Tuesday, 25 December 2012


The Masuya International Group of restaurants is definitely not a new name to me. Their flagship restaurant, Masuya has been around since 1993. Though I was only little girl back then, I have since been a loyal customer. This group is also responsible for bringing to us other big names such as Makoto (an all time favourite sushi-train) and Miso (famous for their succulent and juicy pork katsu bento boxes).

Recently, this group brought to us another restaurant, Toriichi. Toriichi is located at 12-14 O'Connell Street, Sydney just upstairs from Masuya. The space is long and narrow and furnished by combining modern elements with a bit of zen. A strange combination if you ask me, particularly with the black walls contrasted with white fluorescent lighting and zen displays. However despite my previous comments, I was lucky to get the best seat in the house - a table made from a 350 year old tree.

The menu presented shows a combination of kobachi (tapas, as starters), deep fried options, house specials, aburi/yakitori options, oden (a Japanese mini version of what we commonly call a 'hot pot', without the flame) and sashimi. I was here with my high school girls on our once-a-month catch up and given it was a first-time here for all of us, we tried to order a good mix of food.

First things first, Sake.

The sake menu at Toriichi boasts variations from all around Japan. Again a week-night and although I told the group prior to dinner that there will be no drinking, I could not resist ordering just one bottle between us! The sake menu provides a Sake Meter Value (SMV) which is always very helpful. There is such a great variety of sake that it is impossible to know it all, and the SMV can assist in picking out the right one for your personal taste.

As a general rule of thumb, the higher the positive number, the drier and richer the sake. Conversely, the lower the negative number is, the sweeter and lighter the sake. I usually opt for a sake with a SMV of about +5.

I must point out, although the sake menu is not extensive, it does cover a good range - from the Junmai Daiginjo-Shu (the most premium), to Junmai Ginjo-Shu, to Junmai-Shu. The first word "Junmai" is an indicator that the sake is of good quality, made with traditional techniques and using only with pure rice wine (with no added alcohol, unlike cheaper variations).

The next word distinguishes how 'polished' the rice is - the more polished the rice used, the higher the quality of the sake. "Daiginjo" sake is made from rice that is polished down to 50% or less its original size. "Ginjo" sake is made from rice that is polished down to 60% or less its original size. Normal Junmai sake is made from rice that is polished down to 70% or less its original size.*

We picked the Jyozen Junmai which had a SMV of +7 - Dry, full-bodied and fruity. Tick, tick and tick!

First we had the Chicken Nanban - fried chicken and onion marinated in sweetened rice wine vinegar. To be bluntly honest, I did not rate this dish. I could not see the point of serving fried chicken cold and soggy as it defeats the purpose of frying it, doesn't it?

Next was the Salmon Carpaccio, served with a Japanese citrus and soy dressing. The salmon was fresh and the flavours well balanced.

Next came the Ice Crab Meat and Cucumber Salad. The cucumber was lightly pickled but overall I found this dish bland and lacking in taste. Something more was needed to enhance the flavour of the crab meat.

Then followed the Mixed Sashimi of salmon, tuna and swordfish. As with other Masuya Group restaurants, the fish was fresh and served in thick slices.

The long awaited 5 Kinds Assorted Oden was then served. A small bowl of vegetables, potato jelly, fish cakes and radish cooked in a traditional fish broth. It's something different but not something that I enjoyed as again I found it a bit bland in comparison to the other dishes.

The Yakitori came next. The chicken was generously salted and very juicy.

We also ordered the house special Dashimaki (more commonly known as 'Tamago'), which is simply a very thin egg omelette made in a special rectangular pan, rolled together while cooking to make a long and thick egg roll. I expected the Dashimaki to be a bit sweeter and more tasty, but also found it to be a bit too bland for my liking.

Our final dish was taken from the specials menu, the Aburi Wagyu Beef. This was my favourite dish of all the hits and misses. The beef was cooked evenly, not overdone, and the meat was tender and juicy.

Overall, the experience was not as great as I expected from the Masuya Group and must be my least favourite. Nonetheless, their sake menu is very reasonably priced and well varied, and I am sure to be back to try them all (especially their Sake Tasting Menu - at a very attractive $20 to try 5 kinds!) - just next time I might stick with the fail-proof dishes. The ambience is casual and lazy, so bring a friend or two!


12-14 O'Connell Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9233 8181

Monday, 24 December 2012

The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room

Oysters - people either love them or they loathe them. I love them! So when I discovered that a new oyster bar has arrived in town, I knew I had to drop in quickly.

The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room is situated in the old Brooklyn Hotel on the corner of George Street and Grosvenor Street, Sydney. It was an old post-work favourite forced to close its doors in recent times due to the competitive boom of glitzy and glamorous bars, and the Sydney small bar revolution.

