Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Grounds of Alexandria - Alexandria

On a nice warm spring day, what better than a chillaxy experience at a cafe? The cafe spot we picked for the lazy Saturday was The Grounds at Alexandria - a popular spot for families and couples in the midst of the up-and-coming suburb.

I've been told that the wait for this place can be as painstaking as 1 1/2 hrs - so when given the news that it'll be approx a half an hour wait, I was relieved. Not long after a leisurely stroll along their gardens and stalls for the day (checking out their hens, their herbs etc), and a detour to the deli next door, our buzzer rang and we were guided to our table.
The Grounds gives off that 'happening' vibe. Loads of chatter, laughter just reverberating around the walls. The waiters dashing around the place trying to keep on top of everything. People lining up for takeaways. The whole lot. But whilst busy - it felt like the 'nice' sort of busy, and not the 'I'm so stressed' type. We ordered coffees first - the cappuccinos were heaps smooth and rich and creamy - the perfect 'wake-me-up'.
I opted for the beef burger ($18) which came with a small container of heavenly beer battered fries. The chips were golden and crispy on the outside and fluffy goodness on the inside. It was also very consistent - every chip was good. The beef brisket patty was juicy and tasty as was all the other bits of the burger - the cheese, lettuce, the dill mayo - all encased in a really soft toasted brioche. Mmm...
'Ground' beef burger - $18
Hubby's spiced chicken baguette ($14) was not as awesome. The "ramzey's secret' spiced deep-fried chicken was alright, the bun was average and the spicy mayo inside just as advertised... making for a good but not wow chicken baguette. It came with a side of leafy garden greens ... but chips would have been much tastier!
Ramzey's secret spiced chicken baguette - $14
The Grounds is a pretty good place to chill out. It can be hard to get a spot for large groups (though there are a few bigger tables around) and the place is not really that conducive to D&Ms. But what you get is good coffee, lovely surrounds and decent food.

Food - 8/10
Service - 7/10
Ambiance - 8/10
Value for money - 7/10
Overall - 30/40

The Grounds of Alexandria
Huntley Street
NSW 2015
Tel: (02) 9699 2225

Monday, October 22, 2012

Kuma Japanese Restaurant - Rosebery

A few years ago, there was no such thing as group coupon deals. Now, websites which offer heavily discounted meals, activities and travel are rife. If you are very diligent in purchasing and organising and using coupons, you can really save heaps from these deals. They also make pretty good presents. One such deal that I managed to get my hands on recently was a 6 course meal from Kuma for just $35 for 2 people offered by Groupon.

To be completely honest, hubby and I entered this place with really really low expectations. Afterall, a 6 course Jap meal for 2 people for just $35? Seems a little bit too good to be true. Amazingly, however, we were quite blown away by the value and quality which was offered. We were first offered a choice of drink - wine, sake, soft drink etc (which was also included). Miso soup was also complementary. There was some stock standard courses - the sashimi, salmon and avocado roll, tempura...but also some choices involved - deep fried vs pan fried gyoza (either pork or prawn), choice of main course, and flavour of icecream.
The sashimi was good enough, as was the miso soup. No complaints there (but it wasn't WOW factor). The salmon and avocado roll had a little bit too much rice for my liking - but hubby thought it was alright.
entree sashimi
miso soup

salmon and avocado roll
The pan-fried pork gyoza was one of my favourites for the night. Pan-fried so that it was crispy on the bottom, still nice and soft on other sides, and heaps juicy and succulent inards. It was very much YUM. The tempura was alright. Slightly bit too floury for my liking but the prawns were really quite fresh. the tempura was also seasoned quite well.
pan-fried pork dumplings

In terms of the mains, hubby got the katsu chicken whereas I opted for the teriyaki salmon. The katsu chicken was average. You get your golden brown bread-crumbed crunchy outer-layer covering the tender chicken bits inside. Deep-fried chicken craving tick! My teriyaki salmon was a lot better than I expected. The fish wasn't over or under cooked. It was really really tasty and doused in that sweet teriyaki sauce. And it came with a mound of yummy veges. Liked it quite a bit :)
katsu chicken

teriyaki salmon
Last but not least was dessert. We had one of each flavour - green tea and sesame. The funny shape of the sesame icecream (how it's kind of cylindrical and has specific grooves on it) is indicative of how it came straight out of a store-bought container (the ones you can probably get at asian grocers). The green tea icecream on the other hand, came out nice and spherical. Amazingly enough, both icecreams were actually very deliciousness~ So store-bought or not, it was pretty good.
black sesame & green tea icecream

We were both quite surprised by what we got out of this meal. As it was a pre-paid meal, after we finished eating and felt like we chilled out enough, we just got up and left - how simple and convenient! :) Whilst this particular deal probably can't be purchased at the moment, there's still quite a lot of other restaurant deals offered by Groupon. Just by going here, you can eat to your hearts content for a fraction of the cost!

Food - 7/10
Service - 7/10
Ambiance - 7/10
Value for money - 8/10
Overall -  29/40

Kuma Japanese Restaurant
304/5-9 Rothschild Ave
Rosebery NSW 2018
Tel: (02) 9663 2902

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Thai Flavours - Bella Vista

We recently found out that one of our high school friends owned a Thai restaurant in Bella Vista and have been wanting to pay it a visit for a while now. Apart from it being a bit out of the way from where we all currently lived, us and a few high school friends decided that it would be a good venue for a catch up. Thai Flavours was a restaurant tucked up within the businesses at Norwest - kind of close to the home-maker center down there, near all the gyms and the GP practices and the radiologists etc. For a Saturday night, the place attracted a decent enough crowd.

The place was modestly decorated, high ceilings - sending off that chillaxy vibe. We also took it for granted that our friend wasn't going to kick us out of his restaurant as we chilled and chatted until past their stated closing time. We ordered some chicken satay skewers, a couple of curries, a pork belly stir fried dish and a couple of noodles to share.

The chicken satay skewers (4 for $8.50) were actually quite appetising. The meat was tender and well seasoned and the peanutty satay sauce hit the spot with my satay craving. Not bad at all.

chicken satay skewers - $8.50 for 4
 I wanted a red curry and my friend wanted duck so we saw that the Thai duck curry ($16.90) as an obvious choice. The curry was tasty, mildly spicy as indicated, but not as "red" as others I've had in the past. The Choo-chee ($14.90), which we had with fish on recommendation from our restaurant owner friend, was really mild and smooth and creamy. I actually really liked the taste of it (maybe because I'm not into heavily spiced things) and would have been happy to gobble down the whole plate (if sharing wasn't the ettiquette :P).

thai duck curry - $16.80
Choo-Chee - $14.90
 One of the items on the restaurant's specialty list was the Pork Belly stir fried with greens. There was a good assortment of peas and broccoli with a decent a portion of pork belly (with crispy skin - kinda). It did look a little more watery than I had in mind but it was alrightly tasty in it's own rights.

Pork belly stir fry
The Pad Thai ($11.90) was good. But then again, I've very rarely labeled a pad thai as bad. It was the right sweetness, right texture and right amount of meat/vege/nuts ratio. However, I was slightly less impressed with the thai basil noodles. There was that hint of chili but not a lot of basil flavour. the noodles were also slightly sloppier.
Pad Thai - $11.90
Thai Basil Noodle - $11.90
Our restaurant owner friend recommended for us to try two desserts from his menu. One was a taro (meant to have sago) coconut milk dessert, and the other was sticky rice pudding. My friend loved the sticky rice pudding, especially this smooth pasty mousse that came with it. I was more a coconut tara fan...but it was a little odder than I expected. It was luke warm and slightly salty? I guess my personal preference for this dessert would be ice cold and sweet.
Taro coconut milk
sticky rice pudding
 All up, this was a relatively good dining experience. Sure it's not the most WOW thai food around - but it was decent food, good company in a good environment. Our owner friend seemed friendly with everyone and was pretty hands on - from taking orders to bringing food out to driving out the takeaway to taking the cash. Would probably come back for dinner if we just so happen to be in the area.

Food - 7.5/10
Service - 7/10
Ambiance - 7/10
Value for money - 7.5/10
Overall - 29/40

Thai Flavours
F116/ 24-32 Lexington Drive
Bella Vista NSW 2153
Tel: (02) 8824 4333

Thursday, October 11, 2012

PHD - Marrickville

I've heard a lot about PHD from loads and loads of people - some even swearing that it's like the best Pho in Sydney. But funnily enough, it's taken me until now to check out the place.

