Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Himawari Japanese Restaurant

Himawari Japanese Restaurant
Shop 28D, Sunnybank Plaza, Cnr Mains Rd and McCullough St, Sunnybank

Saturday or Sunday lunch at Sunnybank is a weekly bonding ritual for my parents and I. It's great and I totally look forward to it but the fact is, we've nearly exhausted everywhere there is to eat at Sunnybank. Last Saturday, I didn't even try. I was craving Hakataya ramen and that's where we headed.

The queue outside Hakataya was phenomenal. As a family united in hunger and impatience, we decided not to wait. The easiest alternative was a small, Japanese eatery right next door called Himawari. None of us had eaten there before so we thought 'hey, may as well give it a go'.

The vibe inside Himawari is um, very 'different' to say, the queue leading into Hakataya. It was quiet without a hint of buzz. At least it wasn't totally empty.

We located a table but were then informed that we were supposed to order first.

The menu wasn't too inspiring. There were udon, ramen, a couple of rice dishes and so on. My family basically chose one of each and practically exhausted the entire selection.

The dishes were a bit slower than I expected from such a quiet place but it wasn't a terrible wait either.

Both parents remarked at how small the serving sizes were. I thought they were OK but I guess to someone like dad, it wasn't enough.
Chicken teriyaki udon noodle soup

I had chosen the teriyaki chicken udon. The chicken wasn't too bad, just a standard teriyaki sauce. The udon tasted a bit like packet udon. The soup base was a really sweet soy broth. It was too sweet for me, coming from someone who usually likes sweetness in savory foods.

Shouyu ramen

Mum had the ramen. It came with a few pieces of that fake meat/seafood you use in hotpot and ramen that was basically instant noodles. She had a choice of broth and went with the one that ended up tasting like mine. Sweet soy.

Unagi rice bowl

Dad had ordered the unagi rice, aka grilled eel rice. Unagi is almost never bad so that part was OK. And well, the rest was rice.

Queue for Hakataya visible from inside...

I'll be honest, I wasn't at all impressed by Himawari. Yes, yes I know that it's not gourmet or fine dining or whatever. But gee, there are some awesome budget, fast food Japanese chains around. Even the Hanaichi chain is better than this.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lady Marmalade for Breakfast

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Lady Marmalade Cafe

My weekend party trick is waking up at the crack of dawn... for no reason. There's no work and no errands to run; I just -bam- wake up. And that's that. As soon as I'm awake, I have to be on the move. It's no mystery why I'm tired all the time! I'm just too much of a fidgety/agitated person to get enough sleep.

The only plus side to this particular mental ailment is that I can go out for breakfast and it doesn't use up any of my day hours, although sometimes, I'm awake so early that there's nothing open. On the Saturday that just passed, I took my chances and headed out to Lady Marmalade. It was on the way to my mum and dad's house and I was both relieved and surprised to see it was already open at 7am. Horray!

Lady Marmalade is a small corner store cafe and food stop on the corner of Logan Road and Cleveland Street (not to be confused with Old Cleveland Road, which is also in the area). I ducked in and ordered some coffee and greedily, 2 breakfast items. I then perched myself on their window bar, peering out onto the street.


My latte arrived first. It was a rich, smooth blend. A very nice coffee indeed. That morning was freezing and a good, the coffee was the best start to the day.

Classic baked eggs - baked free range eggs w house beans and warm toast soldiers

The savory breakfast item that I ordered was the baked eggs with homemade baked beans and toast soldiers for dipping. There were 2 piping hot eggs in a pool of flavorsome, saucy baked beans and a garnish of fresh herbs. The toast soldiers had a sprinkling of parmesan that made them extra special. I thought this dish was fabulous! It wasn't too over-the-top fancy but it just had nice, comforting flavors. And it was hot!! I've had some recent bad experiences getting cooled-down dishes at restaurants and so I'm really appreciating freshly cooked hot food through the Winter months.

Toasted banana bread - with ricotta and honey

I couldn't resist ordering some banana bread too. It was a huge slab, toasted and served with ricotta and honey. I can't remember where else I've had ricotta and honey recently but I'm definitely digging this combination.

Texture shot of banana bread

The banana bread itself had more of a bread-like quality than the densely moist and cakey banana breads that I'm used to. I wasn't disappointed though. It was refreshing to have a slice of banana bread that wasn't too much of a dessert item in the morning. I felt marginally healthier thana I might have otherwise felt.

Lady Marmalade was a really nice, cosy and friendly cafe that had a strong neighborhood feel. I heard the staff greet several customers like local regulars. I love that in a food establishment. The coffee was great and the food even better.
Lady Marmalade Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sakura Japanese, Runcorn

Sakura Japanese
Shop 8, 957 Beenleigh Rd, Runcorn

Last week, I became very conscious of the fact that I hadn't uploaded my blog in what felt like ages (in actual fact less than a week) so I was determined to go to at least one new restaurant on the weekend. In an effort to stay 'healthy', I opted for Japanese cuisine. My old food cronie, Mochi, is now based in Melbourne but still has a few Brisbane recs up her sleave. She set me onto Sakura as a reputable place for fresh sashimi and as someone who's very picky with freshness of sushi and sashimi, I figured that she would know what she was talking about.

We had a spot of trouble trying to find the restaurant. The actual shopping centre wasn't too difficult to locate because there was a big, lit up 'Sakura' sign out on a front wall. The parking area seemed rather desserted and all the shops were dim. We pulled over and walked around hoping for something to pop out. It was raining and I was ready to give up when Marc ducked his head into an alleyway (one that I had regarded as 'nah, can't be there') and said 'I think this is it'.

Indeed it was! So there you go... for anyone who's never been to Sakura before and willing to give it a try, the restaurants not where the sign is, it's further into the middle of the plaza, inside a sort of alleyway... those might not be helpful directions but at least you'll be prepared.

I've been to a Sakura restaurant in Highgate Hills when I was still in highschool (just as I started developing an interest in food). My impression of that restaurant at the time was that it was fine-dining and on the pricier side. From what I understand, this Runcorn Sakura is another branch of the same restaurant.

In terms of atmosphere, it's completely different. Runcorn Sakura is almost decked out like an eatery. Very plain. The menu basically has sashimi, a couple of classic appetizers/snack dishes and lots of different types of sushi. I remember our meal at Highgate Hill Sakura comprised of set menus with lots of components. I'm not sure if it's changed now but in any case, my impression of these 2 restaurants is that one is more upmarket and the other is more casual.

Large mixed sashimi plate

All I wanted was the sashimi so I put an order down for a large plate of that. Marc then chose or other dishes: mixed vegetable tempura and karaage chicken.

Sashimi plate

The food arrived really speedily. The sashimi came first. It wasn't a HUGE plate but I think it's enough for 2 people. I showed the photo of it to my dad and he remarked 'that's so small'. I guess it depends on your appetite. The variety of sashimi we had included salmon, tuna, king fish, scallop and calamari. As Mochi promised, everything was top notch quality and very fresh. I don't have any complaints there at all.

Tempura mixed vegetables

Our tempura mixed vegetables came next, with a tempura dipping sauce. I tried a piece of the tempura sweet potato. The coating was nice, crisp and crunchy but the potato was a bit under for me.

Karaage chicken

I wasn't expecting much from the karaage chicken because every Japanese restaurant does it and it's almost always good but sameish as everywhere else. I was surprised by the karaage chicken at Sakura. There's something about the coating; it's a very fine crumb that crunches readily and is almost... 'short'? Anyway, I loved it. The chicken itself was juicy, which is great because small fried chicken pieces can easily go dry. It was served with a couple of slices of lemon and some kewpie mayo.

