Samurai Japanese Cafe, Balmain

Japanese has to be one of my favourite cuisines.  What’s not to love about delicious ramen, fresh sushi and sashimi, crisp tempura, slippery udon, or their general love of deep fried food and a slathering of mayonnaise onto anything and everything.  Japanese food is not just a feast for the tastebuds, but a feast for the eyes.

One of my favourite Japanese restaurants in Sydney is Samurai Japanese Cafe, in my very own suburb of Balmain.  Coming here without a reservation is a lottery, with the tiny restaurant booked out most nights.  It’s a popular place for locals, but people also come from afar for Samurai’s delights. Friends of mine will regularly do the 1.5 hour hike from the Central Coast just for dinner, before driving home again.Samurai Japanese BalmainSamurai Japanese BalmainI’ve been here on countless occasions now, and have some very firm favourites that never fail to impress and satisfy.  I cannot go past the crispy salmon rolls – a fresh, salmon roll, drizzled with a mild wasabi mayonnaise and topped with crunchy, fried noodles.  It’s a fantastic mix of textures.

Samurai Japanese Balmain

The nasumiso entree is a serving of juicy eggplant, stir-fried with a sweet sauce.  Sometimes I find the sauce a little too cloyingly sweet, but I love eggplant so much that I will still polish this off.Samurai Japanese BalmainTeriyaki chicken is always a hit, especially with children.  The tender chicken pieces are fried to a lovely golden crisp, before being tossed in a sweet teriyaki sauce.

Samurai Japanese BalmainThe beef and asparagus may not have a particularly creative name, but it’s one of our regular highlights.  The slices of caramelised beef are wrapped around tender, steamed asparagus, artfully arranged and presented in a square stack, and served with sweeter-style sauce and wasabi mayo.  When the sauce and mayo is combined, its creaminess just lovingly coats your tongue.  It’s so good that, sometimes when we’ve finished the beef and asparagus, we’ve asked for a bowl of rice just so that we can savour all that delicious sauce.

Samurai Japanese BalmainOther dishes that I would recommend are the tender scotch fillet pieces in the kakuni, the incredibly light agedashi tofu, and the crisp, pan-fried ebi gyoza that are soft and juicy.

The desserts are also worth exploring if you aren’t already stuffed to the gills.  From time to time, they have a special dessert roll, that looks like a sushi roll but is actually a soft sponge filled with wasabi, red bean and vanilla ice cream, and frozen strawberries.  Very inventive!Samurai Japanese Balmainsamurai sesame ice creamSamurai is a fantastic local eatery, which will become one of your firm favourites.  The service is polite and friendly (always the Japanese way!), and although it’s not a cheap and cheerful joint, it’s not over the top expensive either.  Just be sure to book before you go so you aren’t disappointed with being turned away.

Samurai Japanese Cafe on Urbanspoon

Birthday lunching at the Bathers’ Pavilion, Balmoral Beach

The best thing about celebrating a partner’s birthday is that it’s the perfect excuse to take them out for a special dining experience, since you get to benefit too! (Actually, it was the second best thing.  The best thing was seeing his face when he saw his birthday present, a Tap King draught beer dispenser, in action.  If only Lionel Richie was really in your fridge…)

The White Russian had his birthday last weekend, so I took him to the Bathers’ Pavilion at Balmoral Beach for lunch.  It was a gorgeous spring day; warm with blue skies, and a notable smile on the faces of everyone strolling along the promenade.  We weren’t lucky enough to score a table right next to the window, but were close enough to admire the beautiful views across the harbour towards Manly and North Head.bathers pavilion balmoral beach

We opted for the 8-course degustation ($135, or $195 with matching wines), since it was too difficult to choose between all the dishes on the menu.  Plus, it was a special occasion after all, so definitely an excuse to splash out.  We started out with warm crusty bread, served with discs of salted and unsalted butter, and a terrine amuse bouche.

bathers pavilion balmoral beach

The cured salmon with radish and pickled melon squid ink crumble was a lovely mix of textures.  The crumble didn’t taste overly squiddy, but leant a nice crunch to each mouthful of salmon, whose smooth oiliness was offset by the sweetness of the rockmelon and watermelon.

bathers pavilion balmoral beach

The bay leaf-smoked chicken was very subtle in flavour, verging on bland, but was a good carrier for the sweet date puree, yoghurt, and heirloom carrots.

bathers pavilion balmoral beach

A Japanese-inspired kingfish dish was a hit, with the meaty fish being paired with wasabi butter, grilled mini rolls of savoy cabbage, dehydrated green apple, and ricotta.  There was only the merest hint of wasabi though, and I would have liked a bit more punch, but not everyone loves the bite of wasabi as much as I do!

bathers pavilion balmoral beach

Normally, the ravioli is filled with sea urchin, but on this occasion, we were served lobster ravioli.  It was finished with a mushroom consommé, which was deep, earthy, and meaty, but still a good complement to the lobster, not overpowering it.  There were also a couple of slices of chewy abalone, the first time I’d seen abalone on the menu of a non-Chinese restaurant.

bathers pavilion balmoral beach

The meatier dishes on the degustation menu were a silky, tender squab (I did not know that a squab was a young, domestic pigeon!), and a sweet, moist grilled lamb loin with baby fennel and pencil leek and sweetbreads.  The WR commented that the crispy lumps of sweetbreads were like eating fried balls of fat, which was not a bad description of these creamy balls of deliciousness.

bathers pavilion balmoral beach bathers pavilion balmoral beach

Our cheese course consisted of a rich and creamy serve of Tarwin blue served with muscat jelly and crisp parsnip chips.  My weakness for cheese was thoroughly indulged with this course, and the sweetness of the muscat jelly cut through the richness of the cheese.

bathers pavilion balmoral beach

We finished off our meal with a chocolate croquant, an indulgent hit of chocolate creaminess on a croquant base.  There was a buffet of complementing flavours, which made dessert a fun taste test of chocolate with raspberry sorbet, roast pepper sauce, orange foam, mint jelly, chilli powder, and passionfruit curd.  The WR received birthday wishes from me and the restaurant staff.  I think he was mightily chuffed.bathers pavilion balmoral beach bathers pavilion balmoral beach bathers pavilion balmoral beach

A wonderfully relaxing lunch by the beach, with friendly service, and the birthday boy feeling suitably special.  The food is enjoyable, even if it’s not spectacularly memorable, but the dining experience with the gorgeous view still makes it a worthwhile visit.

Bathers' Pavilion on Urbanspoon

Highland feasting

The Sunshine Coast hinterland is situated only an hour north of Brisbane, and it has some amazing views over the coastline. There are a few historic towns in the area, including Montville, which is popular with weekend tourists from the big smoke.

It’s a unique little township, with buildings that look like they have been plucked straight out of the Swiss Alps or Tudor England. For some strange reason, there are also quite a few places that specialise in cuckoo clocks.  You know, for all your timekeeping needs!

Situated just outside of Montville is The Long Apron restaurant, part of the Spicers Clovelly Estate retreat.  We drove up the long driveway to the majestic main building, which houses the two-hatted restaurant, and couldn’t help but gasp at the beauty of the surroundings.  Lush, green, rolling lawns, a grand jacaranda tree shading the terrace, a kitchen garden bursting with herbs, and a quaint bench to take in the lovely serenity of it all.

the long apron montville

the long apron montville

the long apron montville

We were seated in the dappled sunlight of the terrace, and enjoyed feeling the warm sun on our skin. It didn’t take much twisting of our arms before we chose the 5-course a la carte ($105), since it was just too difficult to eliminate any of the wonderful choices on the menu for a 2 or 3-course lunch ($75 and $85 respectively).

There were some complimentary starters that were a little fun and quirky, such as a watermelon sashimi, and an edible pot plant!

long apron montville menu

edible pot plant long apron montville

watermelon sashimi long apron montville

What struck me most about all the dishes was the celebration of textures, colours, and flavours. The presentation of each course was balanced, with lots of different interesting elements, most of which comprised of local produce and stuff straight out of their kitchen garden. My favourite dish was the “Garden Salad”, which sounded pedestrian on the menu but was a bit like garden foraging, on a plate!

the long apron montville

the long apron montville

the long apron montville

the long apron montville

the long apron montville

We chose to have our dessert on a table out on the grass to bask in the last of the afternoon sun. Already feel more than pleasantly full from the first four courses, we took a stroll around the gardens while we waited for our desserts. As we were determining which herbs were which in the kitchen garden, we heard the polite yell, “HELLO??”, to let us know that dessert was ready. More than ready, in fact, with the ice cream accompaniment for our desserts looking a bit melty.

the long apron montville

Sadly, our long, leisurely lunch came to an end, and we drove our full bellies back to Maroochydore airport to get our flight back to Sydney. The service here was impeccable, being attentive, friendly, and very knowledgeable. The dining experience at the Long Apron would be a top pick for a special occasion, or if you just want to spoil yourselves!