We started with some spring rolls to share. Us and our friends (also first-timers to PHD) agreed that this was not the best viet spring rolls we've had. They weren't the super tasty, nicely mincy, and thinly pastry crispy spring rolls we were after. It was also quite stingy on the lettuce, giving us only 2 measly pieces for the 6 spring rolls.
Spring Rolls
We all decided to order pho. One friend had the rare beef, another had the rare beef with beef brisket noodles. Hubby had the special beef whereas I chose the beef ball with beef tripe. The bowls of noodles were large and filled to the brim in soup. My beef balls and beef tripe was really tasty, but hubby's beef brisket seemed a little tough (cut thin instead of bit chunks of tender meat). The soup in these noodles was really sweet and not as herby compared to other places. I can see why people would love this soup - it reaches some sweet spot. But personally, I think I'd want it to have a good balance between sweetness and herbiness.
beef ball and tripe noodles
rare beef noodles
Special beef noodles
At the end of the day, pho is always a comforting food to have on a cold rainy day so I wouldn't say no to eating pho here even if it's a bit sweeter than what I'd like.

Food - 7.5/10
Service - 6/10
Ambiance - 6.5/10
Value for money - 7/10
Overall - 27/40

PHD Vietnamese Restaurant
308 Illawarra Rd
Marrickville NSW 2204
Tel: (02) 9559 5078

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sky Phoenix - Sydney

One of my high school friends had their wedding at Sky Phoenix not long ago. I had not been to this restaurant previously, but as my impressions of Rhodes Phoenix is relatively good, I was quite excited to visit this relatively new venue.

The wedding itself was relatively nice and quiet. The typical high ceilings and dimmed lights may have helped bring on that calmed subdued atmosphere. The moment all the serious wedding stuff was done, the food came out really quickly... one after the other... without much break in between.

There was the usual stuff - cold platter with bbq pork, suckling pork, roast duck and jellyfish.
Big large prawns with snow peas were next.
Then there was a deep fried ball of taro with a scallop inside. This was interesting as it was crumbly on the outside, then a smooth and mushy inside this layer before you got to the scacllop. I guess that the scallop seemed a little out of place... would have liked it more on the side or not at all.
Sharks fin soup was average this time.
There was lobster a-plenty. Hubby and a few of my friends enjoyed this sea creature very muchly~
There was also abalone with lettuce and the steamed coral trout to wrap up the seafood component of the feast.
Crispy skinned chicken, noodles and a relatively interesting fried rice came at the end. The fried rice had flying fish roe scattered throughout? Didn't really add anything... but was just a funny combination.

Dessert-wise, there was the wedding cake, fruit and these cute looking fried custard dough balls and pastry.

So I guess all up, pretty standard wedding feast food is served here. It was served crazily quick though. You hardly had enough time to eat one course before the next was on the table. But, it doesn't seem like too bad a place for an Asian wedding :)

Food - 6.5/10
Service - 6/10
Ambiance - 7/10
Value for money - ?
Overall - 19.5/40

Sky Phoenix
77 Castlereagh Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel: (02) 9223 8822

Monday, October 8, 2012

Masuya (2) - Sydney

Back during the uni days, Masuya used to be one of my favourite restaurants. We used to frequent Masuya, Musashi, Makoto - all three of them in the chain - after uni, before Tafe, on  weekends ... just like, all the time! But for some reason, we stopped coming after all the uni craziness finished. So I was happy to revisit this place when my parents said they wanted a good Jap meal.
Sashimi boat

On a Saturday night, I was given two options when booking - either the 6pm or the 8pm session. We chose the 6pm ... and lo and behold - the restaurant was packed out by around 6.15pm! We ordered a sashimi boat, the rainbow roll, some individual sushi nigiri (mackerel, clam, scallop), a tofu and seaweed salad, unagi don, and also their soy milk hotpot.

Rainbow Roll
The sashimi boat was not bad. We had ample of the salmon and tuna and kingfish. Oysters, surf clams, scampi, mackeral and some other sea creatures also featured. Everything was fresh enough but nothing too wow. Also a bit dissappointing that there was no scallops in the mix! The rainbow roll was like I envisioned it. Hasn't really changed much in all these years.


