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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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Pasta Emilia, Surry Hills

I’m always drawn to places that do one thing, and do it very well. To me, it means that all focus and dedication is placed onto one type of food and mastering it, making it the best it possibly can.

There’s no prizes for guessing what Pasta Emilia’s main strength is. The pasta here is made onsite and with organic ingredients, using recipes from the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy which is famous for its pasta. Pasta Emilia makes several types, including fettuccine, strozzapreti and filled pastas like ravioli and tortelli. While these are all available for purchase in convenient take home packs and sauces, we decided to eat in at the rustic, cottage-like cafe in Surry Hills for dinner one night.

Strozzapreti al ragu di carne and parmagiano – $18

We’re here for the pasta so we skip the entrees and dive straight in. The house made strozzapreti is a short pasta that kind of reminds me of DNA strands with its rolled and twisted structure. Strozzapreti literally means “priest stranglers” and legend has it that the name comes from the fact that priests enjoyed the pasta so much, they ate it too quickly and choked themselves! Whether that’s true or not, make sure you savour every mouthful of this strozzapreti that’s mixed with a rich beef ragu topped with a sprinkling of parmesan.

Crab and prawn tortelli with salsa verde and chopped rucola – $32
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The Land of Seafood and Dairy – Hokkaido, Japan

It’s no secret that Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan, has some of the best seafood and dairy. The northern island of Japan is surrounded by cold ocean waters which makes it the perfect habitat for seafood, and the large countryside in Hokkaido also allows space for dairy farms to operate and produce some of the creamiest dairy products I’ve ever tasted. It might be no surprise then that as part of our two-week Japan trip, Sir D and I headed first to Hokkaido to… well pretty much all we did was eat. And walk to other places to eat some more.

We spent the majority of our time in Sapporo, the capital of the Hokkaido Prefecture which is about a 40-minute train ride from New Chitose Airport. We stayed at the Richmond Hotel Sapporo Ekimae, which was a comfortable hotel that came to about $65 per night for two people. The hotel was conveniently located right next to Exit 22 of Sapporo JR station, as well as being a few blocks away from Exit 3 of the Sapporo Ekimae, the underground walkway that connects Sapporo’s major public transport hubs (also great for escaping the cold!).

Nijo Markets

Being in Hokkaido, one of the things we made sure to do was eat lots of seafood. On the top of my list was to visit the Nijo Market (二条市場, Nijō Ichiba), which is a public market in central Sapporo that sells a wide variety of crab, scallops, fish and other seafood as well as fresh local produce. I was pretty excited to see shako (mantis shrimp) which is something I’ve only ever heard about in this comic!

Seafood at Nijo Markets: Shako or Mantis shrimp (left) and crab (right)

We walked around the markets looking for some donburi (rice bowl) to have for breakfast. It was a little early so not all the stores were open yet, but we stumbled across one that had a few people dining in it already. Best of all, it had mini-don set where we could try a bit of everything.

Mini-don set at Nijo Markets – 2900JPY (approx 30AUD)
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A Sydney food blog