Kinako ice-cream with brown sugar syrup

I was mostly full by this point but I was liking the food and a dessert special caught my eye. The kinako ice-cream attracted me because I didn't know what it was. And I'm weird like that. If it sounds strange and interesting, I must ingest it. Kinako was described as roast soy bean flavored. It arrived as vanilla ice-cream with a roast soy bean powder on top, plus a brown sugar syrup. The powder had a strange bitter taste that made me go 'ergh' at first but then I slowly got used to it and thought it actually offset the sweetness from the ice-cream and syrup very well.

The food at Sakura was simple yet done well. I love how fast everything was served. It's not the most glamarous restaurant but if you're after a quality Japanese feed, featuring sushi or sashimi, I'd recommed this place.
Sakura Japanese Runcorn on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 21, 2012

Suburban, West End for Lunch

Suburban Cafe

My mate Jaws and I caught up over lunch recently in West End. It was the Queens Birthday public holiday on a Monday and most cafes/restaurants were closed so we jumped into the first one we saw that was obviously doing business. This happened to be Suburban.

I'm not sure if it's just that I've been dining in Brisbane for a long time now, or what, but it seems like the turn over of restaurants in West End is on the high side? I swear this is the 3rd restaurant I've seen in that exact location. On that note, is Freestyle West End gone now too? Crikey.

I had actually just flown in from Melbourne, literally that morning, after a lovely big breakfast at Auction Rooms Cafe, so I wasn't exactly starving to death. It was about 2-3pm so we were sitting down for a late lunch.

Suburban was fairly busy. I suppose many people ran into the same problem as us, unable to find alternatives, or at least unwilling to take the risk.

There was substantial outdoor dining space, as well as a large number of tables inside. We chose a small table outside to take advantage of the nice weather.

The menu is stock standard with unoriginal cafe offerings. I don't really mind that. Sometimes it's nice to see what you expect to see. There's a better chance they'll have something familiar and that you feel like eating at the time.

Chai espresso

I was feeling tired and dazed from all my travels so I started off with a coffee. They had something called a Chai espresso, which sounded interesting so I went with that. It turned out to be a delicious hot beverage. I've obviously had tonnes of chai lattes before but never thought of it in combination with coffee. The spicy chai flavours go really well with coffee. I liked this very much and have since started mixing Liptons chai latte powder with my instant coffee at home.

We ordered a couple of light meals for food. Our waitress had a major attitude problem - snootiness perfected. It even came down to me saying something like "I'll get the lamb salad" and her looking down, raising an eyebrow of contempt and saying "yeh, ok". I couldn't believe it. It was service so bad it was laughable. We had to ask for water twice because she forgot the first time. When food was actually brought out it was slammed down at our table. Maybe the waitress was having a bad day or something... her face was just utterly pissed off. There wasn't even an ounce of joy.

Moroccan lamb – marinated lamb strips and salad with tzatziki

My lamb salad was... edible. That's about all I can really say. I mean, yeh, the lamb itself tasted OK but it was on the tough side and the flavors ressembled packaged pre-mixed supermarket spices (a dash of cumin, a bit of salt). The leaves were sad and wilted. The tzatziki was boring and barely stretched beyond being plain, savory yoghurt.

Creamy garlic prawns - with toasted Turkish bread

Jaws had ordered the garlic prawns. It arrived in a creamy sauce with some pieces of toasted Turkish bread. The bread was dead cold. He complained to me and I thought he was just in a whingy mood till I touched a slice myself. It wasn't just cool - it was cold. The prawns themselves weren't too bad and the sauce was simple but tasty.

Flourless blueberry almond cake

I was feeling too depressed by my meal and needed something to liven it up a bit. I ordered a slice of blueberry almond cake. It arrived warmed up with a blob of cream. Whatever I felt about the lamb and prawns and service didn't extend to the cake.

Cake bite shot

It was deliciously light and moist and delicate. So yum. I enjoyed it immensely, though I've had flourless almond cake like this before so it's really cudos to whoever Suburban sourced the cake from, not to the restaurant itself.