The venue has been vamped up but much of the heritage and industrial-looking features have been kept, if not enhanced. The place is furnished with old-school brick walls, white tiles, vintage edison light bulbs, lots of wood and green leafy shrubs. Even their staff is dressed to impressed with their black & white checkered bow ties and vintage country textile aprons. Classy, stylish and absolutely charming!

The menu is presented on a clipboard and the food is not anything less impressive than their fancy décor. Up on a wooden board hangs the daily pick of oysters. Today's specials were Clyde River NSW, Nambucca River NSW, Coffin Bay SA and Bruny Island TAS. We ordered one of each per person, plus a few tequila oyster shooters (how could I resist!).

Our sangrita, tomato, pomegranate, kaital and lemon Oyster Shooters arrived first. I have never tried oyster shooters with tequila before as I would usually opt for a bloody mary if available. I found the tequila burn a little too strong for the oysters and the rim not salted enough.

The Shucked Oysters then followed - chilled and very fresh with a vinaigrette dressing. I was impressed that even the oyster forks were pre-chilled which makes eating the oysters even more enjoyable. We started with the pacific Clyde River, which we found very fresh and briny. Next was the rock Nambucca River, which was very rich and creamy (this was my favourite of the lot). The pacific Coffin Bay is a lot more commonly seen around, and we found it clean, lightly salty and metallic. Finally the Bruny Island TAS, which we found most salty comparatively and had a firmer body.

Next came the Crab & Lettuce Tacos. These crispy baby cos lettuces were topped with shredded crab meat, salmon caviar and a chardonnay vinaigrette - something different and delicious!

We were quite surprised that scampi was offered on the menu and had to try it. If you have not tried these before, they look like a toy-sized lobster (or a prawn with claws), and are usually found served raw as sushi or sashimi, or served cooked with pasta. The Split Scampi Sashimi Style we ordered was presented raw, chilled and very fresh, dressed with chilli, olive oil and sea salt. Perhaps I am accustomed to eating my scampi with soy sauce, I found the taste a little lighter than how I would like it?

Executive Chef Sean Connolly says "Everything tastes better on the bone or in the shell", and I could not agree more. The Grain Fed Sirloin On The Bone served with anchovy butter was the best piece of steak I have eaten out for a while! The meat was cooked perfectly over charcoal, was tender, juicy and had a smokey charred flavour.

The Grain Fed Pork Chop was also a winner. Again it was served on the bone and cooked over charcoal, the meat was very tender and juicy.

We ordered some Duck Fat Chips to accompany the grilled meat. Yes, duck fat. What better way to boost up the flavour (and calorie count) of chips! Yummo!

Finally we ordered the Snow Crab Linguine with parsley, mint, chilli and lemon. It was full of flavour and slightly, but not too creamy. It was the perfect finish to our tongue-tantalising meal!
The experience was very pleasant, the food amazing, and the ambience casual and lighthearted. The Morrison Bar and Oyster room is a crustacean and charcoal-grilled meat culinary wonderland that is perfect for after-work festivities and catching up with large groups!


225 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9247 6744

The Morrison Bar & Oyster Room on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Recipe: Zucchini Bolognese

Want to eat healthy, but not at the expense of the food you love?  Get innovative and try substituting clean ingredients into your cooking.

Check out my zucchini bolognese recipe where I have substituted pasta for shredded zucchini!


Fuku Restaurant Sake & Wine

For many reasons, Japanese cuisine is my favourite cuisine.  I am a big fan of seafood, I love the taste of freshly grounded wasabi (no, not the pasty packaged stuff), i love pickled ginger, and I get all worked up about fancy food presentation.  I was even recently told by a friend that my "facebook account consists 90% of food photos, of which 80% is Japanese cuisine, and mostly sashimi/sushi".  A very true statement made, I say.

Japanese meals are usually simple and very well presented.  A good Japanese chef would balance his flavours and textures well, and artfully arrange his meal of captivating colours on stunning tableware (usually a lot more expensive than they look - if you have ever tried to pick up one of those serving plates, the first thing you would notice is how heavy and solid it is!).

One mid-week night, I stumbled across Fuku Restaurant unplanned.  It is discretely nested up on Level 1 at World Square, Sydney just opposite Ding Tai Fung.  I must have walked past them many times and not noticed them? 

I was greeted by their friendly staff quickly on arrival and lead to a spacious 4 person table by the window (even though there was only 2 of us).  It was mid-week and the restaurant was obviously not at capacity.  I was impressed by their considerate service (some restaurants would put us on a smaller table despite there being plenty of larger available tables).  Big tick!

The restaurant is nicely furnished and dimly lit - my first impression was "Uh oh, it's mid-week and I just walked into a fine dining restaurant with a friend, who was working overtime and just stepped out to grab a quick bite with me! Fail."  However on opening the menu I was presented with, I quickly discovered I was very wrong (whilst the eye repetitively flicked over to the separate sake menu lying lazily on the table in front of me - it was mid-week and I do make an effort to avoid drinking on weeknights).  The menu was very fairly priced with a well-rounded sake menu - this was an izakaya restaurant (居酒屋) - perfect!

What is an izakaya restaurant?  The word 'izakaya' means 'to stay, in a sake shop'.  A typical izakaya restaurant offers a good sake menu and serves food on the side to accompany the drinks.  Therefore you may find that the portion size of food served in izakaya restaurants smaller than what you would find in your average Japanese restaurant.

Though I didn't plan to drink, I felt a little obliged to order a bottle of sake - nothing fancy just the chilled house sake.  The sake served was dry and had rich rice flavour, exactly as I like it, and very affordable.

Our first dish was the Kingfish Carpaccio.  Very fresh, served with a citrus dressing and baby herbs.  It was the perfect starter and very appetising indeed.

Next the Salmon Belly Aburi was served (note the salmon belly was not on the menu, but can be specially requested subject to availability).  I always prefer the fattier part of salmon and would go for the belly wherever possible.  After searing the belly, the salmon simply melts in the mouth. Yum!

Finally came the Smoked Miso Cod.  I was very unsure about this dish at the start because bar cod tastes awesome when cooked well, but can be a total fail if not cooked properly.  Before this dish was set on our table, the first thing we picked up was the smell - a tantalising smokey flavour.  The dish was set down and before us was two flat pieces of wood still burning (we think it may have been cedar wood but forgot to ask) tied together with cooking string.  The string was cut loose, the top piece of wood lifted off and there was the smoked cod, and it looked good!  The fish was tender, dressed in a sweet teriyaki-like sauce, and strongly smokey - it was truly divine!

What an unexpectedly and surprisingly wonderful experience this was.  This place is great for a casual date-night with your other half, or a girly catch up (did I mention the drop-dead gorgeous waiter?).


Fuku Restaurant Sake & Wine
Level 1, Shop 1103 World Square
Sydney  NSW  2000
(02) 9261 8977

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Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Grounds of Alexandria

Coffee, with its distinct aroma, one-of-a-kind taste, spirit lifting and energising qualities, is top on my hit list every morning.  Nothing beats waking up to a perfectly brewed cappuccino and so, I devote many of my lazy Sunday mornings finding the perfect grind!

So what makes a good cappuccino?  It requires the perfect marriage of a number of factors including, having well blended coffee, achieving the perfect grind and successfully steamed milk.  

A well blended coffee for me must have an earthy taste to it, is rich and not be too bitter as I don't drink my coffee with sugar. 

The perfect grind is important because it can ruin even top quality beans and because it is so easily affected, I think this step distinguishes a good barista from a bad barista.  As a general rule of thumb, the grind should be set on extremely fine but different machines, water pressure and humidity means that the settings should be adjusted accordingly, with one sole purpose - to achieve extraction between 20 and 30 seconds.

One may wonder how you could unsuccessfully steam milk.  Easy I say.  Successfully steamed milk is rich, creamy and heated to the right temperature (and not burnt).  The foam must be ultra fine with no visible bubbles.

Here at The Grounds, I found consistently quality coffee.

Good coffee needs to be complemented with good food.  I am quite a fan of the lunch menu here because it has a good variety, the ingredients are fresh and presentation is exquisite. 

I ordered the House Cured Ocean Trout on Sourdough with sliced cucumber, soft boiled egg and edible flowers.  It was beautifully presented, tasty and refreshing.  Loved it!

We also ordered the Mozzarella, Tomatoes and Rocket Salad.  A little light on the dressing but well presented and fresh.

This is not the first time I have visited The Grounds, and all in all, my experiences have never been disappointing (be prepared to queue a bit on weekends though).  The venue is situated in an old converted pie factory on Huntley Street and Burke Road, Alexandria.  With its black and steel frames and vintage wooden tables, much of the rustic and industrial characters from the old factory have been preserved.  The cafe also opens out onto The Ground's own garden of self-grown vegetables and fragrant herbs, picked every morning and used in the cooking.  To the left of the garden is even a little chicken pen where you will often see families and children gathering around to spot the chooks.  This is a place that really will fascinate everyone, from the young to the old.


The Grounds of Alexandria
Building 7A, No.2 Huntley Street
Alexandria  NSW  2015

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