Thursday, October 27, 2011

Aria Brisbane @ Brisbane CBD

I can't believe this is my 900th post and to celebrate such a momentous occasion, I thought I celebrate this with our anniversary meal we had at one of the more famous restaurants in Brisbane. 


Aria is famous for both I guess the right and wrong reasons. Right because it is opened by a high profile chef by the name of Matt Moran (think MasterChef) and with a view of the river, wrong because Matt Moran appears to be more interested in spending more time on TV (think MasterChef) and writing cookbooks than running the kitchen.


Fueled by its reputation, it was quite sad we only managed a 2 hour slot on a Saturday evening, which was too short to dig into the degustation menu. If there was a lesson to learn, I have got to book way in advance if I want to dine in a nice place on a weekend night. 


Walk into the restaurant and it oozes professionalism, a formal greeting and someone to walk you to your table. The ambience is quite formal but the dark tones gives off a romantic feel but at the same time suitable to also say, discuss a million dollar deal. 


I guess a comment by the Wife was that the waitress serving us that night had quite a horrible coloured eye liner making her a bit scary. 


Aside from bad make up, we took our time to scan the menu and settled on an entree, main and dessert.   

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An amuse bouche of pea soup laced with parmesan oil I believe. Meant to drink it as a shot, it was smooth, distinct flavours but not overly intriguing. 

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Time and time again, I have said charging for bread is a sin. Thankfully this came complimentary with butter too. Got us chewing on something while our entrees arrived.

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Another lesson I learnt that night, don't rely on the fact that there is an online menu. Barely two weeks since the meal, there is now a new online menu and guess what, the tuna dish we had that night is no longer available. Based on my fading memory, it was a duo of tuna tartare and a seared tuna loin accompanied with drops of a sweet and tangy sauce (no, it doesn't sound too posh from how i described it). Beautifully cooked and tasted brilliant.

One of the features of this restaurant is the fancy pretty plating. It is a joy to just stare at the plate before you realise you are meant to eat it. 

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The pork belly I believe is a signature dish but unfortunately it didn't live to its expectations. The crackling wasn't over crunchy and the meat wasn't exactly melt in your mouth. The use of black bean sauce wasn't the best idea even though it was a good idea to bring a savoury element to the dish. The apple puree was brilliant (although I realise that is quite easy to make; apples and sugar).

If I was being critical, I think the waiting time to the mains was slightly too long.  

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The mains consisted of a duck breast with a duck filling pastry and a rather bitter witlof with parsnip puree. The duck breast could have done with 30 seconds more for the Wife who is not the biggest fan of medium rare cooked meat but I love how crispy the skin was. The pastry brings another element to the dish and makes it a very substantial main.  

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There was a lamb loin and a bit of a shank on the plate served with a mini capsicum filled with cous cous. Give me well cooked meat and I am a happy man. However the use of a sweet spiced caper paste didn't exactly suited our taste buds. Again a very substantial main.

At this point I would be a very happy man but I succumbed to a suggestion to share a side dish. Like the waitress commented that night, "you can never take the chippies out from the men".

Boy the chips were good.  

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I am guilty to report that I polished the whole plate. It was just that good along with a generous amount of aioli. 

At this point I was probably close to being in a coma but we were greedy and it was after all an anniversary meal, so we ordered desserts too. 

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The Banofee is a signature which seems to be retained in their latest version of their online menu. Smooth and made sweeter with the ripe banana slices and the ice-cream, this was a very satisfying dessert, especially we have recently reined in our sweet tooth and limit it to fruits on weekday nights. 

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This screamed chocolate, chocolate and chocolate. However, honeycomb and my teeth don't mix very well. The honeycomb was particularly chewy and just created a mess in my mouth and we had to leave most of the pieces alone. Special mention to their ice-cream, gosh it's good.

