Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Ippudo, Sydney (29th July 2014)

Since Ippudo expanded its overseas restaurant and opened up their first Australasian restaurant in Sydney in December 2012, I have paid patronage to the Japanese ramen chain every couple of months. Whenever I crave for a delicious piping hot bowl of ramen, Ippudo is where I would go to and their ramen never fails to hit the spot. So when SD Marketing contacted me to write a review of my favourite ramen restaurant, I was thrilled and said yes! 

Located on Level 5 of Westfield Sydney, this sleek modern Japanese restaurant is not hard to miss. The entrance with its wooden wave-like ceiling and black and red hues are pleasing to the eye, and often, a long queue can be seen outside the restaurant. Ippudo does not take bookings and despite the line, it hardly deters the continuous flow of customers happily waiting for a table. Since I was often eating on my own, I would bypass the queue to get in and instead, head over to the takeaway area to get my ramen and dine in the food court; on days when I have companions and more time, I too would get in line just for the experience of dining in.

Ippudo on Level 5 of Westfield Sydney

Bar at the entrance

Upon entering the restaurant, you would be greeted by the chorus of "Irasshaimase!" (meaning 'welcome' in Japanese) called out by all the staff to incoming patrons. At 6pm, the place was already near full capacity, hungry customers seen eagerly slurping up their bowls of ramen. Su Wei and I were seated just behind the bar and was served by the wonderful Jeremy - he was warm and super-friendly, and got us into giggles throughout the evening with his silly antics and playful winks whenever he was at our table :) 

Hungry patrons fill the seats inside the restaurant

Once you're in the restaurant and seated, everything happens pretty fast. Various waitstaff would turn up at our table - one handing out the menu and explaining today's specials, another topping up our glasses with water, a third setting up our table with chopsticks, cutlery and napkins, and before you know it, the first dish arrives at the table. 

The popular Ippudo Pork Bun is a definite must-order for me whenever I dine at Ippudo. It has been awhile since I was last here so was pleasantly surprised to see that the price for the bun has stayed at $4 (the same price since launch) and still tasted as good as I remembered - soft, fluffy bun with tender braised pork belly, crispy lettuce and Japanese mayo wedged in the middle. They are so good I could happily have several of these as a main on its own.

Ippudo Pork Bun ($4) - steamed bun with braised pork and Ippudo original sauce

Mmm, soft fluffy bun and oh-so-tender meat - heavenly!

If you have any questions about the menu or need some help deciding what to order, the friendly and attentive staff at hand would be more than happy to assist. We were having trouble deciding which a la carte dishes to get (there were 13 dishes to choose from and they all look equally good) and our waiter Jeremy came to our aid, narrowing down the list to just two: the Samurai Ribs and Lamb Hacho Miso Sauce. "Definitely go for the ribs," said Jeremy, highly recommending them. We were concerned of the serving size since we still had a bowl of ramen each to come but were told that the a la carte dishes were small as they were nibbles, usually to accompany drinks prior to the main course. I guess we'll be having them both then!

It didn't take very long for our dishes to arrive at the table, both presented artfully on pristine white plates. I like how the staff serving our food would give us a quick refresher of what we ordered, telling us the name and a brief description of each dish served. The Samurai Ribs was a clear winner for me - two pieces of pork spare ribs flavoured with a dark (koikuchi) soy sauce reduction, served with orange puree and seven-spice chili pepper (shichimi). The cut of meat was more similar to a short rib, slightly meatier than the usual spare rib you would expect and has a layer of fat which is crisp on the outside, its juices oozing into the mouth with each bite. The meat was cooked till tender and falls off the bone easily with the prod of my knife and fork. The rich saltiness of the sauce is beautifully balanced out by the tangy sweetness of the orange puree, and a sprinkling of chili pepper gives it a bit of a kick. Did you know that the sauce underneath the ribs is actually a written Japanese character 侍 meaning 'samurai'? How cool is that!

Samurai Ribs ($18) - pork spare ribs flavoured with reduction of koikuchi soy sauce served with orange puree and seven-spice chili pepper

Seasoning my pork rib with some chili and a drizzle of orange puree

Su Wei, on the other hand, preferred the Lamb Hacho Miso Sauce - two lamb cutlets grilled medium rare (they are cooked to your liking) drenched in a thick sweet and smoky sauce, served with fried eggplant. The darkness of the miso sauce may not seem appealing to the eye but goes very well with the juicy lamb and plainer eggplant. I was struggling to get the last bits of meat off the bone towards the end, eventually giving up on the cutlery and using my hands.

Lamb Hacho Miso Sauce ($20) - grilled lamb in a slightly sweet Hacho miso accompanied with fried eggplant

Ippudo is famed for its ramen and my all-time favourite is their Akamaru Shinaji made with Ippudo original tonkotsu broth that is enhanced with a special blended miso paste and fragrant garlic oil. The gleaming black garlic oil distinctly stands out on one side of the cloudy pork-based soup and is accompanied with thin ramen noodle served firm to the bite, chasu pork belly, black mushroom and shallots. A small red ball of miso paste and minced pork sat perfectly in the middle. The first mouthful of the soup is often a slight shock to the tastebud due to the mild bitterness from the garlic oil but after a few more mouthfuls, the flavour really grows on me. Su Wei went for the Akamaru Special which was the Akamaru Shinaji served with a side of Special Toppings which included more pork belly, black mushroom and shallots, as well as roasted seaweed and flavoured bamboo shoots. There is also the option to choose your own ramen toppings from the menu - the flavoured egg is my personal favourite.

Akamaru Special ($23) - Akamaru Shinaji with a side of Special Toppings

Akamaru Shinaji ($16) - Ippudo original tonkatsu broth enhanced with special blended miso paste and fragrant garlic oil. Served with thin noodles, pork belly, black mushroom and shallots.

Special Toppings ($7) - assortment of pork belly, roasted seaweed, black mushroom, shallots and flavoured bamboo shoots

I love how Ippudo always has specials giving return customers like me plenty of opportunity to try out their new creations. As part of their winter season special, Ippudo has brought back two brushed up versions of last year's most popular ramen - the Miso Tonkotsu (available from lunch) and the Spicy Black (available from 3pm). Daily servings for these specials are limited so you need to get in early before they sell out. I was fortunate they still had both this evening and opted for the Spicy Black Special, a spiced up version of the standard Tan Tan Men with an added kick of extra black garlic oil, topped with special miso paste, chashu pork belly, bean sprouts and coriander. Like the Akamaru Special, my ramen too came with an extra serving of assorted toppings. 

The spiciness of the broth is said to be balanced off with the sweet fragrance of the special sesame paste mixed in. Rich and intense in flavour, I could feel the edges of my mouth tingling from all the peppery spice with each slurp of the soup. Jeremy provided us with pepper and sesame seed grinders to spice up our ramen to our liking - I think mine is pretty spiced up, no need for more! The soup was a lot more gelatinous than the lighter Akamaru, and perhaps I was beginning to feel full from all the nibbles prior so didn't feel I enjoyed the ramen as much as I would like. Probably skip the entrees and go straight for the Spicy Black next time. 

Spicy Black Special ($24) - spiced up version of the standard Tan Tan Men with an added kick of extra black garlic oil. Topped with special miso paste, pork belly chashu, coriander and bean sprouts. The Special Toppings is served on the side.

All mixed in and ready to eat!

"More pork bun?" teased Jeremy when he came back to check in on us after our table was cleared. Oh I wish - I was totally bursting at the seams, there was no way I could fit more! But rest assured, I will be back very soon. With the cold winter days looming, nothing beats a wholesome hot bowl of delicious ramen to warm me up!

Su Wei and I dined as guests at Ippudo Sydney with thanks to Sana from SD Marketing.

Ippudo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

For all you Ippudo lovers out there, you would be pleased to know that a new store will open in Chippendale around mid-September this year. I can't wait to check it out!

New store address: 
Level 1, RB07, 28 Broadway, Chippendale, NSW 2008

And here's a little video teaser the marketing folks have put together to whet your appetite :)

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Mooberry - Dessert & Breakfast Bar, Neutral Bay (19th July 2014)

Having lived a stone's throw away from King St in Newtown for over 2 years, I've seen many frozen yoghurt (aka froyo) shops pop up and close faster than I can get around visiting them. One that has survived the competition and even thrived is Mooberry. Established in 2012, its Newtown store proved popular and the owners of Mooberry have subsequently expanded their business across the bridge to the north shore with its latest flagship - Mooberry - Dessert & Breakfast Bar - opened in March this year on Military Road in Neutral BayJono and I had the pleasure of visiting their newest addition today for an exclusive afternoon of chocolate heaven :) 

Mooberry on Military Road, Neutral Bay

Looking for a car park in the vicinity around midday Saturday was a bit of a mission - it seemed that everyone was out and about in this cold winter's day and locating a park was quite difficult. We ended up parking off-street in the suburb of Cremorne and took a short 7-minute walk to the store. The friendly staff behind the bar were expecting us and promptly contacted their manager Jamie to inform him of our arrival. We were told to find ourselves a table in the store located on three levels and given menus to view whilst waiting for Jamie. We found ourselves a table on the mezzanine floor where we could avoid the cold but still able to watch all the action going on downstairs. There were several tables located on the footpath outdoors and inviting cushions indoors on the ground floor where you can enjoy a relaxing cup of hot drink or dessert as you people watch through the large glass panes. The top floor was by far the most popular, a cosy attic-like space hidden away from street view. Customers dining in had to order and pay prior to finding a table, and they could wait or have their order brought to their table when ready. The decor of the store was rather quirky - green turf on the main wall with LED-lit trees stuck on horizontally and several faux deer head plaques dotted here and there - kind of like a fantasy world in Alice in Wonderland. Soft pop music played in the background, enough to create an upbeat vibe but not so loud that it was intrusive to conversations.

Mooberry - established 2012

Dessert Station where all the dessert-making action takes place

View of the store from the mezzanine floor
The menu at Mooberry - Dessert & Breakfast Bar features many of their Newtown store favourites (such as waffles, churros, smoothies and of course, their signature froyo) but focuses more heavily on a selection of chocolate-based desserts as well as breakfast options complimented by their range of specialty coffee and drinks. Jamie arrived shortly and was a friendly chap, immediately making us feel welcome - he was happily telling us all about Mooberry's journey and answering any questions I had. Though froyo is still Mooberry's primary business, the Neutral Bay branch is more like a cafe catering breakfast from open till 3pm and dessert till late

Menu at Mooberry - Dessert & Breakfast Bar

As part of our afternoon of chocolate heaven, Jamie had planned on creating a range of their desserts for us to sample however no visit to Mooberry is complete without sampling some of their famous froyo. The froyo is made on site daily with six flavours on offer each day. We were given the option of creating our own froyo sundae to share but since Jamie planned to spoil us this afternoon, we opted to sample just a few of the froyo flavours in tasting pots instead to make room in our bellies for the delights to come. Jono and I immediately went for the Pomegranate as it was most unusual, and Jamie gave us a sample of the Original as well. "This is my personal favourite - Passionfruit," said Jamie with a broad smile, producing yet another sample pot. Traditionally, froyo taste slightly tart than ice cream and I can definitely taste the slight tang in the Original. Fresh fruit is used in making the fruit froyos giving them a natural sweetness, and I love how smooth and creamy all the froyos are. Passionfruit was definitely the best of the three flavours we tried - I could devour a whole serving myself! Like many froyo stores, you can choose to add toppings to your favourite froyo for an extra cost. There are plenty of toppings to choose from - go for the healthier cut fruit, fruit caviar or nuts, or the more 'sinful' chocolate and candy

Choice of froyo sizes and flavours

Selection of toppings - fruit caviar, fresh fruit, chocolate chips

More toppings - candy, nuts, and other 'naughty' bits

Pomegranate and Original froyo samplers

Passionfruit froyo sampler

"Okay, so here we have the hot chocolates," said Jamie arriving at our table with a tray of glasses. It was a welcoming sight for the cold weather, a hot drink to warm up our insides. Though they look similar, we were told they were different flavours - Mint, Belgian and Salted Caramel. It seemed that the flavour was in the chocolate sauce which gives the drink its distinct taste. Make sure you give the hot chocolate a good stir to get all the sauce from the bottom of the glass mixed in with the drink for full flavour - we neglected to do so at the start so weren't able to quite tell them apart in those first few sips. 

Hot Chocolate - Mint, Salted Caramel and Belgian

Mmm, hot chocolate to warm my belly...

Over the course of our visit, Jamie and his team were also serving customers. I couldn't help but overhear their conversations from where we sat - the staff had an enthusiastic demeanour and were very helpful, giving suggestions to customers who seem to struggle making a single choice when there were so many on offer. "A little something while you wait," said Jamie, popping back briefly at our table with the Mango Brownie specially made for the store. To be honest, I didn't mind the wait for it gave our tummies more time to digest one dessert before the next. The Mango Brownie was just lovely, moist and not overly sweet, and you can really taste the fruit in it. 

Mango Brownie

Our next chocolate dessert to sample was the Wicked Waffles - Belgian waffles (choice of 1 or 2 waffles) served with a side of frozen yoghurt, cut strawberries and banana, and drizzled with Belgian chocolate. The waffle was one of the better ones we've had in Sydney's cafes, crisp on the outside and still fluffy on the inside. Jamie served the waffle with Coconut froyo, a perfect compliment with the chocolate and fruit. 

Wicked Waffles ($14.90) - Belgian waffle, Coconut frozen yoghurt, strawberries & banana drizzled with Belgian chocolate

This was shortly followed by the Chocolate Fondue, another chocolate dessert which was made for sharing. Served in a double-handled pan, a pot of melted chocolate sat in the middle surrounded by cut strawberries and banana, marshmallows and waffle bites. Love the chocolate drizzle art! The melted chocolate was quite rich and thick - it was a challenge to avoid getting the dipping ingredients stuck in the pot and totally covered with gooey chocolate goodness.

Chocolate Fondue ($16.50) - Melted chocolate, strawberries, banana, marshmallows and waffle bites

A waffle bite coated in the rich melted chocolate

Jamie was keen to offer us a few more desserts to sample but Jono and I were pretty full from all the sweet indulgence so graciously declined. "How about I make you a fruit smoothie to finish off?" Jamie suggested. Hmm, I am really full but I like the sound of a fruit smoothie...We went along with the suggestion and shortly Jamie was back with a Mango Passion Smoothie which contains froyo in it. Yum, this was exactly what we needed after all the chocolate, a refreshing fruity drink :) Mind you, the smoothie was quite thick and fortunately he only made us one to share! 

Mango Passion Smoothie ($7)

Thanks Jamie and team for your wonderful hospitality and totally spoiling us with your delectable desserts! We'll be sure to visit again to try out more desserts and the breakfast options. No doubt I will be creating my own cup of Passionfruit froyo with toppings on my next visit ;)

Jono and I dined as guests at Mooberry - Dessert & Breakfast Bar with thanks t0 John and Jenny from Mooberry.

Mooberry Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Barista Haus, Rockdale (16th July 2014)

Ever since its launch in February this year, Jono and I have been stopping by Barista Haus a couple of times a week to grab a morning takeaway flat white before hopping on the train to work. Located in the dark and sometimes dank alleyway connecting Princess Highway and Geeves Avenue near Rockdale Station, the cafe is a welcome sight to foot commuters, its bright sunny yellow theme giving the alleyway a much needed boost of life and cheerfulness.

While early morning commuters are still in their pre-coffee waking up state, girls Jessica and Natalie behind the counter have already begun their day at 6am, all bright and bubbly, greeting customers as they come in. You can't help but rub off on their positive vibes :) With upbeat house/club music in the background, its polished white-tiled walls and concrete floor, it feels like we've been transported away to some hip London underground cafe whenever served by Natalie who's happens to be a LondonerThe girls seem to know their regulars on a first-name basis and preferred coffee type however Jono and I haven't quite made it into their books - once or twice a week might not be regular enough to make an impression.  

Barista Haus off Princess Highway, Rockdale

"I had a Nutella Cronut - it was so damn good," said Jono, who couldn't stop raving about the cronut he picked up from Barista Haus on his way to work this morning. Cronut is a croissant-doughnut hybrid, a creation first made famous by pastry chef Dominique Ansel and has taken the world by storm in the past year with many local cafes now offering their versions of this much hyped invention. Made from fried laminated dough, the pastry has a layered flaky texture likened to a croissant and comes sugared, filled and/or glazed in a variety of flavours. Here at Barista Haus, the cronuts supplied are specially made and flavours may vary day to day but you would often find Nutella, Cinnamon and Glazed if they are in stock. At Jono's persistence, I went in this afternoon to sample their Nutella Cronut complimented with my regular flat white. The crispy flaky pastry was covered with sugar, its top slathered generously with Nutella. I have to agree with Jono - at $5.50 a pop, they are rather expensive but oh so good! It was difficult not to make a mess eating the cronut; even though I was given a dessert fork, it was impossible to avoid getting sugary bits of pastry and chocolate sticking to the sides of my mouth. The cronuts here are popular so get in early and pick one up before they sell out!

Flat White ($3.50) and Nutella Cronut ($5.50)

Sugar-coated cronut topped with a generous slather of Nutella goodness!

Barista Haus has teamed up with Sensory Lab from Melbourne to bring the best roasted coffee beans from around the world in store giving customers the ultimate coffee experience. Coffee here is consistently good and I love how even though we do takeaways most of the time, head barista Jessica still does her latte art (quite a lot of cafes just pour the milk in for takeaways) before securing on the lid. Not a coffee person? Try one of their loose leaf artisan Tippity teas and tisanes or a delicious hot chocolate. There's also a good selection of food from pre-made savoury wraps and sandwiches to cakes and other sweet delectables, even gourmet soups served during the colder winter months.

Takeaway or eat in, there are plenty of options to choose from

I'm SO glad Barista Haus has chosen to open up in our suburb!

As of June 2015, Barista Haus has closed.

UPDATE October 2015: Barista Haus will be re-opening mid-October at 1 Monash Road, Gladesville, NSW 2111.

Barista Haus Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, 14 July 2014

ABC Soup

Whenever someone in the household was feeling slightly under the weather, Mama, my maternal grandmother would whip up a large pot of her homemade remedy, the ABC soup. Known to some as luo song tang (in Mandarin meaning 'Russian soup'), it is thought that this soup is a Chinese take on the hearty Russian borscht and is more commonly made at home than purchased at a restaurant in Malaysia. As a child, I didn't enjoy the soup very much - us grandkids nicknamed it the 'sick soup' and would avoid telling Mama we were ill since everyone ends up having the soup regardless whether they were sick or not; interestingly, my liking for the soup has changed over the years, a large part attributed to the fact I live abroad and at times miss home, and perhaps having developed a more mature and varied tastebud as an adult. Today, the ABC soup is one of the dishes I would make during wintertime or whenever I have a cold.

ABC soup

Why is the soup called ABC? The name is likely to have come from vitamins A, B and C found in the vegetables used in the soup though it could purely be because it is such an easy dish to prepare, making it as simple as ABC :) There are slight variations to the recipe found online but generally include meat with bone, potatoes, carrots, onions, tomatoes and peppercorns. Mama's version is made with pork spare ribs and a palm size cauliflower - I'm not a fan of cauliflower so replaced it with sweet corn. Here's my adapted version of Mama's ABC soup:

ABC Soup (adapted from Mama's recipe)

Prep time: 10 mins

Cook time: 40 mins

Serves 2


4 chicken drumsticks, skin and fat removed
2 tomatoes, quartered
2 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
2 large onions, cut into wedges
1 large carrot, cut into chunks
1-2 sweet corns, husked and cut into 4 chunks each
½ tablespoon crushed peppercorns
2 litres water (add more if reduced too much with cooking)
Salt to taste

1. Prepare all the ingredients.
2. In a large pot, bring the water to boil. Add in chicken and crushed peppercorns. Continue to boil for 5-10 minutes.
3. Using a ladle, skim off any impurities from the surface of the broth. Add in the all the cut vegetables. Bring the flame down to medium and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the potatoes and carrots are soft.
4. Add salt to taste. Serve the soup hot with a dash of white pepper.

You can substitute the chicken drumstick with other cuts of chicken or pork with bone in, and include vegetables such as garlic and celery. Enjoy the soup on its own or serve with some steamed rice on the side. A perfect winter warmer and packed with health benefits to give those cold bugs the boot!