Sydney Food Diary: Izakaya Fujiyama, Surry Hills

  It’s impressive any time a restaurant can keep going so long in the tough and fickle Sydney market, and remain busy, buzzy and popular. Izakaya Fujiyama has been around for yonks and many friends consider it a favourite place to go to.

I hadn’t been for a long time myself, so hanging out with an old flatmate, one of my longest friends in Sydney, was a good excuse. We couldn’t go by all the specials and in fact, didn’t order anything from the regular menu. We ordered five dishes, and probably could have gotten by with four. They’re pretty generous servings.

I loved the texture and combo of the Yellowfish tataki, but it did need the soya sauce and there wasn’t quite enough of it. Grilled cauliflower with radish and either onions or perhaps fennel? In teriyaki sauce was also a nice combo of flavours and texture and a generous serve.

The cheese sausage was delicious! And the grilled brussel sprouts with labne and I think a pumpkin mash was really tasty, and a huge dish. The Fumé Blanc that we ordered (about 50 bucks) went really well with it, and the service was impressive, keeping the wine cold for us and pouring modest amounts when our glasses were empty.

I think they forgot about the wagyu beef cheeks sliders (actually a soft rice flour bun). This was SO delicious. They might have brought it out, and then decided to serve it to us later or something; we had to ask for it twice and it took forever to come. Oops.

All in all an impressive meal. With Katsu Yachiyo just around the corner, this is a fabulous little corner of Surry Hills for Japanese food.

Izakaya Fujiyama Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Ze Pickle, Surry Hills

So, looks like a successful concept imported from the Gold Coast (and then Brisbane) and now to Foveaux Street in Surry Hills. I’ve walked by this place a few times, and been intrigued: it’s a huge, open space and certainly inviting compared to the closed in pubs and little restaurants. And though it’s buzzy and hip, it’s also really relaxed, and the tables are spaced out enough that it was both busy but really comfortable to be in.

I could equally title this post ‘Drinking in Sydney’ as we mainly stopped in here for a drink on a Friday night. Amusing menus served on licence plates. We ordered a very tasty Malbec to split between the three of us from a friendly and engaging waitress. I looked it up on Vivino right away and though it was a cheapie (most people spent $9 for it), for Surry Hills prices, $40 for a decent red, split between us, was absolutely fine.

But what will lure me back to this marijuana-themed restaurant is the mind-blowing Oreogasm which we split which could have been a very bad idea, but was very good indeed. Deep-fried Oreos. I’d never tried them and man, they’re good. Served up with ice cream and it was ridiculously good. The waitress says their other dessert is just as good, if not better, and with other reviews complimenting their monster burgers, seems like it will be worth a try.

Ze Pickle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Cafe Newtown

Friends suggested this humble cafe as a place to meet for Saturday brunch and though I’ve passed by this place one zillion times, I’ve never stopped in. The outdoor tables are all filled so we grab a comfortable one inside, but not before James shows me the intriguing table and swing-out chairs in the back underneath the large flower plant wall arrangement: with Nepalese or Indian writing, perhaps something from a South Asian train station? A beautiful object, though uncomfortable seats, apparently.

The coffees were great. Nice and strong. We jumped in and ordered the special. $18 each for a breakfast platter with everything on it. This could have been a dangerous move: too much food, or a stodgy variant of an all-you-can-eat buffet. But it did have everything on it, and nearly everything was pretty good: those fantastic industrial hashbrowns like you get at McDonalds, with a good helping of scrambled eggs (yum), tasty sausages, ripe avocado, some mushrooms, feta, and little bacon and egg sliders (yum). And on top, some perfectly toasted banana bread, a chocolate-covered biscuit and ice cream!

OK. We had criticism. The toast should have been buttered. We had to ask to get plates cleared to have a final coffee (and even then, it was only half-cleared). It would have been nice to have the dessert (and ice cream) served last so the ice cream didn’t melt. And probably some small bowls to divide the ice cream up (rather than the plates we got). But it was still pretty good, and a lovely morning, and you can’t get more Newtown than this: people streaming out of the train station and going to the train station and all passing in front of you while crossing King Street, as the traffic zooms towards you and away from you at the same time.

Cafe Newtown Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Concert review: A night with David Helfgott

On 4 March 2017, we had the very interesting experience of a night with David Helfgott at the Sir Stamford Hotel. It was arranged as a sort of cocktail party with music, where we had canapés and drinks before the first part of the concert, more at the interval, and wine and cheese after. The room was a conference or event room of the hotel, rather than a formal concert setting.

I was curious of course. The movie ‘Shine’ was extraordinary, both for the story it told and the performances of the actors in it. I’d heard that Helfgott made noises during the performance, but in fact, he speaks, talks, hums along and mumbles during all of the music. Yet the piano playing is beautiful and accomplished. I’d read a terrible review from over a decade ago that said that the music could lack depth and rhythm, and possibly tried to please the audience too much.

I detected that the playing was perhaps rushed (which was confirmed at interval when he’d finished earlier than expected) and that parts were a bit… flighty. And yet that seemed appropriate enough for most to the music, such as Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu, and really, once we’d all settled in, I thought the playing was wonderful. Liszt was also heavily featured along with Chopin, along with Lecuno’s Malaguena, Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto and Katchaturian’s Sabre Dance. The Steinway was beautiful, though I’m not sure whether the acoustics in the room did him justice.

The experience was as much theatre as concert. Because Helfgott talked, I noticed that some audience members felt they could chat among themselves. Others were using their iPhones to video the performance, and there was a large screen set up in one corner, which we couldn’t see where we were, where a camera was trained on his fingers. In a shimmering silk top, Helfgott was a completely unique presence, expressing delight to meet people and perform. And it was as much an event as theatre, as we had a very pleasant time at this well-organised event with tasty treats and delicious drinks. So, yes, a memorable evening.

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Sydney Food Diary: Rolld, Castle Hill

Myer at Castle Hill was one of the two Myers that had the suitcase of my dreams (the other one being in Penrith) so we took a little excursion out there, and then decided to have an early lunch.

I’ve always been intrigued by how you translate a culture into fast food. Rolld serves up Vietnamese classics, the Vietnamese salad, bun and pho, with a friendly smile and quick service.

My better half thought his salad was OK. I thought that the Banh Mi was acceptable, but somehow wasn’t as good as ones I’ve had from little Vietnamese bakeries in various places in Sydney. The pork spring roll was perfectly crisp.

All up 24 bucks. Easy.

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

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Book Review: BooksActually’s Gold Standard 2016

BooksActually's Gold Standard 2016BooksActually’s Gold Standard 2016 by Julie Koh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, a few Facebook friends were launching a book that sounded interesting so I went along to a launch in Sydney, and enjoyed the readings enough that I bought a copy of Gold Standard 2016.

It really is an interesting collection of short fiction, with voices from Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, and writers from the diaspora.

Since some of my first literary influences were anthologies of mostly gay short fiction of the late 80s and early 90s, it’s interesting to feel the differences. There are some very clearly different voices here than North American fiction, and while very different from each other, some more fable like, some social commentary, there was a sense of place, a contemporary place, mostly centred in Asian capitals, villages or families. And nearly all the stories are relatively short; it feels like the world’s attention span has become small. While sometimes this left me wanting for more, a stronger development of an idea, more narrative than was offered (for example, Cyril Wong’s ‘Blindness’ is a poetic exploration of gay love, the protagonist negotiating a relationship with someone losing their site, yet I wanted more than the lovely sketch provided) – I also admit to being very engaged by the diversity of voices and locations.

From the fantastically literary and partically academic opening story by Kyoko Yoshida into a ghost story by Chang Ching-Hung then to a too-familiar idea of an abused Asian cleaning lady by Jing-Jing Lee, the collection offers a real breadth of subject matter and voice. So, I think readers will gravitate towards their favourites: tough family social commentary or something more surreal.

From the introduction, I learn that some of the authors are established (though perhaps not as known in the West) and other writers are newer. In some ways, the short stories of writers from the Asian diaspora have a different tone and setting (i.e. not in Asia) and yet, I found them particularly engaging: Matthew Salesses’s The Hum or the quirky and thoughtful ‘Are You There, God? It is I, Robot’ by Tom Cho. A number of stories speak of dysfunctional Asian families, too much pressure from parents on kids, or loveless partnerships with the burdens of societal and gender roles.

The question does arise for me: what is the connecting thread? I don’t quite understand what is meant by the phrase ‘cult writers’ and the idea of a ‘Gold Standard’ seems silly to me. How does one adjudicate between Asian short story writers and then decide if there is some sort of best?

But stripped of expecations, I really enjoyed this collection, this opportunity to read engaging short fiction with settings and narrators I’m not familiar with – which all come together into a nice literary experience. If this is a representation of the short fiction that’s coming out of Asia these days, this anthology makes me want to explore more.

View all my reviews

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Sydney Food Diary: The Depot, Supa Centa Moore Park

I was always impressed, as a Canadian, with the name of this shopping mall. I mean, not only do they commit to the Australian practice of changing the last syllable of words to ‘ah’ but they do it twice. Regardless, browsing for a new bed, the perfect bedroom chair, cushions, a poof and a new carpet, we came to the Supa Centa.

But I was hungry. There are a few smaller cafes in the mall, but not many. This place is the biggest and thank god, it’s not bad.

The coffee was really rather good.

The mushroom omelette was fine. Neither here nor there.

And I finally got to try a cronut. I have wanted to try one of these babies forever. I liked it. The squishy croissant-like texture. The donut shape and glaze. It wasn’t life-changing, like a Merveilleux de Fred, but it was good!

The Depot Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Goodbye to all that

I managed a quick visit to the Taj Mahal after a work trip to Delhi in 2005

It’s amazing how technology changes, and how technology changes us.

After I got my website first set up, mainly to promote my books, I also decided to use it to share photos with friends, or strangers that came upon them.

Facebook wasn’t really as popular as it was then; I’m not even sure we used them to really share photos.

The other thing is that, at the time, it felt pretty harmless to have photos up of one’s family, friends and travels. You could direct friends to see them, and they weren’t easy to stumble on.

Now, the world has really changed. We do make conscious decisions to share photos, but specifically choose our audiences for them. Facebook will be for our friends. Instagram for the public. Or just send photos across by email.

I spent some idyllic time hanging out on the coast of NSW, close to the Queensland border, around 2003.

The other thing is that there are stories of photos being stolen by others and used without permission, and photos of people used for identity theft, and these days, yes, we all make choices of how public and private to be, and what digital footprint we leave in the world. So while it was great to share photo of my niece and nephew growing up at the time, they’re old enough that they probably don’t want photos plastered all over the internet.

So, the whole concept of having albums of photos on my website is rather obsolete, not to mention that technology from the time means the photos aren’t even of very good quality. There’s no reason to archive them for the sake of it. People in the photos might not be happy that they’re appearing in a public place. It’s not the right medium for photos to be shared. Another thing is that I’ve moved on… It was great to chronicle travels and work trips and book launches. But all of that was a very long time ago.

Because I met so many people at international meetings for my work in HIV, it was fun at the time to chronicle the events and share photos (this, an ITPC meeting in 2003)

Over the last years, I have finally been taking the photo albums down, mostly from around 2000 to 2005. I had basically hidden the links to most of the photo albums, but due to technological stupidity, I couldn’t figure out how to delete the photos completely, though it’s been on my list of things to do for the last six months or longer.

A pal wrote to me on yesterday asking why his name was linked to a photo of me with someone else (google was pointing not to the specific photo, but just grabbed one of the photos of an album I had up of me with various friends). So that was the impetus I needed, and it only took an hour and a half with my hosting domain helpdesk to solve the problem…

So goodbye to all that. If you’re ever wondering if I have photos of you back in the day, just ask. But for now, I let go of these chronicles and archives and past days.

A scene from Margaret River in 2003

 

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Sydney Food Diary: Sabbaba, Westfield CBD

I’ve always like a good falafel and Sabbaba has always served up good falafels, nicely crispy with a good combo of condiments. I think it’s one of the best falafels in Sydney.

I was up on the food floor at the Westfield CBD wondering how I might try something new. You see, I find it very hard to go by my faves: Din Tai Fung, New Shanghai Dumplings, the Malaysian place for chicken curry, or if I have time the amazing ramen at Ippudo.

A young woman had been tasked to offer free samples of falafel to people who passed by, and I grabbed one, and… I had to return. So, not a bad sales technique.

I had the Cancún, with a whole wheat pocket (nice and fluffy). With sour cream, guacamole, jalapenos and cheese, I also couldn’t figure out what the nice extra crunch was: corn chips! Inside the pita. A really good combo of textures. For just over $10, this is a winner.

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

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Product review: American Tourister Airforce 1, Expandable Hardside

Luggage has been a big part of my life. I have done a lot of travelling for work, and even in younger days, schlepping my belongings across the country for university required some thoughts about the best way to transport them.

