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
Japanese Korean

Kumiho – Parramatta NSW Restaurant Review

PROLOGUE
Picture this. It’s my 26th birthday, just about to cap off two years of living and working in Western Sydney. One of the shining highlights of the Deep West has been Kumiho, a small and casual Korean-Japanese restaurant that I had only eaten at once but at which I had savoured each bite. It might not be my girlfriend’s favourite Japanese restaurant in the area (that prize would go to Touka), but it is mien. I ask my girlfriend if we can go. She says no. We order some pizza instead.

It was twelve months later, after a year in the Eastern Suburbs tasting everything that the Inner West and CBD had to offer, that we found ourselves back in Parramatta, looking at apartments and planning our move back to the West. My partner, after some incessant nagging, finally agreed to let me go back to Kumiho and let me tell you – even after all of the Japanese food I’ve had this year, Kumiho is still among the best I’ve ever had.

GENERAL COMMENTS
Kumiho is a mixed Korean and Japanese restaurant, providing authentic East Asian cuisine in a relaxed bar and restaurant setting. While it is part of the same group of restaurants as Sushi Hotaru, Wagaya, and Lantern, each venue offers a distinct dining experience – Kumiho being my favourite. Ordering is via tablet located at each table, a signature trait of these restaurants and helpful for those times when you just don’t want to interact with anyone. Service is fast, though it seems that the restaurant only has two jugs of water to share between all of its patrons, and as such you may be waiting for a long time for your water to be refilled. (No doubt at least in part to encourage you to buy drinks).

DISH BY DISH DIVE

The Tuna Tataki ($15) is brilliant. The outside edges are perfectly seared, with the inside retaining its sashimi quality. The tuna is fresh, high quality maguro, and the sauces complimented the flavour of the fish without overpowering it. Much better than the mess of failures in the seared tuna at COOH in Alexandria – a meal I’m still salty about.

The Unagi (Eel) Tempura ($9.20) was freshly fried, light and crispy. Each bite was filled with delicious umami flavours, and though it was smothered mayonnaise and tempura sauce I didn’t find it to be too overflavoured.

The Wagyu Bulgogi Hot Pot ($17) was quite good, and well priced for the size. My one complaint is that while I’m sure it was wagyu as advertised, I don’t think the fact that it was wagyu really added anything to the dish – the meat was not marbled at all.

The white fish with Korean miso handroll ($3.20) was a handroll of mystery fish and sesame leaf. The size was good for the price, but I don’t think either of us really enjoyed the unnamed white fish. Despite this, the rice and seaweed were of good quality. It’s a shame, though, and I think I’d still like to try some of their other handrolls.

The salmon belly nigiri ($2.50 per piece) was only slightly more expensive than the vanilla salmon nigiri, and well worth the upgrade. The salmon belly, complete with invisible flavour cuts, had a great texture and rich flavour. The kingfish belly nigiri ($3 per piece) was good, but unfortunately overshadowed by the salmon belly which provided a more special mouthfeel at a cheaper price (though it’s always good to have variety).

The Chicken Paitan Cloudy Ramen ($16.80) is an unfortunately weak temporary addition to Kumiho’s menu. Offered as part of a trial promotion, the ramen didn’t have much flavour other than salt and pepper. The pieces of chicken, whilst immersed in fluid, were paradoxically dry, and I hope this doesn’t become a permanent fixture on Kumiho’s otherwise good menu.

The Seafood Bowl with Miso Soup ($17) is an excellent chirashi don style deal with an assortment of sashimi (salmon, kingfish, and tuna) atop a bed of sushi rice and topped with some soy and chopped shallots. The pieces of fish were very generous in size and the ratio of fish to rice was on point. The miso soup was a warming and wholesome bonus to an already great bowl. A strong recommendation from me.

Both the Wagyu Skewer ($6) and Pork Belly Skewers ($4) were quite good and much better priced than most other restaurants. The beef was thick cut, not tiny peasant pieces at exorbitant rates as seen at places like Fugetsu and, oddly enough, Kumiho’s sister restaurant Lantern. The pork was thick and juicy, and the supplied white miso dipping sauce added a nice touch of umami. Both were good buys, though the pork was a bit better.

I quite liked the vegetable tempura ($11). Unlike most tempura dishes I’ve had in recent times, Kumiho’s tempura doesn’t take the easy way out by frying a bunch of root vegetables. Instead, Kumiho’s vegetable tempura features 2 pieces each of red capsicum, green capsicum, shittake mushroom, and carrot – a refreshing change, and a great selection of less-starchy vegetables.

The truffle kingfish sashimi ($15) is an experimental dish similar in vein to the tuna tartare, with diced sashimi kingfish, diced avocado, fried garnish, crispy seaweed, and truffled sauce in a large bowl. Whilst my partner liked the truffle flavours and thought that this was the rare dish in which truffle wasn’t just for added for show, I didn’t really like this as much as I did the tuna tartare reviewed above. It just felt a bit plain.

The aburi salmon nigiri (5 pieces for $11) features large, slightly thicker pieces of salmon with minimal sauce. They were great, especially considering that many restaurants make the mistake of drowning their aburi salmon in mayonnaise and tare.

The Korean pork bossam ($15) is a well priced and portioned plate, featuring pieces of fatty and lean pork, kimchi, cabbage, and shiso leaf for wrapping. The salad elements were fresh, and the meat generally well cooked, with the exception of some of the smaller morsels of pork which were a bit dry and overcooked. It is, however, overall a passing dish.

EPILOGUE
Kumiho provides great tasting Japanese and Korean food at a great price, with quality comparable to or exceeding its competitors in the Parramatta region. Keep your eyes peeled on this page as it gets updated throughout the year. I’m going to be living 3 kilometres away for the next twelve months. I’ll be sure to go back again and again.

5 tails / 1 fox

Kumiho
140 Marsden St, Parramatta NSW 2150
(02) 8872 5070

Categories
Japanese

Kuki Tanuki – Erskineville NSW Japanese Restaurant Review

Intrigued by the promise of aburi scallop and steam sake fish, we drove to and parked in Erskineville to eat at Kuki Tanuki. Unfortunately when we arrived we encountered a menu significantly different to what was posted online on Zomato (no doubt we had seen an old one). This is our story.

Wagyu Beef Bowl ($25) – The wagyu beef bowl was the most expensive dish that we tried. It was a large bowl of rice topped with seared beef and a low temperature egg. I personally found the beef to be very raw, and did not think it was seared enough. Chewing on the raw beef I could really imagine the life that Daisy had led in the fields and under the sun. The beef was so raw that I could still taste some of her emotions. My partner did not find the beef so raw as it was difficult to see in the lighting just how raw it was. I did however really enjoy the egg and how it mixed into the rice. I wonder if these guys could take some inspiration from bowlsoc, and their illustrious leader the Meat Master.

Chicken Yakitori with tare (3 for $9). I really enjoyed the yakitori. My partner often confuses yakitori and yakiniku and doesn’t let me eat it very often. One of the negative aspects of the yakitori and I guess the meal was that all of the dishes were served concurrently. The yakitori therefore had time to rest on the counter while waiting for the cow to be slaughtered and put directly onto the rice. In doing so, the yakitori cooled down and ended up a bit lukewarm by time of eating.

The sashimi nachos ($13) were a lot more deconstructed than I had anticipated. In my short lifetime all nachos I have had have had the tortilla chips mixed into the salsa/dip. In this case we were served discrete tortilla chips and a bowl of sashimi and salsa mix and given no instruction. Using my keen sense of innovatoin and drawing on my past experience I was able to scoop some of the nacho mix onto these chips. They were ok. The chips were crunchy. The filling was fine. I wish they had just come as tacos.

Tasmania Roll ($17). My partner is a big aburi salmon fan, and even though she was outside making an important call and I had to choose all of the dishes by myself I knew that she would like this. The Tasmania roll basically had some aburi salmon on top and avocado and cucumber in the middle. My partner quite liked it but in my humble opinion I did not like that the middle was only green. It was a field of wasted opportunity.

The Soft shell crab mini burgers (2 for $13) were good though a bit oversauced.

The Yuzu sake ($10) was expensive but very good. My partner is a big fan of sour things, and liked it so much that she asked them if she could buy some for home. The answer was no.

Overall we ended up spending $81 for a dinner for two but weren’t able to have the two things I really wanted. This makes me quite sad. We will try and come back if the scallops reappear.

Kuki Tanuki
 63 Erskineville Rd, Erskineville NSW 2043
(02) 8084 7438

Categories
Japanese

Yakitori Yebisu – Regent Place Sydney CBD NSW Izakaya Review

Expensive, but why?

We ended our search of a late night feed one Wednesday night at Yakitori Yebisu in Regent Place, quite a legit looking and feeling Japanese izakaya.

Upon approaching the restaurant we were greeted by a staff member who told us quite sternly that we would have to spend at least $30 per head for a seat. That was fine, we thought – but we didn’t know just how easy it would be to spend that amount.

The vibe inside was lively, with several groups of young people, as well as a few couples, drinking large towers of beer and chatting. Ordering was via an iPad tablet system, which was good as it helped us to minimise interpersonal contact.

We ordered a couple of beef yakitori ($7.80 each) and chicken yakitori ($4.80 each)– both were tender and delicious but at a mind numbing price.

