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Review - La Rosa

It’s been three years since I last had the pleasure of dining in The Strand Arcade at La Rosa. It’s a slick and sophisticated spot, even if it does play second fiddle to its better-known sibling, Pendolino, at the other end of the ornate, Victorian arcade.

Separated from the restaurant by a dark screen, the bar is a cosy and intimate place to enjoy wine or a well-crafted cocktail.


The Speyside Sour ($23.80) presents Glenfiddich 12-year old single malt under a frothy head of lemon, sugar, Angostura bitters and a twist of lemon rind that’s been expertly cleaned of all pith. The Cocold Old Fashioned ($19.70) tarts up the classic drink with chocolate bitters, topping it with fine flakes of chocolate and another textbook twist, this time, orange.

While there is a bar menu, we hold out for dinner, so are hungry by the time we’re moved to our assigned table in the long, red-roofed room. Fast moving, black-clad staff quickly get us started on a Laissez Faire ‘Field Blend’ ($82.60) of pinot grigio, gewürztraminer and pinot blanc from Western Australia’s Great Southern. We fret a little on the Pane Basket ($5.95), which takes a bit longer to arrive.

The basket's warm pizza crusts are however enjoyable against the Vignarola Salad ($17.80). For a salad, it has a very inviting list of ingredients – zucchini flowers, almonds, onion, quail eggs, fennel, artichoke, and organic Gorgonzola – but the naughtier bits are in moderation, so it’s still a healthy dish. Truth be told, I did pine for more organic Gorgonzola, and I don’t think I saw any zucchini flowers (though they are out of season).

The cool night intrigued me into ordering the fish pie – Tiella Di Gaeta ($38). The petite, open-topped pastry pie arrives under a fish skin sail. It's filled with a creamy mix of Gaeta barramundi, salt fish and turnip, and sits on a green circlet of turnip top greens (cime di rapa). Both size and saltiness make sides a requirement for this dish.

The Cetriolo E Schiacciate ($12) with cucumber, crushed green olive, parsley, black grain and Parmesan was useful, but dominated by cucumber. I’m so-so on the trendy black grain addition too, preferring the more plain cucumber and green olive salad I ate on my last visit.

Salad is also suitable for a square of Lasagne Al Fondo E Finferli ($39.75). While this lasagne is pricy, the spend is evidenced in the blend of good quality pork and White Rocks veal.

Our Zeppola ($16.50) arrives with a flourish: warm, caramel sauce poured at the table by staff.

Taken with a Piccolo Latte ($4.30), the sugar-dusted traditional potato doughnut topped with vanilla gelato, turns out to be my meal highlight in this space that continues to exude a sophisticated, date-night vibe.

NOTE: See a previous visit to this restaurant back HERE.

La Rosa
The Strand Arcade, Shop 133/193 Pitt Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9223 1674

La Rosa The Strand Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Suburban Gems: Campsie

During one of my three recent reviews inside Clemton Park Shopping Village I noticed Natural Fresh Grocer. This is the third outlet for this chain, which also has stores in Burwood Westfield and Rhodes Waterside.

While I generally prefer to support small, independent grocers outside of shopping centres, there was something intriguing about this Asian supermarket meets green grocer. In addition to an extensive range of pan-Asian products, it has an extensive deli section with a lot of emphasis on Greek products.

The fruit and vegetables are nicely displayed, and seem high quality, especially when compared with those on offer close by, in the complex's Coles supermarket.

At the exit to the store you'll also find a quirky Asian bakery, giving you a Breadtop-style range of pork floss, shallot and hot dog buns, and the super-creamy, airy sponges Asian-Australian audiences often show preference for.

It all adds up to an interesting shopping experience that's worth a gander if you're in the neighbourhood dining at Anatolia, Koh Chang or Hombre Mexican Cantina.

