Back when I was studying at Sydney Uni, I remembered Chippendale as the suburb with the dated, slightly run-down pubs (Purple Sneakers at the Abercrombie anyone?) and the huge old Carlton brewery site. How times have changed – there’s now a new fancy hotel, a shopping precinct complete with high rise apartments and heaps of restaurants to eat at.
Ester is one of those restaurants and it definitely fits in with Chippendale’s new hipster vibe with the polished concrete, the mismatched chairs and the industrial decor. We’re seated underneath an arched window that looks directly into the kitchen, so we have a great view of the pass and all the awesome food that gets sent out to hungry diners.
Already on the table is a small dish of deep fried chickpeas, which make for a surprisingly addictive snack as you browse through the menu. The menu is designed for sharing, with the dishes getting progressively larger and heavier as you go down the menu. There’s not much description on the menu beyond the key ingredients in the dish so it’s a bit of a lucky dip as to what the dish will actually be!
Queen Chu recommends ordering the squid dumplings from her previous visit to Ester, so we follow her orders and do exactly that. They come out as black football shaped pieces, coloured from the use of squid ink. It’s quite an unexpected and almost intimidating presentation, but we dig in regardless. The dumplings remind me of the chewy football shaped “ham sui gok” from yum cha, with the same chewy texture and a filling of pork and squid.
Sushi is one of my all-time favourite foods ever. I will happily eat any kind of sushi – be it takeaway sushi rolls, $3 sushi train plates, or individually crafted sushi at a restaurant. But for something that seems as simple as a piece of raw fish on top of rice, there can be such a vast difference in quality, which mainly comes down to the ingredients, and the skill of the sushi chef.
There’s a good reason that becoming a sushi chef takes years of training, and it’s because sushi is all about the details. What kind of rice do you use? How much pressure do you apply to the rice? What kind of fish? How do you slice or cut the fish? Do you add any garnishes to the fish? A trained sushi chef will know exactly how to answer these questions, and know how to use their creativity to make the best use of seasonal and local ingredients in their sushi.
One of the best ways to experience this is to book yourself in for a sushi omakase. Omakase means “I’ll leave it up to you”, and you’ll have to place your trust in the sushi chef to know what’s best. The sushi omakase at Sokyo is hands down the best sushi in Sydney (in my opinion), and that is mainly down to Chef Takashi Sano (ex-Tetsuya and Koi) whose sushi skills are unparalleled in Sydney.
I’ve had the sushi omakase at Sokyo twice now, and been blown away every time. So much so that I don’t even know what to say about it (hence why this blog post has been so delayed) except that if you love sushi, you have to go and try it for yourself. It’s not easy to get a booking as the omakase is only available on weeknights for a limited number of people, but this is so Sano-san can dedicate his full attention to each omakase customer for the night.
The following photos of the food are a mix of the two omakase menus we had at Sokyo. Both times we started with some small dishes which varied depending on what was seasonal. On our first visit, we had cooked dishes of snapper and alfonsino with sweet soy sauce, whereas on our second visit, our starters were raw scampi sashimi and melt in the mouth chopped tuna belly with caviar.
If you happen to see the numbers 621 on your ingredients list, you know your food is gonna taste good because it has MSG! Ms G’s name is a play on the notorious flavour enhancer used in many Asian restaurants, reflecting its modern take on Asian food and presumably how delicious the food tastes as well.
The restaurant decor is quirky, with jars hanging from the ceiling and mismatched cutlery and plates on each table. The menu is designed to share with snacks, smaller share plates and larger, more substantial dishes. We start with some mini bánh mì with crispy pork belly and chicken katsu, both with pickled vegetables and sandwiched between soft buns. Both of these were delicious, with the chicken katsu having more of a crunch and the pork belly being soft and tender.
Automata, plural of automaton:
Machines that operate on their own without the need for human control, or people who act like a machine, without thinking or feeling.
When a restaurant calls itself Automata, I think of a restaurant that runs with machine-like precision and accuracy, where the staff are cool, calm and collected, and the kitchen executes every dish perfectly, every time.
Automata, a new-ish restaurant at the Old Clare Hotel, comes pretty close. As soon as we entered the restaurant, we got the vibe of a smooth running machine, with the industrial polished concrete and raw wood decor. We were promptly seated on a large shared table on the lower level, which had a clear view of the open kitchen. With Clayton Wells at the helm (ex-Momofuku Seiobo), all the chefs were working quickly and quietly – like a well-oiled machine – to push out food to hungry diners.
The five course set menu ($88) changes frequently – in fact, 3 out of 5 dishes have already changed since we dined there in late February. We also opted for the beverage pairing ($55), with each beverage being explained to us by the knowledgeable sommelier upon pouring. The pairing included an “orange” wine (skin contact white wine) and a cocktail of sake and yuzushu.
We started with some snacks – a baby gem lettuce with a striking violet mustard and chives, and wagyu beef with brown rice miso and enoki mushrooms. The gem lettuce was crunchy and tangy, readying the palate for more. The wagyu beef was super juicy, with slightly crunchy enoki mushrooms and a burst of umami flavour from the miso. The moment when I popped the wagyu into my mouth, I knew this was going to be an amazing meal.
Italian food is like that person you know who somehow manages to be friends with everyone. It’s simple, crowd-pleasing and reliably delicious – I mean, have you ever met anyone who doesn’t like pizza or pasta?
So when it comes to choosing restaurants, one of my fallback plans is always Cafe Sopra. The food is consistently tasty and reasonably priced, and there are multiple locations around Sydney including the CBD and Potts Point which makes it super convenient.
Today we pay a visit to Cafe Sopra in Alexandria, which has both indoor and outdoor seating. It’s a beautiful warm day, and the windows are opened to let in fresh air and sunlight on the otherwise dark interior.
There’s a selection starters, pizzas, pastas and heavier meat-based dishes on the menu, which I think are best shared so you get to try a bit of everything. Arancini are always a crowd favourite so we start with those – crispy fried balls of risotto with mixed herbs, fluffy shavings of taleggio cheese and a creamy dipping sauce.
It’s a hot day so we opt for some cold items as well, like this huge slab of chicken liver pate. It’s served with crusty bread that’s been toasted until crispy, and a slide of green bean and cucumber salad. There’s so much pate that you can generously slather on as much as you like on the toast and there will still be plenty left for everyone. The flavour of the pate is also on point – not too strong on the liver taste and also nice and smooth.