Dinner @ Nel Restaurant (Sydney, Australia)

August 30, 2020 in Australian, European by thywhaleliciousfay

I was doing my usual surfing on instagram when I came across the post by Nel Restaurant with the caption ‘It’s back! The second chapter of once upon a time returns from 4 August. Urban List Sydney has said it might just be the happiest degustation on earth. And don’t we all need a bit of happiness this year.’

Interested, I did some research and realised the Disney-inspired menu was first launched last year. No wonder this year’s menu had a ‘Chapter 2′ in it! I guess one could say this year’s is like a sequel to last year’s!

It was definitely a “wow” moment to arrive at the restaurant and be welcomed by the gorgeous, magical entrance. Located in the basement, I honestly thought it was an ingenious idea that they dolled up the staircase landing just behind the entrance door, before one headed down to the main dining area. Coloured lights were used to create a purple-blue hue. And it was definitely an artistic touch with the overhanging branch because it resulted in a silhouette on the full-height entrance glazing from the backlight.

As I entered through the entrance and went down the stairs, a staff greeted me and checked my reservation details. But I was slightly embarrassed shy when the staff led me to my table. “Front row seat”, the staff said. I definitely appreciated the thought that went into the assigning of my table. I could tell that they equally welcomed solo diners just by the restaurant’s mere gesture of not tucking me away at a corner table. Thank you!

After settling down, the staff gave me a quick introduction of the degustation menu. I opted to order my wine by the glass instead of going for the pairing, and went with the additional caviar for my fish dish. And shortly after, I commenced my ‘Once Upon a Time – Chapter 2′ menu, AUD135 with:-


  

1) Eat me (above) – Alice in Wonderland. The staff elaborated the dish was inspired when Alice went down the rabbit hole. But in place of many potions, the kitchen have popping candy within the snack instead. Cool! On the cookie/biscuit were the words ‘eat me’ although only the ‘me’ was readable. And within the cookie was filling made with parmesan cheese, chive, finger lime and… Just a little popping candy.


2) Dragon fire (above) – Mulan (and her fire dragon). This dish came with the charcoal lit, but the fire died once it was placed on my table. I noticed the staff would torch the charcoal at the kitchen. Maybe they should consider lighting the charcoal only at the customer’s table? But no surprise that the pork-chicken dumpling was a hot dish. Served alongside a lime dipping sauce.


3) Runaway to the circus (above) – Dumbo. Deboned chicken wing on a bed of peanuts, in a Dumbo cup.


4) You shall go the ball (above) – Cinderella. Pumpkin brioche served in a pumpkin! “Here you go, Cinderella”, the waiter said as he placed the huge pumpkin onto the table before removing the lid to reveal the bread within. And I liked that bread was still warm.

5) Bambi + Thumper (above) – Bambi. Venison carpaccio served with, mushroom, sorrel, fried forest leaves and rabbit croquette.


6) Steal from the rich, give to the poor (above) – Robin Hood. This was really cool. The staff poured the mushroom broth into the bowl of alfalfa sprouts, potato, onion and golden jelly. Oh yes. Golden jelly. Not sure what it was exactly, but the jelly melted upon contact with the warm broth, and the broth became this really gold-shimmery soup.

7) Just keep swimming (above) – Finding Dory. Pan-fried John dory with fennel and soy protein foam (to look like ocean). And of course, a spoonful of caviar (additional AUD18)!

8) Donald a paris comprised of:

  

(A) Part 1 (above) – Donald Duck. The staff humourously said “Although it’s served on a foot, it’s meant to be a finger food.” And I enjoyed the ball of duck confit.

(B) Part 2 (above) – Was told that the duck was dry aged for 7 days before it’s roasted and pan-seared. Served with potato galette, carrot and duck broth. This was really good.


9) Melted snowman (above) – Frozen. Black garlic ice cream and rum baba beneath yogurt, topped with a carrot nose and iced eyes. How cute! And really good too.


11) Roses are red, beasts are blue (above) – Beauty & the Beast. Rose lychee cake with dried rose petals. And for a dramatic effect, the rose petals with dry ice were dropped from a height. And I must say… It was a tad too dramatic. Normally, most would drop these from the customer’s eye level. But the really tall waiter dropped it from at least his chest level. So when these hit my plate, some bounced off and landed onto the table… And yes, on me too. But that aside, this was a really good dessert.


12) Imagination (above) – Peter Pan. Blueberry cheese custard tart.

It was definitely a fun meal! And the restaurant helped to set the mood by playing the various Disney movies’ theme songs. Which got customers to hum and even sing along to the chorus. I didn’t recognise all of the songs though. Maybe it’s time to get Disney Plus to re-familarise myself with all my childhood movies? Keke.

  

Bill was presented in yet another book. “Final chapter”, the staff said. How cute. And yes, we were also given a sachet of Australian grown tea leaves (daintree black tea, strawberry gum, lemon myrtle and wattleseed)!

Would I recommend Nel Restaurant? Oh yes, I would. But do note that the ‘Once Upon a Time – Chapter 2′ meny is only offered from 4 August to 7 November before chef-owner Nelly Robinson updates the menu! Apparently the restaurant does these themed menu, with the theme changing every 10 weeks.

NEL RESTAURANT
75 Wentworth Avenue, Sydney, NSW, Australia
+61 2 9212 2206, Website
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Tues – Sat : 17:15 – 21:30
Ambience: 8
Value: 8
Service: 7
* Closed on Mon & Sun
** Hours are post-COVID lockdown, and may change when normality resumes.

Dinner @ Osaka Bar (Sydney, Australia)

August 22, 2020 in Japanese by thywhaleliciousfay

Between the 6pm and 8pm seatings, I made reservation for the second seating at Osaka Bar. And on the day of my dinner, I reached at 7.55pm. But I had to wait outside the restaurant with a few other customers till customers from the first seating left. But it wasn’t that long a wait cause we managed to enter at 8.05pm.

We were seated accordingly to our time of arrival. Since there were 3 groups that night and me being the second group to arrive, I was seated in the middle of the L-shaped counter. And once everyone settled down, we commenced our omakase sushi course (16 pieces), AUD100 with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Salmon & bonito sashimi from New Zealand.

2) Dish #2 (above) – Steamed egg (chawanmushi) with sea urchin and salmon roe (ikura). Was surprised to find fish at the bottom since chef-owner Kazu Nakatani didn’t mention it when he was introducing the dish.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Cold simmered dish of bean curd skin, eggplant, bitter gourd and ladyfinger.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Salmon from Tasmania. Grilled with salt and drizzled with lemon juice before served.

At this point, his wife who was also supporting him in Osaka Bar came round and gave us wet towels. And chef Nakatani san told us that we’re entering into the sushi leg of our omakase course. He mentioned we can choose from 9, 12 or 16 pieces. Although I knew I would go for the full course of 16, it’s nice that we didn’t have to make our decisions then. Chef Nakatani san said he will start off with 9 pieces, and check in with us later if we wanted to continue with 12 and then 16.

  

5) Piece #1, #2 (above) – Grouper from Queensland and king prawn. For the former, it was topped with salt while the latter was topped with oil-free mayonnaise and handmade prawn flakes. Now… Some posted on instagram that the king prawn was topped with kimizu sauce (sauce made with yolk and rice vinegar), but I honestly thought I heard mayonnaise. Guess I would verify that in my next visit. Keke.

6) Piece #3 (above) – Roughly chopped miso-marinated yellowtail, mixed with ginger and chives and served on rice.

  
  

7) Piece #4 to #7 (above) – Octopus topped with paste made with shiso leaves, Japanese oil and pine nut, kelp-marinated whiting topped with roasted yuzu sesame, sardine with chives and ginger, and goat fish (that’s what I heard!) topped with roasted sesame sauce.

8) Piece #8 (above) – Sweet prawn (amaebi) topped with homemade sea urchin sauce. And we were told to suck at the prawn head too.

And as we finished our eighth piece, chef Nakatani san checked with us if we wanted to continue on to 12 pieces. We all nodded. Yeah!

  
  

9) Piece #9 to #12 (above) – Osaka-style mackerel, yellow-fin tuna topped with shaved foie gras, oyster topped with finger lime, and cuttlefish with sea urchin and caviar.

The last 4 pieces went past so far. I guess that’s what happen when one is enjoying the food very much. When we were asked if we wanted to go on to 16 pieces, we nodded.

  

10) Piece #13, #14 (above) – Swordfish torched with garlic butter, and scarlet prawn topped with handmade shiso-pesto paste. And for the swordfish sushi, we were asked to eat it within 5 seconds.

11) Piece #15 (above) – King crab on rice.

12) Piece #16 (above) – Salmon roe on rice, served with a sauce from Italy. And we were told (strictly) to mix it well before eating.

13) Dish #5 (above) – Egg omelette (tamago).

14) Dish #6 (above) – Miso soup.

15) Dessert, AUD8 (above) – Yuzu sorbet.

It was a nice dinner. In fact, as I put together this review, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed myself and just booked myself for a return visit! But now, don’t expect refined sushi. I would describe chef Nakatani san’s sushi as… Rough? In a good way of course! I guessed I’m slightly influenced by my impression of chef Nakatani san. He looked really fierce with his beard. So in line with his image, his sushi was… Rough? Hee. Rough and creative! Uh huh… I liked how he made his own homemade sauce to go with some of the fish toppings (neta).

But chef Nakatani san was actually a friendly teddy bear. I loved it when he smiled. And it was a very intimate setting with only 6 customers. So it was pretty easy for the different groups to converse with one another. Again, I took longer to warm up. And before I did, I guess I must have looked really awkward. But chef Nakatani san didn’t allow me to feel left out. He would occasionally smile at me, make conversations with me, and even rope me into the group conversations. How nice of him!

But don’t take his friendliness for granted. He’s serious about his business. One customer got too comfortable and divulged that he actually wanted to make a last minute cancellation (though continuing to say he’s glad he didn’t because he and his partner were having a good time). And that revelation got chef Nakatani san all riled up.

With my cup of (cold) green tea and add-on dessert, my meal came up to AUD116. Would I recommend Osaka Bar? Let’s just say… If actions speak louder than words, I’ve already locked in my next visit. :)

OSAKA BAR
Shop 15, 50 Llankelly Place, Potts Point, Sydney, NSW, Australia
+61 2 9331 1367, Website
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 7
Tues – Sat : 18:00 – 22:00
Ambience: 7
Value: 8
Service: 7
* Closed on Mon & Sun

Dinner @ Sushi Oe (Sydney, Australia)

August 16, 2020 in Japanese by thywhaleliciousfay

What could I say… My quest to eat chef Toshihiko Oe’s sushi hadn’t been easy. But I am so glad I finally had the opportunity to!

And it was actually in Japan where I first met chef Oe san. By a (great) stroke of luck, I sat beside him at Hakkoku during my March/April ’19 trip to Tokyo. But to be very honest, I didn’t recognise chef Oe san. It was only after Hakkoku’s chef-owner Hiroyuki Sato introduced us. Fast forward a few months later, I flew to Sydney in July ’19 for my overseas work stint. But when I tried to make reservation at Masuya (there’s where chef Oe san was working, then), I realised reservation for his omakase menu was fully booked for 2019. Gasp.

Not one to give up easily, I called the restaurant again in 2020. However, my reservation was unsuccessful as I was told they only accepted reservation in pairs. Which I thought was weird because sushi counter is usually the most welcoming to solo diners. Hmm… And before I could find a sushi buddy, Masuya suddenly announced they were putting their omakase menu on hiatus. Double gasp. But I later learnt it’s because chef Oe san had left Masuya Japanese Restaurant to set up Sushi Oe. Woohoo!

And reservation at Sushi Oe is released on the 1st of every month at 9am for the following month on Washoku Lovers. I was extremely lucky with my reservation for August ’20. It was out of the blue that I decided to google up Sushi Oe. And very coincidentally on the day Sushi Oe released seats for August.

Opened officially on 4 August, my reservation was for 13 August (Thursday). And it’s to note Sushi Oe only had 1 seating (6.30pm). However there was no information of their address when I made my reservation. It’s only later that I learnt chef Oe san was taking over the sushi counter in Jizakana. Nice!

So yes! It was with much anticipation that I arrived at Sushi Oe for my dinner. I couldn’t resist spilling the beans and letting chef Oe san know that I was that lady who sat beside him at Hakkoku a year ago. And his expression was priceless. Haha. Too cute! And after all 6 customers arrived, chef Oe san did a brief introduction of his menu. He mentioned his food was more traditional than fusion, which meant it would be an ‘all fish’ menu with no meats. Sounds good to me! Shortly after which, we commenced our omakase dinner, AUD180 with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Oyster.

2) Dish #2 (above) – Slightly boiled octopus topped with mustard. And we were told the octopus was (pre-)marinated for 2 days in soy, sake and sugar.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Swordfish topped with yuzu kosho (fermented condiment made with yuzu and chili). This was another marinated piece. And it’s really interesting because it tasted like ham!

4) Dish #4 (above) – Scallop from Aomori prefecture in Japan. We were told to drink the soup too. Really good.

5) Dish #5 (above) – Bonito from Japan, and topped with garlic.

6) Dish #6 (above) – Instead of telling us what this piece was, chef Oe san asked us to make a guess. Well… It looked like liver and tasted like liver. But I couldn’t guess any further than that because it was really big. And that’s when chef Oe san freed us from the suspense and said “John dory liver.” Like what!!! This had to be a first for me.

7) Dish #7 (above) – Flathead, marinated for 3 hours with kelp (kobujime kochi).

8) Dish #8 (above) – Snow crab innards with miso.

  
  
  
  
  

9) Dish #9 to #18 (above) – Nigiri sushi assortment including sea grouper, yellowtail (not sure if I heard this right), trevally with ginger and scallion, king predator, ruby fish (from Queensland), whiting (not king george whiting), flame-seared (aburi) saikou salmon from New Zealand which chef Oe san also elaborated as the ‘most expensive salmon’, lean tuna (akami), medium fatty tuna (chutoro), and premium fatty tuna; cheek cut (kamatoro). Taking into consideration that it’s a 30-courses menu, chef Oe san started the sushi leg with the size of his sushi rice small. But before he made the second sushi, he asked if we preferred more rice. Of course! Our tuna pieces were from a 17kg tuna from North South Wales, Australia. And chef Oe san shared that he aged the tuna for 5 days. But what baffled me was that from the colour and glistening surfaces, his aged (tuna) pieces looked like they were marinated too. I tried asking chef Oe san if the lean tuna was marinated (ie, akami zuke) but he replied they were (just) aged. Hmm… But don’t get me wrong. The tuna pieces were beautiful and delicious.

10) Dish #19 (above) – Minced tuna and spring onion (negitoro).

  
  

11) Dish #20 to #22 (above) – Continued nigiri sushi assortment of cuttlefish with salt, Japanese cockle (torigai) from Japan and tiger prawn. And I liked how chef Oe san share additional information of his dishes. Chef Oe san mentioned the Japanese cockle was thinner/skinnier than usual because it’s at the end of its season.

  

12) Dish #23 (above) – Geoduck (mirugai). I usually have geoduck raw or slightly boiled (shabu shabu), so this must be yet another first for me where I had it torched!

13) Dish #24 (above) – Black lip abalone from Tasmania. Simmered for 6 hours in kombu and sake, and steamed just before served.

14) Dish #25 (above) – Freshwater eel (unagi) from Japan. Torched, and served with seaweed (nori). Was also told by chef Oe san that he was using the best seaweed.

  

15) Dish #26 to #27 (above) – Salmon roe (ikura), and long spine sea urchin from Tasmania. And I must say the sea urchin was huge. Even longer than my thumb!


16) Dish #28 (above) – Sea eel (anago) from Japan. And I really liked this!

  

17) Dish #29 (above) – Pickled gourd (kanpyo) sushi roll.

18) Dish #30 (above) – Egg omelette (tamago) which chef Oe san mentioned shrimp was used. However, I didn’t really like this. There was a odd confusing aftertaste which I couldn’t put a finger to.

19) Miso soup with mitsuba leaves (above) – Was told red miso was used for the soup. And again, I liked how chef Oe san give us extra bits of information by sharing red miso was used in Osaka while white miso was used in Tokyo.

20) Dessert (above) – Fresh fruits; Cherry, persimmon and plum.

I thoroughly enjoyed chef Oe san’s 30-courses omakase menu. And the thing is… When I was dining at Hakkoku, chef Oe san shared with me that his 30-courses menu was inspired by none other than chef Sato san. So yes, it was pretty cool to sit beside chef Oe san in the restaurant where he got his menu inspiration from (Hakkoku) and be eating sushi made by his inspirator (chef Sato san) together.

And I could sense chef Oe san’s sincerity in the food he dished out at Sushi Oe; Wanting the best for his customers, he used only the best ingredients and equipment. Best seaweed (should have asked what brand. My bad). Best rice cooker. Uh huh! Vermicular no less, which he specially imported from Japan! Best burner. The tip of the AMGH burner was charcoal and there’s no gas smell when it’s used. It was super cute because whenever he used it, chef Oe san would beam while saying “Only here in Australia. Best burner.”

And chef Oe san has big dreams for Sushi Oe. 1 customer asked what’s used in his rice because honestly, chef Oe san’s sushi rice (shari) had a good balance of acidity. And surprisingly, no red vinegar was used. Instead, rice vinegar was used. But what really earned my respect was when he went on to share he aspired to prepare a different batch of rice for his tuna sushi. That’s not possible at the moment because chef Oe san is currently a ‘one man show’ where he does everything on his own. He just have 1 service staff who only assist him during operation hours to take customers’ drink order or clear the plates. So I hope he figures out his logistics arrangement soon so that he could successfully put his plan for Sushi Oe in action.

I also really appreciate how he made the effort to strike and maintain conversations with us. I mean… Establishing connections with customers while handling the dishes single-handedly? That sure isn’t easy.

So yes, I guess it’s no surprise that I highly recommend Sushi Oe. I have already set my alarm for 1 September to remind myself to make booking for October. :)

SUSHI OE
Shop 16, 450 Miller Street, Cammeray, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Tues – Sat : 18:30 – 22:00
Ambience: 8
Value: 8
Service: 7
* Closed on Mon & Sun