Natural Fresh Grocer
Clemton Park Shopping Village
5 Mackinder Street, Campsie

Review - Restaurant Plage

After discovering his French-Japanese cuisine at S’Age Bistronomy, I followed Chef Tomoyuki Usui to his first solo venture: Restaurant Plage. His fledgling restaurant sits a short walk from the Hayden Orpheum in Cremorne. It’s a two-room affair with the front white-curtained room playing host to tables and a curved white bar that you can also choose to eat at.

We’re tucked into a corner of the cosy back room. We’re here to take advantage of the well-priced opening special - a five course Chef’s Selection Menu ($59/head) - running until Saturday 12 August 2017.

The Plage team are also generously allowing BYO ($8/bottle) even on a busy Saturday evening. We take advantage of this opportunity to match our meal to two different sakes. Yuki Usui Arai quickly arranges us four sake glasses and our tasting adventure is off and running.

We begin with a flavoursome amuse bouche of roasted potato broth with medium rare scallop. Over delivering us some house-made bread and butter, Yuki asks us how we come to be at Plage, then thanks us warmly "for being a fan of my husband." From her sparkling eyes and enthusiasm for the dishes she’s presenting, it is clear Yuki is a big fan of Tomoyuki’s cooking too.

Our meal proper begins with a clean and simple salmon tataki presented with daikon radish, crisp dehydrated kale and a dab of spiced yoghurt.

We move on to what will undoubtedly be the restaurant’s future signature – wagyu carpaccio – presented with a dashi broth that is poured onto the thin slices of raw beef at the table.

The heat of the broth turns the red slices slightly brown as they gently cook before your eyes. The process envelops your head in an aromatic cloud, making your mouth water in eagerness to taste the wagyu beef and the cured egg, pumpkin seeds and mushrooms hidden beneath. It's texturally pleasing and likely to have you tilting the bowl to spoon out every last drop of the broth and floating pumpkin seeds.

Western Australian mulloway scrubs up well against seasonally appropriate Jerusalem artichokes, cleverly cooked in their skins. The fish is offset by a dabs of celeriac puree and finger lime, and united by a fish and lemon jus.

As the wait drags on for our next course, my dining companion is driven a little mad by the fifth repetition of Blue Bayou.  We’re offered more bread and an apology both for the delay and for the music, which is quickly switched to reggae. The restaurant is quite busy, with both chefs galloping around the small kitchen.

They make regular trips into our room to use the vacuum sealer, which accounts for the perfectly set protein in our next course – roasted chicken breast. This was probably the most disjointed of the dishes we tried. While individual elements like the sous vide chicken, maple glazed carrots, broccolini and pickled cherry slices were good; the burnt buttermilk sauce needed more oomph to give the dish unity. The fried cartilage was texturally interesting, but added nothing in terms of flavour.

Texture and flavour were in perfect harmony however in the caramelised white chocolate finale. It’s offset by fizzy pink peppered meringue, tart nectarine sorbet and chamomile, and will send you off into the night with a smile on your face. While my meal’s pacing was off, it’s easy to forgive with dessert like this on your lips, a reasonable bill, and an eye to it being Plage's third week.

Restaurant Plage
8/255 Military Road, Cremorne
Ph: (02) 8384 9043

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


Review - Flying Egg St Leonards

The first thing you’ll notice about Flying Egg St Leonards is the design. Owner Shane Lee clearly has a flare for working with difficult spaces, and this oddly triangular venue sitting in an arcade that leads to St Leonards Station is definitely architecturally challenging!

By setting the counter and kitchen to one side, Lee has cleverly opened up natural light and long distance views along the railway line. By painting the fixtures and ceiling black, and the brick walls white, the view has been kept as the café’s centerpiece.

A clever central divider running down the middle of the venue gives the impression of intimacy to the tables on either side, without closing down the view.

White tiles, wall mounted light fittings, and off white wood grain paneling around the kitchen window complete the elegant picture, creating a space that really punches above its neighbours in The Forum.

While it was well made and nicely presented, I found The Grounds coffee a little hollow in the middle in across a Latte ($3.50) and a Flat White ($3.50). Sugar did improve the coffee's roundness.

