Friday, 27 February 2015

Cafe in Tokyo - Algester

On occasion, I have had readers question whether I like all the Japanese Restaurants I have been to, and ask why I rate everything quite highly. I guess the answer to that is if I knew a place is really bad, I wouldn't have knowingly subjected myself to bad food. On that point though, it took me quite an internal struggle before I decided to raise my pen to share my honest opinion on Cafe in Tokyo, which has recently opened near where I live.

It's situated on a small shopping strip in Algester, maybe 10 minutes drive from Sunnybank Hills.

On the outside, it looks like quite a cozy little cafe, with quite a lot of homey decorations and mixed tables and chairs to add to the style of the cafe.

They had both a cafe menu, and a Japanese menu, but we all opted to try the Japanese menu. I note that whilst we were ordering, we were stopped on quite a few occasions by the waitress and requested to speak slower. She may have been new, but we felt it was quite unprofessional, especially when it we have never had that issue anywhere else.

Cutlery was then provided to our table quite promptly.

The candle on the table added to the ambiance of the setting.

Soy sauce and wasabi was also provided to our table. I was quite surprised that for a Japanese cafe, they served the fish shaped takeaway soy sauce, which from my experience is a lot worse quality than the usual Kikkoman soy sauce that other restaurants offer.


The first to arrive was my order for Salmon Hand Roll. As mentioned previously, I like to order hand rolls, because it's almost guaranteed to be freshly made. Almost being the key word. The hand roll that was served needed improvements in every aspect. For a hand roll, I would have expected the seaweed to be fresh and crisp. The one that was served was already soggy and quite stale. The rice is also supposed to be fresh. If you look closely at the picture, you can see that the rice is squeezed quite tightly in an ovular shape, additionally it was cold and hard and unseasoned. It looked like they had taken a piece of rice that would have been in a nigri sushi and shoved it into a hand roll. The salmon was alright, but the portion was quite small. If you look closely at the right photo, you can see that area under my hand was pretty much empty on the inside. Despite all this, the thing that irritated me the most was the addition of carrots, alfalfa and cucumbers in the hand roll. The addition of these textures completely destroyed any chance I had of enjoying the hand roll. I'm not sure I've ever had a hand roll like this before.

My companion ordered the prawn curry bento, which was served with a miso soup. She also said that the food was bland and tasteless. She also said that as a regular consumer of curry, the setting was awkward, and she dropped a lot of the curry sauce as it was being transported to the rice. It would have been better if the curry was actually served on top of the rice.

My other companion ordered the beef gyudon. He also considered it bland, although he didnt have the same problem with the curry. Additionally, we found the edamame and salad to be not very fresh. It really needed improvement.

Lastly, my chirashi rice came. I was really surprised to find the salmon and tuna chopped into tiny little squares. I personally would have liked big slices similar to other places I've frequented. I actually found the dish to be more salad than it was fish. I liked the warm unagi though, but the amount of veges really made the dish quite imbalanced.The rice was also cold and unseasoned.

I note the reviews from other patrons seem to be quite positive for Cafe in Tokyo, but we were really quite disappointed with our experience. I note that the chef has said he's had 10 years experience in Japanese food, but the level of food provided was really quite surprising given this. Perhaps the cafe menu would be a better option next time.

Price Range: $10 - $15 per person

Taste: 2/10
Value: 5/10
Service: 5/10
Environment: 6/10

Cafe in Tokyo on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Ren - Runcorn

Within the two shopping strips in Runcorn, which are turning out to be quite the 'New Sunnybank', lies a Japanese restaurant which I had been eyeing for quite some time. One lazy friday afternoon we finally decided to go, after being highly recommended by an acquaintance.

It took us a while to be seated that evening, I couldn't say that the waiters and waitresses were rude, but they were definitely preoccupied with something else. It took quite a while to get their attention on multiple occasions.

The theme of the restaurant was decidedly dark but contemporary.

In accordance with the theme, the crockery and cutlery were dark. It would have been a nice effect, except for the part where the crockery was quite chipped.

We started off the meal with complimentary edamame.

The first to arrive was the Salmon Carpaccio. This dish seems to have only gained traction in the last several years. Apparently, Carpaccio is a dish of raw meat (in this case, Salmon), marinated with lemon and olive oil, then garnished with herbs. I found this to be a really interesting twist on my usual salmon sashimi.

That's not to say that traditional isnt always the best though! Next up was our sashimi platter. It came with Salmon, Cod, Kingfish, Tuna, Scallops and an Oyster. 

Of that dish, we found the cod to be the freshest and had the best texture. Second would probably be the salmon, with tuna and kingfish tying for third. 

I suppose it was also noteworthy to mention that the wasabi was the freshly ground type, rather than the processed type you get from supermarkets. I could definitely taste the difference.

I'm not sure whether Ren were having a soy sauce shortage that day, but they seemed to be quite reluctant in providing soy sauce. Where other restaurants would have just handed you the bottle, they only gave you a tiny little portion when asked. At first, I thought this might have been some expensive exotic soy sauce, but it tasted pretty ordinary to me.

Next to arrive was the takoyaki, which was served on a hot iron plate, which ensured that the takoyaki was piping hot for the whole night. I found Ren to be generous when it came to condiments and toppings. The takoyaki was crisp and bursting with flavour. I really liked them.

Our three rolls of sushi arrived shortly after.

This was the salmon roll. To be honest, I there wasnt much 'wow' factor to it. The salmon was nice, but it was just a regular salmon avocado roll. It didn't even have the extra crunch of the tobiko. The shallots on top gave it a bit of an extra twist, but there wasn't enough to significantly change the flavour of the roll.

This was the Karaage Chicken Roll. The chicken was nice and hot, and crispy, but like the salmon roll, it didnt set itself apart from any of the other sushi rolls I've had at other places.

The last roll we got was the Runcorn Roll. We ordered it because we were quite curious about what they would put in it. It turned out to be seafood stick, with avocado and sprinkled with tobiko. 

Lastly, we had the Nabeyaki Udon. I covered the essentials of Nabeyaki in my Oshin post, and I found the Nabeyaki at Ren to be vastly different, despite both being udon served in a pot. I found the egg to be vastly under cooked. They used beef rather than chicken, and I found that to be quite over cooked. I dont think the flavours complimented each other too well. I prefer the nabeyaki at oshin far more.

I found the food at Ren to be decent for Japanese food, it was definitely not bad, but there was nothing that made it stand out to be better than the other places I've been to.

Price Range: $20 - $35 per person

Taste: 6/10
Value: 7/10
Service: 5/10
Environment: 6/10

Ren Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Mazri Kitchen - Sunnybank

At Market Square, Sunnybank, there had been a Japanese restaurant that I was strongly curious about, and yet have avoided for a long period of time. Why the conflicting feelings, you ask? Well, previously, that spot had housed one of my long term favourites, Kadoya. When it closed down, I felt a little bit of me had died with it. So when I saw the refurbishment, and subsequent opening of Mazri Kitchen, I felt strong feelings of sadness for the loss of Kadoya, and a sense of intrigue for Mazri Kitchen.

Before entering the restaurant, you can already see all the menus plastered on the window outside the shop, I guess it helps to stop people from holding up the queue and making a decision once you're at the top of the line. Anyway, I found the menus to be quite impressive in their variety. Offering bentos, ramen, udon, as well as sashimi.

Compared to Kadoya, all seating is situated in the outdoors undercover area, which was quite a let down for those who prefer indoor seating and those who thrive in air conditioned places (i.e. myself). Although, it was noteworthy that from our experience on the day, it was cooler outdoors than indoors.

Like Kadoya before it, water is served on a DIY basis. In my opinion, chilled water is far superior to room temperature, especially on a warm day.

The first thing to come out was the Pork Katsu Curry. We found this particularly impressive because it was clearly not the usual instant curry that many of the other Japanese restaurants sell. It was a bit more watery in texture and very very fragrant. Upon close inspection,  I could see little specks of ground up herbs,  which makes me lean towards the opinion that the curry is home made.  The pork chop was nice and crispy, and the sauce to rice ratio was quite ample and portions were generous.

Next came the pork katsu don with egg. As you can see, the portion of pork chop provided was really quite big, it was large enough to cover the top of the bowl. Other than this, the rice was quite tasty and well infused with the egg sauce and pork juices.

My order was the Salmon Bento. I ordered this so that I could get to try not only their salmon, but the deli and sides. In terms of sides, being the unoriginal person that I am, I settled for prawn and crab cream croquette (which is the same as what kadoya serves), and for deli, I got the seaweed salad and the potato salad. The seaweed salad was delicious and refreshing, but I found the potato salad a bit bland. It would have been a bit better with the addition of a bit more sauce. The salmon was fresh, but could have been cut a bit thicker, and the salad had minimal dressing, which needed a bit of improvement. The rice was the proper short grain Japanese rice, which was authentic though.

Despite sitting outside, I did enjoy my time at Mazri Kitchen. I liked the friendly service and attention to detail that staff provide, giving it a homey kind of feel to it.

Price Range: $10 - $20 per person

Taste: 7.5/10
Value: 8/10
Service: 8/10
Environment: 5/10

Japanese Deli Mazri Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, 20 February 2015

Kuo - Sunnybank

One of the regular haunts for our uni crew when we are going out for a catch up is K-UO, situated in Market Square, next to Malaya Corner, which is relatively popular for its inexpensive meals, long opening hours and impressive drinks menu. The thing to note about K-UO though, is that even though it sells Japanese food, the staff seem to be predominantly Taiwanese.

Whilst some of the menu was blocked by reflection, it consists of two sides, split into multiple sections.

One thing that we always get when we go to Ku-O, is their Oden (ใŠใงใ‚“) which is a traditional Japanese winter dish, which consists of a multitude of different things (such as radish, tofu, fish cake, egg) served in a light dashi broth. In this instance, we opted for our favourites, being money bags (flying fish roe bundled up in a tofu skin). We loved how the broth soaked into the tofu, but the fish roe was still crunchy on the inside.

Next came the soft shell crab. Having 2 for $10 was quite a good deal, although I found it a bit overly toasted. The accompanying sauce (being a mix of what seems to be takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise) did a lot to alleviate the situation though.

The takoyaki was served nice and hot. I found it to be a lot more crispier than other places that I've been to.

The things on the top left look like fried mozarella sticks, but they are actually crab cream croquettes. I found them pretty average to be honest. They didnt have much crab meat, and were mainly very potato-y.

In terms of mains, my usual is aways salmon don. Although salmon by itself doesn't usually have enough taste to be considered a dish on its own, Ku-o's version is quite decent, as they offer generous amounts of Japanese rice seasoning, and seaweed salad with it. I find it extra yummy when doused with light soy sauce. Whilst Ku-o serves its salmon don on cold rice as a default, I usually ask for mine to be served on warm rice.

The udon at Ku-o is also very comforting and tasty. At $4.90 it is an excellent deal, as it uses relatively high quality udon (the frozen ones, not the preserved ones that have a sour aftertaste), and a light broth.

Another good option for a cheap meal, is the Curry Don. Again, it sells for $4.90. Although there are no meats, it does come with bits of carrot, potato and is garnished with rice seasoning and egg.

Despite the food being quite delicious, the main attraction that draws us to Ku-O is actually their drinks. In particular their frappes, which are huge! I usually get the Matcha one, but on that instance, I got the chocolate one. It was cool and refreshing for summer, and delightfully garnished with grass jelly, wafers and maltesers.

What I also particularly like about Ku-o is that it opens really late. Some nights we go there after watching a late night movie, and it's still open when a lot of the other restaurants are closed. The availability of Japanese food late at night is a definite plus.

Price Range: $7 - $25 per person

Taste: 7/10
Value: 8/10
Service: 6/10
Environment: 7.5/10

KU-O Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon