Dinner @ Shiki (Sydney, Australia) // CLOSED

November 15, 2020 in Japanese by thywhaleliciousfay

I would normally receive reminder texts prior to my dinners (in Australia). So I felt a little awkward not receiving any from Shiki. Had to double check my mail to make sure I didn’t remember my reservation detail wrongly! And I arrived at Shiki punctually at 6pm. But was surprised when no one arrived by 6.05pm. And at 6.06pm, I watched the staff call the latecomers; One was going to be late, while the other group said they had called previously to cancel their booking. I know, I am nosey observant just like that. Ha!

So just like that, a sushi counter which could sit 6 was barely filled on the night of my dinner; There were just 2 customers (including me). And because the other customer was very late (she only arrived at 6.20pm), head chef Hyota Sugihara kickstarted my dinner first. As there was no physical menu, he started off by saying the omakase course consist of appetiser, grilled fish, nigiri sushi and hotpot. And with that, I commenced my omakase dinner, AUD160 with:-


1) Dish #1 (above) – Egg custard (chawanmushi) with salmon roe and sea urchin. And yes, the sea urchin was steamed with the egg custard rather than being placed after. After (being) steamed, the urchin didn’t have its distinct ‘raw’ taste. Instead, it was almost… Bland? So instead, I was forced to focus on its texture. And I could taste (or should I say feel) the lumpy, grainy texture of the sea urchin. Really interesting. Head chef Hyota san further shared he previously did truffle with the steamed egg custard. But because truffle season had ended, it’s now done with urchin.

2) Dish #2, Complimentary (above) – This was a bonus (complimentary) appetiser. And if I didn’t hear wrongly, head chef Hyota san mentioned the Japanese name of the fish as hata. He went on to explain he intentionally chose barcod (a chewy fish) so that we would chew more and get more flavour from the truffle oil. And the sauce oddly reminded me of Sushi Tei dressing. But don’t get me wrong… This dish was great. Loved it.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Imperador collar.

  
  
  
  

4) Dish #4 (above) – Imperador (from the back and served slightly warm), imperador belly with caviar, belly form a 220kg sword fish, diced squid infused with shiso leaf, barcod (hata) and kombu, lean tuna (akami), medium fatty tuna (chutoro) and premium fatty tuna (otoro). It being late September, head chef Hyota san shared we were at the end of tuna season. But because of COVID, fishes couldn’t be exported to Japan, So yes, we were lucky because that meant there was stock of high quality tuna which head chef Hyota san managed to get his hands on for us. Yeah!

5) Dish #5 (above) – 4 big tongues of violet sea urchin from Tasmania. So sweet! And the sweetness was further enhanced by the pink salt. Such a treat!

  
  

6) Dish #6 (above) – Bonito belly (foreground) and bonito back (background) with homemade ponzu sauce, swordfish marinated with shiraz & soya sauce, scampi with champagne gold and red finger limes, and upside-down scampi with scampi-truffle sauce. I especially enjoyed this leg of the nigiri sushi assortment. The swordfish was really interesting. Each bite brought burst of different in-depth flavours. And for the scampi, was told this was served ‘upside down’ intentionally so that the scampi came in contact with our tongues first. And that scampi-truffle sauce… It was so good. I shamelessly picked the dish up to slurp it all. Just shy of licking it. Keke.


  

7) Dish #7 (above) – Blood orange oyster. Was told the oyster was boiled in salt water for 15 seconds, dunked in cold water, and seasoned with pink salt since the previous steps would have removed all saltiness.

8) Dish #8 (above) – Black lip abalone, paired with a sweet sauce made with abalone and sake. And for this, the abalone was boiled in sake for 5 hours before it’s steamed for another 5 hours. And I loved how the abalone slices were cut thickly. In fact, it’s also head chef Hyota san’s intention with the thicker slices; To allow us to have more to chew on.

9) Dish #9 (above) – Ocean trout and imperador. Head chef Hyota san shared he prefer ocean trout over salmon because it’s less oily. But I personally prefer oily fish for aburi (torched/slightly grilled). So if I had to choose, my vote goes to imperador!