From the clean and well-organised kitchen you’ll find breakfast dishes that highlight good produce. The Morning Glory Breakfast ($20) is a good exemplar – it’s a heaving plate of nicely lean bacon, two great breakfast sausages, vividly green spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, a pair of poached eggs, buttered sourdough toast and a hash brown. Each ingredient is well handled; with my suggested improvement being heating the plates in winter so this hefty breakfast stays hot for long enough to eat it.

Plump Sweet Corn Fritters ($16) are another winner, presented as a tower with a poached egg, and spinach hiding under a fan of avocado. It’s hard to resist throwing in lean Bacon ($4), which proves to be a nice salty contrast to the sweetness of the compelling house-made tomato chilli relish.

With crisp clear sound delivered by a Bose sound system, there’s a definite feeling of quality at Flying Egg St Leonards. Even though it’s early in the piece, it’s easy to see why it’s already attracting a fashionably hip and discerning crowd of Asian-Australians.

Flying Egg St Leonards
Shop 6P6. The Forum,
201-205 Pacific Highway, St Leonards
Ph: (02) 9438 4358

Flying Egg St Leonards Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Fàntǒng

A fàntǒng is a wooden bucket that cooked rice is served from. Traditionally, good quality ones made by artisans were watertight, but poorer quality ones were not. The word later morphed to describe a good-for-nothing person useful only for eating rice. In a positive sense it can also be employed to mean come and eat, and that’s just what local residents Chris Shearman and Autumn Qiu are hoping you’ll do at their new restaurant: Fàntǒng.

Up until three months ago, Leichhardt residents generally had to make the trip east or west - to Haymarket or Ashfield - for their closest dumpling fix. Shearman and Qiu decided that it was time for that to change. Building upon their experience at Brewery Espresso in Erskine Street – a popular café that morphed into a hybrid dumpling joint under their stewardship – they’ve opened in a two-level terrace on Norton Street.

At the moment it’s only operating on the ground level, but plans for change are afoot once the weather warms up.

The dumplings are handmade on the premises by Qui, who hails from Beijing. They come in six different varieties (including vegetarian) and can be served up either pan fried or boiled. We opted for Chicken, Black Fungus and Bok Choy ($9.80/8) crisped in a pan. They’re lean and gently flavoursome. With wheat being the staple crop of Northern China, rather than rice, you should expect an abundance of wheat-flour products on this menu. Beyond the dumplings you’ll also find stuffed buns, noodles and pancakes. The Pork and Egg Bun ($7) is stuffed with a clever blend of juicy pork, fried egg, coriander, chilli and spring onion. The bun itself was a bit more like a flat bread roll than I was expecting, but overall it was a tasty dish that went down well with a large bottle of Tsingtao ($13/640ml) beer.

Stuffed Shallot Pancakes ($7.50) are a bit of a revelation, cut into two sandwich style pieces and filled with tasty beef.

With Peking roast duck being a Beijing speciality, Peking Duck Rolls ($8.80/2) were another must-order. The pancakes are nicely pliable and wafer thin, while the duck inside is crisp skinned and moist against hoisin, coriander and thinly sliced spring onion.

Northern Chinese is generally a bit heavier on meat and lighter on vegetables, so I appreciated the list of inexpensive vegetable sides. Shredded Potato and Carrot Salad ($6.80) with Sichuan oil is a great way to break up all the wheat-based stodge.

The thin slivers of carrot and potato are only mildly spicy - something that sadly followed through to our main of Kung Pao Chicken ($16.80). Expecting a good chilli kick, I dived into this stir-fried bowl of chicken, peanuts, capsicum and Sichuan chilli and pepper, only to find it mild and over-sweet. As this dish was the only disappointment in my first adventure under the traditional hanging lanterns in this simply decorated, wood-dominated space, I’m likely to give Leichhardt’s first dumpling joint another whirl.