The Long Apron on Urbanspoon

A weekend escape to the Sunshine Coast

It’s customary when you’re suffering through the shivering throes of winter to book a getaway to a sunny destination.  In Australia, that sunny destination for us Southerners has traditionally been somewhere in the state of Queensland.

As it turned out, this was the mildest winter ever in Sydney, but the White Russian and I took the opportunity anyway to spend a weekend on the Sunshine Coast.  We flew into a Maroochydore, hired a car, and drove to Noosa Heads to check out the beach!  Yes, this is winter in Australia…

sunshine coast queensland beach

At Noosa Heads, we walked along the busy shopping strip of Hastings Street, checking out the little boutiques and galleries.  When lunchtime rolled around, we were eager to seek out something other than your run-of-the-mill diner.  We headed to Bistro C, which overlooks the beach, and has a great, buzzy vibe.

bistro c noosa bistro c noosa

We indulged in a few wines over lunch (a weekend away counts as a holiday, right?), and our waiter was very knowledgeable about the wine list, which featured a reasonable selection by the glass from wineries around Australia and New Zealand.

My Asian-inspired coconut chicken salad wasn’t cheap at $25, but it was a tasty mix of tastes and textures from the coconut marinated chicken, shredded tofu, and crunchy cashews, brought together by a salty and sweet nuoc cham dressing.  The WR ordered the whole spatchcock, which was compromised before I am able to get a shot of it!

coconut chicken salad bistro c noosa

I couldn’t go past the dessert special, since I’m a sucker for anything with caramel.  The banana caramel tart was deliciously creamy and rich, served with candied pecans, but I think it needed a little acidity or something to offset the incredible sweetness.

banana caramel tart bistro c noosa

Despite our lack of reservation, our waiter and all the other staff are very accommodating and friendly.  We’ll just know for next time to book beforehand for a better chance of getting a seat with a view of the gorgeous beach!

noosa heads beach

Bistro C Beachside Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

A long lunch at Ormeggio

When I called up to book a table at Ormeggio at The Spit, the host asked me, “is this for a special occasion?”, to which I replied, “oh, just lunch!”

Winter in Sydney is nothing like the winters I experienced in London, and with the latest run of sunny weather, a lunch at Ormeggio overlooking the yachts moored at The Spit was the perfect way to spend a Sunday lunch.  A special occasion indeed!

The White Russian and I decided to treat ourselves to the 8-course emozioni degustation with matching wines ($105, or $189 with matching wines).  We had even made the journey to the restaurant by public transport so that we could indulge without guilt or danger to fellow motorists.  Before we launched into lunch, we were perusing the cocktail list for an aperitivo, and our host recommended a negroni, which is a cocktail comprising of gin, vermouth, and Campari.  The first taste was a hit of bitterness, but it had a nice, dry finish that sufficiently whetted the appetite.

negroni

ormeggio at the spit snacks

ormeggio at the spit sourdough breadLunch was a lovely slow and scenic journey through a range of flavours and cooking styles, with some leaning towards classic Italian and others more a fusion of Modern Australian.  There was octopus cooked sous vide at 85C for 4 hours, a Flinders Island wallaby buttata (or tartare), and tortelli filled with wonderfully smokey burnt eggplant.

ormeggio at the spit octopus

ormeggio at the spit wallaby

ormeggio at the spit tortelli

ormeggio at the spit risotto

ormeggio at the spit mulloway

ormeggio at the spit braised lamb

After admitting that the sourdough bread was our downfall (we just couldn’t stop after that first taste of warm, crusty bread slathered with freshly churned sour butter), we were full to the brim before the dessert courses arrived.  However, it was hard to resist them when they came out, with the carrot sponge with fennel seed ice cream being our preferred choice over the pomegranate jelly served with frozen yoghurt on a dry rye biscuit.ormeggio at the spit carrot sponge

ormeggio at the spit pomegranate yoghurt

ormeggio at the spit carrot spongeFour hours after we arrived, we rolled out of the restaurant toward the bus stop, satisfyingly full, content, and sobered up after the ratio of food to wine finally swung back in favour of the former.  The service was spot on attentive, knowledgeable, and always friendly, and made it a relaxed and enjoyable Sunday lunch.

Ormeggio at the Spit on Urbanspoon