Review: Mappen, Bondi Junction

Three years ago when the photos on this blog were still very obviously taken by an amateur on an iPhone (now they’re taken by an amateur with a fancy camera), I reviewed Menya Mappen in the city – a Japanese cafeteria-esque noodle bar. I’ve been back to Menya multiple times since I wrote that entry, and still enjoy every visit – so imagine my excitement when I was invited to try Mappen in Bondi Junction.

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Mappen Bondi been created along the same lines as Menya Mappen and its other sister restaurants – Oiden and Tenkomori (?). Simple, cafeteria style self-service set up, authentic simple Japanese food, for a reasonable price. It’s the first of the chain to break out of the city, and Bondi seems to be the right choice as its first non-city location. The restaurant was booming while we were there, and at times, there was even a wait for tables.

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K and I met up with Yuri from SD Marketing Global, who was there to show us around and guide us through Mappen’s menu. The Bondi site is much larger than the other sites in the city, and its size is also reflected in the menu. Unlike Menya which focuses on udon, Oiden which focuses on donburi, and Tenkomori which focuses on ramen, Mappen Bondi has taken advantage of the larger kitchen and restaurant capacity and combined all three menus into one. This means that you have the choice of udon, donburi or ramen – particularly beneficial for larger groups with picky eaters.

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Guided by Yuri’s recommendations, K chose a donburi set, and I chose a ramen. The servers behind the counter quickly began to make up our dishes. The ramen was quick and easy as most of the ingredients are preprepared and it was just a matter of putting the whole dish together. There are little efficiencies in the kitchen as well – the white machine shown in the photo for example, dispenses the perfect amount of rice into a bowl when you press a button.  Don’t you just love Japanese gadgetry?

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K’s donburi set did take a little bit longer as he chose the wagyu. The strips of wagyu were first spiced and lightly cooked on a piece of foil, before being finished off directly on the grill. This takes about five minutes.

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Taking our completed main meals, we slid our trays along the cafeteria line to the tempura! The Panko batter looked incredibly crispy and crunchy, and most of the items seemed quite fresh. Staff were replenishing the fried foods display while we were looking, so the turnover is quite quick I think. We also made a quick stop at the little mini fridge for some salad and some dessert to round off our meal.

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The staff tote up your total and upon paying the bill, you move onto the condiments cart, where you can finish off your meal with things like a little tub of hot tempura dipping sauce for your tempura, or shallots for your noodles.

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My choice of the Pork Kimchi Tonkotsu Ramen ($8.90 for a regular, $10.50 for a large) was simply inspired (thanks Yuri!). Normally I probably wouldn’t choose this, dismissing it as it seems somewhat more Korean than Japanese. The spicy kimchi went incredibly well with the thick rich tonkotsu stock though, giving it a little bit of a kick. The ramen was lovely and chewy as well, rather than the soft limp ramen you might find elsewhere.

Also pictured: Prawn Tempura, Fish Cake Tempura, Takoyaki and Daifuku. The tempura was lovely and still crispy and crunchy. The prawn was probably nicer than the fish cake though, which is very much an acquired taste. The takoyaki was a little more disappointing as it was quite soft. I think takoyaki is definitely the type of thing that is best eaten when still fresh off the pan, as it loses something when it’s been sitting under heat lamps for any more than five minutes.

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A close up! The Ontama (half boiled egg) on top was extra. Doesn’t it look beautiful?

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K’s BBQ Wagyu Beef Donburi Set ($12.90 for a regular, $15.90 for a Deluxe) was topped with the tender marinated grilled wagyu beef, as well as thinly sliced cabbage. It’s an incredibly filling meal, especially as he got the “Additional A Set” which can be ordered with any donburi – a mini udon and a mini salad for an additional $2.90. I was a big fan of the udon – it’s only a small serving, but the broth is clear and deliciously salty, and the added fresh shallots really top it off.

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Close-up – doesn’t the wagyu look delicious? I have to admit, I stole a few slices off his bowl!