31 Norton Street, Leichhardt
Ph: (02) 8056 8588

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


Review - Husk & Vine Kitchen & Bar

With 518 brand new residential apartments above it, and 1400 artifacts below it, Husk and Vine Kitchen and Bar sits at the juncture between old and new. According to Wayne Taranto of Crown Group, the restaurant is “part of the changing face of Parramatta.” It sits below the suburb’s first five-star hotel, Skye Hotel Suites, which is set to open in August.

During the excavation for this large-scale development, Crown Group uncovered significant archaeological remains that they have preserved as part of their final structure. They include a 1840s convict's hut, a wheelwright’s workshop, and the cellar of the former Wheat Sheaf Hotel, all sitting right underneath the restaurant. They’re connected by a flight of stairs that allows restaurant guests access to the impressive collection of artifacts, and via a glass floor that offers a glimpse of the archaeological dig from the restaurant’s terrace.

Connection to this Parramatta of old also informed the restaurant’s wheat and wine concept. You’ll also find connection in the unusual décor choices created by Nic Graham. Hundreds of styrofoam 'sandstone' boulders are suspended on strings in mirrored boxes, creating an otherworldly cube with moody low lighting. On two sides the room is surrounded by an impressive open kitchen and bar. The all-important eats have been left in the hands of Ambassador Chef Stephen Seckold (ex-Flying Fish).

"Rather than sticking to one sort of food we'd take influence from all over the place," said Seckold. Reading like modern comfort food, Seckold’s menu is designed to warmly welcome all of Parramatta through the inclusion of multicultural dishes, "without messing with anything," he added. His menu will also pay close attention to seasonality - on the evening I dined this was evidenced by artichokes forming both table decor and appearing in a silky Jerusalem artichoke and truffle amuse bouche.

On any evening you can take the opportunity to break Rosemary & Sesame Flatbread ($15) with your fellow dinners at a long convivial table, and smear your torn portion with warm hummus. The flatbreads and pides, including Haloumi, Sumac, Roast Garlic and Parsley Flatbread ($16) are cooked in a Beech clay oven.

You’ll also find more easily sharable entrées like Za’atar Fried Chicken ($14) with oregano and garlic dip, and Lamb Ribs ($21) cooked in a date and tamarind glaze.

The lamb ribs are good – neatly avoiding the usual traps of being too greasy or too gamey - and even better when dragged through the accompanying smear of labne.

Your must-have entrée is a skillet of Burrata Cheese ($19) presented on garlic bread with a cumin-heavy chermoula treatment, raisins, green leaves and pine nuts. It’s unusual but it works!

If for some strange reason you’re anti-cheese, there’s also a Swordfish Crudo ($23). The delicate fish is given a grapefruit, white balsamic and pink peppercorn treatment that’s pleasant but was slightly dominated by olive oil on the evening I dined. You'll also find pink grapefruit making an appearance on the cocktail list, in a quaffable Grapefruit Spritz ($12).

With the restaurant’s theme really leaning towards relaxed, convivial, sharing cuisine, the large share mains like Whole Butterflied Chicken ($45) with chilli, lemon and paprika sweet potato, and Lamb Shoulder ($65) with harissa, okra and chickpea stew, are going to be popular ways to dine.

To my palate both of these dishes were under-seasoned, but I suspect it’s part and parcel of them being presented as a please-everyone ‘family’ style meal. With good quality sea salt on every table, each guest is of course then free to season to their personal proclivity.

Build these sharing mains into full meals by throwing in sides like Baby Carrots ($11) in cumin, honey and Persian feta, and Chat Potatoes ($12) with intense black garlic offset by sour cream. The 2016 Ross Hill Pinnacle Chardonnay ($80) makes a nice poultry companion. For the lamb shoulder, the 2015 CRFT ‘Chapel Valley’ Pinot Noir ($80) will do the job without having to resort to anything more tannin-heavy from the interesting wine list that centres upon on Australian cool climate wines.