While there were many praises over their plating, well cooked meat and creativeness (plus the chips!), for a hatted restaurants, there were some negatives too. Depending on who served you, the description of your dish was vague or detailed. Unfortunately, we were being served by a girl who didn't exactly take her time to describe anything else than what she saw on the plate while the waiter next to us took his time going through how the meat was cooked and etc. Some of the elements on the dish wasn't perfect and perhaps fusion gone wrong like the black bean sauce in the pork belly and the spiced caper paste. 

As expected, a 3 course meal with a drink and a coffee is in the region of AUD130-150. Since i am mentioning coffee, the latte here despite costing AUD7.50 (with petit fours) is one of the best i had! 

Address and contact details:

Aria Brisbane on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. Some of their ideas may not suit and some would say their ambience be a bit too formal for their liking but you can't deny the fact that their food is good in most parts and if their standard remains, I don't see why they should not stay in the top range of town. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

MOS Burger @ Sunnybank, Brisbane

There's something about MOS burgers and I.


Although I can't remember the days when they were in Malaysia, I do remember asking my friend to fetch me to a place that sells some when I was down in Singapore and not to mention grabbing a couple of them at the subway stations in Taipei as a snack. 


Its the same urge as wanting to eat McDonalds overseas so you can have a pork patty in it because the ones in Malaysia are pork free. 


So it surprised me that it took me so long to visit them (considering they have been open since April this year). 

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After the initial rush of patrons when they first opened, the place was considerably much quiet on a Friday night with plenty of seats. With MOS burgers, your first choice is to go for the rice burgers, after all that is one of the key differences between them and the other fast food options.

Instead of bread, you get rice, not to mention a variety of asian fillings. 

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Despite all that, the Wife chose the Fish Fillet Burger. Familiar? Think Fillet o Fish. Yeah, that one, looks the same, tastes the same but not the same. 

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There was no way I was going to order anything but a rice burger. The okonomiyaki rice burger was delicious. With bonito flakes, familiar sauce and all, the only complaint is size. Looking to fill yourself? You need two. The other rice burger had the familiar filling of beef slices but be warned, it get can a bit stringy causing a bit of a mess. 


Prices are average, around the AUD10 mark if you have 2 burgers only or alternatively a burger set with drink and chips.

Address and contact details:

MOS Burger on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. I am biased, always loved MOS and will always love MOS.

Monday, October 24, 2011

AJ Noodles House @ Brisbane

Back in Malaysia, if you happen to work in an area that has more air-con dining places than not, the challenge is always to find a lunch that would cost you less than RM10. Even a year ago, RM10 was always a stretch for me, with the only feasible options being the pork noodle shop that was a sweaty walk away and if I control myself; banana leaf rice, mamak food or your usual fast food joints. 


Think healthy like Subway and be slapped with a RM25 bill for a foot long sandwich and a drink. Think air conditioning and you will also need to look really hard and I still remember the good old days of spending on days; RM20 - RM25 for a lunch.


The challenge is also the same in Australia and but thankfully if you look closely, you can get quite a number of options for AUD10. The easiest option for me is the really popular Katsu Curry rice which can be had for AUD7 i believe or 3 sushi rolls for the same price.


Recently, we been popping by AJ, a Vietnamese (and Chinese) casual place run by people who speak Cantonese.    

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Although sharing a plate of spring rolls will blow that budget of AUD10 per pax, it is worth ordering. Piping hot, the filling is delicious and you can also doubt the authenticity of the dish but you will find this hard to go wrong.

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Having had this twice, I must say the first time, the soup was slightly too sweet but dashes of fish sauce fixed the problem. The second round, the soup was just right. They are also quite generous with their beef slices and noodles.

However as the hotter months loom upon us, I think I might be giving the pho a skip and go to their lemongrass pork chop salads instead but AJ won't be seeing the end of me yet.

Address and contact details:

AJ Noodles on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. Fit the budget and fits my palate, the only problem is lack of seating but it is compensated with the quick turnover. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hakataya Noodle Shop @ Sunnybank, Brisbane

There appears to be no end to my adventure in Japanese cuisine. Continuing on with Japanese food and me, we have got Hakataya Ramen today.


With Hakataya, the events leading to this lunch was very much an adventure of its own. We wanted to try this place but twice we were put off by the long queue and decided to eat elsewhere. On the third attempt, we decided we will pop by on a Friday early night only to find out it was sold out!


Finally in our fourth attempt, we braved through the queue and was finally rewarded a bowl of ramen.


Despite the long queue, their system is simple but very logical. You queue up and you will be served once there are empty seats available. You put your order, pay up and wait patiently for a mere 5 minutes before you are rewarded. 


For AUD 13, you get a bowl of Ramen with the richest pork stock one can get with melt in your mouth pork belly (char siew). According to the flyer, the stock is cooked over 39 hours, meaning somewhere somehow, a container of stock is being cooked continuously daily. The portion of noodles is not plenty but you will be happy to know you can get a free bowl of noodles (only) if you ask for it. Add some grinded sesame and you are good to go.


One of the variations uses chili but I feel the spiciness overpowers all that goodness from the rich pork stock.

A must try.

Address and contact details:

Hakataya Noodle Shop on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. They are opening up another outlet so lets hope the quality remains but the queue is shorten. Now I don't have to envy all those in Malaysia screaming Hallelujah after a number of pork ramen shops have opened. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Wagaya @ Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

I think I am on a roll with all things Japanese. Another post on Japanese food for all of you.


Wagaya has been a frequent name that I have spotted in blogs and on my Facebook news feed recently. Following the trend of some bigger restaurants in Sydney by opening a branch in Brisbane, there was this initial hype about the big menu and ordering on a touch screen so much so that a friend chose Wagaya to be the place for celebrating her birthday. Had it not been for the event, I doubt I would wonder to this side of town on a Saturday night, although you may find it comforting to know that there is reduced fee of AUD 5 for Wagaya customers if you choose to park indoors.   


Back to Wagaya, walking in the pretty large restaurant, there is the immediate generic ambience of Japanese restaurants in Malaysia, especially the ones situated in shopping malls. By no means is that bad but there is a sense of SOP (standard operating procedure) in everything, making everything rather cold. 


You are greeted with the standard "i ra shai ma se" by waitresses of different nationalities, my friends and I could spot Korean and Chinese but no Japanese among the waitresses. You are then quickly lead to your seat and taught how to operate the almost idiot proof touch screen where you can order your drinks, food and even call for the bill. 


The menu is indeed large and covers all the essentials. 


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Those familiar with a particular Hong Kong TV game show would know where the inspiration of this dish comes from. 6 pieces of ordinarily looking salmon sushi with one piece that has more wasabi than rice. Luckily, it was the friend sitting next to me who got the unlucky piece and teared instantly, followed by choking.  


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The soft shell crab maki had decent amounts of that deep fried beauty and if there was one complaint, it would be the batter was slightly on the thick side. 


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This must have been a roll ordered by my friend because I absolutely don't recall eating this. Plus side was the copious amounts of roe topping.  


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Any sushi platter that comes with a raw prawn deserve plus points. When it also comes with sea urchin, you can have some more plus points. A good mix of seafood with the only let down coming from the rice. Lack of rice vinegar or the use of questionable quality rice could have caused the ball of rice to not hold its shape and being grainy. 


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No complaints with the adegashi tofu. This was quite good.

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The chicken kara age was pretty good too. 


Overall you can't help but feel that the kitchen must have operated with SOP vs. an individual chef and his brigade let free to do their own thing, especially from the number of items on the menu. Credit must be given at the efficiency of the touch screen system, orders were dished out with accuracy and speed. More privacy for those who don't like to be asked every 10 minutes if everything is alright. To me, if you want generic Japanese food and quick services, this is the place. 

However as someone who very much prefers a cozy small place, once is probably enough for me. 

Address and contact details:

Wagaya on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3 stars out of 5 stars. A generic Japanese restaurant with a generic menu.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sakana @ Clayfield, Brisbane

Going with the Japanese theme from my last Salmon Don post, I thought I go with the flow and let you in on a place up at Clayfield where we also do our grocery shopping. Although I can't credit myself for finding this place (that credit goes to a newspaper who was doing a top 5 place for Japanese food / sushi rolls), it was nevertheless a pat in the back for actually checking out Sakana. 


The place is small cozy, the inside can probably accommodate around 20 pax, with the option of sitting outside. If you look at the menu, you will see that it skew towards sushi rolls and their sizzling plates. Having read about how good their sushi rolls, we had to order one. Deciding against a sizzling plate which looks and smelled good from across the other table, we ordered something healthier; chirashi sushi.  

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A simple salad with a vinaigrette dressing and the basic miso soup to start the meal.

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The sushi rolls are all huge and fusion styled. We had a topping of crab meat and tempura batter and inside was filled with cream cheese and unagi. I believe the other 10 options have some familiar items like soft shell crab and salmon avocado but otherwise its a mish mash of everything. 

Back to the roll, it was good and pretty much substantial enough to fill up one person. 

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However the chirashi sushi seemed a bit lacking. The cuts of fish was unexciting, quite thin in cut and I guess I expected maybe a slice or two more for AUD20 (especially after how much salmon sashimi I yielded for AUD20). 

Otherwise, the other slight disappointment is realising the restaurant is run by Koreans. No offence to the Koreans but a sign of authenticity is matching the nationality of the cooking staff with the cuisine served. However since we are talking about fusion sushi, who cares (especially half the sushi stalls are manned by Koreans in town)? 

Will definitely come back for somemore sushi rolls.

Address and contact details:

Sakana Japanese Dining Bar on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. I have always had a soft spot for small cozy restaurants that serve decent food. Sakana fits the bill.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Joe can cook! Season 2 Episode 3: Salmon Don with Skin

This is technically not the hardest of recipes, matter of fact, the only cooking required is putting the salmon skin in the oven. However, having not used the DSLR for months and letting it rot in a black box in a corner of the unit, I couldn't resist taking it out for a few snaps. 


It looks like the camera is still serving me well and looking at my own pictures, I would love to dig into a bowl of this for lunch. 

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Once too often, we find ourselves paying AUD 15-20 for a bowl of rice topped with some salmon sashimi but can we not make it ourselves for a much cheaper price? 

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It looks like we can! Excuse my ignorance but for the longest times I have been going to fishmongers looking out for sashimi quality salmon. Until one day, I couldn't take it anymore and asked, where can I get some. Guess what? The whole salmon that I was buying is sashimi grade to begin with! For AUD 25 per kg, the 3 kg salmon can yield a lot of sashimi I tell you! 

Best discovery is finding whole salmon for AUD 15 per kg at Yuen's market in the Valley that is according to them is also sashimi grade!

How to assemble:

1. What we do is usually cut the belly section out for eating sashimi and it actually makes it easier to portion the rest out evenly. 

2. Cut the skin out, seasoned with salt and pepper and pop it in the oven on grill mode till it crisps up like a cracker.

3. Cook some Japanese / Korean short grain rice, cool down and mix with some rice vinegar (the one meant for sushi).

4. Assemble everything together like the picture.

Voila! You have got a pretty good healthy meal!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Oktoberfest @ Bavarian Bier Cafe

Before I let this slip past into the wrong end of October, it is time to celebrate Oktoberfest. Now although the name suggests Oktoberfest, I am told the celebration officially starts from late September and well, it can end anytime you want I presume. 


So bring on the big mugs of imported beer and feast on all the good fried things that goes well with it like schnitzel and pork belly.


We were lucky to be invited to Bavarian Bier Cafe that night when they were going to officiate the event by opening a keg of imported Lowenbrau or was it Hofbrau or some other beer that literally has the ability to quench your thirst.


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As fresh as it comes.


We were also treated to some finger food which I found out to take some pictures of but to get a picture, it was a range of German pub food; sausages, pork belly, schnitzels, chips, wedges and so on and so forth. Even though the portions were small and we had to corner the waiters, it was in good fun picking on a bit of everything. 

Having eaten here once before and left quite happy too (may I add), it shouldn't be too long before heading back.

So if you guys are looking for a place to drink some beer, Bavarian Bier Cafe seems like a safe bet to me.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hancook @ Annerley Road, Brisbane

It appears that all these Korean / Japanese newspapers you see by the entrance of the Asian grocery stores is pretty useful. Apart from giving that feeling of home to the koreans or the japanese, it is an advertising haven that shows you where the latest asian restaurants are opening at. My friend being one of them must take a copy whenever he does his grocery shopping. 


While Hancook is not exactly new (this is when the newspaper comes handy), my friend told me a new chef had taken the helm of the kitchen and the food has improved tremendously. One to always get a bite of asian food, we took his word and decided to dine there (with him, of course).


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Before we started the meal, we were giving a round flat disc which pops up into a towel when water is poured on them. Ingenious! If only luggage on holiday could shrink with such technology.  


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The beginning of every korean meal is their side dishes or known as ban chan. While I am used to seeing mountains of these dishes, Hancook serves three including the absolute essential kim chi. 


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One of the bigger reasons for eating korean that night was for some bosam or a braised pork belly. Apparently as easy as it sounds or look, my korean friend says this method of cooking involves tying up the meat, a few rounds of braising and other funky procedures which results in almost no oil dripping from the sliced meat (despite the layer of fat). Eaten as is with an oyster kim chi or if you prefer wrapped with lettuce, the portion was generous. Tastewise, I had a better one at Maru but this was not shabby at all. 


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We thought no way 3 of us would be satisfied with order one plate of Bosam so I tasked my friend to choose a hotpot. Despite how "unkorean" this looked and sound, it is quite a staple diet in Korea. Kim chi soup with luncheon meat, sausages, cheese along with noodles and dumplings. I actually loved it, I mean who doesn't love to sneak in a meal of processed meat?

Prices are also much cheaper in some ways when you look at the huge portions with us paying around AUD20 per pax.

Address and contact details: 

Hancook on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. Not the best in town but certainly one of the best I have tried to date.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ipoh Laksa @ Kangaroo Point, Brisbane

I should start blogging according to date of consumption instead of adopting the Last In First Out method. With so many 'older' pictures stuck in the later pages of my Flickr account untouched, it makes it that much harder to even remember where the place was, not to mention talking about flavours.


Rewind back to Malaysia's National Day on August 31, the patriotism in me sounded out to my stomach and consequently my head for some local Malaysian food to celebrate the day Malaysia became an independent country. Whether there was a noble cause for us to drive out that night for dinner or just any reason we could think of, I leave it up to you to decide.


With a name like Ipoh Laksa, Ipoh being a town where Mom was born and raised which a 2 hour drive away from Kuala Lumpur, we went in, fingers crossed that the food would be good. A quick browse at the menu shows a range of familiar sounding dishes; the roti canai, the rendangs, curries, noodles and rice. Not overly "Ipoh" in my books which to me is all about smooth hor fun soup served alongside poached chicken and beansprouts or salt baked chicken (about the only items I must have when I visit Ipoh). 

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We decided to give Hokkien Mee a try, a dish that this place in Melbourne has replicated almost to the dot. Lookwise, the noodles used were too thin, apparently a problem that my friend in the business is facing. The only alternative to thick huge yellow noodles you get in this dish is udon noodles but the price of a packet is probably two-three times the price of yellow noodles. However tastewise, it scored pretty big points with the use of pork lard pieces. A bit more dark soya sauce in the dish would like cherry on top of an icing cake.

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Ipoh Hor Fun to me, is a hor fun in broth that is made from chicken and prawn heads served with some poached chicken breast and prawns. However, this version is more akin to a Wat Dan Hor. The flavours were pretty good but slightly more of that eggy sauce would be nice. 

Address and contact details:

Ipoh Laksa on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. Near enough for me with average prices and familiar flavours ticks all the right boxes for me. Won't mind sampling a few more dishes.