We also ordered a variety of sushi, again mind numbingly expensive. We thought that the salmon roe gunkan ($9 for 2) was of poor quality, as it was too salty, but the sea urchin gunkan ($15 for 2) tasted good though much too expensive than it had any right to be. The aburi salmon ($7 for 2) and aburi scallop ($8 for 2) were good, however the flavour somewhat drowned out by the mayonnaise, and the constant thought at the back of our minds was that we could get the same thing for less than half the price across the road at Sushi Hotaru.

Ultimately the food pictured and a garden variety bottle of Kirin beer hurt us to the tune of $72.20. While the vibe was good and the food was reasonable, the exorbitant prices at Yebisu are indefensible.

As young professionals we are somewhat price insensitive but Yebisu takes it too far.

Avoid. (2/5)

Yakitori Yebisu
Regent Place, 7-10/501 George St, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9264 3272

Yakitori Yebisu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Categories
Fine Dining Japanese

Yachiyo – Darlinghurst NSW Omakase Review

Yachiyo seems to be a true hidden gem of Japanese dining in Sydney. It’s one of, if not the only place where you can get a full 20 – piece omakase without basically any notice. My partner and I were able to book at around noon for a same-day Friday evening omakase dinner. Be careful though – If you try and book too late in the day you won’t be able to – but you normally will be able to book the following day.

Yachiyo has three grades of omakase – we chose the middle grade, “OMAKASE MIX”, which featured a bit of yakitori and tempura as well as the usual yakitori. Here’s what we got for $80 per person (it was quite impressive.)

1: Toro nigiri (Japan)

The first nigiri offered was a piece of tuna belly (toro) of Japanese origin. It was very oily and fatty, as tuna belly should be. My partner really enjoyed this first piece, but I felt like mine unfortunately had a bit of connective tissue to it which decreased the quality of the fish. Overall quite good, but I didn’t like it as much as course 2.

2: Bluefin tuna nigiri – aged for twelve days (Australia)

The second piece was nigiri with Australian bluefin tuna, aged for twelve days. This morsel may have been my favourite little morsel of the meal. While not imported from a far away land, I found that the fish in this piece had a perfect texture with no distracting components. It was fatty but not overpoweringly fatty, and the aging really enhanced its umami tuna flavours.

3 – Aburi salmon belly nigiri (Salmon Toro)

The third serving of the night was an aburi salmon belly nigiri. The fatty salmon belly with the lightly caramelised surface with rendered fats was delicious. The chef Mitsuhiro Yashio told us that each salmon only had enough belly to produce six pieces of this nigiri. Poor salmons.

4 – Aburi kingfish belly nigiri (Kingfish toro)

The aburi kingfish belly nigiri was the fourth piece of the meal, and the first piece that I didn’t feel was very special. Chef talked it up a bit as another rare piece of fish, but despite the slightly higher fattiness of it I found the taste and texture not too different from the commodity aburi kingfish nigiri that you would get at a normal sushi restaurant (for example Sushi Rio or Sushi Hotaru). Still yummy.

5 – Bluefin tuna temaki (hand roll)

Piece 5 was the bluefin tuna temaki (hand roll). I wasn’t sure if there was some natto inside – I thought that’s what I saw and is pictured on the left side of the photo, but I couldn’t really taste it and my partner doubts me. Keeping in the theme of the delicious bluefin tuna, this hand roll was also one of my favourites. I loved the tender fatty tuna, as well as the really high quality seaweed. Delicious.

6 – Bluefin tuna sashimi with ponzu dressing

Our sixth dish was bluefin tuna sashimi in ponzu dressing. For some reason I didn’t like this as much. I think I was more a fan of their fish with rice, as rice generally can provide a bit of a contrast to fatty fish.

7 – Royal red prawn nigiri

The seventh course was royal red prawn nigiri. Unfortunately I made a mistake, and the chef paid the price. I had advised the restaurant that I was allergic to scampi, but that prawns and other crustaceans were OK. Unfortunately the prawn that they served me was the exact same prawn (royal red) that I had at the debacle at MOXHE. While I don’t know if it was the prawn or another piece of mystery seafood that set off my gastrointestinal tract, I didn’t want to leave it to chance. Had it been literally any other prawn I probably would’ve gone for it. My partner ended up having both of the royal red prawn – she said that the texture was similar to MOXHE’s but the taste wasn’t as sweet and not as good – and the chef prepared me a consolation prize at no additional cost. Thank you.

7A – Salmon sushi

My consolation prize for not being able to really eat the royal red prawn was this piece of salmon sushi. I can’t find any words to describe this form of sushi, but it was basically a piece of fish and some rice sandwiched within a folded piece of seaweed. Almost like a mini, single bite temaki. It was actually quite good, and very thoughtful and nice of the chef to fix what was ultimately my own doing.