The inidividual nigiri was average. I don't know if our taste-buds have become more sophisticated over the years, or if our expectations of food has just increased but yeh... again, nothing too wow here but good enough?

seaweed and tofu salad

The tofu and seaweed salad was dissappointing. The presentation wasn't great. The flavours were not awesome and there was a huge lack in seaweed. I definately miss the gigantic seaweed and sashimi salads you get from Sushi Suma.

Unagi Don

My dad loved the unagi rice. The eel was apparently really tasty and soft and flavoursome and the rice was cooked well. it did smell pretty amazing :)

soy milk hot pot
Last but not least, the soy milk hot pot was ordered (as an afterthought). Ages ago, you used to get all these ingredients laid out on a plate. they used to dunk in some of the things that took longer to cook (e.g. chicken, salmon) but left the rest (e.g. scallops) to our discretion). Now, it comes pre-in-pot-. Meaning, well, less work for us? But also, some over-cooked stuff... and also just less food in general. You also used to get udon with this... but now you have to order it separately. Nonetheless, the soymilk dashi soup base was still awesome - and it's still something I can have bowls and bowls of :).

So all up, Masuya is still a popular Jap Restaurant. The food is decent enough but, I'm happy to just visit this place once every few years.

Food - 7/10
Service - 7/10
Ambiance - 7/10
Value for money - 7/10
Overall - 28/40

12-14 O'connell Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel: (02) 9235 2717

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jonga Jip (2) - Eastwood

Just to take a breather from blogging about European food... one of the first meals we had upon our return to down under was Korean in Eastwood at Jonga Jip. The reason why we picked this restaurant out of the plethora of Korean restaurants available to us was due to the amazing amounts of side dishes this place offers - Yes! All 10 side dishes!!! Ok, so the price of each meal here is a tiny bit more expensive compared to other Korean restaurants on the street... but 10 (10!!!) delicious side dishes more than make up for that price difference methinks.

a gazillion of delicious side dishes
Hubby orders the beef rib soup. It comes out sizzling hot with an egg cracked on top. It is absolutely mindblowingly stomach soothing and delicious. It's flavoursome yet doesn't leave behind that gross MSG feel in your mouth.
beef rib soup
On this particular day, my mind was singing that 'mandu, mandu mandu, mandu' jingle and so - expectedly, mandu (dumplings) were ordered. I had them steamed instead of fried. Whilst in my mind, I was expecting like 10 dumplings to come out - I was greeted with huge happy family of lotsa lotsa little dumplings. It was exactly what I needed that day :)
 Jonga Jip is the place to go when you want a crazy variety of side-dishes. Sure there may be a bit of a premium for it, but you'll find me here again and again and again for a reason :)

Food - 8/10
Service - 7/10
Ambiance - 7/10
Value for money - 7/10
Overall - 29/40

Jonga Jip
87 Rowe Street
NSW 2122
Tel: (02) 9858 5160

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sacher Cake in Vienna

Prior to our Euro trip, one of my colleagues had told me that a 'must do' in Vienna was to go to Hotel Sacher to have some sacher torte. The Sacher torte is one of the most famous Viennese desserts - invented by Mr Franz Sacher in the 1800s. It's pretty much a layer of marmalade (usually apricot jam) spread in between two chocolate sponges then covered in dark chocolate icing.

My first experience of this famous cake was at the Residenz (at Schonbrunn Palace) as it was showering a bit and we were stuck indoors. They had a cabinet full of different cakes but, you know, had to pick the local specialty. Have to say - it wasn't bad here. But at the same time, it also wasn't anything special. Kinda just like chocolate sponge cake with chocolate icing :P

Upon advice from my colleague, we had to also try this cake at Hotel Sacher (which as the name indicates, is super famous for their Sacher cake). The spongy bit was probably a bit lighter and softer here and the jam was more distinct. The chocolate was also richer and more chocolatey. Unfortunately, whilst I am a massive chocolate fan, I am not a jam fan. And it was after this slice that I decided to move on to eating it's cousins (e.g. the chocolate truffle cake)

Cafe Restaurant Residenz Schonbrunn
Schloss Sch├Ânbrunn.
Kavalierstrakt 52  vom Haupttor links, 1130 Vienna, Austria
Tel: 01 24100300

Hotel Sacher
Philharmonikerstra├če 4, 1010 Vienna, Austria