Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hakata-Maru Ramen, Haymarket

Yes I admit it. This winter, I'm addicted to ramen. There I've said it. Can't be helped when quite a few ramen joints have opened up within a short space of time. Hakata-Maru Ramen at Market City Food Court opened about a couple of weeks after the opening of Sussex Centre Food Court's Ramen Ikkyu. While there was so much hype and countless reviews (and criticisms) about the latter, you don't really hear much about Hakata-Maru Ramen unless you are in the area. It was heartwarming to see this opening at Market City as it used to be an old regular spot back in my uni days.

Hakata-Maru Ramen is the first store to open in Australia under Toridoll Corporation, which has more than 800 stores worldwide including Japan, China, Korea, America, Thailand and Russia to name a few. 

On this occasion, I was kindly invited by Hidetoshi from Toridoll to sample the dishes that Hakata-Maru Ramen has to offer. The menu was quite limited but it is the quality that matters. As the name indicates, the primary focus is hakata-style tonkotsu ramen with thin and straight noodles - similar to Ippudo but with cheaper prices.

We were invited by Hide into the kitchen to see what happens behind the scenes at this ramen joint. The ramen itself was made in-house at the premises with the tonkotsu broth cooking inside the massive pots. 

We also got a glimpse of the thin and straight Hataka-style noodles stored in a chiller where the temperature and humidity can be controlled to an optimum level. The hardness of the noodles depends on how long it was boiled though it generally takes about 40 seconds to cook till it has that bitey texture due to a low-moisture content. 

Those noodles!

You get a choice of the following ramens:
- White Tonkotsu
- Black Tonkotsu
- Red Tonkotsu
- Chasu (white tonkotsu broth with extra pork)
- Prawn and Vegetable (unfortunately not recommended for vegetarians and those on strict religious diets because they still use a pork broth)

When you order your choice of ramen and toppings, you can add as much as you want from the bowls of white sesame, red ginger and spicy takana at the front counter. 

Complimentary toppings: White sesame, Red Ginger, Spicy Takana

How crystal clear does this bowl looks? The broth was clean, slightly creamy and just simply light in its basic form. The pork was reasonably tender and the egg was full of oozy goodness. It's super cheap too! The servings sizes were slightly smaller and there wasn't as many toppings in my bowl compared to other ramen joints (unless you want to order more toppings for an additional price) but they still got me full in the end. CC absolutely loved how thin the broths really were since she's generally not a fan of thick and rich broths.

White Tonkotsu ($7.80)

If you like a bit of spice with your ramen then the Red Tonkotsu is the ideal option for you. It uses a spicy miso ball that you mix with the tonkotsu broth to add some fiery zing to your ramen. Personally I thought that it wasn't too spicy and CC was able to handle decent amounts of it. Perfect winter warmer to have on a cold day.

Red Tonkotsu ($8.80)

Out of the ramens I've had at this store, the black tonkotsu is my personal favourite (though they are all amazing). The tonkotsu broth was topped with a smear of garlic oil and a sprinkle of garlic flakes. I loved the extra punch that the garlic oil adds to the broth to give off an incredibly flavoursome, fragrant and slightly richer broth that complemented well with the toppings including the slices of pork shoulder and the crunchy black fungus. 

Black tonkotsu ($8.80)

Personally, I've never tried a vegetable ramen but hey there's always a first time for everything. Interestingly, this was the most expensive of all the other ramen dishes at $11.80 (I'm guessing it's because of the prawns?). By this point, we were incredibly stuffed and could barely try this bowl. From what we tried, we really enjoyed it. We did notice the slight difference in the broth. While it does use a tonkotsu broth, there is also soy sauce added to this dish along with stir-fried prawns and veggies to deliver one of the most interesting and delicious ramen dishes we've tried. There is also a generous amount of toppings compared to the other ramen dishes at this eatery. If we weren't so full, we would gladly slurp up the entire bowl.

Prawn and vegetable ramen ($11.80)

You can also get an extra bowl of noodles/kaedama for $1 extra which you can order separately or at the same time as your ramen. The idea of the kaedama is to add them to the broth and eat it soon after so you can taste the bitey texture of the noodles. If it didn't get full so easily these days, I would make the most of the kaedama. 