Items eight, nine, and ten were assorted yakitori. I will describe them in the order I ate them in.

Item eight, the chicken thigh yakitori, was juicy and flavourful. It was delicious, and exactly how I remember all of the good yakitori that I had in Japan. It is much better than some of the yakitori I’ve had here in Sydney, for example at Lantern by Wagaya.

Item nine, the salmon belly yakitori, was super fatty and delicious. It basically melted in my mouth as soon as I bit into it, and I loved that there was some crispy skin to mix up the texture. My partner didn’t like this that much but she’s wrong – she’s not a big fan of seafood in general (but seems to love sushi!).

Item ten, the skewered pork and ginger meatballs, were less exciting. The chicken and salmon belly yakitori were just so special, but I felt like the meatballs were just meatballs, and perhaps a bit too strongly flavoured for my liking.

11 – cuttlefish nigiri

Food number eleven was a cuttlefish nigiri with shiso-salt. As I usually eat nigiri with fish-to-tongue, I was quite shocked to receive a strong flavour hit as the shiso-salt coated my tongue with saltiness. Evidently that is not the way to go with this particular piece of sushi. Once I got over the intense saltiness of the salt I started to enjoy the rich, creamy cuttlefish texture and flavours. I don’t normally think of cuttlefish as creamy, but a combination of this particular cuttlefish’s intrinsic qualities, the normally chewy texture of cuttlefish ing eneral, as well as the flavour micro-cuts gave it an extremely creamy flavour that actually lasted a long time in my mouth.

12 – hokkaido scallop nigiri with yuzu dressing

I thought that morsel twelve – hokkaido scallop nigiri with yuzu dressing, was a bit of a letdown. While I’m used to raw scallop being sweet I actually thought this nigiri had a bit of a bitter taste to it.

13 – bar cod nigiri

Dish thirteen was bar cod nigiri. This is the first time I have had bar cod, but to be honest it didn’t leave a lasting impression. It tasted very similar to most other white fish out there.

14 – Tempura zucchini with prawn-meat filing

Number fourteen was tempura zucchini with a prawn-meat filling. Chef warned me about the prawn as I wasn’t keen to eat the earlier prawn sashimi, but I thought I would be ok with this prawn and I was right. I wonder if the potential allergen is something that is denatured by cooking. I enjoyed the tempura – it came fresh from the deep fryer, and the distance from the fryer to us seated at the bar was very limited. This was my first time having tempura zucchini, and I enjoyed it. I’m not sure how common zucchini is as a vegetable to tempura. The prawn meat inside was tasty, but not quite prawn – more like cooked surimi type stuff. Not bad.

15- Oyster sushi

Bite fifteen saw the return of the as yet unnamed temaki-but-not-curled, gunkan-but-not-a-boat, now with oyster filling. I enjoyed this oyster – it was not seasoned, unlike the oysters I’ve been having with dressings at Western restaurants, which helped accentuate the mild ocean flavour. My partner, who is not very keen on oysters at all even tried it.

16 -cooked abalone with rice, sandwiched within a folded nori sheet

Nibble number sixteen was cooked abalone with rice, sandwiched within a folded nori sheet. Abalone is quite an upscale seafood, but I was sad not to have it raw (not that I’m sure if it’s even possible). If I’m being honest I couldn’t really taste the taste of the abalone, which must have been subtle. Most of the flavour was from the sauced up rice and the nori.

17 – Ikura gunkan

Mouthful seventeen was finally something I could identify – ikura gunkan. This particular gunkan had absolutely massive bulbous salmon roes, larger than any I’ve had in recent memory. Unfortunately though I found these particular roe to too marinated for my personal taste. They had a strong sweet and salty taste that didn’t really leave much of the fresh roe flavour. My partner also criticised it for not being as creamy as she would have liked.

18 – Black cod sushi

The eighteenth and final fish piece of the meal was a deliciously fatty cooked black cod sushi. It had a flaky, melt in your mouth texture, with strong patagonian toothfish energy. Yum.

19 – Crunchy matcha dessert

Our nineteenth and final morsel was a crunchy matcha dessert, which tasted of white chocolate and rice puffs. A nice, light, but not very showy end to a nice meal.

Overall we had a really good time at Yachiyo. The food was delicious, the price was excellent, and even the table water was filtered. I can highly recommend, and indeed have already recommended Yachiyo to two separate groups of colleagues on the same night that I’ve eaten there. Yum.

Yachiyo Darlinghurst
346 Victoria St, Darlinghurst NSW 2010
(02) 9331 8107