My last major suitcase was this Samsonite soft-sided case, 70cm or so, and with two wheels, as was common enough at the time. I was really grateful to my parents for making it a gift to me at the time, recognising how much work travel I was doing. I can’t remember exactly how much it cost, but I do remember thinking it was really expensive, even though it was bought at a Samsonite outlet at the Waikele mall in Hawaii.

Sadly, on one of my first trips, I had a complete brain fart and while heading to the USA, put a lock on the zip. Of course, customs tore it completely open, meaning that I had to go through some effort to have it repaired while in New York City during a meeting. It was functional but not great: I’ve only ever been able to zip it up to the same place. Annoying.

In the meantime, the outer layer on the wheels wore off… I didn’t even know there were two layers. Apparently, Samsonite wheels of the time did have some problems in durability (and people were replacing them with roller blade wheels). But I think ten years is a pretty good go.

I also wondered what it would be like to have four wheels, which seems to be so much easier to transport in various circumstances, and although I know that soft-sided luggage is more versatile for cramming in as much as you can (and expanding the case), I have been rather attracted to the hard sides lately, particularly when my better half bought a Rimowa in lime green, a very lustworthy object in itself.

It’s been a very interesting experience deciding what new suitcase to get. It helped that Myer was having a ridiculously good 40% off sale at the moment. But it struck me that suitcases were cheaper these days than I expected. Samsonite is still more expensive (and Rimowa certainly is), but there’s a good range of interesting bags at a reasonable cost. It seems that the cheaper ones are simply versions of the more expensive ones with less prestige. Samsonite owns American Tourister. Antler owns Monsac. I’d heard good things about Delsey but there weren’t many there to look at. I think Crumpler, from Australia, is a very cool brand but didn’t read good things about their luggage.

The other thing was that there didn’t seem to be a lot of fundamental differences between the suitcases. Sure, they looked much different from each other (although the majority in staid colours of grey and black), but the variations in surface and texture: ‘just a matter of what you prefer,’ the sales clerk informed me.

I really wanted something that would stand out, and look different and fun. I was rather attracted to a bright, red shiny Monsac, and I thought the Antler prism embossed suitcases were very attractive, almost a bar code design. The purple one was great. Samsonite did have a cheaper range but only in boring colours… So… royal blue it is.

In the end, I went not only with a good colour but with a good gimmick. Apparently, American Tourister is the first to trial a hardside bag that expands like a soft suitcase. This one looked pretty much the same size of my old Samsonite, but can expand in a similar way, going from 69 litre capacity to 81. I like the colour and the very groovy embossed design (though I had to travel a bit far to get the blue one I wanted; the first store I went to only had them in grey). Check out how big it gets:

Fantastically, the insides have a lot of features (this turned me off about the Antler suitcase, which was relatively featureless inside). Looks like lots of flexibility with pockets and zips to help with packing. I also love that you can pack only half the suitcase and zip it up. If I didn’t have enough in my Samsonite (below), there weren’t straps or secures, so the contents would move around: not so good.

So look at the colours and details of the inside of the American Tourister. I’m a sucker for that. There was a similar American Tourister suitcase in purple that was rather attractive on the outside, but had no colours on the inside, and less zippers and features… I do think I’ll miss the pockets on the outside of the soft-sided Samsonite (useful to slip in things at the last minute without having to completely open the case, also useful for large flat objects). But I think I’ll figure out some way to compensate (probably any items like that will just go into my carry-on, or I’ll have to plan better)

Oh, and the price. With a regular price of $389, I got a whopping discount of $156, bringing the price down to $233. This seems so reasonable that if I really don’t like the luggage, I could always get a different one in a few years. In another time, I think I might have been concerned that it’s a little heavy, i.e. 3.6 kilos, which is a rather large percentage of a 23 kilo limit. But these days, I’m packing lighter.

On the other hand, I admit being a little shocked when I finally compared to the two suitcases. 66cm plus the wheels meant that, yes, it’s the same length as my Samsonite was. But look how fat it is (and that’s without expanding it). It’s 50% bigger! And that’s for the medium, not large, size of this range. I’m not sure that I really needed such a big suitcase, but because it moves so easily, I think it shouldn’t matter really, if it’s half-full, or extra full.

For all the attractive reasons for getting this suitcase, I even managed to overcome my prejudice about a suitcase named after an American tourist (Samsonite, Antler, Rimova all sound much more sophisticated to these ears). But what’s in a name? I can’t wait to try this suitcase now; I’ll update and report on it once I do. And of course, the most important thing: Thor seems to like it.

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