Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Sokyo Japanese Restaurant - Pyrmont, The Star - Sydney, Australia

Sokyo Japanese Restaurant

'The Star' has had a major transformation since the days it was still called 'Star City'. After the refurbishment, a number of eateries have since opened with food court stores, casual outlets and high end restaurants occupying the space.

So-k-yo, I had trouble pronouncing the name and had to ask my friends who said it's Tokyo but with a S. It has always been a place my best friend has wanted to go to and for her birthday she decided she wanted to go there. Initially, we wanted to go hiking but unfortunately, or should I say fortunately, it was way too hot and we would have been toasted by the time we were done. Walking from Town Hall to The Star gave us a nice unwanted tan.

Sokyo Japanese Restaurant is a fine dining restaurant serving contemporary fusion Japanese cuisine, located within The Star complex. Sokyo was awarded a 'One Chef's Hat' from the SMH Good Food Guide 2014 and 2015. The head chef, Chase Kojima is a well-known Japanese chef, having worked at the renowned Nobu restaurant group worldwide. It's not the typical Japanese food you would usually find around town but Sokyo adds a new dimension with a western twist.

Getting to Sokyo from the inside of The Star can be confusing. We had to ask concierge for directions and they were happy to help. There is a sign that leads you to the outside but then you have to turn left into an interconnecting building. It's discretely hidden in the lobby of the Darling Hotel, away from the casino.

The prices here aren't cheap and you're paying the premium for quality food. However, for lunch they currently have a set lunch for the special price of $45 for a three course meal with miso soup and a green salad included.  A bargain considering how much each dish can cost. You have the choice of one sashimi, one tempura and one main from a selection of 3 dishes in each category. Usually, you wouldn't associate large portions with fine dining restaurants and this restaurant was no exception.

The interior is stylish and modern with hues of black and wood. As you walk in, the ambiance is relaxed and welcoming. Even though the dining area is big, it still retains that intimacy.

The bar area is separated from the main dining area.

We arrived just a bit after lunch service started, it was empty, but the room gradually filled up with customers. For those out there who are fans of Alan Tam, a famous Hong Kong singer who was here for a concert with Hacken Lee earlier in the month, he was also dining at Sokyo whilst we were eating there. My friends couldn't help but spy at his table to catch a glimpse of the star and his entourage.

A huge sushi bar is visible from the dining area.

Miso soup actually varies in taste between restaurants. I've never liked miso soup until recently. I tried it at a Neutral Bay Japanese restaurant, and it was one of the best I've ever had and my liking for it started from then. We had a choice of either miso soup or clear soup.

The 'Miso Soup ($6.00)' here is tasty. It's made from a blend of miso, dashi, tofu and daikon.

The 'Mixed Greens ($8.00)' portion is huge. This is a big contrast to what we were going to be served. We get two of these plates to share between three. They use a spicy garlic vinaigrette dressing which is refreshing to the palate, but they were a bit heavy handed leaving the salad leaves drenched in dressing.

The 'Salmon Ssamjang' is my preferred choice of the three options available. As mentioned previously, I'm not a fan of raw seafood and I dread at the thought of having to eat raw sashimi. The waitress told us this was partially cooked sashimi so I thought I would give it a try considering I wasn't able to switch to another dish.

The salmon was nicely flamed with a torch and it did have a lovely zesty and acidic drizzle made from red shiso, ginger and ssamjang, a form of Korean red paste. I don't like raw fish and I didn't really enjoy it. My two dining companions thought it had nice flavours but they prefer raw sashimi over partially cooked sashimi. Thus, a personal preference thing.

The 'Tuna Umami ($18.00)' is a fancy looking plate of sashimi. Thin slices of fresh raw tuna are topped with garlic soya sauce and choya umeshu, which is a plum wine liqueur in a cubed jelly form. Miss A thoroughly enjoyed this dish and preferred this over the salmon.

The tempura selection is my favourite part of the meal. Who doesn't like fried seafood?

I opted for the 'Barramundi Tempura ($19.00)' and it tasted very much like the Aussie fish and chips. A light and crispy batter, though not like the Japanese tempura we're accustomed to eating. Dipped in layu, a form of chilli oil, and apple aioli served on the side, this was the perfect match.

The 'Cuttlefish Tempura ($16.00)' has a light crispy batter that is delicious. It's different to the batter used for the barramundi. A side sauce made from Chilli de arbol, a form of Mexican chilli, and tarragon ponzu is provided on the side. Both were very good tempura dishes. We wish they gave us more!

For mains, there was a choice from fish, lamb or scallops.

The 'Sea Scallops ($30.00)' looked delicate in that huge plate. Three plump pieces of scallops were cooked to perfection leaving it tender and oh so juicy. This was accompanied with a wasabi and shitake pepper sauce, reminding me very much of a creamy steak pepper sauce.

The meat on the 'Lamb Chops ($36.00)' was falling off the bone. Tin Tin wasn't sure on how to eat it as no knife and fork was given, leaving her to fend with only a pair of chopsticks and her hands. They say you got to do what you go to do and she had to use her hands. The sauce, made from a mix of black garlic eggplant puree and basil looked extra thick but it gave it that extra flavour.

For dessert, we chose to try two and picked the ones that sounded most appealing. Dessert is fairly priced in comparison to the other dishes.

'Goma Street ($13.00)' is picture perfection on a plate. The presentation of this is one of the best I've ever seen for a dessert. 5 discs of thin dark chocolate are layered with a sesame filling and crunchy sesame bits. Then to the side is quenelle of ice cream on top of caramelised white chocolate crumbs. It tasted as good as it looked.

'Sokyo Mochi Ice-cream ($9.00)' is very different to the mochi we imagined. It's not round like the usual mochi but resembles wonton. The green and chewy glutinous outer skin is wonderfully delectable encasing a scoop of strawberry milkshake ice cream. The ice cream tastes like candy and I much preferred the Goma Street dessert over this as it lacked that oomph.

The service at Sokyo is exceptional and the food is well presented. A great place to dine for a special occasion or if you are just after excellent Japanese food with a modern twist. It will put a hole in your wallet but the lunch special that is currently on is excellent value. Book ahead online as spots fill up during lunch and dinner. A dining experience to be remembered.

Level G, The Darling
The Star
80 Pyrmont Street
Pyrmont NSW 2009

Opening Hours
Breakfast: Daily 7am-10:30am
Lunch: Thu-Sat: 12pm-2.30pm
Dinner: Sun-Wed 5.30pm–9.30pm
Dinner: Thu-Sat 5.30pm–10.30pm


Sokyo on Urbanspoon

Friday, 24 October 2014

Cow and the Moon - Enmore - Sydney, Australia

Cow and the Moon

If you like gelato and read the newspapers recently, then you've probably heard of 'Cow and the Moon'. It was named the world's best gelato maker at the 'Gelato World Tour' held in Italy, taking out the prestigious title by beating ice cream artisans from all over the world. To be honest, I've never heard of them till I read about them. This ice creamery is secret no more.

Now, how did that happen? You would think that the best gelato would be awarded to a gelateria in Italy as this is where gelato originated from. But no! This family run, suburban gelateria, located in the inner-western suburbs of Sydney won this acclaimed award for its 'almond affogato' flavoured ice cream, a twist on the classic affogato.

Since we were in Newtown lunching at the Pie Tin, we thought we would drop by the neighbouring suburb, Enmore, and join the masses in giving this famous ice cream a try. Indeed, we already had our fair share of dessert at the Pie Tin but that wasn't enough for our greedy stomachs.

We proceeded to walk a good 15 minutes from Newtown to Enmore, to walk off the food we ate earlier. From afar, we could see a queue that was snaking around the block and it didn't seem to get any shorter as we approached this corner store. It seemed as though everyone in Sydney had one thing in mind that day, and that was to taste the world's best ice-cream. We joined the queue and we waited in line for about 20 minutes.

They have a number of flavours on offer from the classics to the gourmet. Coffee and various desserts are also available.

Now, on to the famous ice-cream. We opt for the 'Small Gelato ($5.00)' which entitles us to two flavours. The almond affogato flavoured ice cream is based on the classic affogato, featuring single origin coffee and caramelised almonds with a Madagascar vanilla base. Doesn't that sound appealing? It's a winning combination and you have to taste it to know why.

The ice cream is creamy, rich and velvety smooth. The mix of flavours is superb, though a bit on the sweeter side for me. It tasted great, like how a good ice cream should taste. A perfectly balanced ice cream with a vanilla base and coffee infusion, which was subtle but indeed delicious. Together with the crunchy bits of almond and caramel, it was satisfying and refreshing on a hot day. If you're not a coffee lover, then you may not like it. I had this with a scoop of 'vanilla' ice cream.

