Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Chef Shinichi Maeda's Signature Winter Menu at Sake Brisbane

Chef Shinichi Maeda's Signature Winter Menu at Sake Brisbane

Last night, I had the honor of being invited to a special blogger's dinner event at Sake Restaurant in Brisbane. It was my first time being invited to anything for this blog and I was giddy with excitement and nerves.

Because it was a week night in Brisbane, I took the afternoon off work to zip down so I could attend. Hmmm... an afternoon of drilling and tooth pulling or an evening of fine food and beautiful company? It was a no-brainer really.

Despite my careful planning to avoid arriving too early, I managed to be the first one the scene. I was invited to have a drink at the bar to which I replied "YES PLEASE" a little too quickly and enthusiastically.

I sat at the bar, anxious. Would anyone show up? Would I be tested on how much I knew about the restaurant? Will I disappoint by having a tiny, crusty point-and-shoot rather than a professional DSLR?

Half a Berry Calpis (one of their splendid cocktails) later, more bloggers arrived and I painstakingly tried to remember everyone's names. It's odd when you know people by their blogs and then meet them for the first time in real life. Thankfully, everyone was so sweet and friendly. Huge sigh of relief.

We bonded (well, not really, because everyone else knew each other) and were then lead into a private dining room at the back of the restaurant.

Amabuki Daiginjo

After some welcome speeches and further chatting was carried out, the first course of sake, the Amabuki Daiginjo, was presented. We were to be having 3 sake tastings through the night to accompany the food. The Amabuki Daiginjo was matched to our first 2 courses.

Amberjack and sato-imo soup

Amuse bouche was a spoonful of amberjack and a shotglass of sati-imo soup. Sati-imo is Japanese taro and it was cooked into a beautiful, silky smooth soup. The amberjack was so fresh. We later learned from Shinichi himself that the amberjack were only caught that morning.

Kumamoto style oysters and Hervey Bay scallops - freshly shucked Coffin Bay oysters topped with a bonito dashi jelly and golden flying fish roe, and half shell scallops topped with Ikura salmon caviar and ponzu sauce

Our first course was oysters and scallops. I liked the dressed oyster but preferred the natural. I'm not a huge fan of scallop so it didn't really tickle my fancy.

Southern blue fin tuna sashimi - o-toro, chu-toro and akami, three prime cuts of sashimi

Sashimi was brought out as well. At the time I thought I was eating 3 types of fish but now know it was 3 different cuts of Southern blue fin tuna. This was one of my favorite courses. Sashimi is so simple but rarely done well because it relies so heavily on the quality of produce. I thought this was perhaps the best sashimi I've ever tasted (bar the last time I ate at Sake).

Our next sake was brought out: Kozaemon Junmai Ginjo. It was matched to the next 2 courses.

Venison tataki - with crispy ginger chips, pickled pears and plum and sansho pepper dressing

The first of these was the venison tataki. I really enjoyed this dish. It was very delicate but each mouthful popped with flavor. The sweet and sour from the pickled pears and plum worked perfectly with the venison.

Mooloolaba spanner crab and yellow fin tuna dumpling - with a shiitake mushroom and tuna marrow consomme

Next came the spanner crab and tuna dumpling. It was served in a shiitake mushroom consomme and the consomme knocked my socks of. It was beautiful, smooth and clear with an exquisite, earthy seafood flavor.

The final sake for the evening was the Kozaemon Yamahai Junmai Banshu Yamadanishiki (what a mouthful!) which is the most acidic and robust of the lot. Those who were not familiar with sake remarked that this tasted the most 'familiar' as it had the acidity of red wine. It was to accompany the mains.

Galantine of quail - stuffed with yama-gobo and shiitake mushrooms, coated with orange-soy glaze and served with poached golden beetroot leaves and pickled golden beetroot

Our first main was quail three-ways. My favorite component was the galantine of quail and I couldn't help but marvel at the technique behind stuffing something so small.

At this point, Shinichi made an appearance and we thanked him heartily for his creations. He asked if we were ready for our wagyu. Harharhar... we are a table of seasoned food bloggers. We are ALWAYS ready for more food. Bloated bellies are not a problem.

Shar wagyu sirloin - with white sesame and ginger-miso emulsion, confit sati-imo and onion bulbs

The wagyu was served with some wonderful accompaniments. The confit sato-imo was soft and melty. I haven't tasted this kind of savory taro outside of China. Here, we're used to thinking of taro as a purple, desserty root vegetable. In China, I had lovely small, white taros that are savory like white potato but with a silkier, slipperier flesh. This was of the same type. The tempura edamame were cute and innovative. We all adored the lotus chips.

Wagyu cubes

As for the wagyu itself, it was cooked perfectly. The portion was cut into cubes and each mouthful was a delight.

Winter salad - fresh persimmon, kumquats, daikon, celery, minza, spinach, renkon and radish with ginger and guava dressing

Along with the mains, we were served a Winter salad. The terms 'Winter salad' brings to mind thoughts of silverbeet, root vegetables and general 'heaviness'. I loved that Shinichi's Winter salad was still light and fresh but featuring seasonal vegetables and their best.

Kozaemon kobasu

Our final pre-dessert sake was the kozaemon kobasu which had a sharp, sour tang. It served well as a palate-cleanser for our final course.

Chocolate garden - dark chocolate bavaroi, served with chocolate sand, quenelled white chocolate sorbet and chocolate liqueur jelly

The dessert was called a 'Chocolate Garden' and was inspired by Shinichi's childhood playing football in the yard. I had been disappointed by Sake's dessert when I ate there earlier this year but this dessert changed my mind completely. It was suggested that we start with the chocolate jelly, being the most delicate component on the plate. I thought it would have a very light chocolate flavor but it packed a punch! Very special. The white chocolate sorbet was delicious, especially when eaten with the sticky, gooey and crunchy brownie chunks (aka 'chocolate sand'). The dark chocolate bavarois was smooth and light. It wasn't too sweet either. Although the dessert was heavily chocolate-themed, the different textures made it extremely edible and not at all cloying.

This meal at Sake was a magical experience. As well as meeting fellow Brisbane food bloggers for the first time, it was an honor to meet the head chef, Shinichi Maeda. Seeing the man responsible for creating the food you're eating just brings to light that it's a creative process and someone's mind is behind it all!

Everything we ate was flawless in presentation. Each course looked like a work of art.

What I loved was that a Japanese degustation doesn't leave you clutching your belly, unbuttoning your pants and waddling out the door. The dishes were small, detailed and tasted 'healthy' too. The emphasis was on local, fresh, high-quality ingredients and careful technique to bring these flavors out.

My first meal at Sake was a great experience. I'm glad to say that even though this degustation dinner was more 'VIP', the service I had on both occasions was no different. This is a restaurant that's excelling in taste, innovation, service and atmosphere. I highly recommend Brisbanites to try Sake at least once.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Three Bistro for Dessert

Three Bistro

After our stint at Mexican joint Guzman Y Gomez, we were peckish for dessert. I was the one who bravely admitted this first, taking the risk of looking like an insatiable pig. Luckily my friends were too polite to say 'really?! Aren't you full yet?' but instead indulged me with well-acted cries of 'me too! I was going to suggest dessert'.

I'd like to assume they were telling the truth :).

I am sick to death of Freestyle because they have a phobia of changing their menu and I've never been the type of person who has a 'usual' (except when it comes to coffee), no matter how good it is, because I like trying new things.

Mochi suggested we head to Three Bistro.

We tentatively crossed the the other side of The Emporium and peered into the restaurant, wondering if the kitchen was still open.

Silly us. Once we got close enough, we saw that the restaurant was still very full.

The waiter asked if we wanted to wait for a table in the actual restaurant or just sit at the front, near the bar. We chose the later because there was a comfy window seat and it was nice and quiet.

Coffees - fuel for gossip

Coffees were ordered to start with.

Mochi and I had one of our twin moments (after already experiencing one earlier in the day when I noticed she was wearing the same earrings that I just received from ShopBop). I wanted the chocolate fondant and she wanted the chocolate fondant. We are totally against ordering repeats in one meal so I said I'd change to the crepes and OMG she was thinking of that too.

Our desserts actually took a while to come out. It was alright for us because we were chatting away but imagine if I was REALLY WANTING DESSERT RIGHT NOW. But anyway, I wasn't so itz all kewl.

Passionfruit and roast pistachio crepes - with spicy citrus sorbet

My crepe dish reminded me a bit of the barramundi burrito I had just eaten. This type of crepe is nothing like the Harajuku Crepe type of crepe, which I prefer for its thinness and crunchiness. This one was more like soggy, thin pancakes. The sauce was too sweet and the gelato was too sour. I picked at it for bits that I didn't mind eating and struggled.

Chocolate and cinnamon self-saucing pudding - with popcorn ice-cream

I tried a bit of Mochi's chocolate pudding and wasn't too impressed. Maybe that's because I got a big dollop of berry sauce? It didn't seem to be that oozy on the inside and the cinnamon is very, very subtle. The popcorn ice-cream was amazing though. It had a distinct popcorn flavor. And who doesn't love popcorn?

Rhubarb crumble - and goat's curd sorbet

Blossom ordered the crumble. The crumble itself was unremarkable to me but then again, it's not the kind of dessert I'd normally order simply because I'm not keen on fruit crumbles. We were all invited to try the accompanying goats cheese ice-cream. Oh. My. God. Mochi looked like she was going to dry retch afterwards but she is way too ladylike for that and instead quips '... it's not my kind of thing'. I don't mind mild goats cheese normally but this was like... STRONG goats cheese pretending to be dessert. We kept repeating 'that's... different'.

Hahaha fun times.

Okay, so I'll admit the dessert at Three Bistro didn't blow me away. I'm not sure if that's just because we ordered weird things? Our waitstaff were really nice though and I did like the little corner we were seated at.
Three Bistro on Urbanspoon

Guzman Y Gomez

Guzman Y Gomez

I hadn't eaten Mexican food for yonks. It's not something I often get the craving for but people have been carrying on about Guzman Y Gomez or more as it's more easily known as, 'that new Mexican place in The Emporium'.

Most recently, I heard a recommendation from my hairdresser. Over my 4hr hair session, she imparted wisdom in so many aspects of life that I found myself highly respecting her food recommendation too. In particular, the barramundi burrito from Guzman Y Gomez. This sounded too intriguing to pass by.

I organized a small cocktail outing with my closest girlfriends and we were to start the night at The Emporium.

My plans failed because I watched Harry Potter Deathly Hallows Part 2 in the afternoon (it was awesome, by the way) and ran out of time to get ready/transport myself to the Valley.

Luckily, Mochi hadn't left the house yet so was OK with a delay in our plan and Blossom, who had to get there from the Gold Coast, was also running late. It must be a girl thing. Somehow, we ended up at the restaurant around the same time.

Guzman Y Gomez has an expansive seating area with lots of large tables that encouraged sharing table space with other groups.

Mochi and I shivered in the cold at an outside table before we cleverly decided to move undercover.

There are a range of 'Mexican-themed' beverages available, including frozen margaritas, Coronas and tequila shots (don't think that counts as a beverage).

Frozen margaritas

We tried the frozen margaritas first. My initial impression was 'eek too much tequila' because I hate tequila. After a while, I got used to it and the tangy, slightly savory flavor of the margarita came through. I actually think it's a very nice, refreshing drink! Perhaps more suitable for when the weather warms up. I ended up repeatedly taking off and putting on my coat because I'd get warmed up from the food and then chilled from the drink.

The menu looks complicated at first glance but really, it's a small number of actual items (taco, burrito...) and most of the choice is in the filling.

Saucing station

We ordered and sat back to wait. Which took under 5min. Seriously, waiting in line probably took longer than the food prep. I just had enough time to check out the tobasco-saucing station before my order was delivered.

I got a sample of green tobasco and Mochi dipped her knife in, tasted and pulled a face. This made me curious and I did the same and understood what she meant. It was super sour and super hot. Like spicy pickle sauce. I quite liked it :D. But not on its own.

Beef and vegetarian soft-shell tacos

Mochi chose 2 soft shell tacos - the vegetarian and the beef. She thought the bean part was pretty good. The taco shell (if you can call it 'shell' when it's soft) had a very strong corn flavor that we didn't expect.

Spicy chicken soft-shell tacos

Blossom also ordered 2 tacos. Hers were the spicy chicken flavor. She thought they tasted pretty average.

They both ordered guacamole too and I tasted a bit. Nothing special but it does help break up the meaty cheesiness of the rest of the food.

Barramundi burrito

My barramundi burrito was brought out in a tightly wrapped foil roll. I unravelled it and started picking away. The fish part tasted a bit fishy. I didn't mind it but chicken or beef might've been a better choice.

Inside of buritto

I was surprised there was rice in the burrito (if I read the menu properly, I wouldn't have been surprised) but though I don't like rice, it was nicely seasoned and quite tasty. I asked for the wholemeal wrap and I ended up leaving most of it behind. It wasn't disgusting but I just though the burrito filling tasted better without it.

Overall we weren't too impressed by Guzman Y Gomez. I had very high expectations because of all the raves and I think I was expecting restaurant-quality Mexican when it was really more a fast-food joint. Maybe if I lower my expectations to match the price and speediness of production, I'd consider it to be good for fast food. In truth though, the photos on the website are luscious and vibrant and I don't think the food is that exciting in real life.
Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taqueria Fortitude Valley on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hamptons Home Living

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Hamptons Home Living
180 Latrobe Terrace, Paddington

Mochi and I went brunching last Sunday as part of my weekend away in Brisbane. I let her pick where to go and we headed off for Hamptons Home Living in Paddington. She did an amazing reverse parallel park... but unfortunately it was in the wrong part of the street. What a waste! We then tried to find where we were actually supposed to go

I'd been to Paddington a few times but this part seemed unfamiliar. The street was lined withb clothing boutiques, design stores and cafes disguised as houses.

Hamptons Home Living looked like a cosy little house out the front and this homey-vibe extended within the building. We sat out the back on the veranda, which had more of a coffee-shop feel because it was full of tables.


We ordered our usual lattes (soy for her) to begin with.

Mochi and I take breakfast quite seriously and so we spent a good while pouring over the menu. Ultimately, she went for the French Toast and I selected one of the daily specials, which was eggs and soldiers.

Eggs and soldiers with chili chutney

I wrote a whole post about eggs and soldiers a while back marvelling about how something so simple (soft boiled egg + toast) could taste so good together. When Hamptons' version was brought out, I got really excited because the presentation was so cute.


The eggs were cooked perfectly and it was fun dunking the sourdough toast into them, plus trying the different salts and chutneys. Despite the novelty of having accompaniments, I think the toast soldiers were perfect with a bit of runny egg and a sprinkling of salt.

Brioche French toast - with blueberry and lime, chantilly cream

Mochi's French toast was a smaller serve than I'm used to seeing at most brunch establishments these days, which is probably a good thing. I tried a bit and thought it had a perfect springy texture and wasn't too sweet/dessert-like.

We chilled at Hamptons for a bit, gossiping about life and shopping and everything good. I think that's exactly what you want from a brunch cafe... comfortable environment, friendly service and simple, well-cooked food. I'd love to go back to try some of their other offerings.
Hamptons Home Living on Urbanspoon

Belgian Beer Cafe

Belgian Beer Cafe

Last weekend was my mini weekend holiday in Brissie. I booked a little hotel room and called out all my friends to party it up. I didn't really have any dinner plans for Saturday evening, which is rare for me. But I was more focused on getting pissed. Only being honest here :).

Me and a few of my mates ended up heading to the Belgian Beer Cafe. I threw out a couple of my cravings at the time: German or Mexican. We opted for German because it was closer.

We thought about walking but I was cold and hungry and insisted on a cab. After an afternoon of drinking, I was slightly tipsy but not far gone enough to not notice the cabbie short-changed me $3. I thought about saying something but let it slide in favor of good karma. Or something.

Heading into the Belgian Beer Cafe, we noticed a lot of suits. My little group looked a bit out of place :(. We asked for a table and were told there'd be a 15min wait and would we like to wait at the bar? We headed to the outside bar, which was very nice, and sat down to a few beers.

One beer became two became many because I don't know how long we waited but it was distinctly more than 15min. Perhaps close to 45min or even an hour.

During this time, we weren't too frazzled because the huge pints of beer were enough to keep our belly's full. I sampled a few beers that I've never tried before. They do some fancy things with the glasses too - felt like pro beer handling. The Hoegaarden reminded me of lemon meringue. A woman sitting at the bar recommended her boyfriend's Leffe Brune which she described as having a 'coffee' flavor. It did but I prefer Guiness for dark beer.

More waiting occurred. We chased up about 4 waitresses to no avail.

Finally I got up and went to see what the deal was once and for all. This time the waitress literally looked at me and said 'no tables!' I said 'we put our names down bout 45min ago'. She looked a bit disappointed and then admitted 'oh... you're over there'.

Haha didn't think they were getting rid of us that easily.

We made it to Level 1 of eating out! We had acquired a table! We had acquired menus! Horray.

Complimentary breads

A basket of bread was brought out. There was a combination of seed buns and rye buns. I tried a bit of both. I thought the rye bun was yum. By then I was famished though so I probably could've eaten the basket and thought the same.

We ended up ordering one entree (salt and pepper squid) and 4 mains between us, to be brought out at the same time. So it looked like we had 5 mains on the table.

Baby squid crumbed with lemon pepper - with caper mayonnaise

I'll start with the squid since it was technically the entree. Jaz loved it. She thought it was fabulous and I remember at the time such compliments as 'soft and not too chewy but crunchy on the outside'. It was a pity we chose this dish in entree size.

Grilled Toulouse sausages - with braised cabbage, creamy mashed potato and a Dijon mustard sauce

My main was the sausages and mash. Sausages were very average. I reckon the gourmet range from Woolies would've topped that. The mash was alright but it's not hard to get mashed potato tasting good (hint: add butter).

Traditional Coq Au Vin - with baby onions, mushrooms, bacon, vegetables and herbs

Jaz's main was the coq au vin. She really didn't seem to like it and spent most of the meal wishing she had more calamari. I tried a bit at the end and thought it was actually quite delicious. The sauce has a mild wine flavor but it was a beautiful balance of sour, savory and sweet.

Slow cooked glazed duck and rocket salad - with sumac tomatoes, green beans, and an orange and pomegranate dressing

Zen ordered the duck salad entree as a main. He said that overall, it was good but the duck on its own was nothing special. A bit boring in fact.

Pan-seared Atlantic salmon - with chips and salad

Rowe's pick was the fish of the day - salmon. I tried a bit and thought 'yup, salmon'. Zen agreed that it was nothing special. Rowe thought it was beautiful though and as the person eating the whole thing, perhaps his opinion counts more.

I was astonished by how snobby the service at Belgian Beer Cafe. The waitress (I think we had 2 but they looked similar and had a similar attitude) were very unimpressed by our being there. The boys tried to crack a few jokes which fell on gargoyle-cold expressions that basically said 'fuck off I'm the superior human being here'.

Granted, we don't wear suits and look the part of a city business man but all we wanted was to sit down and have a meal. It wasn't like we were begging for freebies. Though we might have looked like a hodge podge of riff raffs, our group comprised of a teacher, a lawyer, a dentist and a guy who's just started his own business. And we had dough to spend. Which proves you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

I have eaten at some of the finest restaurants in Brisbane and elsewhere and I have never in my life felt so discriminated upon. Belgium Beer Cafe can stuff it.
Belgian Beer Cafe Brussels on Urbanspoon