Monday, September 22, 2014

Spring into Vapiano - and win a free meal

It's been more than nine months since Vapiano landed in Sydney and judging by the numbers of happily self-serviced diners I see every time I pop in, the quick and fresh pasta and pizza offering has certain appeal to the CBD's suits and visitors alike.

I like Vapiano for the minimal waiting times for food (basically no wait for a seat), and meal and ordering flexibility. I also like getting the Innocent Bystander moscato every time I visit, which reminds me of sweet lollies in spring.

Spelt fusilli pasta gamberi con rosso from Vapiano Sydney, York Street, Sydney
In light of Vapiano's first spring in Sydney they've introduced a number of main specials just for the season - and you and a friend could try them for free in a Food, Booze & Shoes giveaway (full details at the bottom of this post).

Pumpkin soup
The first of the spring specials menu is, perhaps oddly, pumpkin soup, served with a selection of cream, parmesan cheese, garlicky croutons or basil on top; the latter of which fill the restaurant in pots for diners' own picking and garnishing.

While I'm more than happy to move away from soups after winter, admittedly we might still have a few cooler days and evenings ahead of us. The thick but not-too-heavy pumpkin soup is quite the large serving with good consistency, while the buttery garlic croutons were my highlight.

Pasta gamberi con rosso - prawn and tomato pasta
As with all of Vapiano's pasta options, diners can choose their preferred pasta shape for the prawn and tomato spring special.

The conchiglie frilled shells are gorgeous to look at but I ended up with the spelt fusilli spirals which was also my first taste of spelt pasta. Noticeably more grainy than normal pasta, I'm not sure I would choose spelt over plain, especially in a subtly sauced pasta dish like the prawn and tomato.

Chilli would be highly recommended with this pasta dish, which can be requested when ordering from your very own Vapiano chef. We also picked a fair bit of the basil pot on our table to add to the tomato sauce with several whole prawns.

Pizza Poporano (image courtesy of Vapiano)
The spring special for the pizza menu is the Poporano which features a tomato base and toppings of bresaola cured beef, shaved parmesan cheese and rocket.

The bresaola, made in NSW, is the salty, air-cured feature of the pizza although perhaps a little sparse on the thin, crisp base beneath a shower of rocket leaves.

Risotto pollo levanto - creamy chicken risotto
Our carb fest continued with our tasting of the fourth main special; a well-seasoned chicken risotto cooked to a perfect al dente state.

With cream, bacon, onion and plenty of chicken pieces, the risotto was my favourite of the four spring specials, which I again covered with freshly-picked basil leaves at the table - for both fun and some greenery for my meal.

White chocolate cheesecake with salted caramel and honeycomb
I just couldn't squeeze in dessert, which is definitely one for the super-sweetooths. The glass serving of cheesecake with a biscuit crumble base was studded with white chocolate pieces and if that wasn't enough sugar for you, it's topped with a thick salted caramel and honeycomb pieces.

Vapiano's spring specials are available from now until 31 October 2014 - spring in to Vapiano Sydney to check them out or win a spring menu tasting for two people here.

Giveaway - Vapiano spring menu tasting for two!

Food, Booze & Shoes and Vapiano Sydney are giving away spring menu tastings for two - to include one main special and the white chocolate cheesecake dessert.

There are four to be won on the Food, Booze & Shoes Facebook page - make sure you like the page AND the Vapiano giveaway post to be in the running to win.

Four winners will be selected randomly on Sunday, 28 September 2014 at 8.30pm AEST and notified via Facebook. Winners will need to provide a mailing address within 4 days so the vouchers can be posted in the mail. Good luck!

Terms & conditions
Winners' vouchers are for use at Vapiano Sydney only. The voucher entitles the winner and their guest to a choice of one spring menu item each and the white chocolate cheesecake dessert.
Entrants must like both the Food, Booze & Shoes Facebook page and the Vapiano giveaway post to enter the giveaway validly.
No bookings required to use vouchers. Vouchers must be used by Friday, 31 October 2014.

Vapiano Sydney

Food, Booze & Shoes dined as a guest of Vapiano.