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If you’re not in the mood for a full meal, you could always just stop in for a drink and a snack! Mappen has a special deal whereby if you buy one of the beers on the menu (Sapporo and Orion), you can add a little snack on the side for only a few dollars. Add three gyoza for only $3, or a serve of either hot chips or edamame beans for only $1.50. The only thing wrong with this deal is that the gyoza are so more-ish that you’ll find yourself wanting to order another serve!

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We finished off our meal with a Sakura Daifuku and a Sesame Daifuku. Yuri recommended the Sakura Daifuku as quite a traditional dessert, but I have to admit that I was a little hesitant at first. I’m a big fan of black sesame and red bean so I really loved the Sesame Daifuku (chewy, but not too chewy, sweet, but not too sweet), but the concept of actually eating the cherry blossoms that are mixed into Sakura Daifuku was challenging! I think I’ll stick with my preferred Sesame Daifuku next time.

Thank you Yuri for inviting K and I to try Mappen Bondi. We’re such fans of Menya, Oiden and Tenkomori that this latest addition to the chain will no doubt become a new favourite every time we visit Bondi!

Mappen on Urbanspoon

Gourmanda was invited to this event as a guest of SD Marketing Global. All photos and words are her own.


Review: Catalina Restaurant, Rose Bay

I have the best friends ever. Stop number three on our Wedding Present Dining List was Catalina Restaurant in Rose Bay, courtesy of my friend Jake who I’ve known since we were pimply twelve-year-olds sitting in class in our first year of high school, and his partner Emma. There’s something wonderful about lifelong friends like that who you can call upon out of the blue and know that they’ll be there with you.

The Red Balloon restaurant voucher that they gifted to K and I for our wedding last year was simply described as “Dinner for Two at a Hatted Restaurant on the Water”, so we weren’t sure what to expect – imagine our delight when we realised it was Catalina!

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K and I show up after work on a Friday night after booking online a few weeks earlier. The service at Catalina is impressive – we received two calls to confirm our booking, one directly after booking online, and the other a week beforehand to confirm that we were still going ahead with out booking.

The restaurant itself is really impressive as well – situated near the Rose Bay pier on stilts, it is quite literally on the water with amazing views across to the city and across the bay.

Ruby Raspberry mocktail (Raspberries shaken with rhubarb bitters, pink grapefruit juice, topped with lemonade), $12 and a classic mojito, $24

Ruby Raspberry mocktail (Raspberries shaken with rhubarb bitters, pink grapefruit juice, topped with lemonade), $12 and a classic mojito, $24

Lucky enough to be seated on some prime seats right on the balcony with a great view across the water, K and I both slip on some sunglasses to deal with the late afternoon glare of the sun. It’s some short term pain for some long term gain though – as the sun sets over the first hour that we’re there, we’re treated to some wonderful pink-purple sunset skies over the Sydney skyline.

We order some drinks to enjoy in the sun as well – a Ruby Raspberry mocktail for me (a bit fruity, a bit fizzy, a lot tasty) and a Classic Mojito for K, one of his favourite cocktails.

Catalina house-smoked salmon, soft boiled duck egg, truffle mayonnaise and brioche

Catalina house-smoked salmon, soft boiled duck egg, truffle mayonnaise and brioche

If you go to Catalina with a Red Balloon dining voucher, you’re presented with a separate menu with a slightly smaller selection to what you would normally receive as a normal diner. Having said that, I compared both options and the Red Balloon menu omits only two or three of the pricier entrees, and the same for mains and desserts, so it’s not as though you’re lacking for menu options!

K chose to start with the Catalina House-Smoked Salmon with a beautifully presented soft-boiled duck egg that slowly oozed its yolk over the soft toasted brioche. It’s a simple but really effective dish, with all the elements combining for a brunch-esque treat.

Crispy skin pork belly with pan seared sea scallops, lemon emulsion, chorizo, cuttlefish and piquillo pepper cous cous

Crispy skin pork belly with pan seared sea scallops, lemon emulsion, chorizo, cuttlefish and piquillo pepper cous cous

My choice of the Crispy Pork Belly with seared scallops was absolutely heavenly. The crackling on the pork was superb – crunchy and salty with that wonderful stickiness that allows it to stick to your teeth as you chew. The scallops were wonderfully plump and juicy, with a sticky caramelised glaze sealed in by the flash searing. With the little salsa on the side, it simply couldn’t be beat.

Crispy skin Cone Bay barramundi with spanner crab parcel, enoki mushroom, sage and eschalot cream

Crispy skin Cone Bay barramundi with spanner crab parcel, enoki mushroom, sage and eschalot cream

K and I decided to share the two mains equally as we found it hard to choose between the different main options and wanted to try a bit of everything! He ordered the Crispy Skin Barramundi which came served with a spanner crab ‘parcel’, enoki mushrooms and an eschalot cream. As lovely as the crispy skin barramundi was, I think it was actually overshadowed by the spanner crab parcel – I’ve never tasted anything quite as delightfully flavoured as this spanner crab, and would quite happily eat a whole dish just of the spanner crab mix, perhaps included in a creamy risotto!

Herb and parmesan crusted Junee lamb rack, mint yoghurt, soy beans, preserved lemon and olive crumbs

Herb and parmesan crusted Junee lamb rack, mint yoghurt, soy beans, preserved lemon and olive crumbs

My choice of main was the Junee Lamb Rack – an unusual choice for me as I don’t often opt for red meat mains as I like my meat cooked to within an inch of its life and most waiters and kitchens will laugh at me when I order my steaks ‘well done’! I was really pleased with the way the lamb was cooked though – while it was still a little bit pink inside, it was mostly cooked through while still being quite tender. With the mint yoghurt and the preserved lemon peel, it was a wonderful lamb dish that I would definitely order again.

Mixed salad leaves with palm sugar dressing and chips

Mixed salad leaves with palm sugar dressing and chips

The Red Balloon dining offer also came with two sides to share. We chose a bowl of thick and crispy chips and a mixed salad with palm sugar dressing to share – a mix of healthy greens and unhealthy deep-fried goodness! The salad was a little overdressed, but the chips were fantastic – I almost finished the whole bowl by myself.

Classic lemon tart with mascarpone

Classic lemon tart with mascarpone

For dessert, K chose to have a classic Lemon Tart with Mascarpone – as you can tell from his choice of a classic mojito and a classic lemon tart, he’s a man who appreciates traditional favourites! This was a fantastic choice though – the pastry was buttery and crumbly, the lemon curd was tart, and the creamy mascarpone helped to soften the tartness.

Caramel-centred dark chocolate mousse, feuilletine crumble, valrhona milk chocolate ice-cream

Caramel-centred dark chocolate mousse, feuilletine crumble, valrhona milk chocolate ice-cream

My Dark Chocolate Mousse was despite the amount of chocolate and caramel used in the dessert, surprisingly more-ish and light on the palate without the sickly sticky sweetness that can ruin a dessert. I particularly enjoyed the smooth and creamy Valrhona chocolate ice-cream (which quickly melted, so eat it quickly!) and the caramel centre of the mousse log.

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As the sun set over the Sydney skyline, the stars began to come out, the Catalina crowd began to thin out, and K and I started thinking about our trip over the Harbour Bridge back home to the North Shore. We don’t often make the effort to visit the Eastern Suburbs for a meal, so I’m glad that Jake and Emma’s gift of a Red Balloon voucher allowed us to escape the familiarity of our usual neighbourhood haunts and introduce us to a fantastic restaurant in a new area.

Catalina Rose Bay is a fantastic experience with a great view – quite affordable for a hatted dining experience! I highly recommend gifting vouchers for a meal at Catalina as a special dining experience for your loved ones.

Catalina on Urbanspoon


Review: Yok Yor, Haymarket

Confession – I’ve never really been a fan of Thai food. I admit that it’s somewhat ignorant to dismiss an entire country’s cuisine out of hand, but generally speaking, the stronger, hotter, sourer flavours of Thai cuisine when compared to say, Vietnamese or Japanese cuisine, is really challenging for me.

However, never say never! Every couple of months I do make the effort to give myself a second, third, fourth chance at enjoying Thai food. After all, it’s not completely out of the realm of reality that my taste may change. My most recent attempt at Thai food was at Yok Yor in Haymarket.

Lychee ice blended and Lime ice blended ($4 each)

Lychee ice blended and Lime ice blended ($4 each)

Given the humidity of the day, I started with a Lychee Ice Blended drink, while K ordered a Lime Ice Blended drink. At only $4 each, they were quite reasonably priced and were very refreshing and more-ish. I was surprised by how satisfying fruity they were – Yok Yor don’t skimp on the fruit blend in favour of using more ice and sugar syrup!

Kao Pad Scallop (Rich and tasty fried rice of scallop with XO sauce, garlic stem and celery), $12.90

Kao Pad Scallop (Rich and tasty fried rice of scallop with XO sauce, garlic stem and celery), $12.90

Looking around us at what other tables were ordering and the size of the meals, we decided to order three dishes to share. Our first option was a Kao Pla Scallop – rice stir-fried with scallops in a spicy XO sauce. This was absolutely delicious, especially with a little bit of lime squeezed over the top. If I have one gripe, it’s that I would have liked for there to be more scallops included, but there was a good amount of fresh, plump, seared scallops for the price that we paid.

Sier Rong Hai (North Eastern Thai grilled marinated sirloin beef served with Nahm Jim Jeaw), $10.90

Sier Rong Hai (North Eastern Thai grilled marinated sirloin beef served with Nahm Jim Jeaw), $10.90

The second dish we ordered as the Sier Rong Hai – marinated and grilled beef strips served with a spicy soy dipping sauce. The beef actually didn’t need the dipping sauce on the side, as it had clearly been marinated for a lengthy amount of time, with an aromatic tenderness that made it a real standout. The only issue is that we didn’t get enough of it – there was barely a small steak’s worth of beef on the plate, and we each had only a few slices. This was definitely the kind of dish that would have benefited from being more generous with their serving sizes.

Som Tum Lao (papaya salad with salted crab, fermented fish, eggplant, dried chillis), $9.50

Som Tum Lao (papaya salad with salted crab, fermented fish, eggplant, dried chillis), $9.50

Yok Yor have a number of different papaya salads on the menu – it seems to be one of their specialities. In the mood for something with a bit of a flavour explosion, we opted for the Som Tum Lao with salted crab, fermented fish, eggplant and dried chillies. Stupidly, when the waitress asked me how hot we would like the dish to be, I said ”Oh…maybe medium?”

To be fair, I am generally very good with spicy food – where others around me might start sweating and gulping down water, I can casually continue eating. This was not one of those times. My mouth was set on fire as soon as I took a single bite of this dish, and every subsequent bite brought tears to my eyes and elicited chilli-induced hallucinations. Even trying to eat it with plain white rice and sips of my ice-blended drink wasn’t enough to temper the spiciness of this dish.

I think the inclusion of the dried chillis probably didn’t help, increasing the spiciness of this dish from a Medium level of hotness to a High level. I’ve learned my lesson for next time – order the plainest version of papaya salad without additional dried chillis, and ask for it to have no heat. Unfortunately, this dish was just a bit too torturous to be entirely enjoyable.

Banana fritters, approx $7

Banana fritters, approx $7

Dessert makes everything better though, and K was insistent that we order Yok Yor’s Banana Fritters after seeing them delivered to an adjacent table. This was a great choice – the batter was ultra-crispy and flavourful with bursts of fresh sesame seeds making all the difference. They use the smaller sweeter bananas as well, the ones that actually have a really strong banana flavour when compared to the blander Cavendish bananas.

Mango and sticky rice, $6.90

Mango and sticky rice, $6.90

My dessert choice was the Fresh Mango with Sticky Rice – a bit of a South-East Asian classic. I was really happy with this choice – the mango was firm but juicy, and the rice was really creamy, having been cooked with coconut milk. It’s a simple dessert, but combines two of my favourite food ingredients – fresh tropical fruits and coconut.

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All around, Yok Yor was an enjoyable Thai food experience that was unfortunately marred with actual physical pain brought on by a self-inflicted chilli high. I’ve learned my lesson for the next time I visit a Thai restaurant…which may be a little sooner than my usual quarterly visit! I’d like to come back to Yok Yor at some point, and try a more palate-friendly papaya salad.

Yok Yor on Urbanspoon