Friday, 17 April 2015

Dera-Uma, Sydney CBD (17th April 2015)

If you are a fan of Mappen and Oiden, then I'm sure you've discovered their sister branch Dera-Uma, a cheap and cheerful casual Japanese restaurant located in Skyview Shopping Plaza on George Street. Opened in March 2014 replacing the now closed Dog Dog Japon, Dera-Uma (meaning 'very delicious' in the Nagoya dialect) is more similar to Oiden and features mainly donburi aka 'rice bowl dish' and gourmet salads

At 6.30pm, Dera-Uma already has a steady stream of patrons both dining in and ordering takeaways. Set in a Japanese street stall theme, the J-pop music playing in the background gives the restaurant an upbeat atmosphere. Unlike its sibling branches where the restaurants are mostly enclosed, the communal seating area at Dera-Uma spills into the open space of the general walkway, making the venue feel more spacious. There is no need for concern if you do not find yourself a seat straightaway; the turnaround time of eat in diners is pretty good you'll get a seat in no time. 

Meals are made to order and you are given a buzzer once your order is placed and payment made (cash only). While you wait to be buzzed, check out all the cooking action through the clear glass window looking into the kitchen where the friendly staff are busy preparing your meal. Because Dera-Uma is more a takeaway joint, meals are served in plastic containers regardless if you are dining in or taking away.

Dera-Uma located in Skyview Shopping Plaza on George Street

Counter with a selection of topping items to choose from

Some of the menu options available at Dera-Uma

Jono and I selected a few items from the menu to share, starting off with a gourmet salad and opted for the Stewed Wagyu Beef Salad, a bowl of mix leaves with three salad fillings of our choice, topped with thinly sliced stewed Wagyu beef. There is even a handy 4-step order form to use when ordering your gourmet salad: first choose your salad, then choose up to three fillings from the choices available (add 90 cents for extra fillings) followed by extra toppings (optional), and finally select your dressing (choice of sesame, balsamic vinegar, French, wasabi or Japanese) and the amount you want on the salad (light, medium or heavy). I like the mix and match option as it makes the ordering process interactive and fun. We had corn kernel, cucumber and tomato for our fillings, and wasabi dressing in medium amount to accompany our salad. Hand your completed form to the cashier on order and watch your salad being prepared right in front of you. The serving is generous and tasted deliciously healthy.

Use the handy order form when ordering your Gourmet Salad

Choice of salad fillings - tofu, boiled egg, cucumber, tomato, olive, feta cheese, celery, kidney bean, walnuts and seaweed

Extra toppings - Pork Fillet Katsu, White Fish Fry, Chicken Kara-Age, Chicken Katsu

Stewed Wagyu Beef Salad ($7.90) - stewed sliced Wagyu beef, mix vegetables + your choice of any three salad fillings

Dera-Uma features three Original Drinks - Iced Green Tea, Iced Lemon Tea or Iced Mugi-Cha (roasted barley tea) - all served chilled. A refreshing drink and great compliment to the savoury dishes. My personal favourite is the Iced Lemon Tea which is slightly sweeter than the others. There are also other canned or bottled drinks available such as Coke, water and non-alcoholic Japanese beverages.

Iced Lemon Tea ($1.50) and Green Tea ($1.50)

The Sauce-Fish Katsu was a donburi with crumbed white fish drenched in a salty-sweet fry sauce, drizzled with mayo served on a bed of rice topped spring onion and pickled radish on the side. The crumbed fish still had its crispy texture though I felt the fry sauce a bit too salty for my taste buds. Fortunately our chilled drinks helped balance out the sodium making the dish much more palatable.

Sauce-Fish Katsu ($7.50) - crumbed deep fried white fish, coleslaw, mayo, pickled radish and special fry sauce on rice

My favourite dish of the lot was the signature Tamago Toji-Chicken Katsu, crumbed deep fried chicken cooked with sliced onions in a beaten egg mixture topped with spring onion. I had the pleasure of watching staff Aki prepare our dish from the viewing station - she had two mini saucepans of the tamago toji cooking concurrently on the gas stove top; she would lift the lid to check on the cooking progress every now and then whilst preparing the next batch for cooking. Timing and coordination is key so as not to overcook the food. Once ready, Aki then skilfully slides the cooked Tamago Toji-Chicken Katsu onto a prepared bowl of rice, and serves it with pickled radish on the side.

Chicken Katsu (crumbed deep fried chicken) and onion covered in a beaten egg mixture topped with spring onion cooking on the stove

Our Tamago Toji-Chicken Katsu is almost done!

Aki skillfully sliding the cooked Tamago Toji-Chicken Katsu on top of a bowl of rice

The partially cooked egg envelopes the crumbed chicken giving it a unique texture - a mix of tender meat with a crunchy crumbed exterior combined into a saucy/runny egg omelette. A simple yet delicious comfort food that fills my belly.

Toji-Chicken Katsu ($7.50) - crumbed deep fried chicken, onion & shallot, cooked in 2 or 3 eggs on rice

Washoku Lovers members - you would be pleased to learn that Dera-Uma is offering members the Washoku Lovers Selection Set at a special price of $9.90 which includes the Toji-Chicken Katsu Bowl, a mini salad, miso soup and an Original Drink of your choiceA complete meal set and very good deal in my books! Don't have a Washoku Lovers membership yet? Head over to their website to sign up (it's free!) and receive great food and drink deals from participating Japanese restaurants.

Washoku Lovers Selection ($9.90) - Original Drink, Toji-Chicken Katsu Bowl, Mini Salad and Miso Soup

As an added bonus for Washoku Lovers members, if you post about your experience at any participating restaurant and hashtag it to #ilovewahosku on Instagram or Facebook between now and the end of June, you could stand a chance to win something uniquely Japanese. For the month of April, the choice of prizes include a set of Japanese sake bottles and cups from Arita valued at $160, a $200 dinner voucher to a mystery Japanese restaurant, Kyokushin Karate lessons, skincare products by i-white, and Japanese nails at Tia Rouge. Prizes change every month - see Washoku Lovers Competition for more details on prizes and how to enter.

Enter the Washoku Competition to win great prizes!

If you're intending to take away, it is advisable that you consume your meal within 2 hours. You will need to place your order at least 2 hours prior to pick up if ordering more than 10 takeaways. 

Overall, the food at Dera-Uma is tasty and affordable, and service was friendly and fast. Though you can upsize most dishes from regular to large for just under $2, I would recommend going for a regular to start. The regular bowl may look small but the serving is actually quite generous and dishes are sauce-heavy so does fill you up. We will have to return to check out their intriguing Grilled Beef Hamburger Steak bowls!

Jono and I dined as guests at Dera-Uma with thanks to Yuri from SD Marketing Global and Washoku Lovers.

Dera-Uma Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, 13 April 2015

Rengaya, North Sydney (13th April 2015)

Since returning to the North Sydney business precinct for work, I've been revisiting many of my old food joints and have not had the chance to check out new ones that have popped up so when SD Marketing Global invited me to a tasting at Rengaya, I was thrilled at the opportunity to check out a restaurant I've never been before and said yes!

Established in 1993 and conveniently located on Miller Street across from North Sydney train station, Rengaya is known to be Australia's first and finest yakiniku restaurant serving premium Wagyu with a beef marble score of 9+ and quality fresh seafoodYakiniku (which translates to 'grilled meat') is a style of cooking fresh, seasoned ingredients on a mesh and grilled over direct flame. Each table at the restaurant has a built-in grill where diners cook their chosen ingredients at their own pace. Besides Waygu beef and seafood, there are also other meats such as pork and chicken as well as vegetable options for the grill, plus plenty of popular Japanese dishes e.g. sashimi, udon, shabu-shabu, salads and sides to compliment your yakiniku.

Rengaya Japanese BBQ restaurant in North Sydney

Samurai warrior on display at the main entrance

Through the entrance glass doors, the sizzling sounds and aroma of delicious grilled meat permeates the air luring you straight in - one can't help but feel famished! At 6.30pm, the restaurant was beginning to fill up, groups of diners seen happily socialising over drinks and grilling food at their tables. I had the pleasure of dining with Yuri (SD Marketing Global) and Vanny (Nessy Eater) this evening - over the course of our shared meal, we got to know more about one another, sharing plenty of laughs and of course, our foodie and blogging adventures :)

Patrons enjoying Japanese cuisine at Rengaya

As part of my Washoku Lovers membership, I was entitled to a free drink at Rengaya of either a glass of Japanese draft beer (choice of Asahi Super Dry on tap or Suntory - The Premium Malt's value up to $9.50) or a soft drink from the drinks menu. All I had to do was present my membership card on order. If you love Japanese food, I highly recommend signing up for a Washoku Lovers membership. It's free to join and you get to score some freebies at participating Japanese restaurants. Each restaurant offers a different free food or drink deal to members - see website for more details.

The Kinako Milk from the soft drink options caught my eye so we ordered one for me to sample. Kinako (literally translates to 'yellow flour') aka roasted soy flour, is a common ingredient used in Japanese desserts due to its mild sweet taste and powdery texture. Mixed with milk or soy milk, this drink can be consumed hot or cold and is said to help maintain cholesterol levels making it a popular health beverage in Asia. The Kinako Milk at Rengaya is served chilled - a refreshing drink with a nutty flavour that leaves the distinct grainy feel on the tongue.

Kinako Milk ($5.90)

Our side dish of Namuru (similar to the Korean seasoned vegetables namul) is made up of five kinds of vegetables - bean sprouts, zucchini, shiitake mushroom, white radish and spinach - that is served raw or lightly cooked and seasoned with salt, vinegar, sesame oil or a combination of these seasoning. A great starter to nibble on while we wait for more dishes to arrive at the table. The seasoned mushroom is my personal favourite!

Namuru ($8.90) - 5 kinds of Korean flavoured vegetables

Feeling a little adventurous? Then try the Wagyu "Yukke", a tender Wagyu beef tartare that is served with finely chopped shallots, sesame oil, garlic and topped with a raw egg yolk. The quality and freshness of the raw beef is key in this dish (reduces the risk of bacteria contamination) so only order the yukke from reputable Japanese restaurants. To eat, break the egg yolk and mix it in with the beef.

Wagyu "Yukke" ($13.90) - Wagyu beef tartare served with finely chopped shallots, sesame oil, garlic & egg yolk on top

To eat, break the egg yolk and mix it in with the beef

Though the menu comes with a helpful anatomically correct drawing of the various cuts of beef, it is still quite a daunting task to narrow down a select few cuts especially if you don't know your beef cuts well. We opted for the Premium Wagyu Amusement which showcases a selection of the chef recommended Wagyu beef cuts - rib, loin, oyster, rib finger and ox tongue. The cuts were generously thick and lusciously marbled, glistening as it cooks on the mesh with any excess fat dripping off into the catch tray below. Like any good meat, you only need to turn it once during cooking. Cook the beef to your liking, then remove it from the grill using the tongs provided. Dip it in your choice of yakiniku sauce and enjoy. The meat is lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and tastes great on its own or with the sauce. A squeeze of lemon juice makes it all the more delectable. 

Built-in grill at the table to cook your chosen ingredients 

Wedge of lemon and yakiniku sauce

Premium Wagyu Amusement ($49.90) - chef's recommendation of premium Wagyu beef cuts: Wagyu Rib, Wagyu Loin, Wagyu Oyster, Wagyu Rib Finger and Wagyu Ox Tongue

I've had ox tongue at Korean BBQ restaurants in the past but they usually come thinly sliced unlike the thick cuts served in the Premium Wagyu Amusement. The chunky meat oozes in fat and beefy juices, melting in the mouth with each bite. Deliciously satisfying though personally I would prefer it in small quantities (no more than two pieces for me) as it is too fatty for my liking. 

Wagyu Ox Tongue in thick cut cooking on the grill

Seasoned lightly with salt and pepper, the grilled Wagyu Ox Tongue is juicy and tender

To help balance out our meat consumption, we also ordered a plate of Wrap-Up Lettuce Leaves which was eaten together with the meat. To make a lettuce wrap, first spread the homemade miso sauce thinly on the lettuce leaf. Dip your cooked meat in the yakiniku sauce then place it on the prepared leaf, topping it up with some sliced carrots, garlic and green chillies, then wrap and eat!

Wrap-Up Lettuce Leaves ($8.90) - lettuce, green chilli, carrot and garlic served with homemade miso dip

Making up a lettuce wrap with a bit of everything

The Stone Pot Mentaiko Bibimbap (with soup) is beautifully presented with namuru, egg, chilli cod roe and squid served on top a bed of rice in a hot stone pot, and comes with a bowl of piping hot miso soup and a sweet and spicy miso paste on the side. Loved the combination of textures and flavours - chewy squid, cooked egg and seasoned vegetables stirred in with fluffy short grain rice and bits of crunchy cooked rice in the mix with spicy paste to give it a bit of a kick.

Stone Pot Mentaiko Bibimbap (with soup) ($15.90) - vegetable, egg, chilli cod roe, and squid on rice in a hot stone pot

Mixed rice

To finish, we ordered two desserts to share: the "WA 和 (Japanese)" Plate and Shiratama Cream Anmitsu. The wonderful waitstaff gave us small dessert forks and individual plates which are chilled to help keep our desserts cool for longer. If you only have room for one dessert, then you can't go wrong with the "WA 和 (Japanese)" Plate made up of a variety of Japanese desserts - warabimochi (a jelly-like confection made from bracken starch and coated in kinako) served with sweet black syrup on the side, shiratama zenzai (sweet red bean soup with mochi) and green tea creme brulee accompanied with a cup of warm Japanese tea. For something a little more refreshing, opt for the Shiratama Cream Anmitsukanten (aka agar) with shiratama (mochi) and sweet red beans topped with vanilla and green tea ice cream, served with sweet black syrup on the side and seasonal fruits. Both desserts were lovely and not overly sweet.

"WA 和 (Japanese)" Plate ($18.90) - warabimochi with sweet black syrup, shiratama zenzai and green tea creme brulee served with tea

Shiratama Cream Anmitsu ($15.90) - Kanten with shiratama and sweet red beans topped with vanilla and green tea ice cream served with sweet black syrup and seasonal fruits

Drenching the dessert with sweet black syrup

Complimentary Japanese tea was served whilst us girls enjoyed our desserts and continued chit-chatting. Overall, the quality and selection of food at Rengaya was excellent, and service was friendly and prompt. Surprisingly, I didn't walk away smelling like yakiniku at the end of the night!

No doubt good quality food and service comes with a cost; Rengaya is not your everyday dining venue but one you would visit for special occasions or if you want to impress. Perhaps a more bang for your buck option is their all-you-can-eat buffet menu at $69 per head but be prepared to eat your money's worth within a 2-hour service window (last orders taken at 90-minutes and there is a $10-$30 charge for leftovers if you ordered more food than you can consume). 

I dined as a guest at Rengaya with thanks to Yuri from SD Marketing Global and Washoku Lovers.

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