generous serving of ikura, juicy and salty, was perfect to flavour the dish. I don’t know if the shokupan is made in house or if it’s from elsewhere, but found it to be nice and sweet with a good toasting around the outside but still soft on the inside. Very good.
Next, a sweet dish. The french toast with black sesame butter& miso caramel ($18) was at its base essentially the same as the dashi eggs on toast, with what is probably bread cut from the same loaf. Where it differs is in its taste and execution, a real testament to how versatile bread as a vessel is. This was a sweet dish, highly buttery and decadent from the mass of butter served. The black sesame itself wasn’t particularly sweet, if at all, and indeed they also add some of it to the tantanmen for extra sesame-ness. Most of the sweetness of this dish came from the miso caramel, which all added up was just the right amount of sweetness (ie. not too sweet) for my mood that day. My partner actually got bored of all the bread, but I did not. Very good. Love bread.
The Ichigo Tokyo Milk ($4.50) tastes like steamed Big M and I have regrets.
STRAY THOUGHTS I don’t know who Peggy Gou is or why she features so prominently on St Kai’s promotional material. Do they have a commercial arrangement in place, or are they just fans? Another stray observation I will make is that during our one our stay at the restaurant, all tables inckluding our own were inhabited by Asians, but none of the locals who were just dropping by for a quick coffee were. Does this say something about Asian-Australian yuppies (another dead word) as a social group? Who knows.
ACTUAL THOUGHTS We enjoyed our meal and recommended St Kai to our friend and colleague BJCHC. Who would’ve thought such a place would exist in a small side street of Mortdale?
As a fan of Japanese food unfortunately trapped on the wrong side of the Harbour Bridge, Sekka had been on my list of restaurants to try for some time. I finally found myself in St Leonards following a day of meetings at a nearby state ministry (the room where it happens), and ignoring my friend WKS’ advice, sat down for a meal at Sekka.
It turns out I probably should have listened.
We started our meal with a number of snacks, the first of which was the scallops in soy chimichurri and shiso ($3.50 each). These were quite good, with good flavour and a well-grilled but not too grilled texture.
Our next morsel was the M8 Wagyu yakitori with onions (2 for $16). While there was nothing wrong with the way these yakitori was cooked (see the cross-section for the nice rarity of meat), the meat was actually quite a bit tougher than expected. I guess that’s what happens when they specify “M8 Wagyu” but not the actual cut of meat provided.
The chicken thigh (skin on) yakitori with ginger and shallot dressing (2 for $14) should have been good, but despite everything in their favour were ultimately middling. The actual chicken of it was quite good – juicy on the inside, crispy skin on the outside. It was in fact so juicy that I burnt my tongue on the juices inside, though that was no one’s fault but my own, it was the path I’d chosen to go. The ultimate problem with this yakitori was, in my opinion, the general lack of flavour to the meat. It could’ve really done with a bit of salt or some tare, and while ginger and shallot is one of my top Asian flavourings I just don’t think it really goes that well with this kind of chicken (it’s great on Hainanese chicken rice, though).
Perhaps most disappointing of all was Sekka’s much lauded chicken wing gyoza (2 for $15). Essentially a chicken wing stuffed with prawn and deep fried (there is a mention of truffle on their menu but I’m not sure where that was hidden), these would’ve been good were they not so blandly flavoured. Frequent readers of this blog know that I prefer lighter flavours than most, but even then these winged gyoza could’ve done with a bit more.
After a procession of minimally inspiring entrees, our main course, the hojicha smoked duck ramen ($23), was actually amazing. The soup flavours were clear, vibrant and balanced, with neither the smoke nor the spicy shansho nor the tea flavours overplaying their weight. The semi-boiled egg was a umami treat, as was each slice of smoked duck breast, each presented with a sliver of skin and fat. Even the noodles were good. This was such a great bowl of ramen that I immediately regretted filling up on all those fried and grilled sides. I would’ve loved to have tried some of their other ramens.
VERDICT Go, but skip the small plates and head straight for the ramen. That’s where the money is.
Sekka Dining Shop 1, St Leonards Square, 472-488 Pacific Hwy, St Leonards NSW 2065 (02) 8054 9788
Located within Forest Lodge’s Tramsheds complex, near the former site of Chase Kojima’s Simulation Senpai, is the Osaka Trading Co, a day and night time Japanese restaurant with an extensive Japanese-focused bar menu which we did not at all partake in.
I’ve not got much experience with Lotus Root Chips ($6), but thought that these ones were pretty good. They crispy at room temperature, and had a good umami flavour to them. They were served with a shichimi chilli spicy mayonnaise dip, which I felt was a bit superfluous as the chips were good on their own. My learned colleagues JZHW and WKS had other opinions, however, having grown up on lotus root chips during their time as Asian youths. They thought that these chips were just middling, and could have been better a bit warmer. I really don’t know. I liked them.
The Tempura Corn with Wasabi Mayonnaise ($14) was good! It’s difficult to go wrong with deep fried corn, and even more difficult skill when wasabi mayo is added into the equation. This wasn’t a planned addition to our meal, but when we saw our waitress walk past us with a dish of this destined for another customer we knew we had to have it as well. Lightly battered and fried, I can recommend this dish.
The Tuna Tartare with pea puree, pea sprouts, wasabi olive oil ($22) was a letdown to say the least. There was nothing particularly wrong about the diced tuna or the accompanying sprouts or pea puree, but also nothing special. The taste and feeling of the dish can be best described as mild and cold. This was a pretty miniscule amount of food for a pretty significant price, and I can’t imagine anyone would be satisfied by it.
The Miso Ramen ($18) was also a disappointment. The bowl featured much corn, some wood ear fungus, and only a single slice of chahsu pork. While additional pork can be ordered for a small $3 fee, there was no mention on the menu of just how little pork would be available in the base bowl. This was a damaging oversight, in my opinion, as many unsuspecting meat fans will leave disappointed. In addition to this, the taste of the broth was a bit dark and bitter rather than a pure miso taste. I suspect this was due to the presence of black garlic oil, however other ramen restaurants like Crows Nests’ Ramen Kaio seem to be able to pull off a black garlic ramen much better.
VERDICT Though Osaka Trading Co’s share plates start strong, there’s much left to be desired by their bigger ticket items of tuna tartare and ramen. I suspect it may be more of a vibe at night with a few drinks, but nonetheless I wouldn’t go back.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
UPDATE APRIL 2022
Time moves on, and the chirashi bowl has again increased in price, now to the very premium $3X range in April 2022. I chose instead to have the nori ben ($25) this time around, a fish-based collection of crumbed yellowtail, fried mackerel, grilled salmon, two types of pickles, and nori on rice along with a small cup of miso soup. I really enjoyed this meal, though it was a little bit heavier compared to most of Kurumac’s menu. The crumbed yellowtail was nice, warm, and moist, and the battered mackerel had that nice sweet and sourness that is characteristic of the fish. The tartare sauce was a bit odd – really more of a mayonnaise in my opinion, with large chunks of egg white mixed in – but not bad. The two types of pickles were standouts in my opinion, and went great with the soft nori and bed of rice. It was in the end a bit much of the same to eat for one person even despite the high level of variety in the ingredients, and I only wish that my partner were with me eating rather than sleeping at home (it would be unfair to expect her to eat a meal only available after 11AM if she’s starting work at 7:30PM) so that I could’ve had half of two meals instead of one of one.
UPDATE OCTOBER 2022
Today’s seasonal milkshake ($10) is strawberry. Still made with Mapo’s unbeatable gelato, and still good though quite filling and probably stopped me from eating as much of the curry and mazesoba as I wanted.
The mazesoba ($25) was happily though surprisingly different and better than the dry ramen that we had at cool mac back in 2020. The pork in this case was chashu, which was happily a bit fattier and tastier than what I remember. The broth had a lightly spicy and overall umami taste, aided by a load of delicious and tender bamboo shoots, as well as nori, sesame seeds, coriander, and a soft egg. The noodles were al dente. Genuinely quite good.
The ox tongue curry ($40) was really quite expensive for a lunch at a cafe, but brought with it a reasonable serving size as well as quite good flavour. Contained within this bowl of thick non-spicy Japanese curry were huge 3-dimensional chunks of ox tongue, very tender but still with good texture, koshihikari rice, and happily bright pickles. On the side was a serving of mentaiko mashed potato (I could not appreciate the mentaiko) and a green salad with cherry tomatoes, foliage, and sprouts. The ratio of rice to curry and meat was perfect, and the flavour and texture of the beef was good, although I would think twice about the value and level of necessity of the sides, and if the dish as a whole would be cheaper and yet just as good without them. The chirashi bowl by this point in late-2022 is now $35, and I think if you’re getting lunch at Kurumac and you’re only able to get one item, it would still be my recommendation.
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.