For those who don’t like sharing, you could do much worse than your own bowl of silky Hand Cut Pappardelle ($24). You’ll see the thin strands of wide cut pasta hanging in the open kitchen. They’re given a simple burnt butter treatment with cubes of butternut pumpkin, pine nuts and goat’s cheese, and scrub up a treat.

The short dessert menu offers up modern renditions of the classics. The pistachio and raspberry Bombe Alaska ($16) won fans at my table, but I found it dominated by the marzipan biscuit base.

I’ve got no complaints about the pretty Pavlova ($15), tarted up into something quite adult using sharp tangerine and orange blossom cream.

There's plenty to like about this new Parramatta player who hope to revolutionise the suburb's upper end dining with their accessible, relaxed, sharing menus. Later in the year Husk and Vine will be joined on the site by the influential bar guru, Sven Almenning. Almenning will be opening a rooftop bar on the twenty-sixth floor, providing the perfect way to kick off, or conclude, your introduction to the new Parramatta.

Husk & Vine Kitchen & Bar
Shop 7, 45 Macquarie Street, Parramatta
Ph: (02) 7803 2323

Husk & Vine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Wei Long Hakka Cuisine

The last five years have really seen Sydney’s Chinese dining establishments broaden from ubiquitous Cantonese-Australian. You can now get a reasonably authentic look at everything from Cantonese to mouth-numbing Sichuan; from Hunan cuisine at restaurants like Chairman Mao in Kensington, to Jinxiang cuisine enjoyed by Uyghurs in China’s West. If you look a bit harder, you’ll find Yunnanese dishes at restaurants like Two Sticks, the odd bit of Shandong (usually chicken) and North-Eastern Chinese dishes like malatang at Yang Gou Fu Malatang.

If you’ll head into the ‘burbs, you can also tick off Fujian cuisine, along with most of China’s eight main culinary traditions. However what you might not already be familiar with is Hakka cuisine. This cuisine is associated with the Chinese diaspora. It’s Central Plain Chinese food influenced by everywhere the Hakka were displaced to as a result of social upheaval. Many Hakka moved south, so when you visit Wei Long Hakka Cuisine, you will probably find it looks and tastes a bit like Cantonese food...

Owner Austin Wang starts our night off right by greeting my dining companion by name when we arrive for our booking. He’s clearly excited to be presenting the dishes of his childhood inside this nicely appointed, three-storey split level restaurant on Bathurst Street.

We’re a bit excited too, selecting a not entirely cohesive meal from the nicely illustrated menu.

We started with a Hakka staple – Dry Noodles ($8.80) – which arrive first as a dish rather than an accompaniment. They’re simple, savoury egg noodles, and a silky pleasure to eat.

Orange Dust Tomatoes ($11.80) arrive next – a white bowl of bright red, skinned raw tomatoes sprinkled generously with dried orange skin. They're unusual but very palate refreshing.

Pineapple Quail Eggs ($18.80) presents flash fried soft-centred quail eggs in a sweetish pineapple and capsicum sauce.  It initially doesn’t appeal, but when eaten in contrast to hotter dishes like fragrant Clams in Hot Chilli Oil ($28.80), it grows on me.

As for the clams, I'm pleased to report their spicy treatment doesn’t overwhelm the juicy brine from the gently cooked bivalves.

I reset my mouth with Smashed Cucumber Salad ($9.80) between forays into the hot, oily pot of clams and bean sprouts that’s littered with dried spices. The salad is wet, juicy and dripping in garlic.

Wang explains the greens accompanying the Beef in Rice Wine Lees ($21.80) are similar to Chinese cabbage. They’re cooked with enough crispness to be texturally pleasurable against the super-soft pieces of iron-rich beef. Texture is an important part of Hakka cuisine, so you'll likely notice many toothsome pleasures across your meal. You'll enjoy Hakka food if you like dishes that are simple and honest.

Wang’s stellar hospitality continues right to the end of our meal, when he makes us a number of recommendations for next time based upon the dishes we enjoyed. The price of our meal felt reasonable; and it was further buoyed by being allowed to bring our own sake on a busy Friday night.

