Thursday, 18 June 2015

Sushi Train @ Neutral Bay

Many (many, many) moons ago I took my very first bite of a sushi roll. I was intrigued by this handheld snack and instantly fell in love with the little parcels of rice and teriyaki chicken, cucumber and avocado wrapped in nori sheets, doused in wasabi and soy and a slither of lurid pink pickled ginger on the side. Yes, back in those days, and I am talking a good couple of decades ago, chicken teriyaki was one of the first sushi rolls to pass my lips. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before I was eating raw tuna and salmon rolls and moving onto sashimi, amongst other tasty morsels. My palate has certainly come an extremely long way since those days of chicken teriyaki rolls.

I am by far no sushi expert. Yes I have had my fair share of sushi and sashimi. I have had varying degrees of quality and quantity both here in Australia and internationally. Of course, like most, I have my favourite(s).

As with many ‘franchised’ restaurants I admittedly (and most ashamedly) have always had this pre-conceived notion that Sushi Train (which is also one of the originals to open in Australia) was a simple, casual sushi train serving plates of average sushi on mass to the public.


We arrived at Sushi Train in Neutral Bay at 6.30pm on a Tuesday night and the restaurant was bustling. I was blown away about how inviting and warm the restaurant felt. Friendly staff welcomed us into the restaurant and seated us at a booth near the rear or the restaurant offering us a full view of the room. The room has warm and friendly, with dark panelling, soft lighting, counter seating and booths which are beautifully set around a central preparation/kitchen area where you can watch the chefs.

Ken, chef and owner introduces himself and has carefully prepared a dish of salmon aburi to start our meal. This dish is off menu and has been specially prepared for us. Salmon aburi is cross between half grilled and half raw. Usually found atop nigiri, this is ‘deconstructed’ with lettuce, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, lemon slices, fried garlic and salmon roe. This is a lovely light dish and I love how the fat pearls of salmon roe ‘pop’ in the mouth with a subtle fishy brine flavour.


Sushi Train drinks menu includes a selection of good wines along with a small selection of sake.  It's also noted that BYO is available.  It doesn't matter how many times I have tried, Sake is unfortunately one drink that I have never quiet enjoyed.  However, when Ippin is recommended, to be served cold, I decide on one last ditch effort  The Ippin is described as medium body rich taste.  We have also ordered the Bishonen, that has a dry and sharp finish (for comparison and research purposes). As a side note, if you are a member of Washuko Lovers, bring your card along and you will receive a complimentary sake.  If you aren't a member head on over and join up (it's free). 

It is Japanese custom to pour drinks for others and never your own and a sure fire way to drink far to much.  Although the Bishonen was exactly how I imagined it would be and one I am not partial to, the Ippin is a game changer!  I really enjoyed this (but it must be cold).

Getting down to the food.  Sushi Train offers a more diverse and certainly more modern sushi compared to other restaurants.  Sure there is plump and filling sushi and sashimi making it’s way around on the conveyor however, the menu offers an a la carte offering of nigiri, handrolls, ‘ships‘ reminiscent of an Izakaya vibe.

It's refreshing to see something a little different and exciting.  It wasn't until after dinner that we realised the only dish that we actually took from the train was Edamame.  These were crispy, cold and good.

The remaining dishes were ordered al la carte.  I did noticed the selection of sauces on offer.  Obviously wasabi was, along with big packets of pickled natural ginger (not pink here) and also packets of teriyaki sauce and kewpie mayonnaise (on the right hand side).  Condiments  I have never seen elsewhere.  I also noted the above average number of packets of ginger my friend was enjoying!  It was good.

The menu is broken down into types of dishes.  Here we have the Seaweed and Tofu salad with sesame dressing.  Firm cubes of tofu next to a big mound of seaweed. I felt healthy eating it plus the sesame dressing was lovely.

Agedashi Eggplant is a generous bowl.  Tender pieces of eggplant are swimming in a light dashi broth.  I like it a lot...although my friend would preferred it a little saltier. 

A selection of nigri follows.  There are some delicious options.  We start we Ika Sugata nigiri which is a raw whole baby squid.  This is creamy and tender.
Always a fan of grilled Hotate nigiri, which is more commonly known as grilled scallop.  Hotate is my go to nigiri and this one is awesome. 
Topped with fresh shallots too it's the perfect bite.
A salmon volcano ship is next up.  This is aburi salmon wrapped around a ball of rice topped with a mixture of cream cheese and mayonnaise and salmon roe.  Slightly charred  this was delicious!