Kaedama ($1.00)

The chicken wing karaage was sold out when we were there but we were getting full from trying all of the ramen so we ended up sharing a small set of gyoza dumplings. The skin was crispy to our liking while the filling inside was piping hot. These dumplings are great to have for a side dish though I will certainly try out the chicken wings next time after hearing so much on how good they were.

Gyoza dumplings ($2.00)

While it is located inside a food court, you can still hear the staff chanting noisily like the staff at Ippudo. The interior decor stand out above the other stalls with its colourful appearance. While it does get busy at times, the service is quick so you wouldn't have to wait too long for the food. I'm sure lots of people will be checking out Hakata-Maru Ramen for the unbelievably cheap and yummy feed that will satisfy your hunger and won't blow your budget.

Disclaimer: The Random Foodie and co dined as guests of Hakata-Maru Ramen, courtesy of Hidetoshi Tsuboi and team. Thank you so much for the wonderful evening! Opinions are personal.

Hakata-Maru Ramen
Market City, Level 3 Foodcourt,
9-13 Hay Street, Haymarket NSW 2000
(02) 9281 6648
Hakata-Maru Ramen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bau Truong, Canley Heights

I have been baffled by the influx of restaurants opening in Canley Heights recently. In my opinion, I reckon it's becoming the Surry Hills of South West Sydney rivaling to the culinary eats of Cabramatta. The main difference is that Canley Heights is where you can go for a late night dinner while most of the restaurants in Cabramatta close at around 6pm or 7pm. One thing that annoys me about the Heights is the parking. While there were times when I was very lucky to get a spot, it's generally just a nightmare. 

While there are countless restaurants and cafes with different cuisines popping up lately (Holy Basil, V Lounge, WTF desserts, Chi Chi, Fat name a few); it's the older Vietnamese restaurants that sticks out for the older generation like my parents. When they are not in the mood for home-made cooking, they always head out to Canley Heights for a nice bowl of pho and other authentic Vietnamese food at the long-running Vietnamese establishments, which was why mum wanted to go to Bau Truong on the night before she went to North America to visit our relatives.

The service at Bau Truong is quick and prompt which is just how we liked it. While the folks were set on what they want to get, I was generally indecisive because of the immense options that they offer. Many of the items on the menu were quite cheap but there were a few that were also quite expensive (and not just to Cabramatta/Canley standards!). The menu itself reminded me of being at Chat Thai due to some of the more unusual choices that were unavailable at many standard Vietnamese restaurants. However, my parents' main intention for coming here was to try out our favourite Vietnamese feast - the Beef with Lemongrass Hot Plate DIY style (Bo nuong vi).

Free tea!

The DIY plate was such a feast that it took up the entire table - and there were only 3 of us! This consisted of salad, bean sprouts, fresh vermicelli noodles, raw beef to cook on the hot plates, onions, chilli and rice paper sheets to make your own rolls however you like it. Personally, I thought that the rice paper rolls were quite small and even stickier than how I'm used to at home. Then again, I always overload my rolls so it ends up being a messy experience for me. Still, it was enjoyable cooking the meat on the hot plate and making your own rolls with its many fresh and delicious ingredients with the likes of pickled carrots and radishes, cucumbers, herbs, bean sprouts and lots of lettuce.

Beef with lemongrass hot plate - DIY ($38.00)

Raw beef and onions made to cook on the hot plate - yup that's butter...

I was planning to order something smaller but I couldn't help but notice the Pipis in XO sauce dish that was available at Bau Truong (is this even Vietnamese? Meh don't care *shrugs*). I hastily order this knowing that he serving will be generous in addition to the DIY hot plate feast that we have already ordered.The pipis were plump and juicy which complemented well with the crispy vermicelli noodles and the thick and savoury XO sauce. It was also a bit too oily which was what the folks noticed but damn it's still very tasty.

Pipis in XO Sauce ($20.00)

After our feast, we were treated with a complimentary serving of mandarins. They may not look pretty but once peeled, the taste was still fresh and juicy.