I didn't think much of Suburban at all. The service we had was shocking but I'm open-minded to the fact that it may just be that one waitress who might have just been having a terrible day. I'll never know because I'm never going back. The food was below par. I do thank them for giving me the idea of combining chai and coffee though.
Suburban Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sichuan Spice Chinese Restaurant

Sichuan Spice Chinese Restaurant

Sichuan cuisine must be one of the most annoying things to blog about, for one reason: no one can agree on the spelling. There are so many variations! Even on this blog, I'm not sure what spelling I normally use. Do I normally incorporate a 'z'? *sigh* Anyway, throughout this post, I'll be following the example set by the restaurant I'm reviewing. They're cool with Si followed by Chuan so that's the way of it :).

Sichuan is a province in China that is known for its cuisine of spicy, numbing food. I love the stuff and it appears that many others do too because Sichuan-style restaurants are popping up throughout Brisbane.

This post dates back to March. It was actually a family lunch to celebrate my birthday. Man, that DOES feel like a long time ago. I've been a bit slack with putting it up, so I apologize if it's in anyway outdated.

My grandparents found Sichuan Spice in a local Chinese Newspaper. They headed their directly with my dad. Mum had come to visit me in Toowoomba earlier that morning so we headed there from a different direction. It took us a while to find the restaurant because we thought it was located in Centro Pinelands but it's actually located in another mini shopping plaza behind it, on another street.

The inside of the restaurant is styled quite nicely with some neat furniture. There's a Chinesey flair but its more modern and contemporary than those typical yum cha restaurants you see around.

Offal in chili oil

The first thing we tried was a starter of (sorry for not being able to make this sound nicer) offal in chili oil. There were giblets, liver and heart etc, tossed through a spicy oil dressing. The dressing was nice but the offal actually tasted like throwaway bits of animal. They were tough and chewy. Unpleasant.

Red-cooked pork belly

Our first main was the red-cooked pork belly. This is a dish that's usually tasty just because it's fatty pork belling in a fragrant soy/wine braising liquid. This particular version wasn't that great. The flavor hadn't penetrated the meat. I mean, it was OK, but my dad makes better at home hands down.

Fish slices with preserved vegetables and chili

The next dish was a Sichuan specialty - the fish slices. We've tried this dish at a few different restaurants and grandma even tried to make it at home once. The key is that the fish has to be cloud-like in tenderness. The fish here was indeed very tender. This was pretty good.

Spicy pork slices

By the time we got to the spicy pork slices, we were a bit over the monotonous flavor trend of spicy + numbing. Dad actually pointed that out as a flaw of Sichuan restaurants before. We love spicy and numbing but when we're having a feast of multiple dishes, it's necessary to have some other tastes too, to mix it up a bit. The pork was alright, nothing outstanding. It was very oily (another flaw with Sichuan cuisine).

 Handmade noodles in picked vegetable soup

Because it was my birthday, we had to order a noodle dish. Noodles symbolize longevity so it's traditional to have noodles on birthdays. The noodle dish we chose was a handmade noodle in preserved vegetable soup. The soup was a bit like the one that came with the fish. It wasn't as spicy but it was equally oily. I really liked the noodles though. They definitely had a handmade quaility too them. I liked that they were roughly chopped, uneven and chewy. They soaked up the soup well.

Smoked fish

Our final dish came bubbling onto our table. It was a smoked, sizzling fish covered in capsicum and herbs. The fish was refreshingly different in flavor to the other dishes. It had a Chinese 5 spice aroma and was coated in a sticky sweet marinade.

I wasn't overly blown away by any of the dishes at Sichuan Spice Chinese Restaurant. The entree was borderline inedible. Some of the classics were below restaurant standards. The spicy fish was good but I've had the same or better in other Sichuan restaurants.
Sichuan Spice Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day Breakfast at Ave Cucina

Ave Cucina and Coffee Bar 
16 Eva St, Coorparoo

I admit to a bout of transient slackness last week. I left my Mother's Day planning till the last minute. It's bloody hard trying to secure a booking for the most popular breakfast Sunday of the month when it's already Saturday! I went into frenzy mode, short-listing nearby popular cafes from Urbanspoon, sorting them into my order of preference and laboriously phoning each one, one by one.

Ave Cucina was actually the first on my list and when I called, was told they had a cancellation at 11am so I could go in then. I had a movie commitment in Chermside at 12 so that was out of the question. The lady on the phone was extremely friendly and sympathetic and offered to take my name down, along with the time and wanted and she promised she would see if she could move things around a bit.

After that glimmer of hope, I went ahead with the remainder of phone calls and either got 'we don't take bookings' or 'we're fully booked'. In a state of panic, I compiled a list of emergency walk-ins in case I ended up with no alternative.

Luckily, late afternoon on Saturday, I got the call from Ave Cucina saying they could get us in at 8am. Perfecto! I was so happy!!

I picked up mum and dad from Carindale and we headed on over. I never new Ave Cucina existed but Google tells me that the owners won season 1 of My Kitchen Rules. I never watch anything that's not on Channel Ten (a habit formed from once upon a time when I had a tiny TV that only had good reception on Ten) so I don't know much aboput the show... but, cool!

Ave Cucina is a small, quaint cafe located off Chatsworth Rd in Coorparoo. It's space is divided up across a small split level and you get the feeling that it's bigger than it is because of the open window-front bar seating. I personally love that feature in a cafe.

We were seated deeper into the cafe. The place was full to capacity but it wasn't overly noisy. I guess the Mother's Day crowd is generally well behaved.

Two lattes and a cappucino

We ordered coffees to start with: a couple of lattes for mum and I, plus a cappucino for dad. I really enjoyed my coffee. It was rich and full-flavored. In fact I liked it so much that I ordered another before the meal ended. I had woken up that morning with the biggest hangover headache (rare for me) and the coffee seemingly cured it. Dad also commented on the nice foam art.

Sliced banana and local honey on lightly buttered pane toast and nut sprinkle

Mum didn't actually know I was taking her out for breakfast so she had eaten something that morning (the downside to doing a surprise meal is the risk of the surprised party eating before you get there) and ordered a small dish of bananas on toast. It was simple in theory: sliced bananas and slices of toast with pistachios, honey and a dash of icing sugar. I thought it was a very nice combination though. Too sweet for me to have at breakfast (I'm enjoying savory breakfasts more now) but I think it would make a nice afternoon snack.

Bacon and egg sandwich - bacon and messy eggs on toasted pane with greens and ave tomato relish

Dad went for the bacon and egg sandwich, comprising of crispy bacon, messy eggs (Ave's version of non-dairy scrambled eggs) and relish on toast.

 Omelet - with caramelised onion, goats cheese, rocket and walnuts

I went for one of the daily specials - an onion and goats cheese omelet. The omelet was large and cooked well (not at all tough). It was topped with rocket, which I found nice and refreshing. Mum had one taste and pulled a face because she doesn't like lamb and by association, can't stand goats cheese. I, on the other hand, can't get enough of the stuff.

Close-up of omelet

My only critisism is that the marinated onion was a bit too sweet. In theory, it should've been compensated by the saltiness of goats cheese and peppery rocket... but the sweetness was overbearing.

Ave Cucina is a delightful little cafe that luckily for us, is quite easy to get to. The service was flawless - so friendly and efficient. I'm extremely impressed by the way I wasn't handled a 'sorry, we're booked' response like so many other cafes nearby. Instead, they went the extra mile to try and accomodate what I needed. The food was fresh and tasty and the coffee was fantastic. I'm definitely keen to go back for more. Ave Cucina & Coffee Bar on Urbanspoon