It is the duck nigiri that surprises us.  Not your traditional choice of sushi, this duck had a jerky likeness to it.  Fatty and delicious with a sweet soy sauce and the mayonnaise.  This was a winner!

The tiger roll is a huge serve.  Ebi tempura (or fried prawn) rolled in sushi rice, nori and topped with avocado, mayonnaise and more tempura crumbs with a miso sauce.

The contrast of crispy fried tempura batter and the creaminess of the avocado was a great texture wrapped around a yummy fried prawn.

We end our meal with a tuna nigiri (only because we hadn't had tuna at all this evening and tuna is a benchmark for me).  This was melt in your mouth and perfect (but probably should be a starter not an end to the meal).

Sushi Train offers a blend of typical, traditional sushi to the more modern dishes and depending on your appetite will fit any budget.  We were overall extremely pleased with out dining experience, as for my friend it was second time ever to do a sushi train and know that I may just have enticed her to go again!

Thanks for a great evening.  I know I will be returning to a Sushi Train soon!


*Roofood dined as a guest of Sushi Train Neutral Bay and SD Marketing

Sushi Train
306-308 Military Road
(Neutral Bay) Cremorne, Sydney

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Friday, 12 June 2015

Sushi Tucker @ Neutral Bay

Japanese cuisine has come along way in Sydney, and there are more and more restaurants opening offering anything from handrolls to skewers, fresh sashimi and ramen to more complex dishes, sake tastings and regional spin on classic dishes. Casual to the more fine dining options. Regional Japanese is on the rise in Sydney and everyone is hunting out good food with new flavours.

From the street Sushi Tucker is an unassuming shop front, at first glance you might think it is similar to any other casual diner offering cheap and tasty sushi and handrolls. Once inside, you will see that it is just that, simple, casual yet very friendly and inviting. It's the little touches that make it so quaint.

Sushi Tucker is part of the Yachiyo chain which owns three restaurants and two shops throughout Sydney. Tucker offers rice bowls, and is particularly known for its ‘create your own’ rice and salad bowls, hand rolls and rice sandwiches (the ‘new’ sushi trend). Everyday starts with a visit to the Fish Markets and all produce is prepared at a central kitchen before being distributed amongst the restaurants. Not only are the ingredients fresh and of the highest quality it also means that the same quality is served in the shop and the restaurants.

Take a seat at one of the few small tables and browse the menu that is on the wall behind the counter. The selections are endless with various combinations of your toppings. Recently they have added dumplings to the menu and the steamer can be seen in the front window. Just what you need on a cold night.  

I am informed that the special tonight is the Pork Katsu Curry and that it is very popular. While the pork katsu special is not always on the menu there is always a ‘special’ of the day..

We make a selection with a little bit of assistance from staff who are eager to recommend various dishes.

In the glass fridge/cabinent are a selection of Japanese drinks including green tea. The Iced Lychee Tea has my attention. It’s a sweet style tea with a lovely lychee flavour.

In no time we are presented with a beautiful big bowl of the pork katsu. I am immediately drawn to the large cutlet that is golden brown with crispy panko crumbs and the light gravy of the curry sauce. It smells delicious.

The pork was crispy fried, crunchy and tender (although I am unsure of the cut of pork). The curry sauce was well balanced with a light curry flavour.. I am told that the curry sauce today is made with both fish and chicken stock, chicken and vegetables. There are cubes of potato and carrot in the sauce. At $9.90 this is a large serve.

Two perfectly rolled handrolls appear on a board with a bowl of miso soup (extra). Soy sauce and wasabi are also offered to mix your own sauce. We have chosen a snow crab roll and a scallop roll. The handrolls range between $3 and $4.

Although the snow crab meat is sweet, I find it a very strong crab flavour and I am still unsure whether I like it or not. However it was the scallop handroll that delighted me. The cold creaminess of the raw scallop has a lovely texture.

Tonight I have chosen to create my own rice bowl. Firstly you choose your rice base being white rice, brown rice or sushi rice and then your salad leaf which could be a mixed leaf, a herb mix or cos lettuce.

Secondly, you choose your fresh toppings that include a variety of seafood, including lobster, snow crab, scallop, smoked salmon and eel to name but a few. There is also miso pork, wagyu beef and spicy chicken. There are vegetables and edamame, crunch fried wonton skins and avocado. The beauty of these toppings is that they come in various serving sizes offering a truly unique create your own depending on your appetite. You could opt for a large serve of salmon and a small serve of eel or a medium serve of spicy chicken and you can have as little or as many toppings as you choose (each topping is charged for).  Price range would be between 6.90 and 90 cents. This could ultimately make it a very expensive ‘cheap’ dinner, but a unique and very tasty dish!

Lastly you have a choice of dressings ranging from sesame, teriyaki, wasabi or spicy. I have asked if I could taste a few dressing to see what works best with my choices.

I have chosen small servings overall, which actually gives you a fairly decent size bowl once everything has been added.

My bowl arrives and it’s beautifully presented. So colourful and fresh.

Consisting of sushi rice, mixed salad leaves, fresh tuna, fresh salmon, eel, avocado and crunchy wontons. I also note they have thrown in corn, edamame and some cucumber too. Along side are small bowls of Dynamite sauce, which is a caramelised chilli and soy sauce and packs a good punch of heat. The ‘house’ Yachiyo sauce, a onion soy sauce (which is also my favourite) and the widely popular and well known wasabi mayonnaise.

As a side note, Sushi Tucker is also a member of Washoku Lovers and offers a great member set deal. It’s free to become a member (and you can join here). I was lucky to be there when a member was ordering a Washoku Lovers set and I asked if I could take a photo of her meal. Here she has chosen the chicken teriyaki rice sandwich, smoked salmon rice paper roll and dumplings, along with miso soup and a salad. This is definitely a bargain at $10.

A very enjoyable casual dinner spot in Neutral Bay. A suburb north of the bridge and one I need to
explore more.

*roofood dined as a guest of Yachiyo and SD Marketing
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Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Tasting the new menu @ Los Vida Mexican Westfields Sydney

For a restaurant that is on the (quieter) sixth floor of a shopping centre in the middle of the Sydney CBD, where food courts abound, bars surround and competition is fierce amongst restaurant space, particularly Westfields where there has been a turnover of restaurants in recent years, Los Vida is making a name for itself.

Many visitors to the centre may not even know that it exists, diners may stumble upon it or hear about it from word of mouth. I think that can be a great thing.  Organically growing for it's great food.  The restaurant has a chance to grow and strengthen their foundation and it does not become the restaurant flavour of the month before diners move onto something else. It’s a contender!  

Ever since Los Vida opened their doors in January of this year they have built a solid following of regulars that return again and again, me included.   I was hooked from my very first meal (read about it here), however I have dined here many times since and often recommend Los Vida to work colleagues and friends.  

Los Vida is not your atypical Mexican joint offering cheese and refried bean laden tortillas or artery clogging cheesy, spicy beef covered nachos (although that does hold a special place amongst the cuisine). Mexican cuisine is so much more than that. Los Vida embraces fresh, vibrant flavours while upholding an authentic modern presence in their dishes.

I'm back at Los Vida to discover new delights on their newly launched menu. We are seated at a booth out front of the restaurant in an airy space within Level 6. Table tops are tiled in rich blue hues, chulola chilli sauce sits next to salt and pepper and the area oozes ‘south of the border’ charm.
While firm favourites have been kept on the menu, some have been replaced and newly added dishes enhance and already mouth watering menu. There is a new selection of ceviches, an extensive tacos list, a few new mains and new salads to mix things up. For those that would like a cocktail or two there is an extensive cocktails menu with wine and beer too.

The menu is designed to share dishes and I note that are vegetarian/ vegan options and a great selection of gluten free options. Our waitress enthusiastically points out choice dishes and recommendations.  

We have ordered a vast selection of dishes and I find I am having food envy of other diners around us.

We begin with the Scallops Aguachile $13 - scallops with cucumber, red onion, jicama and Serrano chilli atop a crispy gordita.

There are only two in a serve but each bite packs a fresh zesty punch of lime, fresh cucumber and warming heat of chilli. This is fresh and exciting. Just a little disappointed on the serving size.

A hefty serve of Enfrijoladas arrive. $15 

A choice of chicken, beef or mushroom we have gone with the more traditional beef with black beans sauce, cheddar, iceberg lettuce, queso fresco and sour cream. The crispness of the iceburg lettuce adds a fresh crunch to the refried black bean puree enveloped between a chewy textured tortilla. I like it.

Is your mouth watering yet?  Mine is...

Always a fan of a good taco, thankfully the taco menu hasn't been tampered with but embellished with to new ones. A Yucatan fish taco and a chipotle prawn taco.  Tacos range between $5- $8 or you can do a rack of 7 for $30.

Opting to try both we are happy.  The Yucatan fish taco has grilled barramundi with Yucatan style marinade, smoky rojo sauce, zesty lime cabbage and pineapple salsa. The Chipotle Prawn taco has tender prawns with poblano chilli, refried beans, chipotle sauce and avocado.  While they both have various degrees of heat from the different chillis, the fish is fresh and crunchy where the chipotle prawn is creamy with the avocado and bean puree.  They are both great additions to the menu, but I prefer the Yucatan one slightly more.

I’m intrigued by the sound of the Torta Ahogada - $16.  It's a ‘drowned’ spicy pibil style shredded pork roll and refried beans bathed with arbol chilli sauce.

It’s a wet style ‘burger’ and the shredded pork is smoky and tender with hints of earthy cinnamon. We like this a lot and it's a decent size.

One side that comes highly recommended is the Rajas. $5

It’s a small bowl  (bowl in the front above) of poblano chili, onion, potatoes, zucchini, corn kernels and sour cream.  It is served as a condiment side but I would have eaten the whole bowl and secretly between you and I...I would have licked the bowl clean if I wasn’t in public.….yep it was that good.

Every visit I always have to have a serve of the patatas bravas. $7

A mixture of fried potatoes, sweet potatoes, brava sauce and aioli w chives this is a huge serving but so addictive.

So full and satisfied I think we may have groaned a little at this point. I may have eyed off the bunelos and chocolate tart for dessert….but I will have to pass on Los Desserts…for today.

From a previous visit there are a few dishes that remain on the menu and are favourites.

Hibiscus Flower Flautas  - crispy hibiscus flowers with cheese and wrapped in a chunch corn tortillas with salsa verde and queso fresco.  these were nothing like I expected and was pleasantly surprised.

I can highly recommend the grilled corn. topped with coriander, butter, lim and chipolte cream with queso fresco.  These are another addictive side and very happy to see that it has stayed on the menu.

And lastly I leave you with a fish taco, beer battered barramundi with zesty lime, cabbage slaw and 3 styles of jalapenos (including deep fried) with chipotle mayo.

While I have always enjoyed my dining experience and the food at Los Vida but with the new menu they have just risen the bar.  Los Vida has done a great job in incorporating the change.  Thanks again for a fabulous lunch.

*Roofood dined as a guest of Los Vida and Cardinal Spin

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Thursday, 4 June 2015

Sydney Cellar Door @ Hyde Park

My backlog of blog posts is getting longer and I am busy trying to work through the list so bare with me and enjoy.  If you missed out this year...there is always next year!
Sydney Cellar Door which was part of the NSW Food & Wine Festival was held in Hyde Park on the first weekend in March 2015.
The park played host for the abundant winemakers of NSW wine regions which included Orange, Hunter Valley, Mudgee and Southern Highlands.
Pre-purchased tickets which included a wine tasting glass (essential for any wine tasting event) can be arranged and collected at the beginning.
First stop for us is Bunnamagoo Estate from the Mudgee region.  I have not had the opportunity to taste Bunnamagoo before.  A friend highly recommended I do. 
I particularly liked the Shiraz and have now added this to my bucket list to visit.  Bunnamagoo is also known for Mudfest, an International Short  Film Festival event (another thing added to the list).
Another Mudgee wine is Moothi Estate, an award winning boutique winery from Mudgee.

I cannot pass up a stop at Ross Hill Wines.  I discovered  Ross Hill Wines at a Taste of Orange event in Martin Place a few years ago and instantly feel in love with their Pinnacle Series 2011 Shiraz, which to this day is still my favourite wine (and so sad I don't have another bottle).

Told you I loved Ross Hill wines!  Their shiraz is peppery and robust.

 Twisted River is from the Orange region and their wines are more focused on reds, although they do do whites and a rose too!

Feeling a little peckish we head to Salt, Meats, Cheese for some cheese and olives.  I love their olives.  Always plump and full of salty goodness.

Sometimes you just have to do a cheese platter and olives with a glass of wine.  Forgive me as I cannot remember what cheeses were included!
Over at Hungerford Hill there is a competition running and you can't stop me entering to win a weekend in the Hunter Valley.  Helps alot when Hungerford Hill also do a bloody great drop!

Moppity Vineyards grab my attention.  A new cool climate wine growing region at Hilltops is emerging.  Moppity have recently won many awards for their wines and are growing strength to strength.

Throughout the festival bands and DJ's are playing, people are milling about eating from the many food stalls and also tasting testing at the Mudgee Region markets. There are breakout areas hosted by various companies to chill out and kick back with.

Serious eats are calling and I had to grab a tray of chicken and pork belly bao's from Bao Stop to share between the three of us.  They were delicious as always.

This is a fabulous event that gives you access to a huge selections of wineries throughout NSW and I can't wait until next year.