Saturday, 23 January 2010

Tempura Hajime lives!

Tempura Hajime
60 Park Street, South Melbourne (map)
9696 0051

Tempura Hajime

To mangle a perfectly good Mark Twain quote: rumours of Tempura Hajime's closure have been somewhat exaggerated, despite what you may have heard on twitter or other avenues of industry gossip. I can however confirm that your final opportunity to sample owner/chef Daisuke Miyamoto's tempura wizardry at Tempura Hajime is 13 March 2010. The restaurant will then reopen on 15 March 2010 with its new owner (who, I am assured, is also an excellent chef) at the helm. But if you want to say goodbye to Daisuke and Noriko before they move back to Japan, get in quick and make a booking for one night over the next seven weeks!

Tempura Hajime

Even when you've got your eyes peeled because you know the nondescript entrance is easily missed, you'll still walk past the door to Tempura Hajime the first time. Upon arrival you are ushered into the shadowy little waiting room where you can sit back on a sofa and order a drink.

The reason you need to wait? Because there are only 12 seats in the restaurant - it's a one man show with Daisuke doing all the preparation and cooking before your eyes, serving six diners at a time and just 12 diners per night. The sittings are staggered accordingly.

Tempura Hajime

The menu is fixed, $72 per person. As the name suggests, Tempura Hajime is a tempura counter restaurant and so a degustation of battered, fried morsels awaits. But first, an appetiser of cucumber and minced chicken in a miso-sesame dressing, and sashimi.

Tempura Hajime

Not only was the ocean trout and kingfish sashimi ridiculously fresh, it was served with fresh wasabi. Love.

Ocean trout and kingfish sashim

Daisuke uses three oils to make his tempura: soy bean oil, tea oil and sesame oil. Despite the fact that the majority of the menu is deep fried, it tastes wonderfully light and fresh and pure, and not at all greasy - the proof being in how little oil stains the paper on the serving plate. You can take it from me that all of the following dishes were SUBLIME.

Tempura Hajime

And now for the food porn tempura photos! I think they speak for themselves. Prawn.


Asparagus. Sweet potato.

AsparagusSweet potato

Tuna and avocado wrapped in nori, served with Japanese mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce.

Tuna and avocado wrapped in nori with teriyaki sauce and kewpie mayo

Corn. John Dory.

CornJohn Dory

Sea urchin wrapped in nori and scallop.

Sea urchin in nori and scallop

One of my dining companions, that Jess Ho, photographing the tempura oyster for her blog.

Tempura Hajime

Minced prawn stuffed into a mushroom. Minced chicken stuffed in eggplant.

Prawn and mushroomEggplant and minced chicken

After the tempura, the meal is bulked out with a serve of donburi - on the night we went, we had a delicious kakiagedon.

Kakiage don

My other dining companions were knocking back the sake but I decided to grab some chilled umeshu plum wine, which was served by Noriko, Daisuke's lovely wife who runs the front of house. When she indulged and praised my attempts to speak Japanese, I knew I was smitten.


Dessert was a beautifully simple yoghurt panna cotta drizzled with Cointreau and served with a few grapes.

Yoghurt panna cotta with Cointreau and grapes

In short, I adored the Tempura Hajime experience and thoroughly recommend it. Get down there!

Tempura Hajime

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Sydney Gastronome: the other highlights

Getting ready for NYE fireworks

How's this for a NYE balcony view?! On New Years Eve I attended a party at my Sydney uncle's apartment in Milsons Point (which I've previously raved about here). The view of the fireworks was pretty goddamn spectacular, as you can see.

Fireworks on NYE

Oh, SYDNEY. More fireworks photos can be seen here.

Fireworks on NYE

And here are three quick reviews of the other culinary highlights from my brief stay in that beautiful, crazy city to the north.

Bird Cow Fish
500 Crown Street, Surry Hills (map)
(02) 9380 4090

Bird Cow Fish

On this visit to Sydney I stayed at the apartment of my charming friend Beatch, in Surry Hills. The two of us went out one morning for brunch (I was keen to check out the Bourke Street Bakery, but alas it had not yet opened for 2010). We decided instead to have a light lunch at Bird Cow Fish, a restaurant I like a lot but whose name I am destined to never remember correctly ("so it's Chicken and Cow... and Fish, right?").

Mains are around the $35 mark, but we just had an entree each. I couldn't go past the house made gravalax with celeriac remoulade and croutons ($18.50), gravalax and celeri rémoulade being two of my very favourite foods. Aye, it's delicious, but I wish the celeri rémoulade hadn't had so much parsley in it. But the gravalax was very, very good - I especially liked the dill still encrusted on the edge. An excellent light meal.

Housemade gravalax with celeriac remoulade and croutons

Beatch ordered the potato gnocchi with prawn meat sauteed in burnt butter, verjuice, capers and crispy sage ($19.50). He adored it, and vowed he'll be returning soon to try our their dinner menu. We also shared a serve of marinated Yarra Valley feta on the side.

Potato gnocchi with prawn meat sauteed in burnt butter, verjuice, capers and crispy sage

Chinese Noodle Restaurant
Shop TG7, Prince Centre, 8 Quay Street, Haymarket (map)
(02) 9281 9051

White boys like Chinese Noodle Restaurant

On another day, Beatch took me to a Chinese noodle restaurant he wanted me to try, called (appropriately enough) Chinese Noodle Restaurant.

Essentially, Chinese Noodle Restaurant is to Sydneysiders what Camy Shanghai Dumpling is to Melburnians: a grimy, hidden away but wildly popular restaurant serving cheap cheap dumplings that everyone likes to think is their little secret. Both restaurants have pages dedicated to them on facebook with hundreds of devoted fans.

Chinese Noodle Restaurant

We ordered Beatch's favourite dish on the menu, the spicy chicken salad ($9), which was a revelation. The chicken had been shredded very finely and the salty spices and dried chilli were completely addictive.

Spicy chicken salad

Sadly we didn't order any of the signature Xinjiang handmade noodles, which are made and stretched on the premises, visible to restaurant patrons via a peep show window.

We did however order a perfectly cromulent serve of ma po tofu ($9.80), some excellent steamed pork and Chinese cabbage dumplings ($8.80 for 12) and some pan fried egg and chive dumplings ($8.50 for 12) for Miss A, Beatch's delightful and (mostly) vegetarian housemate. The vegetarian dumplings had been fried for a little too long but were otherwise very good.

Ma po tofuSteamed pork and Chinese cabbage dumplings

The Chinese Noodle Restaurant ceiling is kitted out with a canopy of plastic grapevines, and the walls are adorned with thick tapestries depicting Northen Chinese pastoral scenes. Oddly enough, it works.

Chinese Noodle Restaurant tapestry

Bourke Street Bakery
633 Bourke Street, Surry Hills (map)
(02) 9699 1011

Bourke Street Bakery

Given the hijinks and mayhem that ensued on my final night in Sydney, I was feeling quite the happy but fragile panda the morning after. With Beatch at work, Miss A suggested that a coffee and bite to eat at the Bourke Street Bakery might go a long way towards restoring me to my usual self before my flight.

The line outside Bourke Street Bakery

There is almost ALWAYS a queue stretched out the door of Bourke Street Bakery - and with good reason. If this Melbourne Gastronome ever ends up becoming Sydney Gastronome, I will live in Surry Hills in order to be near this bakery.

Bourke Street Bakery tartsBourke Street Bakery tarts

I ordered a bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice (or, as I prefer to call it, Elixir of Life, $3). No matter how hungover I am, FSOJ never fails to revive me.

Bourke Street Bakery FSOJ

I knew I had to try one of their famous sausage rolls. Miss A ordered a vegetarian roll, but which would I choose? Would it be the lamb, harissa and almond? The beef, veal and olive?

Bourke Street Bakery FSOJBourke Street Bakery pork and fennel sausage roll

No, it was the pork and fennel sausage roll ($4). Dee-licious. Just look at those fennel seeds! That pastry!

Pork and fennel sausage roll

But if I thought the sausage roll was good, I was in for a treat when I ordered the famous strawberry and vanilla brulée tart ($4.40). The inspiration for an entire blog post of food erotica moaning its praises, the tart's combination of vanilla custard, strawberry, SUPERIOR pastry and a satisfyingly fork-crackable burnt sugar lid was sin personified. More please.

Strawberry and vanilla brulee tart

Miss A chose the other brulée tart, flavoured with ginger and topped with pistachio. Also $4.40, also delicious. Excellent coffees, too.

Ginger brulee tartBourke Street Bakery weak latte

Thank you, Bourke Street Bakery, for bringing me back to life. I really hope we meet again soon. xox

Bourke Street Bakery nun

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Sydney Gastronome: Guillaume at Bennelong

Guillaume at Bennelong
Sydney Opera House, Bennelong, Sydney (map)
(02) 9241 1999

Guillaume at Bennelong

I was up in Sydney for five fabulous days over New Years. It started with a bang with a dazzling dinner at Guillaume at Bennelong. I went with other members of my family as we had been invited there by my Sydney uncle. I was delighted when I learnt of our destination, given that I've never had the opportunity to dine at Guillaume Brahimi's Melbourne restaurant Bistro Guillaume (apart from attending an entirely fabulous 30th cocktail party last spring in the white dining room... man, their bar does a mean Negroni).

Guillaume at Bennelong

Guillaume at Bennelong is housed WITHIN the Sydney Opera House (for the uninitiated, that's the brown glass inside the famous sails in the above photo), so for Syn City tourists like us the views of the Bridge and the city at sunset (champagne cocktail in hand, natch) were just perfect.

Guillaume at Bennelong

To commence, we were each brought an amuse-bouche of duck fois gras, sandwiched between two discs of gingerbread. The soft rich creaminess of the fois gras tasted brilliant with the slight sweetness of the gingerbread.

Fois gras gingerbread

Several of us ordered one of the signature entrees, the turban of scampi with spaghettini and warm lemon and Sterling caviar sauce. Champagne and fois gras and caviar, oh my! At $60 for an entree it is certainly NOT cheap but boy it was delicious. I feel sorry for whoever has the job in the kitchen of arranging each strand of spaghettini over the scampi. The lemony caviar sauce was pretty amazing... I had to resist licking the plate.

Turban of scampi

My Sydney aunt had the scallops which were gently sealed and served with cauliflower purée, shiitake mushrooms, spinach and chicken jus ($40). I didn't have a taste, but admired from afar. Unusual combination of ingredients, too - scallops with cauliflower.


My brother Buster had the sashimi of hiramasa kingfish, served on a bed of crème fraîche and Sterling caviar with "traditional accompaniments" ($40). He adored it. Much as I loved the turban of scampi, I can't help wishing I'd ordered this entree instead - I'd've got my sashimi fix as well as my caviar fix.

Hiramasa Kingfish sashimi

Mum had the special, which was a salad of hand picked blue swimmer crab, with thin slices of cucumber above and thin slices of avocado below. In her words, it was "light, not too fishy... a perfect summer entree". :)

Swimmer crab special

The service was as professional as you'd expect. Rumpole (aka Dad) had great fun losing himself in the wine list and discussing various wines in depth with the sommelier. Some of the wines we enjoyed included the 2008 Kanta Riesling, a Paradigm Hill Pinot Noir and an Evesham Wood Pinot Noir.

Guillaume at Bennelong

For my main course I chose the crisped skin baby snapper with roasted fennel, kipfler potatoes, fig, olive tapenade and a balsamic reduction ($50). It was quite a hearty dish, what with the potatoes and big butch fish and all, that I liked a lot - particularly the olive tapenade with the crispy fish skin, and the smooshy figs.

Baby snapper

Mamma had the very impressive sealed John Dory on a bed of pea purée, asparagus, baby carrots, pommes allumettes and a tarragon butter ($50). The pommes allumettes, despite their name, didn't look much like matchstick fries - instead they formed a beautifully wispy nest that perched on top of the fish.

Sealed John Dory

The others all got very meaty. Buster had a gorgeous looking Cape Grim tenderloin, but my blurry photo utterly failed to do it justice. Rumpole and uncle R shared the White River veal rack ($120 for two, pictured left). It was roasted on the bone with speck, spring onion, peas, sweetbread croutons, pommes parisiennes and jus gras. Sydney aunt had the slow roasted leg of Flinders Island spring lamb with a duo of zucchini, gnocchi and goats cheese ($50, pictured right).

White River veal rackLeg of lamb

We each had a dollop of Guillaume's famous Paris mash, which was creamy and dreamy. The other side dish that I really liked was the salad of baby beans with pistachio pesto ($14). What a difference subbing pistachios instead of pine nuts makes.

Baby beans with pistachio pesto

The swooping interior looked even more impressive by night.

Guillaume at Bennelong

After our mains had been cleared away we were each brought a simple palate cleanser of blood orange granita, topped with finely chopped mint.

Blood orange granita

For dessert I had the nougat with roasted peanuts, caramel ice cream and banana ($25). I figured the peanuts would make the caramel slightly salted, plus I love desserts that incorporate banana (that aren't just nasty banana fritters). As well as loving the flavours I was really struck by the presentation of this dish: CALL ME CRAZY, but if you squint doesn't it look a little like a landscape painting?

The way I see it, the nougat is a little white cottage, the slices of caramelised banana form the cottage's thatched roof. The scoop of ice cream is a bale of hay behind the cottage, and the drizzled ribbons of caramel are the furrows of a freshly-tilled field. Anyone? Bueller? No? Guess it's just me then!

Nougat dessert

One of the other desserts we were less keen on was the poached peach with almond panna cotta and champagne granita ($25), which Buster ordered. We just didn't like the combination of flavours (the peach and almond overpowered the champagne) and textures. However we all loved the absolutely divine dessert wine, Les Larmes Célestes 2004 (Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh).

Poached peachDessert wine

Some great petits-fours, too: raspberry tartlets, coconut meringues, mint macarons, caramel squares, dark chocolate tartlets and quince jellies. Am now very keen to try out Guillaume Brahimi's Melbourne restaurant: I want to see his take on French bistro fare.


Oh yes. The Sydney holiday was off to a VERY good start. To be continued!

Sydney Opera House