Vapiano on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sakana Ya: An ode to fish

The humble fish is rarely as pleasing as when done well in a Japanese restaurant. Japanese cuisine certainly has a way with fish, whether it's cooked or raw, which makes it all the more tempting to order the entire menu at places like Sakana Ya in Crows Nest.

Table setting at Sakana Ya, Pacific Highway, Crows Nest
The dining room at Sakana Ya, which is Japanese for 'fish shop', is very elegantly Japanese despite its location on busy Pacific Highway in Crows Nest. Perhaps it's the softly tinkling music, the deferential service, or that unmistakeably Japanese smell of soy sauce and frying oil.

Tamagoyaki - sweet egg omelette
The menu at Sakana Ya is traditional in all the right ways, adding to the feeling that we might have been in some Tokyo restaurant. We started on warm tamago-yaki sweet omelette, carefully formed into blocks and grill-stamped with the restaurant's name in Japanese.

This was served with finely grated daikon white radish to which I like adding a touch of soy sauce for flavour, not that the omelette needed it.

Deep fried school prawns
Whole fried school prawns aren't necessarily traditional Japanese, but these relatively large schoolies simply fried to a crisp and served with lemon were satisfying enough, although there are much more interesting renditions of the dish around town.

For lunch mains at Sakana Ya, there are a range of set meals plus donburi rice bowls in two sizes, in addition to a la carte options.

The sashimi lunch set included a generous plate of thick-cut assorted raw tuna, salmon, kingfish, kingfish belly, snapper and I think flounder. The firmer white fish of snapper and flounder had more of a textural appeal rather than flavour, especially compared to the fairly standard salmon and tuna.

But it was the kingfish belly that was the revelation: a softer, deliciously creamier version of the relatively clean-tasting kingfish that was a first time but I certainly hope not the last.

Miso grilled sablefish
From the extensive fish selection, available on the menu in a variety of cooking styles, the waitress informed us that the sablefish was by far the most popular with the local, often Japanese clientele.

I'd never heard of sablefish before, but the firm-fleshed fish also goes by the name of black cod. That's right, miso grilled black cod in the most traditional Japanese style, without the fanfare and price tag that would accompany it at a more modern Japanese eatery.

The fillet of dark-skinned sablefish was beautifully done with fine and firm flaking flesh and sweet miso overtones. The juliennes of a crisp, pickled vegetable on the side and steamed rice were the perfect accompaniments for the utterly satisfying dish.

Sides: rice, pickles, salad and miso soup
With the sets come the all-encompassing, meal-making sides including salty-sour cucumber pickles, all wrinkly and green; leafy salad with a creamy dressing; miso soup and steamed white rice. We could each barely finish all our sides, which added lots of variety to the meal and bulked out what otherwise could have been very rich and luxurious lunch.

Sakana Ya is about as traditional as it gets. Don't let the location or small dining room deceive you, this is the real deal, Japanese ode to fish.

Sakana-Ya on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 15, 2014

Noodle your way to dinner at Chefs Gallery Jamison

There remains a dearth of mid-priced dinner options in the CBD, cheap and casual Japanese and pasta aside. Attempting to fill that gaping hole is the second venue from the wildly successful Chefs Gallery, snuggled into a ground floor corner of Metcentre on George Street – best accessed through Jamison Street.

Noodle master in action at Chefs Gallery Jamison, Metcentre, George Street, Sydney
Launched in 2013, Chefs Gallery Jamison is a lite version of the original Bathurst Street restaurant. It has the suits lapping up hand-stretched noodles, dumplings and other elaborate pan-Chinese dishes through the week for lunch and now weeknights for dinner until 9.00pm.

Noodle dough
The eat-in space has been recently spruced up for more of a restaurant feel, although takeaway is still available.

At a (re)launch event in July we were treated to noodle making demonstrations and even allowed to try our own hands at it, alongside the master noodle chef with more than 20 years of experience spent honing their noodle craft. Suffice to say, it's not as easy as it looks - but it is good fun.

