Review: Wakana Yakiniku, Artarmon

I don’t know what your family’s Christmas traditions are, but my family’s holiday traditions generally involve complaining heavily because no shops or restaurants are open. Coming from a background where there’s really no such thing as a ‘day off’ (Hong Kong never sleeps!), Dad still finds it confusing that restaurants don’t open on public holidays. Inevitably it just means that we’ll go out to a Chinese restaurant for lunch or dinner on Christmas and Easter as they’re always open.

This past Christmas, my younger brother flew up to Sydney to stay with me and K for a few days. On Christmas Eve, after a long exhausting day spent exploring Taronga Zoo, we needed a quick dinner out, stat! After calling a few places to check if they were open, we ended up at Wakana Yakiniku in Artarmon.

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Rather than spend time deliberating over the menu and trying to decide what type of meat to order, we made it easy on ourselves and ordered the set menus which included salad, rice, miso soup and a dessert. We ordered one “Sea Side” set menu (wagyu beef and assorted seafood, $37 per person) and two “Grass Lands” set menus (oz beef and chicken, $27 per person).

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The Wagyu was beautifully marbled, and we wasted no time getting the meat on the grill! The chicken (marinated in a green pesto-esque sauce) and Aussie beef came out quickly as well, and was supremely fresh and delectable once cooked.

The self-service nature of a BBQ restaurant was quite new for my younger brother, and he found it quite a fun experience. What I enjoy about it is that you have such control over what you eat – for instance, I like my steak well done, and K likes his steak medium rare – this way, we can cook the meat ourselves to our own standards!

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The small selection of seafood we received was also amazingly fresh and didn’t have that ‘day-old’ seafood smell that you can often get. With a good selection of fish, squid, scallops and prawns, K and I gorged ourselves!

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For the dessert on the set menu, you could choose between black sesame, green tea, or vanilla ice-cream. I have a love affair with black sesame so that’s what I chose – and I couldn’t have been happier with the rich, sweet, but slightly bitter flavour of the fragrant black sesame. One of the best versions of black sesame ice-cream I’ve had in Australia!

Overall, I rate Wakana Yakiniku an 8 out of 10. Their ingredients are superbly fresh, even on Christmas Eve, a day before a public holiday. Their set menus are quite good value, but I would recommend choosing one “Sea Side” and one “Grass Lands” if you were to go and dine as a pair, as that will give you a bit more variety at a better price. Don’t forget to order the black sesame ice-cream when you’re there!

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Review: Ryo’s, Crows Nest

Even before I moved to Sydney two and a half years ago, I knew that Ryo’s was the place to be if you wanted good ramen. The small and unassuming restaurant next to North Sydney Boys High School has a constant line of customers waiting outside patiently for their fix of sweet sweet ramen.

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Not one minute after we joined the line late one night, the waitress comes out and tells us that we’re their last customers of the night, and asked us to turn away anyone else who tried to line up behind us. We ended up breaking the hearts of at least five other groups of hopeful diners, all the while gloating that we just made it into the line in time!

Ramen in soy sauce flavoured soup with roast pork, nori, egg and shallots, $13.50
Ramen in soy sauce flavoured soup with roast pork, nori, egg and shallots, $13.50

My brother orders a classic ramen in soy sauce flavoured rich broth topped with gorgeous anime-esque swirly fish cakes (kamoboko). With the soft boiled egg, bamoboko and crispy sheet of nori, the bowl looked like something right out of the cute Japanese cartoons that I used to watch as a kid – and tasted just as good!

Ramen in spicy hot flavoured soup with roast pork, egg and shallots, $13.50
Ramen in spicy hot flavoured soup with roast pork, egg and shallots, $13.50

After a mouth-burning experience, I decided to order ramen in ‘spicy hot’ soup for something a little more challenging – and even took the step of adding extra chilli. A boxful of nose-sweat soaked tissues later, I think I challenged myself sufficiently! While the soup doesn’t have that initial chilli burn, it does linger and stay with you – you might not actually feel the full effects until ten minutes after you finish the meal!

As for the rest of the dish, the noodles had that great al dente bite to them on the initial taste, and they slowly softened the longer I spent on the meal. The crunch of the sesame seeds added a nice texture to the meal as well, and the pork was lovely and tender.

Limited offer special fish soup ramen, $14 (approx)
Limited offer special fish soup ramen, $14 (approx)

K ordered a special dish that’s not normally seen on the menu – ramen with pork, egg and nori in a fish-based soup. The soup was absolutely amazing – chock full with the strong, pungent flavours of fish and shellfish. As something a bit different to Ryo’s usual meat-based stocks, it’s a nice change of pace but with the same great toppings.

Homemade pork bun, $4.50 each
Homemade pork bun, $4.50 each

We also ordered something that was new to the menu – Ryo’s own homemade pork buns. While the buns didn’t have the same soft white fluffy consistency of the buns you get at a Chinese yum cha restaurant, this had a great chewy texture. Most importantly though, the bun hid within it the softest and tenderest pulled pork filling – the type that brings tears to your eyes with pure unadulterated joy.

Soft shell crab, approx $9 (?)
Soft shell crab, approx $9 (?)

We finished the meal with a serve of the soft shell crab – wonderfully crispy and crunchy on its own with an amazing crab flavour. When dunked in the remnants of ramen broth, it takes on an extra dimension of flavour which quite transforms it to something special.

Overall, I rate Ryo’s a 9 out of 10 – I’ve always enjoyed all the meals I’ve had at Ryo’s and am always guaranteed to walk away with a satisfied smile on my face, like the cat who got the cream. For a great price, you’ll get a great meal.

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Review: St. Malo’s Bakery, Crows Nest

On one of my rare lunch outings on a week day, I went with my colleagues Sarojini and Kate to St Malo’s Bakery in Crows Nest, just up the street from where we work. Though it’s really the only gourmet bakery in popular Crows Nest, it’s interesting that it’s not as popular as the more generic cafes in the area. There’s definitely some potential here to increase their profile with the local workers!

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The inside is done up in wood tables and ironwork furniture. With fresh flowers on the table, fresh artisan bread loaves behind the counter, and a small sunlit courtyard out the back (only large enough for a table of eight), everything about the decor screams quaint, rustic and homely.

As it was a beautiful sunny day outside, we went in and deliberated over our order for a good ten minutes (high five to the wait staff for their patience!) before making our way outside to a table where we could watch the world go by and people-watch to our hearts content.

Mango Smoothie, $6.50
Mango Smoothie, $6.50

Sarojini ordered a mango smoothie, and reported it as being smooth, creamy and fruity, without the icy particles that can sometimes be in lesser smoothies. There were lots of other fruity smoothies on the menu as well, which I saw other diners enjoying on the hot day.

Pineapple and Mint Frappe, $6.50
Pineapple and Mint Frappe, $6.50

I ordered a pineapple and mint frappe rather than a smoothie, as I’m trying to reduce my dairy intake due to general bodily discomfort after having lactose. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I’m lactose-intolerant (a world without ice-cream? Nooooooo!), but I would probably do well to reduce dairy consumption where possible. Having fresh and delicious options like this frappe definitely makes this choice a lot easier!

Vegetable Frittata
Vegetable Frittata

As a vegetarian, Saroijini can find it difficult to find tasty options on a menu, without being reduced to order plain salads. This vegetable frittata hit the spot though, with vibrant colours, good flavours, and a good mix of vegetables including artistically layered spinach at the base.

Chicken Salad Sandwich
Chicken Salad Sandwich

Kate ordered a shredded chicken salad sandwich on one of the healthiest multi-grain loaves I’ve ever seen. Luckily, it was also apparently one of the tastiest loaves ever as well!

Quiche Lorraine with Prosciutto Side Salad, $10
Quiche Lorraine with Prosciutto Side Salad, $10

I splurged and got a quiche lorraine with a side salad. The quiche was deliciously cheesy with a great amount of bacon in a deliciously flaky and buttery pastry. Very decadent for a lunch, so I’m glad that I ordered the side salad as well which was very simply dressed with a vinaigrette, but it definitely made me feel virtuous.

Overall, I rate St Malo’s Bakery a 7 out of 10 – while their range is small, the baked goods they do are excellent and it’s certainly good to have a good quality cafe in the Crows Nest region.

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