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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Sydney Food Diary: Young Alfred Bar, Circular Quay

Good old Sydney went from absolutely swelteringly hot to a torrential downpour on early Tuesday evening.

I’d wanted to try the Spice Room in Circular Quay but man, is that place busy. Perhaps it’s a go-to spot for pre-theatre meals. I haven’t been able to get in there so far.

Likewise with Cafe Ananas. I’ve had a drink there before, and eaten at the previous restaurant, but without a reservation: nope.

Next effort: the Customs House Bar is listed in the Entertainment Guide. I thought that was an option for an easy and quick meal. But why would the Customs House Bar be so far away from Customs House. I couldn’t find it, not knowing that it was all the way over near the Basement Bar.

So, the Young Alfred Bar served us just fine. A glass of white wine, a very delicious pasta dish with ragu (and orecchiete), and the pizza, thin-crusted and crispy, was also delicious. $74 for what we got was awfully steep, but prices are high the closer you get to the Opera House. Better deals would take better planning than we did that night.

Young Alfred Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Coffee in Sydney: A Brewer’s Tale Cafe, Darlinghurst

This little corner of Darlinghurst goes through rather a bit of a changeover and it’s taken me a while to get to this latest incarnation: A Brewer’s Tale Cafe.

It’s really just a placeholder though. The menu looks GREAT with some Asian-influenced items. There’s hot coffee, and cold-drip coffee and various other coffees which makes me embarrassed to just have ordered a large latte. There’s bags of coffee to buy. This would seem to be a real coffee aficionado joint.

Also there’s other interesting hot drinks: matcha latte, for example, a favourite. So, I’ll be back. With a longer review too.

A Brewer's Tale Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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Sydney Food Diary: Black by Ezard, Star City (Pre-Theatre Menu)

I don’t often have two reviews up for the same restaurant but this recent meal was much different than the first, which was a special Entertainment dinner with Penfolds, matching food with wine.

This meal was a pre-theatre one (before the slightly odd Australian musical Ladies in Black) and it was so delicious, I thought it was worth a blog.

With a shorter menu to choose from, and the choice between two and three courses, this made things pretty simple. We both chose the prawns to start with, and not only was it a pretty dish, but it was so perfectly balanced, with a hint of spice, and a healthy citrus punch, I couldn’t stop raving about it.

What was slightly strange about this meal is that some of the dishes were so thrilling that when they were just OK, they stood out. Oh well. The price you pay for greatness. We thought that the fish, with a simple salad and green condiment was a bit plain.

On the other hand I was wondering how they would elevate gnocchi to fine dining, and well, this is the answer. Beautiful, delicate pieces of gnocchi, in (again) a perfectly composed dish with a stuffed zucchini flower and various other yummy ingredients.

We couldn’t resist ordering some extra sides. Again: a contrast. The mac and cheese was so rich, with an interesting sharp flavour to it. Orgasmic.

But I didn’t find the cauliflower as interesting at all.

My dessert was beautiful, light and interesting.

But is there the same theatre with any other dish on the menu than this one:

All in all, I was blown away by the quality of the food, and offered for a pre-theatre set menu. With gracious service, and a nice airy space, this was GREAT.

BLACK Bar & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Book review: Sharon Olds’s Odes

OdesOdes by Sharon Olds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel some surprise to think how long I’ve been reading the poetry of Sharon Olds, perhaps to find myself so old! From her first books I read, I was shocked by her confessionals of her difficult family relationships and her exaltations of her body and sex. I loved her long lines and the way she jammed together images and metaphors and wordplay in ways that seemed to build power and never become tangled.

Seeing the title of her latest collection, I had a moment of doubt. Could she have enough variation of theme to keep my interest, if keeping only to one mode, the mode of odes?

I had to say I loved them. Take ‘My Mother’s Flashlight Ode’ where in her typical fashion, she’ll focus on a quotidian object, in this case a flashlight, and suddenly render it fantastical, in this case the batteries inside of it turned to ‘winged monkey bombs’. Two peak emotional experiences are described – trying to get to her mother before she died, and trying to guide a confused and ill mother back to bed –and suddenly the flashlight has become her mother flashing her, the ‘pink-white meteor of her unclothed body’, and finally the mother becomes Olds’s light, her lantern.

Other reviewers have commented that they’re not shocked by the poet’s love of being somewhat shocking, in writing about what others aren’t writing about, and also a lack of playfulness, but I was delighted to read about hip replacement, wattles, cellulite, a douche bag, and Olds’s unmatching legs, along with more serious odes to friends or relatives passed. There may be a few poems like ‘Sick Couch Ode’ that are more rambling and a bit lazy. But there are so many startling and energised phrases and images in these poems as a whole.

I also seem to recall previous books having sections very, very tightly focused on one relationship, or on one emotional theme. In Odes, I liked the contrasts and variations, a lightness of voice in describing the body’s decay and faults, yet still a strong emotional core, questions and references to how we are made, how we become who we are.

I wrote most of his review after having finished six of the seven sections, but wanted to get some thoughts down early. I couldn’t resist reading some of the other reviews on Goodreads and in other publications of Odes that show readers really engaging with the book, whether they like it or not; the negative reviews still show close reading and knowledge of Olds’s body of work. I think it makes good conversation for what we ask of our poets and writers, how we expect them to change or stay the same, whether a flaw is loveable, or not quite.

I’m not sure how much I was affected by the reviews then, that did point out a few flaws: for example, drawing attention a few times too many the way she is writing about things others may not, or when the poem’s revelatory moment spins from the mundane to a cosmic image, or to one of music – I think this trick was repeated too often.

So it was strange to find reading the last section that I moved from excitement and praise to thinking that the themes were repeating too many times. I don’t mind a poems about vaginas but I do want them to tell me different things, rather than stay in similar descriptions. The odes to dirt and then a compost toilet really did seem to start getting mundane. So, perhaps not a perfect collection… but all in all, still pretty amazing.

View all my reviews

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2017 in lists (Concerts & shows, theatre, books, movies, TV)

(Obviously, a work in progress…)

Concerts, Shows, Theatre & Words

  • Ladies in Black, Lyric Theatre, January: An Australian homegrown musical with music by Tim Finn of Crowded House, this show got great reviews when it was being developed a year go… though the reviews of this run, for the Sydney Festival, have been decidedly mediocre. There’s just not much originality and punch in the storyline, a young woman trying to find her way in the world. She sings about finding herself and overcoming fear, much like any musical heroine. When I’d first read about rules for writing songs in musicals, the number one rule was to show what was happening, but not say it. So each time I heard characters plainly sing ‘I’m happy’, ‘I’m sad’, ‘I’m sterile’… I cringed. The biggest attraction of the musical seemed to be its references to Australia, now and in the 50s, and the audience lapped it up. And it wasn’t terrible overall, it just could have been much better.
  • Nude: Live, AGNSW, January: Seven members of the Sydney Dance Company, solo and in groups, dancing, nude, in front of extraordinary art, and in an immersive “Sleep No More” fashion where spectators move in and out of rooms, and view the dance at different angles. Fabulous.
  • Jann Tiersen, Sydney Opera House, January: Amazing French musician and composer, best known for the Amelie soundtrack. I thought his music intricate and beautiful. Just as amusing was his complete lack of engagement or interest in the audience, which gave him rapturous appreciation. He’s all about the music!
  • Tomboy Survival Guide, Spiegeltent, Sydney Festival, January: Wow. Ivan Coyote and friends, and a wonderful show of spoken word performance backed up by a cool band (and some music and singing too). Witty, poetic, funny and most of all honest. The universal feeling of not fitting in matched with an introduction to a very different world. Loved it. Amazing.
  • Cabaret, Hayes Theatre, February: It seems to be getting mixed reviews, but I liked it. Incredible performers. Perhaps a little frantic (and Paul Capsis’s interpretation of the emcee is more than terrifying), but an apt production for these present times.

Exhibitions

  • Nude: Art from the Tate collection, AGNSW: Such an amazing variety of images and sculpture, and what a story is told, from the heroes and gods to women bathing and then artists painting themselves or pushing boundaries. A compact and very interesting exhibition and the way they’ve lit and placed Rodin’s The Kiss was awesome.

Books

  • The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant (short fiction):  I started this last year, and took a long break, and finally finished it in January while travelling. Still trying to get my head around it. 
  • Peter Ho Davies’ The Fortunes (fiction)
  • Berndt Sellheim’s Awake at the Wheel (poetry)
  • Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You (fiction)
  • Viet Than Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (fiction)
  • Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air (autobiography)

Movies

  • Bridget Jones’s Baby: OK. I’m a fan of Bridget Jones. I didn’t see the last one which sounded terrible, but really, this was just fine for airplane viewing.
  • La La Land: I liked it. It was fun and engaging, and romantic. The two leads are charismatic. I liked that the tone of the fantasy ending was bittersweet. I’d rather have films winning awards that have a stronger message than nostalgia and entertainment but…
  • Moonlight: Review here. Amazing.
  • The Great Wall: Surprisingly, not terrible. Review here.
  • Miss Sloane: Review here.

Television

  • Transparent, Seasons 1 and 2: How did TV become better than movies? Truthful, funny and frantic.
  • The Crown: Amazing TV.

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Sydney Food and Drinking Diary: The Bar, Sir Stamford Hotel, Circular Quay

Just a block or two up from Circular Quay, this is a great location for a drink or light dinner, on your way to or from the Quay, or as a destination on its own. The Bar has a fun Ye Olde World feel, kind of a combo of a businessman’s club in the 50s or an old pub in England. It’s clientele is laid-back, guests of the hotel, and groups of friends relaxing after work, or before going out.

The best thing is that they’re live music with musicians singing and playing on a grand piano on Wednesday (somewhere around 6 to 9pm) and Friday nights (starting a little later than 6pm).

Sit back and listen to some music in an intimate setting with a good selection of wine, craft beers and cocktails, and the bar menu covers all the bases with some Argentinean grilled skewers, Asian dishes or standards like a garlicky spaghetti or a somewhat expensive looking burger. I had a beautifully done Cambodian curried barramundi on one night, and last night we split some starters: grilled mushrooms, very tasty lamb riblets, and some very tender skewers of beef. But now, I basically tried most of the menu, and everything’s is pretty good.

The perfect amusing finish to the evening, if you can drink coffee late at night (I can’t, it wires me up badly) is an affogato. Look at this version. You won’t find it outside of a hotel bar, I’d think. You mix it up yourself. Delicious.

The Bar - Sir Stamford Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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