Rolling noodle dough

Stretching noodle dough

Stretching and pulling dough into noodles

Hand stretched noodles

Kingfish sashimi Chau Zhou style
Now a fully licensed venue with cocktail and wine lists, at the relaunch event we were treated to drinks and canapé versions of some of the cold dishes on the menu, including tataki wagyu beef and kingfish sashimi.

Prawn and pork wontons in Shanghainese spicy sauce
One of the favourites of the night were the particularly plump pork and prawn wonton dumplings: bouncy meat-flled delights in a chewy wrapper, coated in that spicy, roasted chilli oil that I adore. Several of these with dry noodles really is a meal sorted.

Vegetarian spring rolls
I skipped the vegetarian steamed buns in favour for the vegetable spring rolls; which are unlike any other you'll see around town. Jam-packed with an interesting, not-cabbage-dominated vegetarian filling, I enjoyed the unorthodox, lacy-batter wrapper but the pale but crisp rolls can be a little too oily.

Macanese style pork burger
The star of the night was the mini pork buns which take inspiration from a sort-of street food in Macau. There were (big call ahead) just about the best thing between two slices of bread I've eaten all year.

Basically a particularly unhealthy Asian burger, the buns comprised two miniature deep-fried mantou bread buns sandwiching a seriously seasoned and tenderised pork fillet, doused with a spiced mayonnaise and served with some perfunctory shredded iceberg lettuce.

I'm not even a burger/slider person but these were so messily good that I had to have seconds, and maybe thirds.

Wagyu beef cubes with black pepper sauce
More substantial dishes like thick hand-stretched noodles with prawns and thin, green spinach noodles with mussels also made the rounds that night, but I kept going back for the delectable cubes of grilled wagyu beef, served with an umami-rich black pepper sauce that had me thinking good old pub steaks.

Salt and pepper house-made egg and spinach tofu
The fried cubes of the house-made spinach tofu were outstanding – the tofu being eggy, silky and so satisfying. In a salt and pepper seasoning, the crisply battered cubes on tofu topped with a layer of spinach understatedly demonstrated the extreme techniques and effort that go into Chefs Gallery's dishes for a humble meal.

House-made egg and spinach tofu with preserved vegetables
I came back for that tofu when returning for a quiet weeknight dinner. Once the thoroughfare through to Wynyard station is closed off, Metcentre is pretty quiet and only accessible from Jamison Street and clearly, only for those in the know.

The tofu, this time served with a dice of pickled mustard vegetables, was just as impressive as at the launch with a crisp surface and wobbly innards, making for a great starter to share.

Beef in spicy Sichuan soup with handmade spinach noodles 
We went with soup noodles for the cool night, and especially having seen the experts make it with such ease and finesse. The hand-stretching gives the noodles a fantastic, chewier texture and you end up with noodles of varying width and not machine-made uniformity.

The spicy beef soup noodles featured the thin green spinach noodles in a Sichuan chilli spiked soup, topped with thin sheets of tender beef, spinach and juliennes of carrot and bamboo shoot. The richly coloured umami-rich soup had that distinctive heat tingle from the chilli and pepper, and made for a huge serving.

Handmade noodles in chicken soup
Equally large was the chicken soup based plain noodles, served with spinach, carrot, fried shallots and omelette strips, and fried salt and pepper pork chops on the side.

Clearly forgetting my newfound penchant for spicy and flavour-packed dishes, I found the plain noodles – which are meant to be pure, clean and cleansing – a little bland; helped along by the super hot chilli oil from the condiments selection on every table.

Fried pork rib with five spice salt and lemon
While the pork chop should have been the highlight and redeeming flavour addition, the tender pieces were sadly lukewarm although tasty with a five spice, salt and pepper mix for dipping or sprinkling on top, alongside lemon.

The noodle soup servings are actually quite huge, more than enough for a well-priced dinner, while the a la carte menu is probably a step up in pricing. Nonetheless, Chefs Gallery has noodled its way into the CBD for lunch and now, dinner.

Food, Booze & Shoes attended the launch party as a guest and dined with vouchers, with thanks to Chefs Gallery Jamison and White Communications.

Chefs Gallery Jamison on Urbanspoon


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