Li’l Darlin, Surry Hills

I’ve passed by Li’l Darlin several times in Darlinghurst, and have always meant to drop by for a cheeky cocktail or two. But it’s hard when Gelato Messina is only a few doors down, and somehow gelato always became a priority when walking down Victoria Street and the idea was quickly forgotten. Gelato can do that to you sometimes.

Luckily Li’l Darlin also has two other locations in Surry Hills and Randwick (which aren’t in very close proximity to a gelateria) so there was nothing to stop me from dropping by Li’l Darlin in Surry Hills to try some food and cocktails.

Salt and pepper calamari – $14

We begin with a few starters, including salt and pepper calamari with a choice of two sauces, nahm jim sauce or chipotle aioli. The calamari is perfectly tender and the chipotle aioli delivers a slightly spicy kick but I find the batter a little oily for my liking.

Arancini balls – $12

The arancini balls are crispy round nuggets of risotto stuffed with feta, fontina, tomato and herbs. It’s also served with the same chipotle aioli but I find that they’re perfectly tasty on their own.

Grilled chilli prawns – $13

A terracotta pot arrives on the table accompanied by some bread and we realise that lurking within the tomato-based sauce are some delectable grilled prawns. They’re great smothered in the tomato and chilli sauce and I keep going back for more of these.

Pork and beef meatballs – $12

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The Grounds of Alexandria

It’s taken me a while to get to the Grounds of Alexandria. I’d heard about the animals and the pretty surroundings as well as the food, but I’d also heard about hour-long queues for a weekend lunch which kind of put me off. We decided to wait until the hype died down to pay them a visit.

The (very pretty) Grounds of Alexandria

Well, it turns out that the hype never really did die down, and on the Friday lunch we visited it was as busy as ever. There was still a waiting list for a table, but luckily there are plenty of things around the Grounds to keep us occupied while we wait.

Kevin Bacon! And Bradley the sheep!

We visit Kevin Bacon the pig and Bradley the sheep in their pen at the back, which they share with some chickens. It’s a hot day when we visit so Kevin Bacon cools down by chilling out in the water bowl.

Kevin Bacon’s house
Kevin Bacon cooling down on a hot day

There’s also plenty of outdoor food carts with breads, sweet and savoury pastries, juices and coffee for those who want to grab a bite on the go. On a separate visit we even saw a cart selling jam or nutella filled doughnuts which were freshly fried and tasted amazing!

Bread and pastry cart
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Ippudo, Sydney

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It’s been a while since my last visit to Ippudo. While the queues are still there and the place is as busy as ever, the menu has expanded from comprising of mainly ramen with a small selection of sides and desserts, to a full blown a la carte menu to cater for everyone’s tastes.

Having such a large menu means that there were more decisions to be made. There was an overwhelming choice of different ramen soup bases, ramen toppings, entrees, salads, more substantial-sized dishes and rice dishes, so it took us a while to decide on what we wanted to eat.

Ippudo pork bun – $4 each

The Ippudo pork buns are pretty much a must-order for me. The juicy grilled pork belly, crispy lettuce and pillowy-soft bun hit all the right notes. There was a nice balance of flavours though I could always do with some extra pork belly!

David tofu – $10
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Warming up in Sapporo – Ramen, Soup Curry and Potatoes

Our time in Hokkaido wasn’t all about seafood and dairy. When we visited Sapporo in April, the weather ranged from about 9ºC to a chilly -2ºC, with snow still lining the footpaths. Even though we rugged up with thermals, scarves and coats, the cold weather made us search for warming, comforting foods and luckily these are in abundance here in Sapporo!

Sapporo city with the Sapporo TV Tower to the right

Hot food (and sleep) were the first things on our mind after arriving in Sapporo after an overnight flight. After checking into our hotel, we went in search of lunch. At first, we found navigating Sapporo’s underground passageways to be rather confusing as the shopping centres seem to merge into one another so before you know it, you’re in a completely different mall! Once you familiarise yourself with the shops and the direction you’re travelling, it’s much easier to figure out where you are and where you need to go.

Outside of Ramen Kyowakoku

We meandered through the shops until we came across ESTA Sapporo which I recognised as being the home of Ramen Kyowakoku or Ramen Republic (札幌ら~めん共和国). Ramen Republic is a ramen theme park that brings together ramen shops from various regions around Hokkaido, including Sapporo, Asahikawa, Hakodate, and Kushiro. The 8 shops change every depending on popular vote, so it’s a good bet that the ramen there will be pretty good.

Picture menus outside each ramen restaurant

Language barriers are no problem here as there are plenty of picture menus outside each shop. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you know what’s in the ramen though, so I left it to Sir D to pick a random one for us to try.

Shio ramen at Ajisai – 780JPY (approx $8 AUD)

We ended up at Ajisai, a ramen shop from Hakodate, which is known for its shio ramen. This a simple ramen dish with a salt-based broth of pork, chicken, konbu and vegetables and is clear and light. The ramen noodles are relatively straight, and come topped with slices of chashu, negi and menma (bamboo shoots).

Seabura ramen at Ajisai – 850JPY (approx $9 AUD)
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