Japaz, Neutral Bay

Japaz is a restaurant which combines both the Japanese Izakaya style and Spanish tapas style of serving small plates, often accompanied by drinks. The idea of Japanese-Spanish fusion intrigues me, so we make a booking for 8pm and a bunch of us venture out to see what Japaz has to offer.

Sir D and I are fashionably 15 minutes late (since we got caught up in Masterchef!) but the others arrive on time. When we arrive, Queen Chu tells us that the waiter has asked about our order several times already so we quickly make some selections. Midway taking our order, the waiter excuses himself to serve another table which BLT in particular finds very rude. We end up ordering about 12 dishes between 7 of us, since none of us are big eaters, and the waiter insists that this will not be enough and recommends that we order fewer selections but double up on them. However, we decide that we prefer to sample more of the menu so we stick with our order – to which the waiter again insists on ordering more dishes. This overattentiveness continues throughout our meal, and whilst his concern for our appetites was genuine, many of us find it quite unpleasant (as though he was trying to milk more money out of us!). Apart from this, the service is otherwise impeccable with dishes being removed promptly after they are finished and water being topped up regularly.

Fried eggplant with honey and balsamic – $11.00

The first dish to arrive is the fried eggplant, which is crumbed on the outside with soft, juicy eggplant on the inside. The honey balsamic dressing tastes sweet at first, but then the flavour of the balsamic takes over. I’m not usually a big fan of eggplant but I actually quite like this dish.

Crumbed portobello mushroom – $9.00

The portobello mushrooms are also crumbed in the same way as the eggplant with the mushroom juices oozing out with each bite. I enjoy this dish but it could probably do with a bit of sauce to give it a bit more flavour.

Scallops with a sweet soy and onion butter – $5.50 each

BLT, Sir D and I order scallops and they are absolutely delicious – the buttery sauce pairs beautifully with the scallop which is cooked to perfection. This is a firm favourite of ours and is highly recommended.

Piquillo capsicum stuffed with crab meat, baby rocket and spinach – $4.50 each

BLT wants to try the stuffed piquillo capsicums so we order 3 of these to share between us. We are surprised to find that it is a cold dish, and the flavour of the capsicum is quite overpowering so the stuffing of crab meat, baby rocket and spinach is quite lost on all of us.

Pan-fried chorizo and French green lentils in romesco sauce – $14.00

The meat dishes start arriving and the first one is the pan fried chorizo. We all agree that the sauce and flavour of the chorizo is delicious, but BLT, Sir D and I find that the chorizo casing is a bit tough, making it quite chewy to eat.

Pan-fried pork belly with pear, herbal balsamic sauce – $16.00

The pork belly is one of my favourite parts of the pig and this dish definitely does it justice. The pork is very soft and there is a nice layer of fat on all of the pieces. The small cubes of pear are dotted all over the dish and the balsamic sauce compliments the pork and the pear well, giving it a nice full flavour.

Lamb meatballs in tomato salsa – $12.00

The lamb meatballs are swathed a delicious tomato salsa which is rich and moreish. I find the meatballs a touch dry, but this dish is one of Queen Chu and Captain Awesome’s favourites.

Braised Wagyu beef cheek and almond sauce – $17.00

The beef cheeks is a dish that we are mixed on – Nat, Sir D and I love the fall-apart softness of the beef but Queen Chu and Captain Awesome think that this makes the meat lack texture. It is a comforting, home-style dish, reminding us all of the oxtail braised in red wine which all of our mothers make. The almond sauce however is very subtle and none of us taste much almond flavour at all.

Grilled quail with crispy Savoy cabbage and thyme quail jus – $19.00

The last dish is the grilled quail which arrives on a bed of cooked savoy cabbage in a fiery red tomato-based sauce. It isn’t the star of the night when compared with some of the other dishes but is nonetheless very good.

Japaz offers some interesting and delicious tasting food in a casual atmosphere. It does come with a price tag but I would definitely return to sample more of their menu and also to revisit some of the fantastic dishes we had tonight. It was a shame that the pushiness and slightly unpleasant demeanour of the waiter tarnished an otherwise enjoyable night but hopefully this was just a small oversight on the night that we dined.

165 Wycombe Road
Neutral Bay, NSW
Ph: +61 (02) 99040688
Lunch: Thursday and Friday, 12pm-3pm
Dinner: Monday – Saturday, 6pm – late

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Gelato Messina, Darlinghurst

Despite the very cold weather recently, Sir D must have his gelato fix so after dinner at Rise we walk a couple of blocks in search of Gelato Messina on Victoria Street. We are very glad to see the gas heaters outside the shop front and we are surprised to be joining quite a number of others eating and ordering gelato on this chilly night.

The menu ranges from gelato in a cup or cone, take-home tubs of gelato, gelato cakes, tiramisu, coffee and Callebaut hot chocolate! However tonight, we only have eyes for gelato.

Sir D decides to maximise flavour tasting opportunities by ordering 3 scoops in a cup, but we have serious difficulties in selecting three flavours from the mounds of gelato in front of us. We later overhear someone saying ,”but I want to have all of them!”, which is exactly what we were thinking…

Some of the flavours that catch my eye include apple pie, pannacotta, blood orange and dulce de leche. I also notice that they have chocolate and hazelnut in both a sorbet and a gelato.

After much deliberation (and many questions from the people behind the counter as to whether we were ready to order), we finally decide on chocolate sorbet, apple pie and gianduia (hazelnut chocolate).

3 scoops of gelato: gianduia, apple pie and chocolate sorbet – $5.80

The flavour on the top is gianduia, with apple pie in the middle and the chocolate sorbet is hidden on the bottom of the pile. The gianduia is delicious and tastes almost exactly like Nutella – a good thing for people like me who enjoy guiltily consuming Nutella with a spoon straight from the jar. The apple pie contains small chunks of apple and is quite strong in cinnamon flavour. Sir D says it reminds him of Big Red chewing gum, although not quite as spicy. The chocolate sorbet has an interesting flavour, leaning more towards dark chocolate but still retaining some sweetness. It is less creamy than normal gelato and melts a bit quicker but apart from that tastes pretty much the same, although it would be interesting to compare the chocolate gelato and sorbet at the same time.

As we make our way back onto the chilly night, I look longingly at the gelato cakes in the freezer and make plans with Sir D to come back with more people so that we can try even more of the flavours. All in the name of research, of course.

Gelato Messina
Shop 1/241 Victoria St
Darlinghurst, NSW
Ph: +61 (02) 83541223

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Rise, Darlinghurst’s 4th Year Anniversary

Although this is my first post about Rise, it is actually my 4th visit which coincides with a special offer they have to celebrate the 4th anniversary of Hideki Okazaki becoming the owner-chef of Rise. For one week, Rise is offering a special 7-course omakase menu for $36pp, and having been completely enamoured by the food during my previous visits, it was simply an offer I couldn’t resist.

Rise is tucked away in a relatively residential area of Darlinghurst, away from the numerous restaurants and wine bars on nearby Victoria Street. My first visit to Rise saw me completely at a loss of how to enter the restaurant – I attempted to open the locked door facing the main street, but luckily another of my dining companions found the fire-engine red door marking the entrance to the restaurant. And it was unlocked.

Ocean trout marinated with gochujang miso and porched quail egg

Tonight I am dining with Sir D, and we are seated in the corridor area where the lighting is very poor so apologies for the poor-quality photos. Drinks are ordered and before long our first course of ocean trout arrives, marinated in a spicy gochujang miso sauce with a quail egg sitting atop the mound of sashimi. It is accompanied by some baby rocket leaves, a hoisin sauce and some crunchy radish which complements the soft trout nicely. A great start to the meal and it is my favourite dish of the night.

Potato cream soup with prawn tempura and tofu

The smooth potato cream soup has a cube of agedashi tofu and tempura prawn sitting in the middle of the bowl, topped with spring onions and seaweed. The prawn is battered and deep fried for a nice tempura crunch and the agedashi tofu is soft and yielding. It is a generous serving, but both of us have no problems eating it all up.

Assorted today’s market sashimi: (left to right) kingfish, ocean trout and oyster

The third course consists of kingfish sashimi with flying fish roe and wasabi mayonnaise, ocean trout sashimi with soy sauce and an oyster. The oyster was accompanied by a briney, salty sauce which was offset once you bit into the slightly sweet and creamy oyster. My favourite was the ocean trout which was simple but delicious. I normally love kingfish but am not a big fan of wasabi, but wasabi lovers out there would probably enjoy the tingly feeling lingering on the tongue from the wasabi mayonnaise.

(Left to right): Eggflan, mushroom & miso red curry sauce, Rice paper roll of miso chicken stick, Fish cake & green papaya salad

The next plate that arrives has some interesting looking morsels on it which leave us peering at the plate wondering which to eat first. Sir D makes the first choice and selects the egg flan in the shotglass. He eats takes a small spoonful from the top and makes a face at me. I try a bit and the red curry flavour is very, very strong. On the next spoonful I realise that the layer of sauce is on the top and when eaten with the steamed egg and the small pieces of mushrooms and baby corn, the strong flavour is subdued. The fish cake is strong in kaffir lime leaf and coriander, and the green papaya salad is refreshing. Compared to the fish cake and the egg flan, the rice paper roll has subtler flavours but has a nice mixture of textures from the crunchy salad, the soft chicken stick and the slightly chewy rice paper.

Steamed scallop, green tea noodle & soy ginger shallot sauce

The scallop and green tea noodles arrive in a small bowl and although there are fewer noodles than I expected, the scallop is fat (just the way I like it) and steamed to perfection. The sauce seems to be more of a sweet soy sauce than a ginger and shallot sauce, and even the grated ginger at the bottom of the shell tastes sweet.

Chicken confit, “shiitake” mushroom, bamboo shoot , potatoes & “Hoisin” sauce

The main course which comes with rice is a chicken confit with tender meat and a layer of crisp, crunchy skin. Underneath it there are some potato cubes, bamboo shoots and mushrooms and their signature snake bean circling the vegetables. I call it their signature snake bean because every time I have been to Rise there has always been a snake bean encircling something in one or more dishes.

Almond jelly, black cherry & amaretto jelly

Onto the last course: dessert! It is what appears to be more of an almond pannacotta (rather than a jelly) with cherries, blueberries and paw paw cubes topped with an amaretto jelly. The amaretto jelly reminds me of the almond flavour in a Chinese egg white and almond dessert, and is a flavour neither Sir D nor I am particularly fond of. However, the creamy almond pannacotta is delicious and the berries and paw paw are fresh.

Although the omakase selection had some dishes that didn’t quite appeal to my tastebuds, there were other dishes which were absolutely fantastic. It is very good value for the quality of food served up and hopefully Rise will continue to deliver great food at reasonable prices in the years to come. Congratulations to Hideki Okazaki on being the owner-chef of Rise for the past 4 years.

Rise Restaurant
23 Craigend Street
Darlinghurst, NSW
Ph: +61 (02) 93571755
Dinner: Tuesday – Sunday, from 6pm

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Assiette, Surry Hills, for Friday lunch

After reading on Not Quite Nigella about the $30 three course meal available for Friday lunch, I immediately put it on my list of things to do. So, the first Friday after uni exams finished, I ventured off to Assiette in Surry Hills with Sir D, Queen Chu, Captain Awesome and BLT for a celebratory lunch.

Prix Fixe menu for Friday 26th June

We’re shown the a la carte menu and the prix fixe menu, and being poor students we of course select the prix fixe menu, which has some lovely sounding dishes for the bargain price of $30! Since I love to have a taste of everything, Sir D and I decide to order all the dishes between the two of us and do a plate swap.

After ordering the waiter brings some sourdough so fresh out of the oven that it nearly burns my fingers when I pick it up. As expected, being a blogging noob, I forget to take a photo of it. It’s nice and crunchy on the outside with soft fluffy insides, and our resident bread-lover Captain Awesome is very pleased.

Vegetable minestrone with garlic toast

The minestrone soup arrives first and it is green which is quite surprising as I’ve only ever had tomato-based minestrone soups. It’s a hearty soup with kidney beans, celery, potato and other vegetables, and towards the bottom of the soup I find some chewy round balls which remind me of tapioca balls but are white and floury. Queen Chu describes them as ‘gnocchi balls’, which is a pretty accurate description, but they’re a bit more chewy than your typical gnocchi. The soup is accompanied by a crunchy garlic toast and it’s delicious.

Sliced prosciutto with truffled celeriac remoulade and port syrup

The prosciutto is sliced thinly and is not too salty. The creamy celeriac remoulade and the prosciutto pair well together and there’s a hint of sweetness in the port syrup. I savour every bite of this.

Boston Bay mussel risotto with herbed sour cream

The risotto is cooked perfectly al dente and is delicious with the fresh mussels and herbed sour cream adding a light creamy texture to the rice. I’m not sure what the green stuff is around the dish but I think it might have been a herb-infused oil or something like that. I end up eating most of this because Sir D is not a big risotto fan – his first experience with risotto was not so pleasant. I am still trying to convert him =P

Roasted lamb rump with champ and red wine jus

I didn’t know what champ was when reading the menu but upon consulting my trusty resource Wikipedia I find out that it is “made by combining mashed potatoes and chopped spring onions with butter and milk”. I only try a bit of this since Sir D doesn’t like risotto but the lamb rump is tasty and unctuous with a nice amount of fat in the meat. There is a disc of meat underneath the slices which seems to be shredded lamb that has been breaded and fried, but no one is quite sure what it actually is. Queen Chu and Captain Awesome think that there is a bit too much fat on the meat, but Sir D loves his fat and loves the dish. Which begs the question as to why he never gains any weight…

Vanilla pannacotta with almond crumble and mandarin sorbet

The girls are feeling quite full at this point but there’s still dessert to come. The vanilla pannacotta is very very wobbly and those who ordered it (especially Sir D) seem utterly amazed by its ability to stay upright despite attempts to uproot it from its spot on the plate. The pannacotta is creamy and sweet and complimented by the freshness of the sorbet and the crunchiness of the crumble.

Chocolate brownie with macadamia praline ice cream

The brownie is gooey and chocolatey – just the way it should be – and the ice cream has a nice caramel flavour but I can’t really taste the macadamia in it. I’m not sure what the crumbly bits are on the side but it tastes like chocolate biscuit crumbled with nuts. A great way to finish off the meal.

Upon leaving the restaurant, everyone is satisfied and all smiles and comments on the great meal that we’ve just had. Despite the fact that the dishes looked quite small, we are all reasonably full after the delicious 3 courses. And for $30, it doesn’t get much better than that.

48 Albion Street
Surry Hills, NSW
Ph: +61 (02) 92127979
Lunch: Friday, 12pm-3pm
Dinner: Tuesday – Saturday, from 6pm

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