On the menu, there were some of the dishes were on the cheap side with some of the entrees and starter dishes at less than $10 and most of the main sized dishes such as pho and rice dishes listed between $11-$15. There were also dishes that were expensive especially on this side of town with the seafood dishes and feast-sized plates like the DIY Hot Plates being as high as $38.00 (or even more with crab dishes listed as 'Market Price'). Despite that, the food was delicious and enjoyable. I look forward to making more visits at Bau Truong at the Canley Vale, Cabramatta and even the Marrickville branches to try more of their unique Vietnamese dishes in the near future.

Bau Truong Canley Heights
250 Canley Vale Road, Canley Heights
(02) 9755 7099
Bau Truong on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 18, 2013

PHD, Marrickville

Being close to Cabramatta, I don't head out to Marrickville as often as I would have liked to. But when I end up closer to the city and have the odd craving for decent pho, Marrickville is one of your guaranteed bets with a tremendous amount of Vietnamese restaurants in this side of town. It almost feels like Cabramatta or Bankstown but in the Inner West. While I initially planned to head to Marrickville to try out Cornerstone, the breezy weather was enough for me to go for a nice warm bowl of pho. 

I remember trying out the pho at Pho Bac Hai Duong back in my uni days and I absolutely loved every bit of it. Back then, Pho Bac Hai Duong was one of those classic restaurants (like Pho 54, Pho Viet and Pho Minh in Cabramatta to name a few) that was operating for as long as I could remember. As of early 2011, the restaurant has moved a few blocks, changed its name and has gotten itself a new fancy makeover. Seriously, the one thing that stood out the most about this eatery was the amount of red used from the sign to the interior decor to the red bowls and plates. 

Except for this :p

The menu is full of delicious choices for Vietnamese food but of course I cannot say no to a bowl of pho especially when it's cold. Not only was there a generous amount of broth and thick rice noodles, there were reasonable servings of beef, coriander and crunchy onions. While the noodles were slippery, the texture remains consistent and did not go too soft. I especially loved the fragrant broth which was quite sweet and incredibly flavoursome even before I started adding the condiments. Although I ordered a regular size, it still filled me up for the rest of the day. There is even the choice to have your standard beef pho with the addition of brisket, beef ball, tendon or tripe for 50c extra or just have the whole lot with one of the Special Beef Pho Combination (Pho Dac Biet). If you prefer to have chicken with your bowl of pho (Pho Ga), then PHD has a decent selection. You can also get a Seafood and Vegetable Pho or Beancurd and Vegetable Pho (not sure if they still use a meat-based stock so check with that if you are vegetarian). 

Pho Rice Noodle Soup with Medium Rare Beef/Pho Tai (R: $10.00, L: $13.00)

At some restaurants, I heavily relied on the condiments plate containing Vietnamese mint, bean sprouts, lemon and chilli to enhance the flavour. Although the Vietnamese mint, some bean sprouts and a little squirt of lemon was eventually put into good use, I didn't rely on them as much for PHD's version because it was already full of flavour. 

While the weather wasn't great, I couldn't help to get a glass of soya bean milk (or sua dau nanh). Very refreshing and a nice balance within the ingredients. How cool is it that their drinks were presented in those good old fashioned milkshake glasses?

Soya bean milk - price unknown (I'm sure it was heaps cheap)

Although more cafes have been popping up around Marrickville lately, it's always good to head into one of these Vietnamese establishments for one of their well-priced dishes. With the slightly fancy decor and the delicious food, you can see why this one stand out above the competition. Quick service, cheap prices and a decent feed that will satisfy your hunger for hours. Will definitely consider coming back here to try some more dishes.

PHD Restaurant
308 Illawara Road, Marrickville NSW 2204
(02) 9559 5078
PHD Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ramen Ikkyu, Haymarket

If you have been looking up my instagram lately, you may know that I've been eating waaaay too much ramen. One of those ramen eateries where I've been having my regular fix was the newly opened Ramen Ikkyu. By now, everyone in the food scene would have at least heard about Ramen Ikkyu from the fact that Chef Haru Inukai (formerly of BlancHaru) is at the helm of this ramen joint to the excessive lines to the knowledge that they apparently serve a maximum of 150 bowls of ramen each day. A fact that I find hard to believe with those lines. Especially since I was able to order a bowl of ramen at 7pm on a Thursday and Friday night in recent weeks. Maybe it's 150 bowls for each ramen type? Or maybe it's just my luck since I've heard a few other people saying that everything was sold out by the end of lunch time on a weekend.

Those damn lines...

Like Wagaya and Mizuya, Ramen Ikkyu has adopted the 21st Century way of ordering your food using the touchscreen Ipad. The friendly staff at the counter takes your order and prepares your food while you wait. Along with your choice of ramen, you can also order additional ramen toppings such as an extra egg, slices of cha-shu or even pork rib! While the line where you wait to order your food on the ipad was fairly quick, the time to wait for your food to get ready was much longer especially with so much recent hype.

What makes Ramen Ikkyu unique to other ramen joints is the Paitan soup that they use in the Ikkyu ramen broth. This is a white broth made from a mixture of chicken and pork bones and boiled for several hours. This makes the broth to be fairly rich but not to the extent of Gumshara Ramen.

Ramen condiments including garlic, ginger and chilli flakes

I've overheard many people around me recommending the Ikkyu (shoyu) ramen/no.3 ramen so why not? The shoyu (or soy) base delivers a reasonably thick and rich broth full of flavour. While I really enjoyed this ramen, CC thought it was too thick to handle and struggled to finish. I especially loved the touch of soy used in this bowl for that extra depth in flavour. The 3 thick slices of cha-shu (pork) were somewhat sweet and incredibly tender to the point that it melts in your mouth. It was well roasted and smoked with an equal balance of pork meat and fat. It is also topped with crunchy bamboo shoots, egg, shallots, bean sprouts, seaweed and black fungus which deliver diverse layers of texture to your ramen bowl. These toppings are certainly one of the qualities that makes Ramen Ikkyu stand out over the other ramen joints. I especially loved that the soft-boiled egg (well one half of it) is already in the ramen when I order the ramen as I always forget to order it in the past. Oozy stuff! 

Ikkyu (shoyu) Ramen ($10.50)  

That oozy egg!

If you prefer thinner broths, then the Tokyo (shoyu) ramen is the one for you. Ramen Ikkyu uses a chicken stock in this type of ramen to make it thin though the soy enhances the overall light flavour. In addition, the noodles were springy and bouncy on this occasion. It was actually quite popular on the night I tried this dish since it was listed as sold out just after I made my order. CC tried a bit from this bowl and really loved it for its lightness. Very delicious!

Tokyo (shoyo) Ramen ($10.50)

On another visit, I tried the Ikkyu (miso) Ramen which is incredibly flavoursome but thicker and richer than the Ikkyu shoyu ramen thanks to the pork stock mixed with the miso. The toppings differ from the other types of ramen with lots of veggies to enjoy including carrots, corn, onions and cabbage. It was also a tad more salty than the other ramen bowls but the broth was still quite flavoursome and colourful. Plus eating the cha-shu in chopped up pieces made it much easier (and less embarrassing) to eat when you're with your mates or even your date.

Ikkyu (miso) Ramen ($10.50)

While the noodles do have a bitey, al-dente texture (Chef Haru makes his own noodles), they do get softer fairly soon but never fear! One of the amazing things about Ramen Ikkyu is that you can get an extra bowl of noodles if you present your receipt to the counter staff before you finish your soup. For free!

Freeeeeee noodles!

The food court is certainly an interesting setting which echoes the likes of Gumshara Ramen at Eating World across the street. It should be interesting to see how the crowds for Ramen Ikkyu will effect the other longstanding stalls in the same food court. I hope that this means more exposure for those shops as well. The prices are cheap for those on a budget with most of the ramen bowls costing at $10.50 with the veggie ramen being the most expensive at $12.50. The bowls will get you full so it's certainly great value for money. Best ramen in Sydney? I wouldn't say yes but it is different to the usual ramen joints. And the staff seemed friendly despite the queues. Even spotted Chef Haru chatting to some of the customers. Will be coming here more regularly for a cheap eat and to try one of the salt-based (shio) ramen bowls as well as the chilli oil ramen. Hopefully, the queues decrease once the hype slows down over time.

Ramen Ikkyu
Shop F1A Sussex Centre Food Court,
401 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9281 0998
Ramen Ikkyu on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Palings Kitchen and Bar, Sydney CBD

It seems that Sydney is moving towards a more casual, lower-priced dining given the many high profile restaurant closures recently. Lots of celebrity chefs who fronted fine dining restaurants have been moving onto cheaper and affordable dining in areas such as cafes, ramen, burgers and Mexican food. One of them was Mad Cow which has reinvented itself as Palings Kitchen and Bar and opened earlier this year. It may have the same head chef (Christopher Whitehead) but Palings now come with slightly lower prices, friendly and casual atmosphere, and a more diverse menu that will satisfy vegetarians, sweets and seafood lovers. 

During the winter season, Merivale has introduced a number seasonal cheap deals that were only available for certain hours. At the moment, Palings is holding a 'Roast with Th'most' deal where you could wither have a bowl of soup and a sandwich on the menu for $19 or you could have a two course meal with a glass of wine or beer for $35. You could choose a main dish and match it with a salad or a dessert from the menu. This deal is available for lunch and for dinner (6pm-7pm only) and valid until 30th August. So get going before you have to pay a main and a dessert for full price! (A la carte prices are listed below).

As usual, I was quite stuck on what I wanted to order. I was so keen on trying the Rangers Valley rump steak but it was sold out! At the time of our visit (about a month ago actually...), there used to be a 'Pie of the Day' but since then, there has been a couple of beef pies added to the permanent Palings menu as of now. Either way, the Pie of the Day that evening was also a beef pie and it was absolutely scrumptious. It may not have the insane flavours or exciting sides like The Pie Tin but I adored the flaky and buttery pie crust, plus the beef filling was tender to my liking.

Pie of the day - Beef pie with potato mash and winter greens ($15.00)

The amount of seafood dishes on the menu is generous which is good for those who cannot eat meat for personal or religious reasons. I only tried a little bit from this dish and found it juicy and slightly cheesy which matched well with the spaetzle (egg noodles from Eastern Europe ala Austria, Hungary, Switzerland). R had this dish and certainly enjoyed it.

Grilled local prawns, spaetzle, lemon, parmesan ($28.00)

CC also wanted the rump steak so once we heard that it sold out, she ended up ordering the Cape Grim rib eye on the bone. It was no surprise how generous the dish was so I had to help with eating a bit of the dish. While it tasted nice, the meat was tougher than we liked. In fact, the steak was quite hard to cut that the table kept shaking. 

Cape Grim Rib Eye on the Bone, crisp spuds, watercress and black pepper - 400g, grass-fed ($36.00)

When given the option of a two-course meal, we knew we had to get desserts especially if they are made by the legendary Lorraine Godsmark (former pastry chef at Rockpool and Yellow Bistro) who runs Lorraine's Patisserie downstairs. 

CC was immediately drawn to the peanut butter ice cream sandwich with chocolate sauce. While it looked different to the generic ice cream sandwiches, CC absolutely loved it and gave it the thumbs up. I'm a fan of anything with peanut butter so will look into this next time.

Peanut butter ice cream sandwich, chocolate sauce ($12.00)

The New York cheesecake was a highlight on our table. The filling was quite light which complemented well with a thin biscuit base and the dollop of sweetened cream (or was it creme fraiche?) on the side.

My pick for dessert was the flourless chocolate cake. It was incredibly rich, moist, sweet and soft on the palate. Quite intense to handle after a few mouthfuls but nicely complimented by the cream and the red jam on the side (I think it's raspberry jam...can't recall sorry guys). The white cream (sweetened cream/creme fraiche?) must be a signature for their desserts since it appeared in all of our dessert plates.

The atmosphere is certainly more casual, noisy, hip, down to earth and vibrant than the much more formal Mad Cow. It is situated in the same area as the Ivy Bar which contributed to the social vibe of the restaurant. I personally thought that the service wasn't too great in my opinion. For instance, one of the waiters made us go to a specific table (which ended up being very unstable) even though there were many other available tables in the restaurant. While some of the food didn't blow my mind, I wouldn't mind coming back to try out the other food on the vast menu especially the rump steak and the deli sandwich. Will recommend it for outings with friends and workmates especially for Friday night drinks before hitting up the dancefloor at the Ivy Bar.

Palings Kitchen and Bar
Level 1, Ivy
330 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9240 3000 
Palings Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon