Sydney Food Diary: S’Age Bistronomy, Crow’s Nest

It was a fun little adventure to head up from Surry Hills to Crows Nest on a Tuesday evening for dinner at S’Age Bistronomy. Billed as Japanese with French influences, it’s located on a corner on Pacific Highway, formerly Waqu, and the waitress told us perhaps long ago a bank.

The space is cool and beautiful, with a clear Japanese aesthetic (it helps to have sake bottles on the bar). The views out of the window are a little unfortunate, the traffic and not very pretty buildings. But settle in, and ignore the outside world.

I think they’re doing a very interesting thing here, offering diners a special meal experience if they desire with a degustation, but also offering more casual fare (and interesting cocktails). It’s a mid-range restaurant, quite inexpensive I think for what you get (and cheaper glasses of wine than most places I’ve eated at lately in Surry Hills).

We opted to pick and choose different dishes from the menu and got to try an interesting range of chef’s techniques. Loved the duck liver pate filling of the beetroot macaron, though the macaron was a touch too crisp for me. Great combo of flavours.

The squid ink lavosh and smoked cod cream seemed deceptively simple, yet the texture of the lavosh and the intense, beautiful flavour of the cream made this a standout. Also, presentation was very nice.

My better half commented on how the bonito sashimi (with smoked soy and raspberry and a delicious black garlic cream) tasted of the sea; I thought the sashimi tasted very high quality. A great dish. Photo at the top of the post.

We had high hopes for the glazed lamb ribs with sweet potato, but alas, it was not to our taste, even though I give full marks to the complicated system set up for the finger bowl and bones! I’ve never seen such a system. Somehow I’ve gotten used to slow-cooked ribs, melt in your mouth, but still crisp on the outside. These were tender but not done in the same technique, and the potato was underdone.

But this dish: what a dish. And a humble side dish too, for only ten bucks. Thrice cooked potato with burnt butter. It was the essence of deep-fried on the outside (but not greasy) and then soft and creamy in the middle. The hint of the guilty pleasure of junk food (or really good fish and chips for example) but so perfectly done, it had to come from a fine dining restaurant. The burnt butter sprinkled on top just made it even better.

To drink, we had cocktails, a Fragroni, a negroni with amaretto mixed in (I slightly prefer the original’s bitterness but this was good).

And a salty sake, an interesting concoction with lime, cointreau. salt and sake and yuzu – but I couldn’t taste any of the sweet notes at all. It really was salty and sour. Cocktails are only $16. A bargain! I also had a very nice glass of organic Italian pinot grigio. Yum.

It was just one of those nights where we couldn’t fit in another dish, nor dessert. But left happily sated after our culinary adventure in Crows Nest.

S'age Bistronomy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

We dined as guests of S’Age, but the opinions above are my own. In the meantime, what’s up with the Zomato ratings? It’s listing 3.2 out of 5 from 10 votes, but of the 8 public votes on the page, there is only one 3 and the rest are 4’s and 4.5’s. Certainly not an average of 3.2 unless two anonymous voters both gave a 1 star without rationale…

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Movie Review: The Great Wall

I suggested Lion and my friend said he can’t stand anything with Nicole Kidman in it. I suggested Hidden Figures and he said that he’d read a review with the lead actor that said they’d really sanitised the book it was based on. He suggested Silence but reviews have been mixed and the idea of missionaries colonising Asian people makes me kind of queasy.

So, the Great Wall it was!

And you know, the thing is: it wasn’t terrible. I’d read the controversy about whether Matt Damon was cast as a White Saviour for Asians. And he’s not, although he is the focus of the film, the individual that gets the most attention. As a friend pointed out, the Chinese might have been quite pleased that they could afford to hire Matt Damon for their film, and use him for their purposes (though I discover it’s a co-production, and the writers and producers all have Western names; only the famous director, Zhang Yimou (and a cast of thousands) are Chinese). In any case, I could find ways, perhaps of being offended in a minor way (it would have been nice to have Chinese heroes with the Whities really as secondary), but I can’t get worked up.

What the film seems to be is a regular big budget action movie, with monsters and special effects, that has a Chinese setting, mostly Chinese actors, and a somewhat Chinese sensibility. The rather large army is dressed in different colours according to their role, and I disconcertingly thought they looked like a bunch of Wiggles.

Photo from Universal Studios

But the scenery is amazing. The costumes are amazing. The actors are beautiful (especially Jing Tian, the female commander). The script is basic and passable, without any laugh out loud ridiculousness. About one-third of the way from the ending, the script completely seemed to fall apart, with gaping holes in logic.

But with my expectations so low, I was more than pleased that I didn’t hate it.

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Sydney Food Diary: BBQ Galbi, Waterloo

Why go to a Korean BBQ restaurant and not have the BBQ? Any number of reasons, really. Korean Fried Chicken. BiBimBap. Well, that was our decision on a quiet weeknight.

This is a pretty charming and casual place in a little complex with other Asian restaurants, probably at least two other Korean ones and at least one Vietnamese.

The staff are friendly and welcoming.

However, the funniest moment was when the Mama-san brought us the wrong BiBimBap, and then smiled very sweetly and basically said, ‘You can order the one you want next time.’ And she dropped the plate on the table and ran away.

I’ve had Korean Fried Chicken before which is… well, orgasmic. If found this mixed. Some pieces were really tasty; others not as much. It was still pretty good. We had the standard one (no spices or flavours).

The BiBimBap was tasty, neither terrible nor special. I thought the selection of pickles was pretty good. We had cans of Korean beer to wash it all down.

BBQ Galbi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Shinmachi, Newtown

Shinmachi advertises itself as Japanese Tapas. I think it was called Wagaya and changed to the present incarnation around April 2016. David and I popped by here on a Saturday night after seeing the bizarrely not terrible movie, The Great Wall. It was packed when we arrived, but cleared out a bit. It’s a fun, fast place.

We loved the iPad ordering system, with iPads attached to the walls near each table. David is vegetarian and there was more than enough to please us, though we couldn’t resist ordering both the Nasi Denkaku (eggplant) and deep-fried tempura eggplant.

I also had the fun sake tasting, four cups for $12 from different regions, as indicated on the map. I wish the sake was cold though, rather than room temperature.

We also had deep-fried lotus root (delicious), a vegie sushi roll, and for dessert, black sesame ice cream with a matcha pannacotta (and some sweet red beans underneath). Very tasty.

The food was very tasty, and came out quick, and possibly wasn’t fabulous, but that’s not what we were expecting. It’s tasty enough, not expensive, and the experience is rather fun. All up for the two of us was only $65 (and only me drinking). The bill could be larger if you indulge in the various amusing drinks they have here (pear sake!) but if you’re after cheap, this is inexpensive. I’d be happy to drop by for a quick and easy meal here anytime at all.

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

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Coffee in Sydney: Crown St Grocer, Surry Hills

Crown St Grocer is a bit of an institution, selling high-quality and slightly expensive Italian food and deli products. They have a great range of cheese.

And the coffee is just fine. What better outlook on a morning in Surry Hills than to watch the world go by at Crown and Albion?

Crown St Grocer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Movie review: Moonlight

I’ve heard rumblings of Moonlight for many months now, since movie critics started mentioning its first appearances in movie festivals. And then suddenly it was being nominated for major awards, appearing in all of the end-of-the-year top movie lists, and now, in February 2017, it’s arrived in Australia.

I had a fun little experience leading up to seeing it. I was offered by Roadshow Films to see the premiere (I was still on Christmas holidays) but then got sent some free movie passes, and three more pairs of tickets to give away. I offered them up through Facebook, reaching far more interested friends than I would have gotten through Twitter or Instagram, and used a website that does random selections to choose the winners. It was fun.

We finally saw the film this weekend and my, oh my, is it good. I was influenced by what I’d read which I remember said either it was impressionistic or lacked narrative (but was beautiful) and that there was a sad ending. But I didn’t find this. It had a strong narrative, as we watch a Chiron as a boy, a teenager and as a man, and though the circumstances in the film are sad generally – the poverty, the drug selling and addiction, the violence – there is a moment of redemption that however long it lasts is so very sweet.

The film is bathed in beautiful colours; filmed beautifully and the actors are superb. There is something amazing in the writing and the acting for one of the main themes of the film to be the inability to talk, to express oneself; it linked the actors so strongly together that in the last third of the film, I found myself for a moment really believing that only one actor rather than three had presented this life.

I’d also have to say that this was one of the most interesting and subtle depictions of gay sexuality and identity, or the suppression of both. The script is not hiding that Chiron is recognised by other young boys as different from them, that he is bullied because of his sexuality as a teenager, that his longing for a man’s touch hurts him so much as an adult.

But the film is about so much more in how real it feels, the specificities of experience, the many complex emotions it renders and brings up, and this very tough setting with moments of quiet and moonlight that peak in from time to time.

I loved it.

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Food Diary: Ippudo Ramen, CBD, Sydney

IMG_4139C’mon. This place is the bomb.

Famous around the world (apparently); they’ve figured out how to meld cool Japan with hip Sydney. Their branch at Westfield CBD is effortlessly hip.

IMG_4141The Argentinean host called out to the rest of the wait staff in Japanese as we entered the restaurant, whereupon they all greeted us in that Welcome-To-A-Japanese-Restaurant way. It’s lovely and raucous.

When I’ve been here before (and now there are a few branches in Sydney), I’ve been unable to resist ordering extra food: the pork belly buns perhaps, or any of the other yummy looking smaller dishes. But one bowl of ramen is usually enough for me, lunch or dinner.

IMG_4142In January 2016, my better half and I dropped by for a meal. I ordered a summer special with a clear, light and tasty chicken broth, rather than the usual ridiculously rich and thick tonkatsu broth. It was perfect. My better half, who ordered the traditional ramen, was pleased with his.

Then in February 2017, I came for lunch. I had a craving. And so pleased was I was the oyster special ramen of a few months ago, I decided I had to try the daily special. And I’d even go against my better judgement and have some eel and rice with it.

I mean: this was really crazy and delicious. Cheese in the soup! Grano padano! Check the official description:

A creamy concoction of a ramen made by blending our signature tonkotsu broth with special spicy sesame paste. Topped with original Tan Tan pork mince miso, coriander, Grana Padano cheese, roasted cashew, diced red onions, IPPUDO chilli oil, and a slice of tender pork belly chashu.

And here it is:

A big ball of spicy pork in the middle. The soup was rich and slightly thick. The slice of lemon was perfect to add some light zesty citrus. I’m surprised I also managed the side dish, a perfect little bit of sushi rice with bits of eel, not too generous a serve, but fine, and some cucumber pickles:

Best was at the end, as recommended, dumping the last bits of soup and leftover bits onto the last of the rice and mixing it up.

I met a ramen fanatic a while ago and I understand what he was saying: Ippudo is pretty expensive (this was $17 for the ramen and $3 for the rice/eel). And it sounds like you can hunt for other interesting ramen in town. But for now, for me, Ippudo really is the tops!

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

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Sydney Food Diary: Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart, World Square

Ah, what would the world be without new tasty treats. A world pretty damn short of new tasty treats, I’d say. So, spotting this pop-up counter in the basement of World Square: I mean, we had to try it, right? Though I knew nothing about them.

Great packaging of course, as the Japanese do so well. And the tiny tarts looked like the pastry might not be very interesting or flaky. Instead it was a great short pastry, crisp and flavourful.

And then in the middle, a very soft custard, with a quality of a mousse, rather than the egg centre of a Cantonese egg tart, or a Portuguese tart. Definitely something different. Not super sweet, but sweet. I found these pretty delectable. At four bucks a tart, they’re pricy, but if I’m passing by a counter, I would rate my chances of buying one rather high.

Apparently, these are popular in Japan, and have been brought to Australia (branches in Sydney and Melbourne) by the Malaysian company that does the PappaRich chain (which I must try).

Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Schnitz, Westfield Bondi

I like the feel of the food court at Bondi Westfield lately. I liked the last version too, but it’s good for a change. We usually go for something fried and Japanese, but Schnitz caught our eye. I like a good chicken parmiagiana.

Funnily enough, this was not what we got. They gave us this before we figured out that my better half had ordered a wrap. However, he said he was expecting more, and that there was something missing. He just can’t put his finger on it, but it wasn’t tasty enough.

Mine on the other hand was a plain chicken parmiagana with fries. The fries were covered in chicken salt and perfectly crisp. Very tasty. And the parmiagana had a nice covering of moist tomato sauce, just enough cheese and was very crisp. Not a huge portion, and for lunch, that’s just fine. The average of our scores… well, I liked mine. I’d day that drags his 2 stars up to a 3.

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

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Sydney Food Diary: Good Luck Pinbone, Kensington

So, it would seem like you have until the end of July 2017 to get to the pop-up restaurant Good Luck Pinbone, which took over from a Japanese takeaway, and whose building will be demolished at a certain point.

I’ve mentioned to friends numerous times that I’m finding a delightful irony in some Sydney restaurants. When I was growing up in Vancouver, ALL the chefs were Chinese. You could be in a hotel restaurant, a Greek restaurant, or a local cafe: the chefs were Chinese. When restaurants starting getting more authentic in Vancouver, they demanded that the chefs had more than a passing training in the cuisine were cooking, so there were less Chinese chefs in non-Chinese restaurants! Here in Sydney, I’ve been amused that white Aussie chefs have fallen in love with Asian food, travelled to Asian countries and trained in Asian cooking, and now in Chinese (or Thai) restaurants, there are non-Asian chefs! Like at Good Luck Pinbone.

I’m not sure whether this makes the food better or worse (and am also reminded of being invited over to a Jewish friend’s for dinner in my university years, and he cooked me a Chinese meal far better than I could have made at the time). In the case of Good Luck Pinbone, the food is fantastic! It’s a mix of some very authentic Chinese flavours, with some interesting additions (like above, kingfish belly toast with bacon)

The four of us opted for the set menu. Also in the old days (I know, I know: I talk about the old days a lot): at Asian restaurants when you ordered the set menu, it was usually because no one could make a decision. You got the easiest dishes for the kitchen to make, and they’d charge you more for it. But here, almost everything on the set menu was on the regular menu; it just made sense to order it.

Where are the photos? Oops. I was too busy eating (and enjoying myself). Suffice to say, I thought mostly everything was terrific. Along with our BYO, it was a great night. They even gave us a complementary serve of the Scorpion Fish (if you’ve not seen one live, google it). It was a bit bony, but tasty, and when do you get to eat Scorpion Fish?

Decor is basic, but in an amusing hipster sort of way. The focus is on the food, and if the restaurant is only around for less than a year, let’s not worry about fancy furnishings, shall we?

Good Luck Pinbone Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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