JJ asked the question of, "How do you judge the world's best ice-cream?''. That is a good question, as we all pondered how the judging process works. For us as individuals, deciding on what flavour we like is a matter of personal preference and it's subjective.

The gorgeous Spring weather has finally kicked in, so give yourself a sweet treat and visit this ice cream bar and try it for yourself. Be prepared to wait.

181 Enmore Rd
Enmore NSW 2042

Phone no: 02 9557 4225

Opening Hours
Monday - Sunday
8:30am - 11:30pm


Cow & The Moon Artisan Gelato on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Pie Tin - Newtown - Sydney, Australia.

Pie Tin

The sun was shining bright and it was a scorching hot Sunday in Sydney. It was the perfect weather for a catch up with friends. We arranged to meet at Pie Tin in Newtown for lunch. With me being unfamiliar with Newton, I relied on the GPS that was on the Iphone for walking directions. There are apparently two Brown Street's in Newton and I ended up at the wrong one. I was only aware of this when I asked one of the locals for directions who mentioned there are two. Don't be like me and depend on the GPS too much or Google Street View it ahead of time.

After walking 10 minutes or so from the other Brown Street, I ended up at the right Brown Street. Just as well, my friends were late, so we got there pretty much at a similar time. It's located off busy King Street, placed alongside residential buildings and positioned on the corner from all the action. This little cafe-style restaurant has a laid back and casual atmosphere, with the brick walls, a communal table, black stools and wooden tables occupying the space.

The 'Pie Tin' are well known for their fresh, handmade pies which are baked on premises daily. There are pies upon pies, both savoury and sweet, lining the clear glass shelves. They all look so tempting, especially the sweet ones.

We decided to share two savoury pies and two dessert pies between three people. Pies arrive shortly after placing our order.

The first is a 'Slow Roasted Smoky Beef Brisket & Mushroom Pie' with a side of 'Kumera (Sweet Potato)' and 'Potato Salad' ($11.00 - $14.00 for Pie Meal). The pastry was flaky without being excessively buttery. The beef brisket was soft and tender, and with the mushrooms and gravy sauce, this combination worked well. The smoky flavour wasn't strong and it was rather faint in taste which I preferred. They were overly generous with the potato salad. Look at the pile of potatoes on the verge of tipping over the side of the plate! It would have been easier to eat if the potatoes were cut into smaller pieces, but it was nice with the creamy mayonnaise coating nonetheless.

Our second choice is the 'Slow Roasted Shredded Pork with Apple & BBQ Sauce Pie' with 'Coleslaw Salad' and 'Green Salad' ($11.00 - $14.00 for Pie Meal). One of their popular pies and we had to try to see why. The pie was seasoned well with the melt-in-your-mouth shredded pork, though flavoursome, was a tad dry, as the ingredients may have absorbed the sauce. I much preferred the other one over this.

Excuse my messy plate. The insides of the pies.

We were most excited about the dessert pies. They looked delectable and we wanted to try them all. Given that we don't have huge stomachs and wanted to have ice-cream afterwards, we settled with two. Indeed, choosing was a very difficult decision as there were too many.

The 'Oreo Cookie Pie ($7.50-$10.50)' was staring at us in the cabinet. How could you say no to Oreo? The Oreo shortcrust pastry base is topped with a Oreo's cookies and cream mixture. Coupled with a 'dollop of fresh cream ($0.50)' it was superb. Rich and decadent but for one this may be too much. I personally liked this very much as I love Oreo's.

The 'Sweet Pumpkin Pie ($7.50-$10.50)' with a 'dollop of fresh cream ($0.50)' was much lighter and less sweet as compared to the Oreo pie as it didn't contain any chocolate. The pumpkin filling was smooth and creamy.  My other two dining companions preferred this, finishing it very quickly.

The serves here are generous and the food is affordable. I would love to have tried more pies, even their version of the classic meat pie, but that's going to have to wait for next time. I'm quite fond of the typical supermarket frozen beef pies as I love the rich gravy it contains, but the pies here were decent, though not somewhere I would go out of the way to just eat pies unless I was in the area. A great afternoon catching up with a lovely bunch of people.

It was then over to the famed 'Cow and Moon' for their award winning ice-cream.

1a Brown St
Newtown NSW 2042

Phone no: 02 9519 7880

Opening Hours
Monday - Wednesday
10:00am - 8:00pm
Thursday - Saturday
10:00am - 10:00pm
10:00am - 6:00pm


The Pie Tin on Urbanspoon

Friday, 10 October 2014

Lian He Ben Ji Claypot - Chinatown - Singapore, Singapore

Lian He Ben Ji Claypot

Continuing on with my Singapore eats, Lian He Be Ji Claypot was recommended by Miss Chu. She went to Singapore earlier in the year and she found this eatery through a book she bought called, 'Only the Best' by Dr Leslie Tay, which is a guide to Singapore's hawker food. It's a great guide that's not only easy to read but contains drool-worthy photos. Do consider getting this book if you haven't been Singapore before and would like to find out the best places to eat at.

Lian He Be Ji Claypot is located in Chinatown on the second floor of Smith Street Food Centre. I wouldn't have known about this place if Miss Chu didn't recommended it, as there are way too many places to eat in Singapore and pinpointing a good place can be a difficult task. Thanks Miss Chu! After reading some articles on Google, this place is actually very popular with the locals and foodies. Having never tried the fare at this food centre, finding this particular store was not easy as there are rows and rows of food stores in these many aisles. With only the number of the store in hand, we had to go through aisles and luckily we found it in the last aisle. It isn't open for lunch but is open from 4pm weekdays except Thursday's, so do take note.

Like other hawker stores, it's looks simple and minimal from the outside, without an air conditioned environment available. Their main specialty and what they're famous for is the claypot rice, but they also offer a range of soups. It occupies two stores lots, one area is for the claypots and the other is for the soups. You can see the claypots cooking on high temperature charcoal fire stoves when you place your order.

We arrive just a bit after 4pm and there are already people who are waiting for their food at the tables. Claypot rice is usually cooked to order and that takes a fair bit of time as the rice grains need to be thoroughly cooked together with the toppings. Right from when it opens, phones are ringing off the hook as regulars place their orders in advance so they don't have to wait in excess of half an hour for the dish to be ready.

Freshness is guaranteed as they cook everything from scratch. There are three claypot rice options to choose from including mixed rice, sausage rice and chicken rice. These are available in varying sizes from small to very large depending on the number of people in your party. The service lady suggested ordering a large to share if you are in a group, instead of ordering individually as they tend to get extremely busy. Process is simple. Choose a table and place your order, then the food will be brought out once it is done.

We choose a table near the eatery so it can found easily. Bowls and cutlery are brought out along with some shallots and sauce for the claypot rice.

We also ordered two double boiled soups to accompany our meal. These are brought out quicker as they are pre-made and stored in the heating cabinet. Great tasting soups at very reasonable prices. The 'Chicken Leg Peanut Soup (SGD 2.50)' and 'Lotus Root Soup (SGD 2.50)' were both refreshing and reminded me of the soups mum usually makes at home. Comforting and healthy even in the humidity and sweltering heat.

After waiting for 30 minutes or so, our 'Mixed Rice Medium (SGD 12.00)' is brought to our table and it is huge. At the price we paid it was an absolute bargain. Loaded with heaps of rice, marinated chicken and sausage (lap cheong). Then topped with some greens.

The fluffy rice has absorbed the flavours from the chicken, sausage and sauces. So yummy.

 It was steaming hot and had quite a dominant smoky flavour from the charcoal fire which some may not like, but I didn't mind this. For those that like the burnt rice taste, the sides of the pot are nicely charred leaving behind crusty rice.  The crusty exterior is deliciously crispy making it delicious and strangely addictive. The chicken was juicy, firm and tender, marinated to perfection.

Oil and soya sauce was also brought out by the uncle. As we were newbies to this, he said we had to mix it into the rice to give it more flavour. This is a mandatory step or else the rice will be dry.

If you like claypot rice, then do give this place a visit if you are in the area. It's worth the wait as the food is not only very affordable but they use fresh ingredients making it super delicious. Don't except your food to come straight out as a great claypot takes time to cook. I had a massive craving for claypot rice and this certainly made my tummy happy.

Blk 335 Smith Street
Chinatown Complex
Singapore 050335

Phone no: 62272470

Opening Hours
Open Every Day except Thursday
4pm - 11pm