Menya RamenI HAVE been unfair when it comes to reviewing ramen joints in Sydney.  Unfair because I have neglected Menya Ramen Bar in Sydney’s Haymarket.

Menya is a place that I eat regularly when I get a ramen craving (which is often as it is now winter in Sydney), was the first “ramen bar” I ever went to in Sydney and is a place that I  consider offers the best value ramen in Sydney. It’s also has my favourite ramen – the Menya tonkatsu shoyu ramen – and at a mere $9.30 – it has a lip-puckering flavoursome soup with tons of toppings.

When you enter Menya at the bottom of the Princes Centre in Haymarket you are always greeted with an enthusiastic “Irasshaimase!” by the chefs. Always. And that gives me a renewed energy to battle for a place along the bench at its long communal dining table with other ramen slurping Menya groupies.

The menu has a variety of ramen in four base broths – tonkotsu shoyu; tonkotsu miso (the pork bases); tori-gara shoyu and tori-gara miso (the chicken bases). Apart from my favourite (which I will get to later), you can choose from the ton-toro ramen (roasted pork); karami ramen (chilli pork mince); kogashi-ninniku ramen (garlic) ni-tamago ramen (with Japanese gooey eggs); teriyaki beef ramen; tori-katsu ramen (chicken schnitzel); and tori kara-age ramen (fried chicken). There is also the dragon jya-jya men with chilli miso pork mince and the karami-miso tsukemen.

Menya SetMenya also has a selection of soba and udon noodle soups and a selection of rice dishes and sets.

My favourite, Menya tonkatsu shoyu ramen is packed with a flavorable tonkotsu pork broth with all the ramen toppings you need (char siu pork, frim noodles, half a tamago egg, narutomaki, menma and two seaweed sheets). It’s hearty, filling and comforting on a cold winter day.

If you have a big appetite (and you are going to need it), then a deluxe mini Menya ramen set is the way to go. The set offers a choice of either a tonkotsu or tori-gara based menya ramen; a plate of four plump gyoza and a choice of one of four rice bowls (menya curry; buta mabushi; teriyaki beef or chanko). I tend to choose the mabushi bowl (which is pickled pork) with the lighter chicken-stock based tori-gara ramen but if you have a sumo-sized appetite then you may have to have the protein rich chanko bowl (which is what the sumo eat) with the tonkotsu!

IMG_9998If you’re not in the mood for ramen then I recommend the katsu don with miso soup ($9.50). Here you are offered a large rice bowl topped with a fried and well-seasoned chicken schnitzel which has a crunchy coating and juicy chicken inside. It’s topped with an egg that is baked onto the rice and chicken. The bowl is perfect for the kids to share! For an extra $4.50 you can get a Menya ramen on the side but I have seen folks order such an addition and they struggle.

If you like noise, love to slurp and don’t like taking out too many notes or coins from your pocket – then Menya is perfect for you.

The verdict: Be aware that Menya is cash only and has communal tables and is busy during peak eating times (but turnover is fast). Service is quick and in no time you are slupring firm noodles covered in a silky tonkatsu broth.

What: Menya Ramen Bar, Shop TG8, 8 Quay Street, Haymarket NSW, Australia.

Ate there: Always.

Posted in Japanese, Menya, Ramen, Sydney | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Kefi Souvlaki & Pizza Bar

KefiAS I sat at one of the few laminated indoor tables in Kefi I overhead a suited man proclaiming to the cashier that they made the best gyros in Australia. That’s a pretty big call but probably well substantiated considering the chef behind (or in front of) the spits full of rotating meats at Kefi Souvlaki & Pizza Bar at Kingsgrove is one  David Tsirekas (formerly of Sydney Greek restaurants Perama and Xanthi).

I’m unsure what gyros the suited man had just eaten as Kefi’s menu is extensive (and despite also being a “Pizza Bar” there is no pizza in sight). The proof would lie in the tasting of the pork gyros ($8) I was waiting for – would it be as good as those “yiros” I ate at 2am during my university days some 25 years ago?

Pork Gyros

My pork gyros was wrapped as if was done by expert gift wrapper. Inside the soft and warm pita were slices of smoky pork with slices of onion and tomato, chopped parsley drizzled with garlicky tzatziki and mustard mayo. Spikes of golden, crunchy potato chips towered at the end. Chips (WTF)? Not that it was an offensive addition but I never had chips (or even saw chips), in those 2am lamb yiros back in North Adelaide. It was good. It was clean. It was far more sophisticated than something experienced on the way home after a night out on the Cooper’s ale in the ’80s. Most of all it felt as if this was how a gyros (yiros) was to be.

I told my colleague Heracles that I went to Kefi and had a gyros. The first thing he asked me was if it had chips in it because that was essential. His comment hit me like a lightning bolt from Zeus – it seems that those 2am yiros laden with dripping fat and garlic sauce which would meld and ooze out the bottom of the pita and drip down your arm and make your breath smell like you had just eaten a garden full of garlic and onion weren’t authentic after all.

Kefi’s “souvlaki bar” is next to the more upmarket Kefi Greek Tavern restaurant on Kingsgrove Road and is literally a one-minute walk from the Kingsgrove railway station. With seating for eight inside and 12 on its veranda Kefi is a temple to Greek street food (but with a twist). There’s the traditional fare but what is exciting about Kefi and caused me to come back on four separate occasions was the “bling” that they add to gyros.

The menu has the traditional (lamb, chicken and pork), and meal deals that include a drink and chips on the side (from $12.90), but as you keep looking at all the panels on the wall you get a sense that this is no ordinary fast street food bar

Pork Belly GyrosWhile devouring that pork gyro one particular gyro caught my attention on the menu board – the pork belly baklava gyro ($9.50). This sounded far more exotic than the “yiros” from North Adelaide’s Blue and White Cafe (the Blue and White yiros was considered a rite of passage back then as was its AB – an Adelaide icon. You can read about the AB here). I had to have it so I travelled back to Kefi the following day.

The pork belly baklava gyro was excellent. Again, the pita was soft but in it was a combination of sheer genius: slices of thick and succulent slow-roasted pork belly, smashed/de-constructed baklava (date and pistachio paste as well as shards of filo pastry), and instead of crunchy chips it had crunchy pork crackling. An “apple mastic” mayo brought some sweetish tartness and acidity to cut through the glorious fat of the pig bits and sweetness of the baklava paste and the parsley, coriander, mint and watercress salad was ideal as it added some freshness. The entire combination put me in a happy place.

The menu had some interesting gyros combinations. There is a prawn saganaki ($12) with grilled prawns, red peppers, gets parsley drizzled with saganaki sauce (which I guess is a saganaki cheese based sauce); the calamari ($10.50) with grilled calamari, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion and an ouzo mayonnaise; and the soft-shell crab ($9.50) with deep-fried soft shell crab, a ‘Greekslaw’ of purple cabbage, green apple, carrots and herbs, coriander and a mustard mayo.

The excitement over Kefi’s gyros got me thinking – how would its lamb one compare with the distant memories of those I had back in the 80s? Back then a lamb “yiros” was packed full of lettuce, onion, tomato, parsley and tzatziki sauce – the Aussie late night favourite used to lessen the impact of the anticipated hangover you may experience later. So I had a lamb gyros ($8.80) on my latest visit and it was one of the best – it even out did the pork and pork-belly gyros I had on my earlier visits. The soft pita was filled with slices of mouth-melting and flavoursome seasoned lamb with slices of onion and tomato, chopped parsley and crunchy chips all drizzled with garlicky tzatziki and mustard mayo.  It was superb and best of all not a drip of sauce or fat ran down my arm.

The verdict: The humble street Gyros has been given some mature flair and sophistication by David Tsirekas. Go trad or gourmet with some bling.

What: Kefi Souvlaki & Pizza Bar at Kingsgrove, 1/231 Kingsgrove Road,
Kingsgrove, NSW 2208 Australia. Open Tuesday to Wednesday from 11am to 10pm, Thursday to Saturday from 11am to 11pm and on Sunday from 11am to 10pm. Phone (02) 9554 4444.

When: May 2015.

Posted in Greek, New South Wales, Street Food, Sydney | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Vic’s Meat Market

Vics MeatsIT was like watching a sophisticated caveman in a suit eat (and we were all technically in a “cave”).

The Apprentice decided to order the $70 Emperor’s Cut steak sandwich – a 150g piece of prime Rangers Valley wagyu –a wonderful cut of scotch fillet with a nine-plus marbling score (which sells at the butcher’s next door for $249 a kilo), while the rest of us opted for either a wagyu burger or smoked brisket sandwich.

He caressed it, he kissed it and with every loving bite of rare wagyu he would smile and then grunt in a deep baritone that could rival Jim Morrison’s voice. He had wanted to try the Emperor’s Cut ever since he read about it in one of our daily newspapers and now he was at the cave and it was in front of him and it was becoming a part of him.

The Apprentice’s steak sandwich is rumored to be the most expensive steak sandwich in Australia and is available from the Vic’s Meats’ Wagyu Bar at the Sydney Fish Market (the latest enterprise of Victor Churchill Butcher – one of Sydney’s prime butchers).

Emperor's CutWatching The Apprentice devour his very expensive sandwich provided much amusement – but it wasn’t as funny as witnessing the expression he received from Chef Eric Chan when he ordered it. We all weren’t sure whether it was a look of disbelief from Chef Chan (because The Apprentice looked like a young trailblazer in a suit with too much money to throw away), or of disdain (because The Apprentice looked like a young trailblazer in a suit with too much money to throw away). It didn’t matter as Chef Chan was very happy to take his money after he saw that The Apprentice was very serious about throwing away his money. We were later told the sandwich was actually $85 – the meat alone costs $70 (Chef Chan obviously took pity on him and thought he may be of need of a marriage-saving discount).

The Apprentice’s colleagues, which included yours truly; Me Julie and Heracles, weren’t worthy of such a piece of beast and ordered from next door at Kong’s Cave – which offers American-style smokehouse meats (think Carolina, Tennessee and Texan BBQ styles). Here you can get a smoked brisket sandwich; a wagyu cheeseburger or pulled pork sandwich (all for $10) or upsize to a double wagyu cheese burger ($15). The smoky goodness doesn’t stop there – you can get chicken wings ($8), beef short ribs ($30), pork ribs ($40) and lamb riblets ($12). There’s also some fine Young Henry’s beer available as well as American Dr Pepper or Barqs root beer on the soda tap. If you order from the Wagyu Bar you can get a class of Penfold’s Grange!

Kong’s Cave is named after a purposely built two-tonne smoker named Kong. Kong hails from Kansas City and apparently is the largest such smoker in Australia with the capacity to smoke 200kg of meat (Vic’s Meats smokes with ironbark and applewood). Kong smokes everything from pork butt for the pulled pork, to the beef brisket, the chicken wings and the wagyu to feed the masses yearning for some smoky-flavored carnivore barbecue.

Vic's Brisket RollI went for the beef brisket, slices of salty, peppery smoked tender beef in a soft roll topped with fresh slaw and a deep tomato sticky Texan-style sauce. It was good, very good. It took me back to the Lone Star State but I just needed it to be a bit bigger – as big as the heart of Texas bigger.

Heracles ordered one of each – the wagyu cheese burger and the beef brisket while Me Julie also had a cheeseburger (and with European/Baltic finesse discreetly picked out her dill pickle). Heracles thought the beef brisket won hands down over the cheese burger. Me Julie liked her burger but thought that for $10 there needed to be something extra on it – she didn’t know what (maybe a cheeseburger royal type of concept)?

The three of us devoured our rolls quite quickly and The Apprentice was left to savour every morsel of his sophisticated sandwich while we checked out the butchers which is a walk-in cool room next door. The room is full of organic and prime meats for sale – including whole beasts. There’s also a meat “candy bar” –  where you can  pick and mix set up where you can make your biltong and jerky varieties and pay by weight. Prices are reasonably good especially considering you are getting some of the best meat available in the country.

Vic's Cheese burgerWhen we returned from our meat gazing we found The Apprentice chatting to Chef Chan (and that is when the man crush began), about wagyu. Chef Chan is now idolised by The Apprentice who is affectionately referred as his “meat master”.

And what about The Apprentice’s steak sandwich? Well, unlike our burgers which were wrapped in paper, his was served on fine china and included a couple of varieties of crisp lettuce. He reckons the Emperor’s Cut was the chocolate of meat – it just melted – the best steak he has ever had and was worth every silver dollar.

For his sake (and wallet’s), I hope the experience was more Lindt than Cadbury.

The verdict: Offers some great US barbecue styles for the meat lover and if the wallet permits, Australia’s most expensive steak – perfect for young trailblazers.

What: Vic’s Meat Market (Kong’s Cave and the Wagyu Bar), 50-60 Bank St, Pyrmont, NSW 2009 Australia (at the Sydney Fish Market). Open seven days 10am to 3pm (butchery open from 9am to 5pm).

Ate there: June 2015.

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