Sunday, 30 October 2011

Menya Mappen Noodle Bar, Sydney (30th October 2011)

I caught up with Ken around 11ish today at Town Hall for a coffee catch up before lunch - he had already decided where we were going for lunch at 9am when I received his text, some Japanese noodle place in the CBD. I rolled my eyes and smiled as I read his text. Ah Ken, such a foodie but I bet it must be a pretty good place to get him thinking about lunch BEFORE breakfast :P

We ended up grabbing a coffee at Starbucks on George St and chatted as we waited for his friend Cat to turn up (she was coming for lunch too). Did you know that Starbucks serve their coffee 'Short'?? This was the first I've seen the cup size which is smaller than the 'Tall' that is normally the smallest size you can get at most of the outlets. I suppose 'down-sizing' my caramel macchiato would suit me better - I've always felt the 'Tall' was a bit too much.

Cat arrived around 12.30pm and us three walked a few doors down to Skyview Plaza where Menya Mappen Noodle Bar was located (Jono and I have been to this plaza our first week in Sydney in search for an Optus store - the noodle bar had taken over the shop lot). A cosy little Japanese self-serve noodle shop with large wooden tables to accommodate communal seating, it reminded me of my highschool canteen and for a split second, I felt 16 again, memories from my past coming to mind. Similar to school, customers had to join in the queue where you would pick up your food and slowly shuffle along the line till you arrive at the payment counter, and only then would you  find a seat. "Hey, we had better join the queue now," I said to the other two who were still yapping away deciding what to have and me eyeing the queue that keeps growing. I can see that this noodle shop has very good business, with near full capacity and a short turnaround time for seats (there's no time limit for each seating but perhaps communal seating somehow discourages patrons from sticking around for long after finishing their meal).

Frankly, I wasn't sure what I'm supposed to do since I've not been here before but decided it was easiest to follow what the person ahead of me was doing (there's actually a poster explaining how the system works at the entry into the queue but there wasn't enough time for me to read it before shuffling along). First stop, the glassed-in noodle station - this is where you would pick up a tray and order your noodle dish (choice of udon or soba dishes served hot or cold), watching your cake of noodles dropped into one of the several hanging baskets in a huge pot of bubbling hot water. Once cooked, the noodles is served to you in a bowl on your tray and you're ready to shuffle on to the 'extras' section: a variety of tempura-battered vegetables and meats, cold salads and condiments such as kimchi and sansai mountain vegetables, as well as miso soup, all for your self-serving pleasure. I went for the regular-sized hot version of the Ontama Bukkake Udon (they also have large servings) and a vegetable kakiage tempura. 
Oh and don't forget to garnish your bowl of noodle with chopped spring onion and tempura flakes (these are free) before the cashier tallies up your purchases - I gave my bowl a generously helping of it ;) Cost me $7.70 all up for udon and tempura which was amazingly cheap!

I found us a table for three underneath the corrugated iron roof (it's part of their interior design) and waited for Ken and Cat before digging in. Very excited to try my noodles! I ordered the Ontama Bukkake Udon because it looked peculiar, a simple-looking udon dish served in tsukedashi (a rich sauce-like soup made from fish stock and dried kelp), a wedge of lemon and an egg. Hmm, egg and lemon on udon - this has got to be a first for me. The egg looked as if it was poached but it was actually a soft-boiled egg cracked from its shell into your bowl. The yolk was still runny when I broke it! Strange a combination it may seem, it was delicious and I couldn't help myself slurping happily away on my bowl of slippery chewy udon like most other patrons (apparently slurping noodles enhances the noodle-eating experience and it's acceptable mannerism in Japan). Yum! The vegetable kakiage was 
a crazy tangled ball of thinly shredded vegetables deep-fried, crunchy with each bite - it was so huge that I had break up the ball into smaller pieces so I could dip it in my cup of tempura sauce! I'm glad I went for the regular size noodles. Can't imagine how I could fit a large bowl of noodles AND the tempura in my belly. Mmm, tummy happy :) How is it that Ken always manages to find cheap eats in town that taste good?

Us three chatted on and laughed as we enjoyed our respective meals. "This place is cool, with the 1950-60s movie posters," I said to Ken, looking at the vintage Japanese movie posters plastered on the walls. 
I highly recommend a trip to Menya Mappen if you've been here yet (note to self: must bring Jono here soon). Good food for cheap - can't beat that!

Customers enjoying their noodles at Menya Mappen Noodle Bar

My Ontama Bukkake Udon and side of vegetable kakiage tempura
with dipping sauce

Ken's tray of Curry Udon, tempura, sansai mountain vegetable
and can of Oolong tea

Mappen Noodle Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, 28 October 2011

Melody Market & salsa at Cruise Bar (27th October 2011)

Finally, I’m heading up to Chatswood after work today to check out the night market! Ken’s been telling me about the night market for some time but I’ve just never got around heading over. Jono and I had planned to meet Ken and Pip at the market last week but Jono was caught up at work so we didn’t make it. But we will this week!

Jono came to meet me at North Sydney train station and we took the train together over to Chatswood which was about a 15-minute train ride from North Sydney. Chatswood Melody Market occurs every Thursday, rain or shine, from 10am till 9pm with stalls set up along the Corso of Victoria Ave, selling a range of arts, crafts and fashion as well as featuring a variety of international cuisine. Exiting the train station, one would be hit by the waft of appetizing smells coming from the food stalls – I can hear my tummy rumbling already! Ken hasn’t arrived so we went into Westfield shopping centre for a bit. Thursday is late night shopping with most shops closing around 9pm instead of the usual 5pm (if this was in Malaysia, it would be late night shopping every day). Office workers still in work attire were making the most of their weekday shop session while others like us seemed to make the trip to Chatswood an activity in itself, doing some shopping and grabbing a bite for dinner from the street stalls. Where is Ken anyway? I’m getting hungry…ding-ding! Oh, text from Ken – he’s here!

We caught up with Ken who was waiting at the shopping centre exit into Victoria Ave, hand holding a box of what looked like food. “What is this?” I asked, pointing at his box that had 8 ping pong-sized balls. “Takoyaki - try one, it’s good but probably still hot inside,” warning Ken. Huh, you want me to use the toothpick to pick up the ball and put the whole thing in my mouth?? I was still contemplating how I was going to eat my takoyaki (a popular Japanese snack) but Jono was way ahead of me, chewing away mouth full. Ok, here goes…ohhhhhhhooo, HOT! It didn't help that it was quite large so I was struggling to hold the warm takoyaki in my mouth. Is there no better way to eat this? Ken purchased the takoyaki from Colotako, one of the Asian food stalls at Melody Market – these battered balls were filled with diced octopus (you can also choose prawn or crab flavours) and cooked in a special cast-iron pan with semi-spherical moulds. Drizzled with BBQ sauce and Japanese mayonnaise, and a sprinkle of bonito flakes and finely chopped seaweed, these balls are soft and warm (though the one I had was hot enough to burn my upper palate) and chewy in the middle. An interesting mix of texture and very yummy, Ken tells us the takoyaki made by this stall is quite authentic and that he would come to Chatswood every Thursday just for it. Well, it must be really good then! Cost $7 for a box of 8 balls which is sufficient to make a meal for one person.

We finished up the takoyaki and went to join in the queue at Chorizo, a Spanish tapas stall that sold mainly garlic prawns and chorizos. Ken mentioned that he often seen long queues at this stall and wondered if the food was any good but couldn’t be bothered waiting. Since we’re here, we may as well try it – Jono and I joined the line and got us a large garlic prawn and a chorizo roll while Ken headed to Cane Juice to get a takeaway juice for us to share. Standing in line, I could see the cook busily pouring more frozen prawns onto the hotplate and drenching them in a thick garlicky marinade. The smell was just tantalizing! Food was given on order and there were salsas and chillies you can add on to your meals. Jono got me to generously squirt the salsas while he stuffed a few chillies into the chorizo roll. This is going to be spicy!

