Back in 2010 when Menya Mappen first opened, the idea of a self-service udon and tempura bar was unheard of. But fast forward five years, and now there’s several Japanese self-service style noodle/rice bowl restaurants scattered around Sydney, but the original Mappen is still going strong with queues going out the door when we visit on a weeknight.
It’s literally been years since I last ate at Mappen, and while it’s still the same concept, there’s some nice additional options available. There’s a monthly special (this month is a beef yaki-udon style dish), and there’s also some new drinks including a non-alcoholic apple cider and a creamy green tea slushie.
Move along the cafeteria line and you’ll be asked for your order. There’s lots of options, including a choice of noodles or rice, udon or soba, hot or cold, soup or sauce. Thankfully there’s a decent picture menu to help you decide what you like the look of.
Keep moving along and you’ll get to the tempura bar. This is where it’s easy to go a bit crazy with all the deep fried foods, but I usually try to restrict myself to two extras otherwise I end up too full to finish it all.
I used to walk right past the cold section but that was before I realised what goodies lay inside the mini fridge! There’s chilled items to add to your noodles like wakame seaweed, kimchi, corn and bamboo shoots, as well as seaweed salad and daifuku desserts.
No Ramen, No Life. It’s pretty much a mantra I live by, as I find myself getting insatiable cravings for ramen every couple of weeks. I was pretty excited to hear about yet another ramen place opening up in the CBD – and run by an ex-Gumshara chef as well! We found ourselves heading over to Yasaka Ramen a few weeks after it had opened to check out what the fuss was about, and to see if chef Takeshi Sekigawa had brought the infamously rich Gumshara tonkotsu broth with him.
The first thing you see when you walk into the restaurant are several takoyaki cast iron moulds where a chef is busily turning the octopus balls to make sure they get just the right amount of crispiness. It’s just as well that they have several of these moulds along one wall of the restaurant as there’s lots of different takoyaki to choose from including wasabi soy, teriyaki sauce with egg salad, and grilled cheese!
We have to order some takoyaki after seeing them being freshly made out the front. The takoyaki are nicely cooked and creamy on the inside, with a touch of ginger and lashings of takoyaki sauce, kewpie mayonnaise and bonito flakes.
But the focus here is, of course, on the ramen. A full page of the menu is dedicated to three variants of thick tonkotsu pork bone broth – tonkotsu shoyu, tonkotsu shio, and tonkotsu miso – with a variety of toppings. The ramen noodles are also made in house and sometimes you can see them being cut into thin strands out the front of the restaurant.
I always get a little thrill when I find the doorway to a hidden bar. It’s that rewarding feeling of solving the puzzle of where the bar entrance is, and of knowing something that’s maybe a little bit secret.
That’s how I felt when we walked into the Hotel Coronation, a dingy looking pub on Park Street that I’ve walked past hundreds of times. We knew there was a small bar around here somewhere but it certainly didn’t look like there was one when we entered the pub. We wandered upstairs to what I think was the actual hotel guest rooms (yep, definitely no small bar there), back down the stairs again, and up another flight of stairs where we began to see the fluorescent glow of pink neon lights of The Smoking Panda.
There’s an old skool Chinese takeaway restaurant feel in the decor, with booth seating and Chinese restaurant-style chairs and tables, but we wander past these and the lanterns straight over to the bar, where we fix ourselves up with a cocktail or two.
Interestingly, the drinks list deviates from the Chinese theme, with an American slant on the cocktails and a big focus on bourbon – there’s more than 50 types of bourbon available from the bar! Our first cocktail of the night, the bourbon-based Blackberry & Sage Smash is fruity but not too sweet, with the tart blackberry and lemon flavours layered over the bourbon.
The Georgia Peach is also a bourbon-based cocktail with fresh peach and mint over crushed ice, making for a refreshing drink.
We spy someone order the Blue Lagoon, a lurid blue drink that by all accounts was actually quite tasty. That blue stuff? That’s blue curaçao, gin, vodka, lychee and dragonfruit which is topped with a lemonade foam and popping candy. We got a little taste of the lemonade foam which tasted kind of like a Sprite creaming soda.
Back in the day when I knew absolutely nothing about ramen and Sir D hated the stuff, Ichi-ban Boshi was one of the first ramen places I ever visited and blogged about. I remember thinking that the queues outside the restaurant must mean that they’re serving up some pretty good food, but to be honest after my first visit I was not particularly wowed.
Things have changed a lot since then – lots of ramen places have opened up in the last couple of years meaning that I’ve been able to try different types of ramen and just eat a lot more ramen in general! So when I visited Ichi-ban Boshi again armed with my new ramen knowledge, it was quite a different experience
A hot night meant that a cold drink was in order, and while Ichi-ban boshi has sake and Japanese beers on offer, I settled on an iced green tea cappuccino. The milky green tea is topped with an impressive amount of milk foam and raw sugar crystals. The drink also comes with a little jug of sugar syrup which you can add to your drink to adjust the sweetness of it.
We start with the gyoza which we’re told is one of the most popular items on the entree section of the menu. The gyoza are made in house and we can see why they’re so popular – the bottoms are nicely crisped up and the dumpling pastry is rolled out quite thin. The gyoza are served on a soy and vinegar dipping sauce.
I’m a sucker for ox tongue so when we spot this on the menu we have to order it. There’s six pieces of thinly sliced ox tongue which are grilled and served with salt and chilli powder, and a wedge of lemon which is squeezed over the meat. The tongue is a little chewy but the fact that it’s been sliced so thinly means that it’s not at all difficult to eat.
It’s easy enough to make a decent steak at home, but there’s something about the dark furnishings and luxury of being able to pick and choose lots of sides to go with your steak that make it a bit of a treat. I decided to treat Sir D on his birthday with a visit to The Cut Bar & Grill for some tasty meat.
As you walk downstairs into the restaurant, it’s almost like you’re walking into a secret underground cavern. The restaurant itself is dark and moody with plush leather banquette seating as well as individual tables.
We’re here for the beef but we decide to start with a few entrees to whet our palates. The words ‘scallops’ and ‘bone marrow’ catch my eye so we order the scallop entree which has three juicy seared scallops sitting on some crumbled blood pudding, with peas, mushrooms and little blobs of bone marrow. The earthy flavours of the blood pudding and mushrooms pair quite well with the sweet scallops which are perfectly cooked.