Review: Hakata-Maru Ramen, Chatswood

Early in July, the weather in Sydney became so unbearably cold that I started wearing my down jacket, ugg boots and gloves around the house. Granted, our apartment has no heating whatsoever other than a little space heater that barely heats within a metre radius, but it was still unreasonably cold for Australia. I don’t even know what I’ll do when we get to Europe and spend two weeks in Russia during winter!

hakatamaru-01

Naturally, the cold weather was the perfect excuse to go out and have some delicious hot bowls of ramen. I’d walked past Hakata-Maru Ramen in Chatswood before, and it only caught my eye by chance. It’s located opposite the Chatswood RSL on the ‘wrong side’ of the tracks, on the ground floor of an office building. I think it must be a relatively new branch of Hakata-Maru, joining its sister restaurant in Haymarket in the city.

hakatamaru-02

We went one evening with a few of K’s friends. Crazily enough, they decided to go mini-golfing after dinner…I declined the opportunity to stand around outside playing golf for two hours (!!) and just stayed for dinner instead. Hakata-Maru is a very informal restaurant, so our group of six ended up sitting at one of the high bar-style tables near the entrance. There are proper low tables towards the back of the restaurant for family groups if that suits you better though.

Agedashi Tofu, $5.80

Agedashi Tofu, $5.80

While waiting for the group to arrive, we ordered a few entrees. First was the Agedashi Tofu, battered so deftly to be nearly light as air. The light sprinkling of nori on top really helped to add an extra punch of flavour.

Gyoza, $5.80

Gyoza, $5.80

The crispy-bottomed Gyoza was popular with its thin dumpling skin and savoury juicy pork mix. It had just the right amount of charring and smokiness on the base to give it a little body.

Crumbed Pork Loin, $7.80

Crumbed Pork Loin, $7.80

The Crumbed Pork Loin unfortunately wasn’t as nice as the previous two entrees. While the batter was well herbed and spiced for an extra kick, the pork loin itself was a bit overdone and dry as a result.

Hakata-Maru Tonkotsu (white tonkotsu with spicy miso, garlic oil, seasoned egg and slices of pork), $16.80

Hakata-Maru Tonkotsu (white tonkotsu with spicy miso, garlic oil, seasoned egg and slices of pork), $16.80

I (and a few others) ordered the house special of the Hakata-Maru Tonkotsu. It’s that one item on every menu that’s a bit of a mishmash of everything – and so this bowl of ramen has miso, garlic oil, egg, slices of fatty braised pork, scallions, crunchy fungi…it’s got a bit of everything.

Surprisingly though, I would have thought that this overload of toppings would have made the bowl of ramen too rich and overwhelming, but it still worked really well. The broth was rich and full of flavour, but it didn’t leave that gluggy aftertaste that so many other thick tonkotsu broths do (I’m looking at you Gumshara Ramen).

Kakuni Tonkotsu (White Tonkotsu with braised tender pork belly and garlic oil), $15.80

Kakuni Tonkotsu (white tonkotsu with braised tender pork belly and garlic oil), $15.80

K (and a few others) ordered the Kakuni Tonkotsu, a much simpler tonkotsu ramen that skips the spicy miso flavouring and instead concentrates the flavour in the braised tender pork belly chunks that top the bowl. The pork belly pretty much falls apart with a single touch, and dissolves on your tongue with a richness and depth of flavour that’s simply out of this world.

Hakata-Maru Ramen is a great addition to the Japanese noodle offerings in Chatswood, joining the likes of Marukame Udon (read review). It’ll be interesting to see if they continue to thrive in their little hidden corner of Chatswood when Ippudo opens up in The District, as that will probably become their stiffest competition.

Click to add a blog post for Hakata-Maru Ramen on Zomato


Review: O Crab, Chatswood

Everyone who knows me know that I’m a big fan of seafood. There have been times when my father will order a whole mud crab at a Chinese restaurant for our family, and I’ll end up eating 90% of it because I’m the only one who’s really fanatic about seafood and everyone else can either take it or leave it.

Having driven past an almost-hidden sign for O Crab in Chatswood one weekend, I suggested to K that we visit with a few friends later that same week. Somehow, a larger group dinner turned into a romantic date night for two and K and I ended up going to O Crab alone…oh well, more crab left for me!

ocrab-01

Given that it was a Tuesday night, the restaurant was very quiet with only half the tables full. We had made a reservation just in case, and was amused to see that our names had been scrawled onto the butcher’s paper covering our table for two. We started with some complimentary chips and salsa brought out by the waitress. The salsa was very tasty but very hard to grab with the crunchy corn chips!

ocrab-02

We simply glanced over the menu (I’d done my research online that day!) and quickly put in our order, so that we could get our food just that little bit quicker! As soon as we’d put in our order the waitress asked us one very important question – did we want to go au naturel, or be provided with gloves and a plastic apron for the messy job of eating crab?

I was tempted to go in with bare hands for authenticity’s sake, but recognising that smelling like crab for the next 48 hours would win me no friends at work, I regretfully opted for the gloves and apron. At least you get a little hammer to break open your crab!

Sixpoint resin beer ($11) and Coke Zero ($5)

Sixpoint resin beer ($11) and Coke Zero ($5)

But first, the drinks! I just had a simple Coke Zero, but K ordered one of the specialty beers that O Crab offers. They brand themselves as a boutique beer destination, offering hard-to-find craft beers from local and international small breweries. Note though, that some beers that may be listed may not actually be available on the night that you go. K’s first two beer choices had sold out, and he had to go for his Plan C – Sixpoint Resin beer from Brooklyn in the United States. Apparently it’s quite heavy on the palate, so perhaps not one to choose if you want a more drinkable light beer.

Tempura Calamari seasoned with old bay with chilli mayo ($12)

Tempura Calamari seasoned with old bay with chilli mayo ($12)

There’s a few different entrees available, but we chose the tempura calamari. Though it comes with a dipping sauce of chilli mayo on the side, you almost don’t need that extra burst of flavour. The tempura batter is liberally seasoned with O Crab’s house ‘old bay’ seasoning, which is deliciously reminiscent of old-style salt and pepper seasoning. The calamari itself is perfectly cooked as well, without the chewy texture that characterises over-cooked squid.

O Crab Roll - creamy O Crab Salad on a bed of lettuce in a fresh bread roll ($12)

O Crab Roll – creamy O Crab Salad on a bed of lettuce in a fresh bread roll ($12)

My next choice was the O Crab Roll – and I managed to convince myself that this was our salad course as it was advertised as O Crab’s House Salad in a bread roll. I mean, who cares if their house salad doesn’t have quite as many greens as one would expect with a salad, just take it at face value. A creamy, retro style salad with chunks of sweet pineapple, sprinkled with a few chunks of crab…it’s pretty delicious, and all on a crunchy crispy Vietnamese-style banh mi roll.

ocrab-06

We ordered two serves of seafood in different sauces, and they both come out to the table in big steaming plastic bags. This is where the plastic gloves and apron comes in handy!

Snow crab cluster ($29) with Cajun seasoning

Snow crab cluster ($29) with Cajun seasoning

O Crab offers four different types of crab, and we choose the Snow Crab Cluster with Cajun seasoning. Other options include blue swimmer crabs, king crab legs, or mud crabs with a variety of other seasonings – Original Old Bay, garlic butter, Justin’s special chilli or steamed natural. This Cajun seasoning was absolutely out of this world delicious – equal parts smoky and spicy, though the only pity is that the seasoning doesn’t really permeate through to the crab meat. You find yourself sucking the spice mix off the hard crab shell, before smashing the shell with your hammer to get through to the plainer crab meat inside.

300gm prawns ($18) with garlic butter

300gm prawns ($18) with garlic butter

That wasn’t an issue with our second order though – large prawns cooked in rich and fragrant garlic butter. You could smell this garlic butter from a mile away, and it had most definitely done its job in soaking through to the prawn meat. My only regret is not upgrading to 500gms of prawns instead of 300gms – it only costs an additional $7, and we would have gotten more than four or five prawns each.

Jason's ultimate brownie with vanilla ice-cream and drenched in butterscotch ($12)

Jason’s ultimate brownie with vanilla ice-cream and drenched in butterscotch ($12)

At this point we were feeling quite comfortable – not full to bursting, but comfortably full. We toyed with the idea of ordering another entree to help fill up a little bit, but then opted to order two desserts instead rather than sharing a single dessert the way we normally do. K chose Jason’s ultimate brownie, which proved to be very dense almost like a gluten-free brownie. The butterscotch sauce drizzled over the top was probably the highlight here.

PB & J Waffles topped with strawberry jam and crunchy peanut butter vanilla icecream ($12)

PB & J Waffles topped with strawberry jam and crunchy peanut butter vanilla icecream ($12)

But ladies and gentlemen, this was the dish of the evening. PB & J Waffles topped with jam and peanut butter ice-cream – you cannot top this dish. The waffles were so crispy on the outside, but still doughy on the inside. The melted jam syrup combined with the crunchy parts of the creamy ice-cream were extremely on point. Basically everything that’s awesome in a peanut butter and jam sandwich is heightened when you translate those same flavours to a waffle. My night was made.

There were a few dishes on the menu that unfortunately we just couldn’t fit in. I’m really keen to go back to O Crab and try dishes like the seafood chowder which is served in a bread bowl, or even the OCrabby Patty Burger which sounds suspiciously like the iconic burger place in the TV show Spongebob Squarepants. We’ll definitely be back!

Click to add a blog post for O Crab Sydney on Zomato


Review: The Tea Cosy, The Rocks Sydney

Ten years ago, I came up to Sydney on a visit from Melbourne and spent a Sunday traipsing around town with three friends that I knew through various online forums. While we had all kept in touch in various degrees over the years, with one of them even attending my wedding last year, we hadn’t managed to all get together for ten years despite the fact that we all now live in the same city. Enough was enough, and given that I won’t be living in Sydney from September onwards, I decided that we were all four of us well overdue for a catch-up and thus organised a high tea lunch at The Tea Cosy in The Rocks.

teacosy-01

The tearooms are a little hard to find as it’s well hidden behind a shopfront of a store selling Celtic goods. Once you walk in and through the hallway though, you find yourself in a little back kitchen area with an outdoor courtyard. The Tea Cosy are famous for their scones, and they regularly update their board with announcements of when the latest batch was baked so you can be sure of freshly baked scones throughout the day.

teacosy-02

We’ve made a reservation for a full high tea though, so we’re shown upstairs to their formal dining room rather than sitting in the courtyard with the walk-ins. As you walk up the rickety old staircase, you see teapots arranged on every step all dressed in unique hand-knitted cosies. Designs range from elegant embroided floral designs to elaborate cartoonish teddy bears. They’re all available for purchase as well, so if one particularly strikes your fancy you can buy it and take it home.

teacosy-03

The chinaware is particularly delicate and delightful, and I get the feeling that all the pieces have been thrifted over the years from granny collections that have been donated to opshops. At our table of four, we have four different sets of chinaware, and I see that the tableware elsewhere in the room is mismatched as well. It’s very quaint, and just that little bit whimsical in its mismatchedness.

After quite a wait, our tea orders are finally taken. The lag in service is largely due to the fact that our waitress for the day is brand new and still training, so some allowance must be made for that. However when you’re both hungry and thirsty, having to wait half an hour for your tea and your food seems an awful hardship. When my Turkish Apple Hot Herbal Tea arrived in its little tea cosy, I find myself surprised by how sweet the tea is and it tastes more like a hot drinkable dessert than a refreshing cup of tea. It’s a tea that you will want to order at the end of a meal, not one to be ordered at the start of a meal.

teacosy-04

The still-warm freshly baked scones came out in a little basket – two per person. I had a plain scone and a fruit scone, and there were also spiced cinnamon scones. All three varieties had the essential elements of a perfect scone – a tad hard on the outside, crumbly and light on the inside, buttery and rich. The plain scones were definitely superior to the fruit scones though, and were a lot lighter and fluffier.

teacosy-05

And here comes the full high-tea stand! I always get a little bit of a thrill whenever a fancy tiered stand of delicious high tea goodies like this comes out to the table, as there’s just so many goodies to try!

teacosy-06

The top tier was just made up of jams and cream for the scones so it wasn’t terribly exciting. Apparently the fig and ginger jam was excellent, though I didn’t try it as I stuck with the traditional strawberry jam and cream on my plain scone. I did try the triple berry jam on the fruit scone though, which went quite well.

teacosy-07

The second tier was made up of an assortment of little sweet pastries. The waitress didn’t specify whether or not they were homemade, so I have a sneaky suspicion that they may have been outsourced as the kitchen didn’t look quite large enough to churn out pastries like this as well as scones and sandwiches. The lemon meringue tart was probably a highlight (light and aerated sweet meringue with a really tart lemon curd), but none of the others were very memorable.

teacosy-08

The ribbon sandwiches were surprisingly fresh. Quite often, high tea sandwiches suffer from the slightly stale dried-out edges of crust-less bread that’s been sitting out for too long. The Tea Cosy’s sandwiches were actually fresh though, with a mix of simple fillings that suits all tastes. I like the elegant simplicity of the cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, but others may prefer the more daring flavours of the curried egg and tomato.

teacosy-09

Each high tea package comes with the option to order two drinks off the menu free of charge. Unfortunately our waitress-in-training was a bit harried that afternoon learning how to look after a few large tables and we found ourselves waiting quite a while to order our second drinks…at which point we were abruptly informed that we only had fifteen minutes left of the two hour booking meaning that we would need to gulp down our drinks quickly. If only we had gotten our drinks when we wanted them we could have had a full half hour to enjoy them.

teacosy-10

Still, my Mint and Blackberry Iced Tea served with Frozen Berries proved to be a nice and refreshing palate-cleansing tea – the type of tea that would have served well if I had ordered it as my first drink. That’s one recommendation for you if you decide to have the high tea at the Tea Cosy – order an iced tea as your first drink, and a hot herbal tea as your second!

teacosy-11

A full high tea at the Tea Cosy isn’t something I’d rush back for. The little sweet pastries didn’t grab my attention and while the sandwiches were nice, they’re still a sandwich at the end of the day! Those scones are another matter though, and well worth a second visit. I think I’ll go back to have a simpler Devonshire Tea – two scones with a cup of tea for only $14, instead of the $35 for the full high tea.

Click to add a blog post for The Tea Cosy on Zomato