Wei Long Hakka Cuisine
Shop 330, Millennium Tower, 289-295 Sussex Street, Sydney (enter Bathhurst Street)
Ph: (02) 9283 3570

Wei Long Hakka Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Film Review - Paris Can Wait

While it's not billed as a food film per say, Paris Can Wait, is going to make you very hungry. The film, which opens today, is the directorial debut of Eleanor Coppola, at age eighty. The story is based upon a real life encounter she had in 2009, when a head cold prevented her from accompanying her director husband, Francis Ford Coppola, to Eastern Europe. Instead Eleanor was driven from Cannes to Paris by a food-obsessed Frenchman. This film maps her resulting adventure.

Paris Can Wait stars Diane Lane and Alex Baldwin as the film industry couple - Anne and Michael Lockwood - and Arnaud Viard as Jacques, the endearingly irrepressible Frenchman. While I’m not generally a romantic comedy fan, even I got a few chuckles at watching French hedonism meet American Puritanism head on. While the relationship between Anne (Lane) and Jacques (Viard) slowly develops, viewers get to drink in French countryside, produce, wine, restaurants and landmarks, with some food philosophy thrown in.

"The best food is straight from the garden with very little done to it," explains Jacques as he describes eating fresh tomatoes on bread with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. With my own mouth salivating, I found myself nodding in agreement. Jacques’ dismissal of aeroplane food also had me elbowing my husband in the ribs, smirking: "The food on the plane will not be food, so I got you something good," said Jacques. Jacques is carrying baguettes, hand-made sausage and Dijon mustard; and don't even get me started about the film's cheese-porn!

Jacques is also a wild-food advocate, urging Anne to "taste the wild flavours straight from nature." He throws in quick recipes for dandelions, wild fennel and trout; and plucks an amazing bunch of watercress for his impromptu riverside picnic. He also casually introduces Anne to great wines, including a Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

"Guilt is bad for your digestion,” proffers Jacques during one of their meals. The double-entendre between guilt about over indulging in food and guilt about extramarital affairs is a source of building tension throughout the film. Does Jacques’ zest for life and constant flirtation win Anne over? Or, more to the point, did Eleanor’s real life Frenchman win her over back in 2009? While on the one hand, this is a lighthearted romp through the abundant French countryside, there's also an underlying tension captured in the repeated juxtaposition of Pop Tarts (the young women who surround famous men) and chocolate creme brûlée (their older wives) that'll likely have married heterosexual women over forty smiling wryly. Maybe revenge is a dish best served in a film that's so charming it's hard to disagree with?

Paris Can Wait is in cinemas now, or you can view a trailer on Transmission Films' website HERE.

Review - Umi Sushi & Bar

Playing with a palette of primary colours, the updated Umi Sushi & Bar certainly commands your attention.

The glass box’s golden yellow bar, bright red neon, and deep blue, 8-meter long fish tank, are only one aspect of the restaurant's update.

After eleven years in this spot, owners Jessie Xiao and Terence Chau, have re-made their original Umi Sushi into a flagship live seafood specialist, offering up omakase chef’s daily selection sushi banquets.

They’ve also put in a charcoal grill for cook-to-order kushiyaki, added multiple private dining rooms (with karaoke facilities), and backed it all up with a very impressive range of sake and Japanese whisky.

We’re seated at a varnished aggregate counter right in front of the live fish tank; eyeballing both our eventual dinner and the man behind the new menu. His name is Executive Chef Hideaki Fukada, and you might know him from his work at Toriciya.

You might also know his Spicy Kingfish Carpaccio ($16.80), since it has followed him across the Bridge. Thin slices of kingfish are dressed with jalapeno and mixed plum jam and presented in a pool of yuzu soy sauce. Chef Fukada pairs them with a junmai ginjo sake from the Niigata Prefecture – Denemon ($20.80/180ml) - served heated to 40 degrees. It’s soft and ricey, and a lovely contrast to the lively, citrusy dish.

The Oven-Baked Savoy Cabbage ($14.80) is another familiar dish that has made the jump – though it’s better than the original thanks to the cooking accuracy of a new combi oven. The charred cabbage is flavoured with Japanese citrus, bonito and truffle, giving it a big savoury (umami) mid palate. We consume it with a seemingly light Chiyomusubi ($23.80/100ml) junmai daiginjo sake that comes into its own when drunk with this dish.

After a pungent palate cleaner of Pickled Wasabi Leaf ($7.80) that I'd definitely order again, we move on kushiyaki.

Chef Fukuda excuses himself to charcoal grill our skewered meats; while we get acquainted with Komagura Munouyaku Yamada ($18.80/180ml). It’s a junmai (no distilled alcohol added) kimoto sake, which basically means the yeast starter is made in a way that allows more funky yeast to be present, leading to a wilder, funkier flavour.

Served at 40 degrees, it’s just the ticket to enjoy against Yakitori Tsukune ($5.80/each). The sticky-sweet and juicy chicken meatball skewers are presented with onsen tamago (hot spring egg) for dipping. The sake is also big enough to cope with Yakitori Wagyu ($6.80/each) - these skewers are a real highlight, cooked at a sufficiently high temperature to ensure the crisp beef fat explodes in your mouth as you bite into it.

We share a fillet of Char-grilled Saikou Salmon ($23.80) with Suiryu Kimoto no Dobu Junmai Genshu ($18.80/180ml) served at 45 degrees. The salmon is from the high alpine reaches of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Chef Fukada has treated the fish to a sake rice malt marinade, then char-grilled it to add some smoky flavours. His sake match works to cleanse your mouth of the oiliness of the cold climate fish.

We get an on-ice preview of our next course, which includes items from the live seafood tank that we’ve been watching throughout our meal. The bivalves are expertly opened by Chef Fukada, and then placed on a DIY BBQ grill right under our noses.

While watching the live South Australian Scallops ($9.80/each) squirm might not be for everyone, this method sees them stewed in their own juices.

With a squeeze of lemon and some finely sliced shallots, they’re wonderful eating – including the roe which I’m normally not so keen on. Made by an English Toji (master sake maker) called Phillip Harper, our accompanying beverage – Tamagawa Omachi ($20.80/180ml) - is gentle, so as not to interrupt or compete with the bounty of the sea.

Freshly shucked Jumbo Oysters ($9.80/each) look intimidating raw, but reduce to a manageable size when cooked; though it's the Baby Abalone ($12.80/each) that are a revelation. I’ve never had abalone quite so tender and flavoursome before. They reminds me of uni (sea urchin roe) because they taste like a rock pool.

Chef Fukada explains the similarity comes because both sea urchin and abalone eat kelp. He's delighted we enjoy sea urchin roe as many Western diners do not, and quickly assembles us a plate of Sea Urchin Sashimi ($29). Like any omakase menu, this is a moveable feast, where the chef is able to respond to your taste and drinking proclivities in real time.

As we wrap this amazing Tasmanian produce in crisp nori sheets with wasabi and Maldon sea salt, Chef Fukada explains his parents live just fifteen minutes walk from Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. When he visits them, he walks there every day to revel in the sheer number of shellfish available. "Shellfish, rock salt, perfect in morning 8am,” he says joyfully as I stuff this wonderfully simple blend into my own mouth with my fingers. It’s an impossibly perfect dish that is like opening your mouth in the ocean, with the Takaisami Tokubetsu Junmai ($15.80/180ml) sake behaving like a fresh mountain stream running over rocks and into the sea.

As we’re keen drinkers, we’re treated to another off-menu drinking snack, while Chef Fukada explains his dream is to have a small seafood stand over a train station. His tiny restaurant would serve up sake and drinking snacks like Toro Tataki Namero ($28), a dish that is common on the Chiba prefecture. The pink tuna belly is hand minced with ginger, miso and shallot, with the resulting mix flamed by blowtorch.

We eat it wrapped in more crisp nori sheets.

Really what makes this omakase experience so wonderful is the attention and interaction with this intriguing chef; a true sake lover, who is at home pouring your sake, and answering your questions about this intriguing drink. Our meal concludes with a ‘dessert’ of Foie Gras ($15.80/per piece) topped with sweet miso and blow torched.

The rich slices of sweetly caramelised liver are delicious, and accompanied by yet another sake - Taketsuru Daiwa-Omachi ($23.80/180ml) junmai genshu served heated to 65 degrees. This aged sake smells like honey or cane sugar, and is the only sake that can go above 55 degrees without becoming unbalanced, because it has a high acid content.

We leave this restaurant smiling and not just because of alcohol-induced good cheer. Umi Sushi & Bar really is a jewel in the crown for Jessie Xiao and Terence Chau – and the sake line-up is exceptional.

Umi Sushi & Bar
Shop 1 & 2, 477 Pitt Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9281 2006

Umi Sushi & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Hombre Mexican Cantina

Originating in Queensland, Hombre Mexican Cantina was recently snapped up by Franchise Retail Brands (FRB).  They’re in the process of rolling out these fast casual Mexican restaurants across NSW, starting with stores in Stanhope Gardens and Clemton Park.

At the same time they’ve let vivacious Group Chef Emeleen Khalaf loose on the menu. This Canadian chef has Syrian-Lebanese heritage and a keen interest in making healthy, delicious food.

Emeleen has pared back the menu into a shorter, more easily reproducible list of Tex-Mex inspired dishes, and brought many of the processes (like shredding chicken breast, and cooking rice) in-house.

In the new Clemton Park store, you'll be consuming her dishes in a modern setting made into a colourful streetscape using painted white bricks, trompe l'oeil (trick the eye) doorways, Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) iconography and hanging Edison light bulbs.


While the scattered Mexican sombreros are a bit gimmicky, I’ve got no complaints about the tequila collection. They’re offering up a decent range of the big brands – Jose Cuervo, Herradura, 1800, Padron – that goes all the way up to family reserve.

We tried some out blanco tequila in a straight-up, classic, salt-rimmed Margarita ($9.90) that drank well. Jose Cuervo Especial Tequila worked well in a Paloma ($9.90) though I found the grapefruit soda that’s blended with grape juice a bit oversweet. An extra squeeze of lime from the garnish helped created it into something more to my taste.

In terms of eats, you can tuck into soft tacos that get cheaper in happy hour from 4pm-6pm each day. Fish Taco ($11/2) presents a lightly beer-battered flathead fillet on mild chipotle aioli with mango avocado salsa. It’s fresh and good eating but light on chilli so I’d suggest making the two-buck tomatillo verde sauce add-on if you enjoy some zing.


In addition to the house-made sauces, you can delve into their dining room chilli sauce collection to dress up your Burrito Jose Style ($14). The twelve-inch soft tortilla is filled with a blend of chipotle chicken, refried beans, Spanish rice and cheese, as well as shredded iceberg lettuce, roasted tomato salsa and guacamole. It’s lightly toasted and holds together nicely. Once again it has please-all levels of chilli, so we availed ourselves of something labelled mild and full of vinegar called Frank's RedHot and a more aggressive bottle of Venom that really kicked our arses!

Over a trio of Churros ($8) dusted with icing sugar and served with warm salted caramel and chocolate sauces, I muse that for a fast casual style restaurant, Hombre Mexican Cantina does a reasonable job. The food here is fresh, filling and not too expensive, and the setting is a pleasant place to dine.

NOTE: See another review in Clemton Park Shopping Village HERE and HERE.

Hombre Mexican Cantina
Shop 6, Clemton Park Shopping Village
5 Mackinder Street, Campsie
Ph: (02) 8731 0682

Hombre Mexican Cantina  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato