Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Yamato: Casual Japanese in the heart of the city

There's so much construction going on in the heart of Sydney CBD, one would think we were a much newer (or indeed, much older) city.

While the noise and wafts of building dust are one thing, the new eateries sprouting up in and around the new and renovated buildings are one positive; including Yamato at the base of the new-ish ANZ Tower in the CBD south.

Pacific oysters from Yamato, ANZ Tower, Castlereagh Street, Sydney
Like casual Japanese restaurants that are typical in inner city suburbs, Yamato offers a bit of everything under the umbrella of Japanese cuisine.

The fitout is CBD- and suits-appropriate with plenty of wood tones and booth seating, while ordering is supposedly expedited by ticking an sheet of menu options.

We started with reasonably priced Pacific oysters, served natural with a soy dressing, shallots and togarashi chilli powder enhancing the plump molluscs' natural flavour.

Mixed sashimi selection
The mixed sashimi offering at Yamato had the usual suspects of raw salmon, tuna and kingfish covered, with the addition of scallops, a smattering of salmon roe and a single raw prawn its head intact. A deliciously fresh sashimi presentation, between three of us we even went another plate.

Salmon belly nigiri sushi
I'd say salmon nigiri sushi must be Sydney's favourite nigiri style. The thick belly pieces we had in this serve were creamy with fat and scoffed within seconds with a touch of soy sauce and wasabi.

Seaweed salad
The requisite vegetable order landed us with the bog-standard hiyashi wakame marinated seaweed in a bowl propped up with lettuce leaves.

Pan fried gyoza
The crisp-bottomed pan fried pork gyoza dumplings were pretty decent renditions of their kind and (probably) not of the frozen variety with nice chewy skins.

Grilled scallop skewers
We chose a few hot food items from the grilled section; first landing with the grilled scallop skewers. With two roe-on scallops per stick and some sort of sauce, a zingier seasoning or juicier scallop would have made this dish more interesting.

Kimchi pork skewers
Plenty enough interesting was the spicy kimchi encased pork skewers. Thin slices of pork, cooked to a crisp on the grill, were tightly wrapped around crunchy cabbage kimchi in a fusion skewer that was about the best thing we ate all night.

Grilled mushroom skewers
I'm pretty sure the menu alluded to grilled shiitake mushrooms so we were bemused to receive two skewers of faintly grilled button mushrooms with bits of torched shredded cheese. The unidentified sauce on the side couldn't even help these fungi.

In the heart of the city, where competition for our food dollars is intense, Yamato offers a decent casual Japanese experience that won't break the bank nor the mould on casual Japanese.

Yamato on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 28, 2014

Step up to La Scala on Jersey

Italian for "the stairs", a flight of stairs is indeed what faces diners heading to La Scala on Jersey, set in a spacious floor above the Light Brigade Hotel in Paddington.

Recent changes to the modern Italian restaurant have seen chef Massimo Mele (ex Hugo's, often seen partnering with Salt Meats Cheese) take over the kitchen and offer a more relaxed, authentic Italian experience.

Bar at La Scala on Jersey, Jersey Road, Woollahra
During the week this end of Paddington undoubtedly has a neighbourhood feel, albeit a posh one, and the refreshed look and feel of La Scala seems right at home with the dining families and small groups, both young and old.

Cocktails at the bright, botanical-themed bar are a good place to start after the hike upstairs, especially with a cocktail list put together by drinks consultant Julian Serna (currently at Eau de Vie Apothecary, formerly The Morrison and The Fern).

Cocktails at the bar: Regal Rogue Rosso (left) and He's in the Garden (right)
The bar top is adorned with fresh fruit and juices while the cocktail list is modern, fruity and tempting all round. The tall Australiano apéritif-style cocktail comprised the local Regal Rogue Rosso vermouth with Campari, grapefruit bitters and a not-too-sweet, house-made creaming soda.

Not on the menu but sold convincingly to me by the bartender was the He's in the Garden - a savoury take on a classic Tom Collins. With Hendricks gin, lemon juice, a slice of cucumber and soda, the cocktail was topped with salt which could be stirred into the drink to taste. With its salted gin botanicals it hinted at a softer and highly drinkable version of a dirty martini with its olive brine.

Dining space
We moved to the dining space for dinner, all dark wood and Bentwood chairs on wooden floorboards; seated with views of the open kitchen as well as the yellow street light-bathed street below.

Long table
Closer to the entrance there's a darker room with a long table to seat 26 diners or to be used as a private dining room. There's no shortage of space at La Scale, and that's before adding the upstairs bathrooms and powder room.

Black Russian, cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, capers, basil, balsamic
We were enamoured by the two weekly specials from a streamlined menu of share plates to start, mains and side dishes.

La Scala's take on classic insalata caprese makes some unexpected additions and improvements even. Creamy buffalo mozzarella came torn over Black Russian and cherry tomatoes; both exceptionally sweet and ripe.

Balsamic vinegar brought new perspective to the Caprese salad while capers added saltiness to the mozzarella which sadly never tastes as good as when in Italy.

Wagyu beef carpaccio with truffled egg, rocket
Another special, the carpaccio of wagyu beef was drizzled heavily with a mayonnaise-like dressing and grated parmesan cheese, topped with a golden-crumbed egg.

The dressing seemed a little overpowering on the thin slices of raw beef but when eaten together with the gooey yolk of the boiled truffle-scented egg, it all made perfect, delicious sense.

Butterflied king prawns, oregano, chilli, lemon
From the share plates menu we couldn't resist the split grilled prawns dressed with oregano, a touch of chilli and fresh lemon juice.

Fantastically large and fairly meaty specimens, the prawn's crisp legs and shells could have been eaten too while the oregano made for an appetising match to the set of crustaceans.

Strozzapreti, oxtail ragu, pecorino, gremolata
For mains, I had to try one of the house-made pastas and with both strozzapreti and ragu being some of my favourite pasta types and sauces respectively, it had to be the dish featuring oxtail.

This strozzapreti was bit like long spiral pasta with shreds of oxtail meat in an unexpectedly light ragu sauce, topped with grated pecorino cheese and refreshing gremolata of parsley and lemon zest.

It went quite well with the reservedly fruity 2010 Scagliola "Busiord" dolcetto from the Piedmont region of Italy, listed under 'Old World Reds' in the wine list and selected with a bit of help from the waitstaff.

Grilled organic spatchcock, olives, lemon, prosciutto, broccolini rapini
I was glad that the mains were served to share because the spatchcock dish was impressively large, featuring a whole butterflied and grilled bird. The charred skin and herb dressing on the spatchcock enhanced the beautifully juicy flesh within, making it worthwhile to suck the bones clean.

Beneath the bird was an interesting array of supporting ingredients including silky prosciutto, salty olive segments, a bright green herb sauce and wilted leaves of lemony broccoli rabe that provided every bite of spatchcock with a different highlight.

Witlof, radicchio, pickled beetroot, candied walnuts, sour cherries, goats curd
Our mains were supplemented with an elaborate side salad of bitter witlof and radicchio paired with baby beetroot segments, sweet candied walnuts and cherries, and hidden beneath it all, creamy and tangy goat's curd.

Polenta chips, parmesan and truffle aioli
And we couldn't help but order the polenta chips too, and thank goodness we did as they may well be some of the best I've ever had.

Finished with parmesan cheese and served with a truffle-flavoured aioli, the crispness of the polenta chips with hot, light and fluffy insides made me reach for one after another and momentarily forget how full I was getting.

Tiramisu "modo mio" (left) and gelato (right)
But we couldn't leave without trying dessert; both our ordered options of which were thankfully on the petite end of the scale. The tiramisu "modo mio", presumably chef Mele's way, was served layered in a tall shot glass with chocolate mousse amid mascarpone and coffee-soaked sponge which had a good kick.

The gelato option proffered three scoops: chocolate, fig and raspberry with the latter being the refreshing highlight while the chocolate was a lovely and rich finish.

While chef Mele's menu is clearly Italian, there's a modern sensibility to it that is light and fresh yet unpretentious; making you want to eat it over and over again. Meanwhile, the upstairs restaurant space is simply fabulous: airy yet intimate, cosy and classy, and a place you're happy to linger over coffee or digestifs.

As we went to descend la scala, it seemed clear that the Paddington and Woollahra end of Oxford Street are stepping up the dining game to an approachable yet refined offering for locals and food lovers alike - and that's worth taking the stairs for.

Food, Booze & Shoes dined at La Scala on Jersey with credit, thanks to Agency G.

La Scala on Jersey on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Shenkin Kitchen: Middle East in the Inner West

Posted by Kath

Rainy weekends give me a perfectly acceptable reason to hole up in a café, like Israeli-accented Shenkin Kitchen in Enmore, and enjoy breakfast and a coffee without feeling the need to rush off and make the most of my weekend.

Ladder suspended from roof and sign at Shenkin Kitchen, Enmore Road, Enmore
And who's to say I'm not making the most of it at Shenkin Kitchen, where an Israeli breakfast transports me beyond the usual café offerings and to the Middle East, via a quirky, welcoming little neighbourhood café.

Piccolo latte
The weekend starts with Shenkin's genuine passion for coffee, what with a window display full of Mecca's "Dark Horse" coffee bean packs.

My piccolo latte was strong but not bitter with a lovely, smooth finish; so enjoyable that I was tempted to order a second if it wouldn't have me bouncing off the walls.

Israeli Big Breakfast - Pita bread, smoked salmon, avocado, eggs,
 labna, cucumber, tomato and parsley salad
Shenkin Kitchen is passionate about showing Sydney-siders what Israeli flavours are all about, and what better place to start than the Israeli Big Breakfast.

This was a generous breakfast offering two of soft poached eggs, smoked salmon, half an avocado, labna yoghurt cheese sprinkled with za'atar, and a fresh and zesty salad of diced cucumber, tomato and parsley.

Pita bread
Healthy, fresh and soul-awakening, the big breakfast wouldn't have been complete without fluffy, oven mitt-like pita bread rounds, baked fresh in-house, to cradle and mop up every morsel on the board.

Ziva - puff pastry filled with mozzarella and olives with sides of pickles. spicy coriander, hummus and grated tomato
I couldn't go past the mysteriously named 'Ziva' option; basically a smorgasbord of Israeli delights served on a wooden plank. The flaky, sesame seed-topped puff pastry was crowned with a boiled egg and opened up to oozy mozzarella cheese goodness.

More olives would have been nice for more contrast as the buttery pastry and cheese were a little rich and heavy after a few bites. But the fresh, punchy sides really lifted the dish: the hummus was smooth and nutty with a good garlic hit; the tomato salad was fresh and seasoned spectacularly; the pickles helped cut through the heaviness of the pastry; while the spicy coriander sauce brought a unique touch to breakfast.

For a heart-warming breakfast that may well have you craving hummus for many meals to come, Shenkin Kitchen is a little corner of the Middle East in Sydney's Inner West.

Shenkin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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