We found ourselves a table next to the store and shared our purchases. Hmm, the food from Chorizo wasn’t as good as we thought – it was alright but not really worth long queues for (I rather queue for takoyaki). The sugarcane juice however was lovely. I’ve only ever had sugarcane juice on its own – this was mixed with a bit of lemonade. I like! Sugarcane juice is such a flashback of the past for me. Street stalls selling sugarcane juice were popular when I was growing up in Malaysia. Often, it would be a Chinese man selling the drink and I can still hear the sound of the sugarcane being crushed through a small machine that I often wondered if it would breakdown partway through juicing because it chugged so exhaustively. For as little as 50 cents, one can purchase a sizeable serving of the juice served chilled in a takeaway plastic bag secured with raffia string on the top and a straw pierced into the bag for you to drink from. Not sure if such stalls are still popular today, probably not so much since most people are concerned of hygiene and cleanliness of food (it is believed that the ice may be made of tap water which could make you ill if drunk). Photos taken at the market here.

Still feeling a bit peckish, we decided to take a walk to see what else was there on Victoria Ave. Slight pity with the weather as it was overcast and not all the stalls were out today at the market. Walking down Victoria Ave, it was quite obvious that this suburb is highly populated with Asians just from the number of Asian restaurants and shops on this main strip. Ken popped into Breadtop, a bakery that specializes in freshly baked Asian breads, cakes and pastries that has branches all over the city. “This is what I grew up eating,” piped Ken as he picked up a few items. Me too! Pork floss buns, sausage bread rolls, donut twists with cinnamon and sugar, chiffon cake, egg tarts etc. I could hear Jono go ‘eee…’ in dislike at some of them, especially the savoury ones. They may not sound very nice but they are delicious, really! Though I have no idea what Ken bought – I took a bite of one that had a peculiar mix of pork floss, chives and savoury cream. Eee…tasted so odd…

We eventually ended up in Café New York for coffees and a NY Cheesecake – we weren’t hungry enough to head into a restaurant and had plenty of time to kill before heading back to town for salsa dancing at Cruise Bar. Over coffee and cake, Jono and I shared what we learnt in our Chinese lessons with Ken, writing out Chinese characters and asking Ken if it made any sense in Kanji (Chinese characters used in modern Japanese writing system). Ken was able to identify most of the words though some had totally different meanings which made us laugh so much :P

We left the café and headed into town around 8pm, arriving at Cruise Bar at just the right time – not too early or late. Jono brought my dance shoes and a top for me to change into (the pink shirt I wore to work would blot every drop of sweat – not a good look). Thanks baby! More of Ken’s dancing gang turned up as the night progressed and we had many fun dances with one another. Jono and I had several dances as well and I’m so proud of him – he has picked up the moves from his class and able to execute them well and in time with the music. And now he’s out social dancing, even dancing with Pip and Sarah! He’s still a little shy to ask other followers for a dance, worried he would bore them with his lack of moves – don’t worry so much about it. You have enough moves to make the dance fun and it’s only through dancing with different people that you learn how to accommodate and tweak your leading. He’s doing so well and I’m having fun dancing with him too!

Jono and I said our goodbyes and headed for home around 11.30pm. Feeling quite tired but very happy having spent a lovely evening with my amazing man and friends :)

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

North Sydney Olympic Pool (25th October 2011)

Since Jono and I moved to Sydney 7.5 months ago, I've not been back swimming on a regular basis and actually miss it heaps - it is a great way to forget about life's stresses because all I can think of is counting my swim strokes and breathe. It's pretty obvious when I'm thinking about a work issue or similar because you will see me stop mid-length and splutter; I lose count and take in a mouthful of water instead of breathing out. Jono's keen to go diving this summer so I need to get back into the routine of swimming to build up more water confidence.

I would pass by Milsons Point on my way to and fro work every weekday and have been eyeing
North Sydney Olympic Pool for months, reminding myself to check it out but just never got around to doing so. Well, today was the day - I finally decided to get my butt over for a swim during my lunch break. Around 11.30am, I headed to the train station to catch the train to Milsons Point located one stop away from North Sydney station. The weather has been stinking hot the last few days (it was 32 degrees yesterday and it's not even summer yet!) however today has been rather gloomy and the temperature dropped down to mid-10s. I could feel the cold breeze coming from the harbour as I walked from the train station to the pool on Alfred Street South (about 5 minutes walk) - brr!

Cost $6.70 for a single pool visit and this entitles you to swim in both the 50-metre and/or 25-metre pool (the 50-metre pool is outdoors and has amazing views of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Luna Park). As this was my first visit to the pool, the guy at reception gave me free tokens to use on the locker and shower. It normally costs 
$2 for a locker located in the 25-metre pool area and 50 cents per shower token that gives you 3 minutes of hot water. Hmm, if I had to pay for the tokens, that's nearly 10 bucks for a swim which is pretty expensive...I'm glad it was free this time round so I could check out the place and decide if it was worth the weekly visit.

In my swim gear and with my trusty swim programme from Swimplan in hand (I've used Swimplan ever since I started swimming), I headed into the indoor 25-metre pool for my swim. Oh, this is nice - there were only three other people swimming in the lanes and I had the medium lane all to myself. Yes! Normally if I went swimming at Freyberg Pool in Wellington during lunchtime, it would be quite busy with traffic in the lanes so this was fantastic :) The pool was 1.2 metres deep at its shallowest and only goes down to 1.3 metres at the other end. 

Oh my god - the 750-metre swim was a killer! My arms and legs were feeling rather tired halfway through the swim programme swimming in freestyle. This is why you should never stop doing a sport or activity which requires physical movements for extended lengths of time - it hurts when you get back to it. But boy did it felt good being in the water again, reminding me how much I enjoy swimming. I noticed t
here weren't any swim aids available for public use - turned out these were not provided but can be hired or purchased from reception. Cost $3 to hire or $36 to buy a kick board (that's just absurd!). I'm bringing my own next time!

With the female showers, you've got to be comfortable baring it all in front of other women because it's a communal shower with no 
cubicles/dividers. One annoying thing about the female changing room was the wet floor, leaving little to no dry space to stand on when getting dressed. I contemplated using the hair dryer to dry my feet before putting on my socks but there was another lady around so decided against it. I don't think I would feel comfortable with her staring at me drying my feet...

Besides the pools, there is also a gym and sauna on site and you can purchase a membership or multi-admission pass to make use of these facilities. I would probably get the Adult Bulk Purchase 20 Visits swim pass on my next visit (cost $110 and has no expiry date). That would bring the cost of my swim down to $5.50 per visit and I might see if there's a shower at work I can use instead to save cost.

I'm SO hungry now I can eat a cow - swimming always makes me ravenous!!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

2-year anniversary dinner at 360 Bar and Dining, Sydney (22nd October 2011)

Today marks 2 years since Jono and I went on our first date. Time flies when you're having fun and I've definitely enjoyed another wonderful year with my amazing man :)

Anniversaries are a cause for celebration and tonight was no exception - I had booked us a table for a romantic dinner for two at 360 Bar and Dining located in Sydney Tower. Yes, it is a 360 revolving restaurant and you know how we have a thing for revolving restaurants, this being the third we've been to in the past 2 years (we went to one in Jaipur, India and then the Sky Tower, Auckland). And why not revolving restaurants? You get to enjoy the amazing city skyline as you dine. Sounds pretty good to me!

I had pre-booked our dinner sitting some 3 weeks ahead of time as this restaurant is a popular venue for special occasions and I didn't want us to miss out on our special day. The sitting sessions for dinner are between 5.30pm - 8.30pm and normally in 90-minute blocks. The earliest I could get us was a 7.30pm sitting (which was a bit later than I would have liked - I would much prefer a 6.30pm sitting so we got to see the Sydney skyline in both day and night) so around 6ish, we left home and headed to Westfield Shopping Centre on Pitt St where the entrance into the tower was located.

Hmm, how do we get to the restaurant? The lift indicated that the restaurant is on Level 4 but exiting the lift, all we got was another level of shops within the shopping centre. Another couple in the lift who were also heading the same direction were as puzzled as we were (they were dressed for a black tie event while Jono and I were smart casual, both acceptable dress codes for the restaurant). It turned out that the entrance to the tower was indeed located on Level 4 - there was a reception/bookings desk which was hidden in view from where we caught the lifts thus causing much confusion (perhaps they should put a sign at the lift exit to indicate that we needed to head into the foyer to find the reception area). There were several other people lining up making enquiries when we were there. "Booking for two for Angelica Tan," I said to the reception lady who then buzzed someone at the restaurant on the walkie-talkie to find out if our table was ready so we could head up. "Your table is ready. Please go through security on the left," said the lady with a smile and handed us a pass which we had to surrender to the burly security man guarding the lift entrance. Both Jono and I had to go through a metal detector (the security guard also inspected my handbag) before the guard sent us on our way to the restaurant.

A short 30-second ride up (the lift is fully enclosed with no glass panels to view the outside) to the restaurant arriving at Level 1 of the golden crown topping Sydney Tower, one is welcomed by the stylish dark wood furnishing and soft ambient lighting giving the place a luscious gold and chocolate tone - very warm and inviting. We were shown to our table which was by the windows - yes! I was informed when I made my booking that window tables were not guaranteed but every time I pull out the "it's our anniversary" card, it always works to my favour and I was almost certain we would get a table with a good view (well, I didn't have to 'lie' this time as it was indeed my anniversary). Jono and I were too busy looking at the amazing views from our table that we didn't even notice that we were revolving! Well, we soon realised it when a window beam came into view...

With their French-influenced modern Australian cuisine, guests have a choice of either the 2- or 3-course dinner from the a la carte menu (additional charges apply to certain items on the menu). We decided to splurge for the special occasion and went for the 3-course meal ($95 per person) which we got to choose an entrée, main and dessert each. Jono ordered the quail as his entrée and salmon for his main while I got the oysters as my entrée and went with Jono's suggestion to try the wagyu sirloin (cost an additional $30) for my main. For dessert, we opted for the 360 dessert tasting plate for two. We also ordered a glass of wine each (150ml per glass), a Drift Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, NZ) for Jono and Ninth Island Pinot Noir (Tasmania) for me as well as a 1 litre bottle of still water to share. The cost of drinks were additional to the price of the 3-course dinner and boy do they charge an arm and a leg for wines here. We would have gotten a bottle to share but it was too expensive (the cheapest bottle was $42 and when you can get a decent bottle of wine for less than $20 outside, this feels a bit much).

While we waited for our entrées, our lovely French waitress who was serving our table this evening brought  over a bread basket with two bread rolls and dipping plate of butter, sea salt flakes and olive oil-balsamic dip to go with the bread. I love olive oil-balsamic dip, especially when quality olive oil is used and I definitely agree with Jono that this dip uses good quality oil. Yum! Nibbling on our bread, we continued to enjoy the view, the day quite quickly turning night. It takes 70 minutes for one full revolution of the panoramic views of Sydney and beyond - it is said you can see the Blue Mountains from here but given Jono and I are still figuring out what suburb we are looking at and trying to load up Google Maps to confirm our findings with little joy due to lack of reception (you would think being this high up we would have great phone reception but no), we probably missed it.

Our entrées arrived shortly as did our wines. 150ml of wine to last us the whole sitting - hmm, have to somehow stretch it out...My 1/2 dozen Sydney rock oysters were served on a bed of ice with half a lemon and cider & seaweed vinegar on the side. I had never thought I would enjoy raw oysters so much until Wratty introduced it to me during our 7-day group tour in Tasmania - just a few drops of lemon juice on the half-shell oyster and slurp! Ok, I didn't actually slurp (that would probably gotten me stares even though that's how you should eat raw oysters) but instead used the cocktail fork to detach the oyster from its shell and picked up it with the fork then straight into my mouth. Mmm, absolutely divine...Personally, I prefer the lemon juice over the cider & seaweed vinegar with the oysters (the latter had too much zing). Jono's roasted quail served with white bean puree, french beans and hazelnut was also really nice. Quite impressed with the food and service so far - can't wait to find out how the rest of the courses rate.

Wagyu (pronounced 'wag-you' and literally translates to 'Japanese cow') is a breed of cattle that originated from Japan but is now widely breed in Australia with Australia being the largest producer of this special breed of cattle outside of Japan. Tales of the cows being massaged, fed beer /wine and played classical music are commonly told though I'm not sure how much truth there is to it (seriously? I don't even get pampered that much!). In Australia, these wagyu cattle are grain fed for the last 300-500 days of production. Known for its marbling characteristics (intramuscular fat deposits found in muscle fibres in the beef), tenderness and juiciness, wagyu beef is highly prized for its uncompromising quality - one should expect to pay a hefty price for your premium cut of beef, at over $1 per gram of meat. I repeat, PER GRAM. Ouch! I love a good steak but even that price scares me. In fact, I wasn't planning to get the wagyu sirloin but Jono said it was ok to put a dent on our credit card tonight. I had my 220g wagyu sirloin (400-day grain fed) cooked medium with a bordelaise sauce finish (a red wine based sauce) and choice of fries on the side (you can choose paris potato instead of fries). "Babe, I think I'm doomed - now that I've tried wagyu, I don't think I can ever turn back!" I told Jono after taking my first bite of the steak and cut a piece for him to sample. Oh, the meat just melts in your mouth in full flavour - I'm having steak orgasm! With a marble score of 9+, the steak was high in intramuscular fat (there were even little fatty bits served on top of the steak) - the higher the marble score (and 9+ is very high), the higher quality and with that comes higher cost. Jono's salmon fillet with roasted aubergine, fennel puree and radish salad though was also excellent became pretty average to me after I tried my steak. Oh dear, my steak cravings are going to cost me from now on...

I reckon somewhere between 180g-220g of wagyu beef is enough for me - anything beyond that would be too much for me to stomach. Though good for health as it is high in omega 3 fatty oils, too much of the fatty meat does make me feel slightly sick. I was quite glad our dessert came much later for I needed a bit time to digest. The weather seemed to have taken a drastic change, most of our pretty city night-lights now covered by a wave of fog that appeared all of a sudden.

We continue chatting and laughed reminiscing over the past year and all the wonderful things we've done together - travelling places, spending time with respective families and friends, the numerous events be have attended together, moving to Sydney - it's been a very eventful year! And we're still very much in love :)

Dessert finally turned up around 9.30pm and the shared platter consisted of a selection of all four desserts on their menu: brulée (vanilla bean crème brulée with strawberry salad), pear & pistachio (pistachio crème patisserie with Poire Williams marshmallow, sable and botrytis jelly), lemon (lemon posset, shortcake, baked meringue and raspberry) and chocolate (chocolate parfait, candied clementine, mandarin curd, chocolate & maple biscuit). Like the entrées and mains, the dessert too equally impressed me in both taste and presentation. Unfortunately we couldn't polish the platter as we were feeling full - it was still very good, however much we managed to indulge.

Cost us a whopping $212 (this is after taking 25% off the bill using the Entertainment card), the most expensive dinner we have had to date. Despite the cost, I would highly recommend coming to 360 Bar and Dining for your special occasion - we thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I'm sure you would too. Make sure you book early to avoid disappointment! Photos taken at 360 Bar and Dining here.

360 Bar and Dining Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Ichi-ban Boshi, Sydney (20th October 2011)

Jono and I were meant to meet up with Ken and Pip at the Chatswood night market this evening for dinner but ended up in Ichi-ban Boshi instead as Jono was held up at work (didn’t make sense to head all the way to Chatswood at 8pm when the market closes at 9pm). I’ve seen Ichi-ban Boshi on my visit to Kinokuniya Bookstore located on the same floor in Galleries Victoria and Ken had previously mentioned that this place serves good ramen too (why is it that my conversations with Ken always involve food?) – Jono and I didn’t plan on coming here this evening but I felt like Japanese and this was the nearest place Google Maps suggested for Japanese cuisine.

Jono came to meet me at the Market St entrance of QVB and we headed over to Galleries Victoria, taking the elevator to the 2nd floor where Ichi-ban Boshi was located. Wow, the restaurant was pretty much packed and there was a queue outside. I wonder how long it would take for us to get a table...There was no one manning the reception podium so how would the staff know who's turn it was to get a table? On closer inspection, we found that there was a sheet at the podium which customers needed to complete with their name, number of guests and whether or not you were willing to share your table - each row on the sheet is numbered and has boxes next to it for you to complete the required details as well as a corresponding tear-off number for you to hold on to. You must take the number as you will need to hand it over to the staff when your number is called. Ok, let's see...Angelica...2 sharing of table...and rip this number off the sheet. And now we wait...

"80...anyone here with number 80?" called out the Japanese female waitstaff. Nope, not us, we're number 2 (I think they recycle the numbers once it gets to a certain point). After giving it a few more calls, she moved on to the next number. I guess some people put their names down but gave up the wait or went away thinking it would be awhile before their number gets called 
(the wait can be up to half an hour long but we only waited about 15 minutes). You snooze, you lose - person number 1 was a no-show too so we got bumped up the queue and got ourselves a table. Yay!

There isn't much ambience in the restaurant because it is not enclosed within the shop, making it a bit noisy. Waitstaff wearing headsets can be found busily roaming the restaurant floor, taking orders from the tables with PDAs. Jono got himself an iced chocolate and Tokyo Ramen Set while I got an iced lemon tea and the Tantanmen Ramen, both which were served rather quickly after we ordered. The Tokyo Ramen has a shoyu (soy sauce) based soup and came with 3 pieces of gyoza, rice, pickles and salad as part of the set meal. Mmm, the gyoza (Japanese style dumplings that are pan-fried on one side and steamed the other, and often served as a side dish in ramen restaurants) is good...My Tantanmen Ramen with its minced pork, half a boiled egg and choy sum in a hot and spicy soup was rather salty and the ramen somewhat overcooked. Oddly enough, with every helping I took, it left a weird aftertaste that I couldn't quite describe (a salty-bitter mix?). I'm not sure if this particular noodle dish was meant to taste like that. I asked Jono how was his noodles and he said it was ok, though I noticed he didn't polish his bowl, an indication to me that it probably wasn't that yummy (he did however, finish all the gyoza). Or perhaps it was just the fact that the servings here were massive - even I struggled to finish mine. 

Cost us $36 all up for dinner which we had to pay in cash (the restaurant takes cash-only). I'm not sure what the hype is with this restaurant but I'm not fully convinced that they serve the best ramen in town, even if their noodles are made fresh in store. I probably need to have a chat with Ken to find out what was the dish that made him think the ramen here was amazing and come back to try it out, and see if it's any better.

At the entrance of Ichi-ban Boshi waiting for our number to be called

Our iced chocolate and iced lemon tea ($3.30 each)

Tantanmen Ramen ($13) - ramen with minced pork, half a boiled egg
and choy sum in a hot and spicy soup 

Ichi-ban Boshi's most popular ramen, Tokyo Ramen ($9.90)

Ichiban Boshi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Chinta Ria - The Temple of Love, Darling Harbour (5th October 2011)

Su Wei suggested a girls night out this evening so we decided to catch up for dinner at Chinta Ria located on the roof terrace of Cockle Bay Wharf - neither of us have been there and it's one of the many restaurants listed in the Entertainment Book which was how we came to decide our restaurant for tonight's dinner. Jono and I have been talking about going to Chinta Ria for quite some time - whenever we walk past the Pyrmont footbridge entrance, Jono never fails to remind me that the restaurant spells cinta (the Malay word for love) with a 'h'. "But c-i-n-t-a would be pronounced sin-ta," Jono would say just to annoy me. Trust me babe, I've never seen that word spelt with a 'h' and I grew up in Malaysia; the restaurant spelt it like how it reads phonetically, not how it is actually spelt in the Malay language.

Su Wei and I
 met up at QVB around 6pm then walked to the the restaurant together. Chinta Ria doesn't take dinner bookings so we were there when they had just opened to avoid the queue often seen outside the restaurant most evenings. The light scent of sandalwood incense beckons you to enter through the large wooden doors into the restaurant where you are then greeted by a huge Laughing Buddha. Coloured chairs stood out next to dark wood tables and the table was set with equally bright-coloured bowls and chopsticks on the side. The interior was cleverly decorated with ornaments and artwork from the various ethnic groups in Malaysia. "It's really cool," said Su Wei, and I nodded in agreement. I had been wondering why the restaurant was also called "The Temple of Love" - the architecture of the building does remind me somewhat of a Chinese temple (even more so with the smell of incense and the Buddha statue) but what signifies 'love'? Love for the food? If that is the case, we are at the right place then!

Su Wei ordered the Roti Kari (roti with chicken curry) while I ordered the Curry Laksa (fine strands of vermicelli and soft Hokkien noodles, tossed 
with fried bean curd puff, slices of fish cake, chicken and sugar snap peas in a piquant spicy coconut curry soup) as our mains to share. I cannot believe this - Su Wei was already asking for the dessert menu before our mains were served! "I like the banana roti dessert," she said enthusiastically. Okay...that isn't really a Malaysian dessert, my dear. In fact, it's not easy to find a mamak stall in Malaysia that sells banana roti (better known as roti pisang in Malay) and even if you do, the roti is served with curry, not vanilla ice-cream. Sorry to disappoint but you are probably more likely to find banana roti served as a dessert in Western countries, like at Mamak in Haymarket.

Entrance into Chinta Ria - The Temple of Love

Multiracial ornaments and the huge Laughing Buddha

Huh, is THAT it?" I said to Su Wei when the roti dish arrived, eyes wide in amazement - it was a piece of roti and a small bowl of dipping sauce (was there even chicken in there?). This wasn't what I expected for $17. Jeez, that's daylight robbery! We could have the same dish 50 times in Malaysia!! Not impressed...My curry laksa turned up shortly and it was a surprisingly huge serving. We were about to finish off the last of the roti and move on to the laksa when the waiter came hurriedly to our table, apologising profusely for their mistake - it turned out they had served us an entrée version of the roti dish instead of the main we ordered. "We can replace it straightaway," gushed the waiter. Us girls looked at each other, then at the laksa - we obviously read each other's minds. There was no way we could fit the laksa AND another roti main so we opted for the bill to be corrected instead. Plus Su Wei was still keen to have dessert - we need to leave some room! Both the roti and laksa were alright but not wow. Mamak remains the best place for roti in town in my books and I have not found THE laksa place yet. 

Curry Laksa ($17) and Roti ($4.90)

Unfortunately for Su Wei, Chinta Ria doesn't have banana roti in their dessert menu so we settled for their pineapple fritters served with syrup and coconut ice-cream - mmm, the coconut ice-cream is quite nice and very creamy :)

Su Wei giving the thumbs up for the pineapple fritters with 
syrup and coconut ice-cream

Considering the location, I would say the price is about right (cost us about $34 all up - we didn't use the Entertainment Book voucher in the end as it would only give us a very small discount) and the service was quite good, despite the mix-up. The restaurant was fully seated by the time we left around 7.30pm. Some of the patrons braved the cold and went for outdoor seating rather than join in the queue that was beginning to build up at the entrance. Will definitely have to come back with Jono another day to try their interesting-looking specials (I had a peek at what other people had on our way out) and experience 'the temple' himself.

Chinta Ria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato