Thursday, March 31, 2011

Marched into Merivale's Sushi E

There’s about two weeks left to make the most out of the March into Merivale deals at the Merivale stable of restaurants, so get booking, especially as the likes of Est, Felix and Uccello tend to book out quickly.

We ended up at Sushi E one evening as a result, but the result was quite the pleasant surprise.

Sushi E, George St, Sydney
In the plush surrounds of the hemmesphere lounge bar (restaurant seats proper seemed to be reserved for ‘proper’ customers), we flopped down to comfy low couches and ottoman-like seats, at slightly awkward height for the two small, round tables, but manageable.

We were offered a choice of sparkling white, red, white or a beer to have with our March into Merivale meal – the sparkling wine presumably Chandon, and the chosen beer James Boag.

New style ocean trout sashimi seared in ponzu with ginger and shallots
With three of us dining, it was perfect to sample the entire March into Merivale menu for Sushi E, which even offered miso soup, salad to share and a small dessert at the end. Value-wise it was looking pretty good already.

The new style sashimi was actually almost not sashimi, I think after its smoking hot olive oil bath. Dressed with a smart ponzu sauce, minced ginger, chives and sesame seeds, the heated oil gave the ocean trout an unmistakeable Cantonese steamed seafood touch to it – delectable, even if the fish had lost some of its raw silkiness.

Tuna ceviche
Quite unlike many ceviches I’ve seen and tried, the Sushi E version is more a salad – of snow pea sprouts, baby coriander and juicy miniature tomato segments.

The jewels of fresh tuna slices hidden among the greenery were lightly marinated in lemon and lime juice, and still nice and firmly raw – all dressed in an affably tart dressing that made this my favourite entrée.

Mixed sashimi (6 pieces)
While it was hard to see the freshness of the sashimi slices in the darkened lounge area, it could be tasted from their firm textures, and the subtle, briny taste of the kingfish and soft creaminess of the salmon. I imagine the tuna was similarly satisfying.

Hiramasa kingfish teriyaki
We receive our mains after a little table-Tetris to fit everything on. The mains all look delectable whilst being very different dishes showing off traditional Japanese flavours.

The firmly cooked kingfish fillets are served without rice, and as such the pool of teriyaki sauce is a little cloying and rich. The orangey browned flesh flaked easily into pieces, plated simply alongside broccolini. I prefer my kingfish sashimi style, but this was an interesting new take on the fish nonetheless.

Mixed sushi – 6 pieces of nigiri and salmon avocado roll
The mixed sushi main offers the age-old favourite of fresh salmon and avocado rolls, with tobiko, alongside an impressive array of nigiri sushi including tuna, kingfish, snapper, salmon, prawn and bonito.

Snapper sashimi is not so common as its tuna, salmon and kingfish relatives, and I found it to be a soft-fleshed and sweet white fish, more delicate than the more common raw fish varieties.

Kushikatsu – deep fried Bangalow pork skewers
The kushikatsu main was a delightful plate of panko-crumbed and fried skewer treats; like golden savoury lollipops that almost had to be tasted before you knew what flavours/innards they were.

Three oval nuggets of Bangalow pork were tender and not in the slightest dry despite its leanness, all crunchy sweetness dipped in the small bowl of okonomiyaki sauce, the thick, dark fruity stuff, and a smidgen of hot English mustard

The other skewers included some unlikely shapes of pumpkin, white onion, zucchini and mushroom – all in a perfectly crisp panko crumb – much fun to share but a bit monotonous as a main in itself, I’d think.

Russian cream dessert
By the end of the mains, we were unexpectedly full with even a few leftovers; so the miniature size of the dessert is considerate and just the thing to end on a sweet note.

The Russian cream has a likeable tang in its creamy contents, mixing well with the very sweet berry coulis on top – not too unlike a berry yoghurt all together.

After dessert there was a very real temptation to have a lie-down on the couch, but with a fairly large crowd at hemmesphere I thought not.

The meal was superb and certainly didn’t feel like the cheap deal it was. Despite the dark setting and perhaps sub-optimal seats in the lounge, I’d be interested in marching into Sushi E again post the March into Merivale period (ends 15 April 2011).

Sushi E on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 28, 2011

Asia tripping - part IV: Hanoi, Vietnam

This is the fourth of several brief posts of my recent trip to Asia: photos, food and a few thoughts.

Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam
Flying into Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport wasn’t too much of a shock. The rest of it is another story.

From the taxi driver who tried to tempt us away from the official airport queue, to the speed demons swerving on the freeway, to the insanity of traffic as soon as we hit the Old Quarter – the excitement was already outshining the grey and cold January weather.

Traffic in the Old Quarter
There was further excitement when it came to the hotel: dropped off at one to be told we needed to move to another for a night; someone zooming off with two of our large suitcases on the back of a motorbike (one hand driving, one hand holding on to the bags); another person leading us through the car/motorbike/scooter/bicycle traffic with the rest of our luggage; and finally passing through a laneway where bunnies and puppies were in cages on a back of a bike.

Welcome to Hanoi, indeed.

Banh bao on the street side
The shock, and at times sheer terror, of our introduction to the old Hanoi had taken some zap out of us. I wasn’t quite prepared for the cold weather either (about 14 degrees Celcius – yes, I whinge).

We skipped the steamed banh bao (like Chinese char siu bao only with different meat fillings) in front of the hotel, and sought out warmth and comfort in an unlikely place around several corners.

Noodle shop, Luong Ngoc Quyen (I think), Old Quarter, Hanoi
Not letting the used tissues on the ground put us off, we saw the store’s offerings when others ordered, pointing and nodding to indicate that we wanted the same. Likewise, the price was communicated to us by the shop woman pulling out one each of 20,000 and 10,000 Vietnamese dong notes.

The large pot she stirred was filled with a reddish stock and bits of meat. We sat down inside to tiny, low, plastic chairs at the tiny, low, plastic table; knowing that we were getting noodles, but not knowing much more.

Bun - noodle soup with beef and pork sausage
The arrival of the steaming bowl was a relief – both from the cold and from fear of the unknown. Topped off with a few thin slices of beef and of cha lua, the Vietnamese pork sausage which I am somewhat familiar with, the thin rice noodles were wondrously comforting after quite the long night/day.

The soup was warming and fulfilling with its spice and slight tartness. Shredded lettuce was brought to the table, but it seemed to be a help-yourself setup too where you’d head over to the giant colander and with your own chopsticks, gather a bowl for yourself.

Dau chao quy - fried bread sticks
We also spotted and ordered yau tiao, or deep fried bread sticks that are commonly served with Chinese congee. These golden fingers were another comfort (fried carbohydrates) dipped into the spicy soup.

Traffic jam on the shoe street - Hang Be, I think
The Old Quarter is endlessly intriguing. We spent the next day trawling through an entire street of clothes, then an entire street of traditional Vietnamese silks, then one of shoes, then one of lollies and snacks, and then even a street section all of sunglasses.

That’s when we weren’t playing Frogger with the traffic, or trying to deal with the air and noise pollution.

Hanoi traffic
I’m not entirely certain, but I think the traffic etiquette is to beep whenever you’re doing, well, anything. Want someone to move or get out of the way, pass someone, turning into a street – anything it seems. The incessant beeping takes a little getting used to, and it does subside a little in the evenings.

We dealt with the air pollution (from so many scooters and motorbikes) as the locals did – we bought face masks, which probably looked mighty strange on walking tourists as opposed to speeding locals, but it doubled as an item of clothing to keep my face warm, so I wasn’t complaining.

Baguette breakfast at Hanoi Emerald Hotel, Ma May Street, Old Quarter
Our originally booked hotel on Ma May Street provided us with breakfast every morning, which looked like it was sourced from across the road, or somewhere nearby.

Options were soup noodles (beef, chicken or crab) or a western breakfast of a fried egg and an impossibly fresh baguette.

Beef noodles at Hanoi Emerald Hotel
Though the noodles were the more filling and warming option, the crunch and golden-flaking mess of the baguette was the cause of many a morning of dish envy.

Che from a street side stall
One morning we supplemented our hotel breakfast with a che dessert drink. In a sweet syrup swam grass jelly cubes, chewy beans and other jellies, topped off with a spoonful of coconut milk. It was a couple of minutes of saccharine happiness on a little plastic stool, watching the street go by.

Tortoise Tower in Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
The area around Hoan Kiem Lake is tranquil with few people aside from tourists – must be the icy cold weather. Thap Rua, or Turtle Tower is one of the sites in the lake, as is the picturesque-at-night The Huc bridge.

Le Club at the Sofitel Metropole Hotel, Hanoi
One afternoon spent tripping around south of the lake found us in the area of designer shops, then stumbling upon the Sofitel Metropole Hotel – Hanoi’s oldest hotel, maintained in sumptuous French colonial style.

Le Club
I wasn’t dressed for the occasion, but couldn’t resist a drink and snack at the bar – the gorgeously appointed Le Club.

Le Club at the Sofitel Metropole Hotel
Seated by the window bay looking out onto the garden and residences, I couldn’t help but feel in another time and place. I could imagine fashionable French ladies sitting beneath the slowly spinning fans with cigarettes and a drink. This was not quite the Hanoi sightseeing experience I had expected at all.

The staff were excellent, smiling yet solemn in a way that fit the venue so well, and in many cases tri-lingual.

Metropole Memories from Le Club
Cocktails were a must but quite expensive by local standards, though I noticed very few locals in the bar area. The Metropole Memories was an orange hit, livened up with Cointreau, Grand Marnier and lemon juice.

Bloody Mary, pre mixed with DIY condiments
The Bloody Mary was the most elaborate I’ve seen, with separate condiments of lemon juice, pepper, celery salt, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces, to be added to one's own taste to the prepared drink.

French fries with tomato ketchup
In perhaps an ode to the hotel’s heritage, we ordered French fries to soak up the booze, perfectly crisp and golden, served with tomato ketchup.

Charcuterie plate
We furthered the French theme with a platter of charcuterie: ham, salami, terrine and rillettes, with a small side salad of mixed, dressed lettuce leaves. Bread was lacking but we made do with the vegies and fries instead.

As the night sky approached, the garden was lit up in a blaze of fairy lights, giving the bar a warm, yellow glow and overall whimsical, romantic feel. I wasn’t keen to leave to go back into the cold, grey outside, but couldn’t quite afford to stay much longer either.

The pool at the Sofitel Metropole Hotel, Hanoi
More Asia tripping posts to come on Vietnam, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tiki time at Zeta Bar, Hilton Sydney

Zeta's Summer Tiki Bar, Zeta Bar, Hilton Sydney, George Street
I don't know if it can actually be done, but Hilton Sydney's Zeta Bar is trying to extend summer. And I'm all for it, especially if it involves tasty cocktails and entertainment that ends the working week on a tropical note.

Piña coladas served in young coconuts

Piña colada served in coconut shell
Every Friday evening from now until Easter (that is, 15 April will be the last night), Zeta Bar is pulling on the Hawaiian shirts and tunes, and getting behind the authentic 1940s bamboo tiki bar imported from Hawaii to serve up tiki-inspired cocktails in the usual innovative Zeta style.

We start on coconuts, with umbrellas of course, filled with a smooth and creamy Piña Colada - coconut-y more so than pineapple juice-y - and a seriously big serving size. Who knew a coconut could hold so much yummy, boozy beverage?

Rum punch to share
Zeta Bar mixologist Grant Collins seems to take great pride and pleasure in coming up with the bar's seasonal concepts, especially when they involve liquid nitrogen.

Grant Collins and liquid nitrogen
Here he brings liquid nitrogen to our table, pouring it onto our shared rum punches, freezing the top layers while chilling my exposed feet at the same time. The table is left steamy and smoky, and the drink cold.

Fresh daily pressed sugar cane mojito
I'm impressed with the sugar cane mojito, with freshly extracted, sweet goodness from real sugar cane from a press out the back.

Along with light rum, lime, mint and a sugar cane stirrer, I'm a happy camper with this refreshing drink that can be followed with a good chew on the sugar cane stick stirrer.

Grant Collins strains a Mai Tai into a hollowed pineapple
I'd never had a drink out of a pineapple, even in Hawaii, so my 'drinking out of a pineapple' skills are limited. I had no idea such a large, hollowed out fruit could be used, nor would I have expected it to be frozen - to keep the drink, and one's hands, very cool.

Zeta Mai Tai
This Mai Tai has light and dark rum, orange curacao, orgeat syrup, pineapple juice, Angostura bitters and a big, girly-friendly hit of sugar syrup. And apparently the colourful paper umbrella is a requisite too, though I can't say the same about the sparkler.

Grant Collins presents the Zeta Mai Tai

Grant Collins presents a Long Island snow cone
The snow cone would more likely be called shave ice in Hawaii, and would be a finer shaving too. Nonetheless, this is doused with a Long Island syrup and isn't so much boozy as playful and cooling.

Dispensing piña colada foam
Certainly playful are the nitro puffs that they seem to adore pulling off at Zeta Bar. Here, Piña Colada foam comes out of the cream siphon and goes for a dip in a liquid nitrogen bath.

'Cooking' the piña colada puff
It's all rather mystical as the white puff disappears beneath billowing white smoke, cooling the air and the anticipation until - voila - it's fished out and garnished for your immediate consumption.

Piña colada nitro puff
Advice on consumption is easy: place the entire puff in the mouth, let it melt and exhale out the nose. It is cold and tongue-numbing, but not as bad as minus 28 degrees would sound.

Amid the fizz, the coconut flavour comes through the strongest and by the time any other flavours come through, you'll probably be too busy laughing or trying to defrost your tongue to notice. Fun and definitely recommended to change up the regular Friday night drinks.

Mojito sorbet in a miniature cone
The Zeta sorbet bar makes a comeback tiki style. This time, the sweet ices are tiki cocktails, like Piña Colada, Mai Tai, Dark and Stormy, Margarita, Zombie and even Rum and Coke.

I think the mojito is the hands-down winner, minty fresh with lime and barely a hint of rum. Grant tells us that the snow cones, nitro puffs and sorbet both have very little alcohol content, and are more about new and fun cocktail experiences than say, getting trashed on cocktails.

Piña Colada sorbet
Every week also sees tropical-styled entertainment, such as hula girls or last week's steel drummers who put a smile on every face they passed through the bar.

Steel drummers
This indeed is escapism. After the hard slog of a weeks' work, everyone deserves a tropical island getaway - and this is likely to be the fastest, cheapest option for most. With four Friday nights to go for Zeta's Summer Tiki Bar, the extended summer countdown is well and truly on.

Zeta's Summer Tiki Bar menu
(Photo courtesy of Zeta Bar)
Food, booze and shoes was treated to a tropical escape and copious amounts of booze with thanks to Zeta Bar, Grant Collins and Horizon Communication Group.

Zeta Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jazz City Diner: burgers and all that jazz

American cuisine and specifically burgers have cropped up as a food trend in the last year or so, and while not necessarily associated with fine dining or indeed healthy eating, there is warm comfort in wrapping your mitts around a soft burger bun, biting in and having sauce ooze out from within the melange of meat patty and salad.

Jazz City Diner, Crown Street, Darlinghurst
With a great offer from OurDeal, I headed to Jazz City Diner one Friday night, looking forward to burgers and a touch of American culture.

My knowledge of the classic American diner comes purely from movies (the Back to the Future trilogy sticks in my mind, though you’d hardly call it classic in some of the movies), so I had only a vague idea of what to expect.

Seats at the open kitchen
It turned out to be a delightfully cute, small setup with booths, tables for two and bar/diner-style seats right at the busy open kitchen. And it seemed I wasn’t the only one keen for some American style burger action.

A&W root beer
I had been hanging out for a milkshake, though I was rather put off by the hefty $10 price tag for a normal sized shake. I went instead for a root beer – something I’ve heard of but not tried before – which was what I imagine the initially medicinal Coca-Cola might have tasted like.

Dark and sweet with a heavy hint of a medicinal spice, it was not nearly as strong as it smelt and not too bad an accompaniment for the burgers.

Double cheeseburger – Double ground beef burger patty, onion,
tomato, mayo, pickle relish and lettuce
I couldn’t go past the double cheeseburger – two ground beef patties sandwiching a slice of melty tasty cheese, with onion, lettuce and tomato; the latter which rendered the bun base a little soggy.

The quite regular sesame seed topped burger buns also wore a healthy helping of mayonnaise and a gorgeous and light pickle relish, which combined made tomato sauce seem downright boring. The sauce combination certainly helped the thin beef patties, which were of a good beef quality although just a tad dry for lack of fat within the meat.

Buttermilk onion rings
I had my burger with the buttermilk onion rings; circles of Spanish onion in an impossibly crunchy batter that stayed so beyond my heroic attempts to finish the large burger.

Sweet potato fries
As scrumptious as the onion rings were, they were no competition for the sweet potato fries that were staring at me from across the black-topped table.

Deep fried juliennes of sweet potato didn’t quite retain a crunch, but this was compensated for by an amazing salty-sweet flavour sensation, as well as swoon-worthy fluffiness within the thin sticks. I’ll never look at potato french fries the same again.

Texas chilli cheese burger – Texas style spicy beef chilli, cheese, lettuce,
mayo, pickle relish with sweet potato fries
The Texas chilli cheese burger was a little more exciting, with more moisture from a slightly spicy chilli salsa of sorts. Combined with cheese and the aforementioned sauce combination, this was the winning burger on the night, although it was just as messy as my burger (which I eventually requested cutlery for).

As filling as the burgers and fried vegetable accompaniments were, I had to have dessert as it was going to be an experience as American as pie. Banana cream pie to be specific, over the other selection of pecan pie, and it awesome – with my most American accent.

Banana cream pie
Gorgeously plated on a black slate tile with caramel and dark chocolate sauces, chocolate shavings and icing sugar, the perfect slice itself was a work of art (how did it not slide everywhere when cutting?). The almost uniform layers of thinly sliced banana seemed to be bound together by a very small amount of custardy pudding filling, which was simply delightful and thankfully restrained on the sugar level.

The fluffy fresh cream piping on top acted unexpectedly as the lightest part of the pie, while the cakey-flavoured base was a bit on the hard side, though manageable with a bit of force with the fork in vertical position.

Well done to Jazz City Diner if this pie is made in-house, but even if not, the fabulous home-made flavours of the pie should make any baker proud.

With what seems like an already steady regular trade and walk-ins getting turned away from the tiny diner, it seems the American/burger trend is well and truly going strong in Sydney, with shakes, pies and all that jazz too.

Jazz City Diner on Urbanspoon


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