10) Dish #10 (above) – Handroll of squid, sea urchin and salmon roe. This was huge!


11) Dish #11 (above) – Egg omelette (tamago) with sushi rice. One of head chef Hyota san’s signature. And it was amazing! So much love for this. It was like a soufflé; Soft, fluffy, moist and sweet. I normally stick to what’s on the menu, but for this… I just had to request for another piece. And because one group of customers didn’t turn up, head chef Hyota san was able to offer me more. And bigger piece too. In fact, he also gave extra piece of his tamago to the other customer. So nice of him!


12) Dish #12 (above) – I certainly didn’t expect the soup component of the menu to be so elaborate. I mean, hotpot shabu-shabu style! Wow. And for the fishes, we were given premium fatty tuna (otoro), barcod (hata) and ocean trout. Head chef Hyota san even asked if I wanted more (fish). But I had to turn him down politely because I was full.

13) Dish #13 (above) – Homemade matcha cake and red bean paste (anko).

It was a very fun dinner. I enjoyed myself tremendously. Head chef Hyota san and his assistant were very friendly and approachable. And I especially liked head chef Hyota san’s bold interpretation and unique take on sushi. Especially with the pink salt. It’s definitely a first to see sushi placed on slabs of pink salt. We even got to bring our salt slab home because a new slab is used for every customer.

A Japanese regular joined us later at the sushi counter (he was having the sushi course and not the omakase course). And as he enjoyed his sushi, he would often tell head chef Hyota san his sushi was as good as Ginza sushi. Well… That may be a little exaggerated, but I guess it depends on which Ginza store the Japanese regular was referring to. But!!! When head chef Hyota san served his tamago, I too couldn’t help but tell head chef Hyota san “this is better than Ginza”.

Unfortunately… As I share my dining experience at Shiki, it’s their last day of operation today (15 November ’20). And yes, I’m really bummed about it. After my meal at Shiki in late September, I had been checking out the (third party) reservation website because I wanted to book my next meal. Instead, I saw the announcement on their instagram account that they will be closed permanently. Sigh. I even tried to request if I could order the tamago as ‘take away’ but was told it’s only available for the omakase. Double sigh.

But somehow… This doesn’t feel like it’s the end for Shiki. I have a weird strong inkling that head chef Hyota san will be back. Fingers crossed.

SHIKI JAPANESE RESTAURANT
35 Harrington Street, The Rocks, Sydney, NSW, Australia
+61 2 9252 2431, Website
Overall: 7.5
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Tues – Sun : 17:30 – 21:00
Ambience: 7
Value: 7
Service: 8
* Closed on Mon
** Hours are post-COVID lockdown, and may change when normality resumes.

Dinner @ Jungsik 정식당 (Seoul, Korea)

October 28, 2020 in Korean by thywhaleliciousfay

My trips to Korea were mainly visiting family-owned restaurants. I follow a few Korean food shows, and would hunt down the restaurants that appear on the shows. Uh huh, hunt. But when Michelin Guide Seoul was (first) launched in November 2016, it got me curious. It made me want to check out the fine dining scene in Korea. And I was lucky that one of my (ex-)crossfitters (from my Korea trip 2017) was keen too. And thus, we went to Jungsik and La Yeon.

Reservation at Jungsik was made through email with 1.5 months advanced notice. Dinner almost failed to materialise because Jungsik was closed for private event on our 2 preferred dates. But after adjusting our itinerary, we secured our reservation by returning a completed reservation form which included a credit card guarantee.

Jungsik was a short 5 minutes walk from Apgujeong Rodeo metro station. We were greeted by a receptionist who led us to our table at level 2. And with 2 options on the dinner menu, we each ordered the 5-courses, ₩120,000:-

1) Welcome drink, Complimentary (above) – With grapefruit jelly, the staff told us to drink it just like how we would down a shot. Keke.


2) Welcome dish, Complimentary (above) – Introduced as banchan (side dishes), we were told this was Jungsik’s style. And we were served scallop, truffle capellini, snapper with kimchi (to be eaten as a wrap), smoked salmon in a cone, rice ball with oyster, and fried burdock.

3) Appetiser with options of:


  

(A) Gujeolpan ver. 3 (for 2) (above) – Raw tuna. The ‘+2′ on the menu meant the dish was for 2. And so, my friend and I had to choose the same dish for our choice of appetiser. The staff explained gujeolpan meant ’9 types of food’, and the 9 on our dish being sour cream, sprouts, seaweed, yam, wasabi, kimchi, minced tomato, jelly and tuna. I wouldn’t recommend stacking a bit of everything onto the piece of crispy seaweed. I tried and ended up dirtying the floor when I tried putting my tall ensemble into my mouth. Sob.

(B) Octopus (+ ‎₩10,000 supplement) (above) – Gochujang aioli. So glad my friend was a glutton like me. We decided to order the octopus dish although we had exhausted our appetiser option with the Gujeolpan ver. 3 (item #3A). And as an add-on, this a-la carte order cost us ₩25,000.

4) Rice with options of:


(A) Sea urchin (+ ‎₩10,000 supplement) (above) – Fried millet. We were told to mix the black rice, fried millet, puffed rice and sea urchin together. I liked the crunchy bits within. Just like scorched rice if I ain’t wrong. So good.

(B) Grilled rice (above) – Barley, duck. I really enjoyed this dish. Could taste the strong smoky aroma.

5) Sea with options of:

(A) Ok dom (+ ‎₩10,000 supplement) (above) – Namul. And was told that the red snapper was Jungsik’s signature from Jeju island. Served with vegetables and rice cake.

(B) Black cod (+ ‎₩10,000 supplement) (above) – Classic, dried radish. Cooked by pouring hot water over slowly to keep it tender inside, and placed on a base of acorn jelly and assortment of vegetables which included cucumber and onion.

6) Land with options of:-

(A) Tenderloin (+ ‎₩20,000 supplement) (above) – Deodeok.

(B) Duck 2017 (above) – Aging, brocolini.

7) Pre-dessert (above) – Palate cleanser. Jungsik’s take on Korea’s cinnamon tea. With pear, ginger pudding and cinnamon juice.

8) Sweet with options of:-

(A) Dolhareubang (above) – Green tea mousse. Dolhareubang, the large rock statues symbolic to Jeju Island. Served alongside milk ice cream.

(B) Cheongdam pie (above) – Apple pie. With apricot jam and jasmine ice cream.

(C) Rose of versailles (above) – Blueberry cremeux. Again, another dessert which we ordered as an add-on for ‎₩20,000. Blueberry (used to make the rose), lychee ice cream, rose meringue cookie (as the crown), and blueberry cheese cake.



  

9) Tea/Coffee – And after our meal, we were given the option to go with tea (peppermint, chamomile, mugwort and buckwheat) or coffee. I usually would go with coffee, but decided to try the tea instead.

10) Petit fours – Black sesame biscuit, chocolate cube, and earl grey choux.

My friend and I enjoyed our dinner thoroughly. Got to thank the staff who was attending to our table. My friend and I were trying to take notes of the ingredients and made him repeat himself a few times. But he was so nice and patient. Thumbs up! Could definitely see why Jungsik was awarded 1 Michelin star. Food, tick. Service, tick. Ambience, tick. And as a bonus, my friend and I even got to see a Korean actor!

I definitely recommend Jungsik for upscaled Korean cuisine.

JUNGSIK 정식당
서울 강남구 선릉로158길 11
+82 2 517 4654, Website, Naver
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Mon – Sun : 12:00 – 15:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Mon – Sun : 17:30 – 22:00 (Dinner)
Value: 8
Service: 8

Dinner @ Firedoor (Sydney, Australia)

October 25, 2020 in Australian by thywhaleliciousfay

When I made my reservation to dine at Firedoor in December 2019, I was given the options between table and counter (not to be confused with bar counter) seats. And I opted for the latter. But what I didn’t realise was that depending on which end of the counter one was at, the seats could get pretty hot. Literally because one would be subjected to direct heat from the grill! But don’t get me wrong. I rather be on the ‘hot seat’ cause there’s where I could get my full view of chef-owner Lennox Hastie cooking away at the grill.

Both a-la carte and chef’s menu were offered on the menu. And I went with the chef’s menu. Mainly because I was dining solo and that was my best option of being able to try as many dishes as possible. And thus, I commenced my dinner (chef’s menu, AUD160) with:-

1) Radish, wattleseed, lonza (above) – Wrapped with pork cheek.

2) Oyster, desert lime, oyster leaf (above)


  

3) Kangaroo, macadamia, davidson plum (above) – The staff opened the lid of the claypot to reveal the kangaroo meat beneath. Embers, which were still burning, were placed beneath the leaves to smoke the meat. Was told by the staff that the meat was more on the raw side so that it could absorb the aroma of the smoked leaves. Was also told to slide the meat off the skewer and into the bread. Something like a sandwich. And the flat bread was really soft. As I tore the bread along the side, I realised it’s like a pita (pocket bread). Tried a piece of the kangaroo meat on its own and it was tenderly good. I really enjoyed this.

4) Burratina, peach, smoke tomato (above) – The smokiness in the tomato was distinct. Nice.


5) Bonito, blood plum, celtuce (above) – I loved everything about this dish. The bonito was beautifully grilled; Its centre still slightly opaque. And the sweetness of the succulent flesh was enhanced by the slightly salty brown butter-tamari sauce and crispy fried capers.

6) Yellow squash, pyengana, lovage (above)

  

7) Bread, cultured butter, sprouted rye (above) – Served slightly charred, I preferred if the bread was served warm. Not sure why I had that expectation though. Maybe cause fire seemed easily accessible in Firedoor, and I was craving for warm bread? Shrug.

8) Murray cod, tatsoi, pil pil (above)


9) Pork chop, pepper, charred leek (above) – Beef was on the original menu as the main course. The staff offered to replaced it with fish when I mentioned my dietary restriction (of no beef). However, noting that there’s already a few fish dishes on the menu, I stated my preference for something else. And was thus given pork.

10) Geraldton wax, chamomile, fig leaf (above)

  

11) Woodfired rum baba, smoked creme diplomat (above)


12) Marshmallow (above) – With plum and dark chocolate.

Seated at the counter meant there was opportunity to talk to head chef Lennox. He asked if I was local or visiting. I replied, “travelling”. Not exactly true, but I still do feel like I’m a tourist despite having spent 5 months in Australia (at the point of dinner). And I noticed he talked more to the locals. I guess his initial question was his way of sassing out which customers are easier happier to converse with> Shrug. But I was happy to be left alone. I had drinks with colleagues prior to dinner, and was a bit… Haha.

Will I recommend Firedoor? I sure do! I enjoyed the dishes although I wished I had a bigger stomach cause I would have loved to try some of the a-la carte dishes like the pipis or (whole) quail. And it’s always intriguing and fascinating to visit a restaurant which did all their cooking by fire. Yes, including warm water served to customers.

And it’s nice that Firedoor has received increased publicity with its appearance on Netflix’s Chef’s Table BBQ. As taken from Firedoor’s website… Head chef Lennox takes viewers on a journey through his childhood, his career, and his fascination with fire. He showcases how he draws extraordinary flavors out of meat, fish and vegetables using only a wood fire, a grill and his unique skills honed in Spain at Etxebarri and then in Sydney at Firedoor. Introducing viewers to a number of amazing Australian producers and pushes the limits of traditional open flame cooking, breathing new life into the meaning of barbecue. The downside is that they are fully booked till May 2020. I kid not.

FIREDOOR
23-33 Mary Street, Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW, Australia
+61 2 8204 0800, Website
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Thur – Fri : 12:00 – 15:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Tues – Sat : 17:30 – 22:30 (Dinner)
Value: 7
Service: 7
* Closed on Mon & Sun