Sydney was very good to us when we were there. Nice and sunny during daylight and cold and breezy during night time. It was a bit cold on one of the nights so we decided to have some hot soup for dinner to keep us warm. Destination for the night was Ichi-ban Boshi, located inside La Galeries in the CBD. The queue for this place is always long but turnover is quick. The set up looks like a cafeteria, nothing posh, which I really don’t mind as long as good food is served.
At the queue I was eyeing on the Tonkotsu ramen but they were sold out that night so I had a Tantanmen instead (left of photo below).
A spicier ramen with minced pork, bean sprouts, and half a soft boiled egg. The soup was rich in flavour and so was the minced pork. It really is a huge serving of ramen and I was so full I could’ve slept on the table, literally.
Mum had the chicken karaage ramen (middle photo) but had the noodles changed to udon. The kitchen happily accommodated this and mum was very happy. Soup is soy-based, salty and full of flavour but it wasn’t the type that was loaded with salt. Mum was surprised that the chicken pieces were quite tasty.
My aunt had the wonton ramen (right photo), clear soup based with wontons and veggies. The wontons were also better than wontons I’ve had in Perth. Generous and tasty filling.
At the end of the day, ramen here is very good. Big servings. Big flavours. But way too salty; you’d be asking for a lot of water afterwards.
I went to Matsuri with a group of friends to celebrate someone’s birthday. I have heard many praises for this Japanese restaurant and I’ve been given the weird look whenever I tell people that I have never been to Matsuri. What?! You’ve never been to Matsuri?! is the kind of response I’d always get. So I was actually very pumped to finally taste what the fuss was about.
I braved the chilly autumn night, walked in very high heels, and got to the restaurant where we were promptly seated by the friendly waitress serving us. The venue was very nice – modern oriental yet homey and it has glass walls so you can look out into the city. When we were given the menu my intial reaction was disappointment. For a restaurant that’s given a lot of high praises and that has a chic ambiance to it, the menu was rather disappointing. I was expecting something a bit more to the usual teriyakis and sushis and udons. Perhaps I was expecting too much. In any case, no matter how common and ordinary the menu items were, I still hoped that they would take the taste to the next level.
To start, we shared an entree of soft shell crab sushi. It came in 8 rolls.
The crab was perfectly crisp and flavourful. But the thing was this sushi is not properly made; as soon as you pick it up with your chopsticks it falls apart. Before you even get it to your plate you have already made a mess of a trail of sushi rice on the table. How can a Japanese restaurant charging top prices serve sushi that falls apart?
Anyhow, time for mains.
I opted for a beef teriyaki made with sirloin steak cubes in original teriyaki sauce.
This tasted more like garlic beef than teriyaki to me. Taste was garlicy and buttery and it was good but not the kind of teriyaki I am accustomed to or was expecting, at least. Beef was not tender enough either. I lost all poise just trying to chew that meat so I could swallow.
L had an una don, fresh eel in original teriyaki sauce over rice. This was more Japanese tasting than my beef above for sure. Amount of eel was generous but the amount of rice below was sickening. Too much rice for 1 person but enough if shared.
D ordered a fish teriyaki. The menu doesn’t say what fish they used but from sampling it, it wasn’t anything special. Nor does it look appetising.
A very nice restaurant with friendly and decent staff but food could be much better. I personally think it doesn’t live up to all the hype I’ve been hearing.
Finally, a Japanese restaurant in Perth that I actually enjoyed and liked because it is different. Ha-Lu is a tapas-style Japanese restaurant tucked away along Oxford Street in Mt Hawthorn which looks small on the outside but is actually more spacious inside than it seems.
I’ve been going on and on about how much I loved Sake Bar Hagi in New York and, if you ask me, I think Ha-Lu is as close to Hagi as we can get in Perth. Ha-Lu has a sister restaurant called Satsuki in Subiaco. The menus are a bit different so come and try Ha-Lu. If you have been and enjoyed Satsuki I think you would enjoy Ha-Lu even more.
But let’s talk about the food. The menu is different from the standard Japanese restaurant menu that we have all around Perth like bento boxes, teriyaki stuff, california rolls, yaki soba, etc. Their’s consists of what I think is contemporary food with a Japanese twist (or Japanese food with a contemporary twist). Indeed the serving size is smaller so for a group of 4 we ordered 8 dishes altogether plus steamed rice and also miso soup for the 2 of us. According to the website, their dining style encourages “social interaction around the table”. They’re not wrong about that. As soon as you’re seated social interaction about food begins. Everyone was tasked to choose 2 dishes each to be shared amongst the group and we could’ve ordered the entire menu. Almost everything looks so interesting that I really wanted to try them all!
It was mostly L and I who chose what to order and convinced the 2 others, D and A, to agree with us. Just for the record, everything we had was exceptionally good except for the teriyaki chicken because it was a normal dish but someone just had to insist that we order it and the deep fried soft shell crab because there was not enough taste to the dish.
Here’s what we ate that night -
Homemade tofu & Mizuna salad with wonton crisps. L insisted that we have this because she’s had it before and loved it so much. She’s not kidding hey. The tofu was soft as (but not as smooth as I expected) and the salad dressing – soy mustard - was very good too. A refreshing dish that is made better by the wonton crisps.
Sashimi boat. 4 people and only 3 pieces each of the salmon, tuna and kingfish sashimi. Good thing D is not a big fan of raw fish so L, A and I had a piece each. Nothing special here but the sashimis were fresh on this occasion.
Soft shell crab tempura. I’m not entirely sure why this dish came with 2 pieces of deep fried soft shell crab and 2 pieces of fish. It wasn’t mentioned on the menu that it would have fish. So as a result we had to halve everything; except for one of the fish that D mistakenly thought was crab.
Duck and aubergine Madeira sauce. Is there really anything more succulent than duck? The duck in this dish was very flavourful and cooked until just pink inside and the duck slices sit atop a cube of marinated aubergine.
Grilled miso Patagonian toothfish. A rather different way of preparing toothfish because I usually eat this fish in Chinese restaurants where they serve it panfried with soy sauce. This one here is lighter in seasoning so you can taste the fish itself.
Wagyu beef “Ishi Yaki” grill with fried onion. Rarebeef slices in a very hot stone bowl. The waitress advised us that if we to have a well cooked beef instead we should place the slices on the edges of the bowl to cook them. Works perfectly and the beef was tender.
Unknown dish. Here’s a dish which I cant remember what it is. I’m not even entirely sure what it was when it was served. All I know is that it was something soft like egg whites with some seafood in it..perhaps scallops?
Two girls and two guys – the dishes seemed little at first but we left feeling really full and everyone had a great night.
My rating: 8/10
A nice and cozy Japanese restaurant just a little off Powell Street. K and I came here on our first night in SFO just to get something quick and hot since it was surprisingly cold. Dojima Ann was located near our hotel so we dropped by early enough to be seated before the rush started. I had an udon with chicken, egg and tempura (the name which I have already forgot) and it was delicious! The soup is miso based which was quite unusual because most of the Japanese restaurants I’ve had in Perth serve noodles in a dashi stock. So this one here was not as sweet which is just the way I like it. I would have preferred them to serve the tempura in a separate plate though – it was way too soggy when it was served. Service was quick and friendly though.
*Lori’s Diner | www.lorisdiner.com |
Downtown (and other locations)
A very retro 50′s diner that has an all-American menu. Serving size comes in huge portions enough to be shared. It says in the menu that the French Toast is famous so that is what I ordered with an Oreo milkshake. The french toasts were good in a sense that they were thick and fluffy. Other than that though they were quite tasteless. Adding syrup does not help either because their syrup is also tasteless and not a tad sweet. K had Buttermilk Pancakes. She liked the first few bites but after that they were dry enough to make you want to stop eating. I really wanted to try the breakfasts with eggs like omelette but they make the omelettes with 3 eggs but I don’t think I need that much eggs. The ambiance is good and all that, with 50′s memorabilia and red and white diner tables and seats, and service was very friendly but I once is enough to give me that diner experience. They have a store at the international airport too, just in case you need to get a diner fix before departing the US of A.
*Pier Restaurant | www.piermarket.com |
One of the many restaurants in the Pier 39 area offering fresh seafood and the famous clam chowder. K and I decided to dine here because it looked clean enough and it was in the heart of the Pier 39 shops. Obviously, we had to have the clam chowder sourdough bowl. It was very good – creamy and tasty. The sourdough bowl that it comes in is from Boudin Bakery, a pioneer sourdough maker in the city. We polished off the bread as well. Yum. I wanted to have a bread bowl for myself but we decided that we wanted to try other food too so we shared a bowl and had a seafood grill. The grill had 4 prawn skewers, 1 swordfish and 1 salmon. I only enjoyed the prawn skewers; the rest were just plain grilled seafood. We tasted nothing exceptionally fresh about them.
*Chipotle | www.chipotle.com
Quick and fresh burritos and tacos in Downtown and that’s all they serve. I had the beef burrito that looked small until they wrap it up; very very filling specially when you have it at 10pm. I especially loved the cilantro rice!
*Oriental Pearl | www.orientalpearlsf.com |
How this restaurant made it to the Michelin restaurant guide list and Rachael Ray’s recommendation is beyond me. Walking along Chinatown looking for a place to eat, we dropped by Oriental Pearl based only on those 2 recommendations displayed proudly inside the restaurant. It’s a bit dodgily located on the second floor of some building and first instincts told us to get out this place but, no, we walked in anyway and asked for a table for 2. It was rather empty when we first got there but quickly filled up as dinnertime came around. For starters, we had a dim sum sample consisting of pork, beef and prawn dumplings. Mediocre at best and the prawn dumpling wrappers were disgusting. Tasted like they were made with rancid flour. Then we had tofu soup with minced meat and seaweed. This was the only dish I enjoyed/liked for the night but there was only about 3 blobs of minced meat in the soup. A bit of a rip off. After much debate K and I ended up ordering a veggie yee mien. This was certainly one of the worst noodle dishes I have ever had – in SFO or elsewhere in the world. Noodles were tough and spongy as though they were not cooked through and the sauce was mainly soy sauce. You know what? The noodles I make at home are way better than this. No kidding. If there’s one thing good about Oriental Pearl was that the service was definitely friendly! The waiters can speak and understand English properly so there shouldn’t be any problems.
*Cafe de la Presse | www.cafedelapresse.com |
I’ve had one of the best meals of my life here at Cafe de la Presse in Nob Hill just outside the Chinatown gate. A little exaggeration? Probably so, but enough justification. K and I have been eyeing this restaurant since 2 days before we actually ate here because it looked tres chic. One very late night we managed to finally make it here and left with no regrets. Is it weird that I’ve never ever had french onion soup until I ordered it here? That was my appetiser. It wasn’t as sweet as I imagined it to be so that was a big relief. Well that was why I have never had french onion soup before – I don’t like sweet tasting soup (like dashi based ones). Chunky onions with a slice of baguette topped with cheese made my insides all warm in the cold foggy weather. The size it came in was perfect too. It left room for an entree (or mains as we call it in Perth) without me being too full. I had the confit du ganard maison – duck confit with mushrooms and potatoes. O-M-G. Crispy duck skin with duck meat that falls off the bone sitting on top of mushrooms that were sitting on top of sliced potatoes drenched in duck fat. ‘Nuff said. I polished everything – skin, fat and all – and I am as happy as can be.
K, on the other hand, opted for a lighter and less filling choice. She had tomato soup with basil to start off then followed by a shrimp cocktail. The tomato soup was tangy and tasty, not overpowered by cream so it was not too heavy. The shrimp cocktail, she said, was very refreshing. Fresh and crisp prawns with cherry tomatoes and a few leaves of lettuce – it sounds just as light as she wants her food to be.
*Bangkok Noodles | www.bangkoknoodles.com |
Bangkok Noodles was a surprisingly good find in Downtown. After a long day of shopping we walked to the restaurant closest to us and found great Thai food. There is a non stop waiting line to this place. K had the pad thai and I had a tom yum soup with noodles. How Thai are we? Both dishes were excellent and great value for money.
*Honey Honey Cafe and Creperie | www.honeyhoneycafeandcreperie.com |
K has been bugging me to go to a cafe to have a proper breakfast where she can sip coffee and read the paper. After much research we stumbled upon Honey Honey which had awesome reviews. This place turned out to be just around the corner from our hotel so we went there first thing in the morning. Wow, the line was super long and the place is full. There were literally no empty seats. So while in the line we were starring at the chalkboard that lists all the food they serve – omelettes, crepes, sandwiches, salad, pasta, soup - and it was impossible to choose just one. We finally got to the till and ordered a Miami Heat crepe and eggs florentine. All that hype just led to disappointment. The crepe was not very crepe-like but the filling (chicken, cheese, avocado, scallions, hot sauce) was not too bad. The eggs florentine were horrible which disappointing because it was a breakfast special. Tasteless hollandaise sauce and soggy english muffin underneath. I would say it’s not worth coming back for a second try.
*Bistro Jeanty | www.bistrojeanty.com |
A 2009 Michelin star awardee restaurant in Napa Valley that blew me away with its Sole Meuniere. A sole that melts in your mouth with mashed potatoes, butter, lemon and capers. This was a simple dish with complementary ingredients used at their finest. I’m just not entirely sure what to do with the star shaped lemon pieces that were on top of my fish. Were they to be eaten too? I was such a FOB so I ate one anyway just to try it and it were sour as. Duh! So I resolved to just leave them alone on my plate to make it look pretty. K had the beouf bourguignon that looked small but is actually very filling even just halfway through the dish. I had to help her finish it. It was a traditional French beef stew with the beef very tender but that also holds its shape.
This is a French bistro serving familiar homey French food like the ones we had plus coq au vin, salad nicoise and filet au poivre. Unfortunately the waiters were not French men but they were very friendly. One even had a little chat with us. We told our waitress we were in a hurry (because our tour bus leaves at a certain time) and she made sure that the kitchen prepared our dishes first which, in fact, was what happened because our food was served within 10 minutes.
And oh, eat that complimentary baguette. It is very very good. Ask for more if you need to.
*Bouchon Bakery | www.bouchonbakery.com |
A block down from Bistro Jeanty is Bouchon Bakery, also a Michelin star awardee apparently. K just had to try the stuff from this bakery so we rushed out of Bistro Jeanty and fast walked down the street. There is a nonstop line that forms outside the bakery – a sign that it is good, which is why people line up for it for up to 40 minutes, but which I find deceiving because the bakery is not spacious enough inside to begin with. You start from left to right gazing upon croissants and tarts and macarons while placing your order and the entrance to the bakery is where you start gazing so, obviously, only 2-4 people can go in and be served at one time. To add to that, people take forever to decide what to get which I understand because there is so much to choose from but is almost annoying when you are time pressured and the sun is burning your skin.
Onto the products…K and I had raspberry, pistachio, espresso and mocha macaroons and a blueberry and lemon tart. Hmmm, were they worth the wait? Honestly speaking I’m undecided on this one. They stuff we got were not bad but they were not the best. We waited in line for so long only to find out that they have a store in New York, too, which we are headed to in a few weeks.
There is only 1 dish that I come to Takas for – Miso Katsu Don – and I swear by it. It is described by Taka’s as “chicken katsu served over rice and shredded lettuce covered with special red miso sauce”. Costs $5.30 for the small meal with no soup and $7.30 for the large with miso soup. This is easily the cheapest, most divine meal in town. Great value for money, as they say. The chicken katsu is always deep fried to perfection and there is something in that miso sauce that keeps me coming back for more. Perhaps it’s the saltiness. Or it could also be the sesame taste in the miso. Whatever it is it’s heaven in every bite.
Because I am too addicted to it, I would brave the heat during lunch time to travel to CBD from West Perth just to have my miso katsu fix. This is not available in the Shafto Lane shop though. Last year after a 12km walk for City to Surf I made the mistake of going to the Shafto Lane shop thinking they had miso katsu there. So imagine my disappointment after walking 12 kms and feeling famish and being told that they don’t serve miso katsu in that particular shop. I almost blurted out profanity at the waitress. But I kept my cool and settled for “Teriyaki Fish”. It was alright but why settle for teriyaki fish??
Both shops are in food court style. Lots of tables joint together and you share tables with strangers. For such a cheap price don’t expect to be dining in somewhere fancy. Air conditioning is crappy too on very hot days. Diners would easily outnumber the chairs so it’s better to dine alone because there’s always that 1 seat gap between 2 people who don’t know each other and you can easily just squeeze yourself in; or dine with a friend and assign him/her to save you both seats while you order. Big groups? Either come in really early to bag seats and order take away and enjoy the food in the comforts of your home.
My rating: 8.5/10
At first sight I would never have even thought of stepping into this little Japanese restaurant. The place does not strike to me as some place posh. In fact, it is a little bit icky when you step into the restaurant. The floors just seem like they are covered in grease and I would no doubt refuse to put my precious bags on them, the tables are not exactly pristine clean specially when you are not the first to have occupied them, and the walls I dare not even touch.
It is through my cousin’s recommendation that I sort of reluctantly agreed to have dinner at Nao. After all, it was almost the end of night shopping hours; most places have already closed their kitchen and the restaurant next door was way worse than this shabby place. Plus I was very, very, very hungry that anything to feed my hunger would suit me just fine.
We placed our orders just in time before Nao’s kitchen closed. It was too hard to choose what to order partly because Japanese food is not among my favourites and the menu is quite worn out which did not help convince me that food here will be good. Anyhow, what made this shabby little place special was that they make their own ramen. And not just 1 type. They come in 3 flavours: egg, chilli and spinach (or as they call it: yellow, red, green). Any place that makes their own “raw ingredients” is, in my opinion, convincing enough to give them a go. And this I do not regret.
I ordered the “Spicy miso chicken ramen with red noodles” and it was darn good. The noodles were al dente (as the Italians would describe it) and they tasted nothing like instant ramen noodles. Even though it’s called spicy miso and I had the chilli ramen with it the noodle soup was not spicy at all (and that’s coming from me, who is not a big spicy dish eater). All ramens come with bamboo shoots, nori, sesame seeds, and the meat of your choice. On my first visit I was really disappointed to see that I was given only 3 thinly sliced chicken pieces. The disappointment quickly fades though once you slurp that first spoonful of soup. The second time I was there I had the “Spicy miso chasu ramen with red noodles” which was exactly the same as the chicken one except for the meat of course. If you are too health conscious I’d say go for the chicken, or seafood. The chasu is indeed like American bacon. It is thinly sliced pork meat with a big layer of fat encircling it. The spicy miso soup was a tad too salty for my liking (and again, this is coming from me, the sodium queen) so by the 3rd time I went there I opted for the regular miso soup instead and it was divine. It was just the way miso soup should taste like and just the right amount of sodium (or miso paste) was added. The dish is served in an oversized bowl that makes your noodles and soup seem little. But don’t be fooled. For an average of $10.50, you will leave feeling really, really full specially if you ordered takoyaki or gyoza on the side and managed to woop those down too!
Speaking of takoyakis and gyozas – these are 2 notable Japanese entrees that you must try if you think you have enough room in your tummy to fit them all in. The takoyaki comes in 6 pieces, a little bit smaller in size than the ones you get from other Japanese restaurants. Size doesn’t really matter to me since I can barely eat them anyway after having my ramen but it is worth a try. They are served by the friendly staff as soon as they come off the takoyaki pan so you can be guaranteed that they will have a crunchy outside and a steamingly hot inside. The same goes for the gyoza. You eat them as soon as they come off the grill but that means you have to wait for maybe 20 minutes for a plate of 4 gyozas. They came after I was halfway done with my ramen (and if you know how fast I eat you will know that this is indeed a long time to wait for an entree). And the presentation was not as good as it should have been. The gyozas clearly got stuck to the pan/grill as evidenced by the missing bits of the skins and they seemed to have been cooked in a non-wiped previously used pan as evidenced by the burnt black bits sticking to the skin. If the taste wasn’t good then this was unforgivable but the taste was indeed good so I would no doubt order this again.
Needless to say, I was taken by surprise with Nao. It went from a barely noticeable restaurant to a Friday favourite of mine. I now usually stop by Nao for dinner after work on Friday nights before embarking on my shopping spree (in hindsight this is probably not a good idea because you won’t be able to fit into anything after finishing off that tasty bowl of ramen).
My rating: 6.5/10
*photos from Nao’s website