Ramen O-San Bar

Ramen O-San BarIT WAS a bit disconcerting seeing my favourite food court – Dixon House – in Sydney’s Chinatown, in slight disarray with empty stalls and for lease signs scattered about the place the other day. Food court land can be a do or die affair, unfortunately.

Thankfully, the aunties at two of my favourites – Phnom Penh Teo Chew Noodle House and Won Ton Noodle House – are still there as they have been for over a decade dishing out great bowls of noodle soup, stir fries and braised dishes as has Sizzling and Hot Pot Kitchen which still attracts what seems to be an endless queue of diners that linger around other folks trying to get a seat or table in the main communal dining area.

I ventured down to Dixon House for lunch recently after reading a post about a ramen hole-in-the-wall called Ramen O-San Bar by Sydney street food bloggers Shawn and Alison of B-Kyu. I haven’t been to Dixon House for a while and as ramen is classic comfort food for me, it was a good incentive to pop my head in to visit this old Asian street food stalwart on Dixon Street mall.

Ramen O-San Bar is the newest joint for Chef Kazuteru’s who has six other such shops in the world (five in Japan and one in Cambodia). The stall immediately on the left as you enter through the sliding doors of Dixon House on the Hay and Dixon streets corner (next door to Phnom Penh Teo Chew Noodle House). Its menu is displayed on a huge banner hanging near the service window (which makes me think that Ramen O-San Bar may have been at a market or two), and features a variety of ramen as well as some other dishes (to the right there was a large pile of charsiu pork rice balls for $3). There is tonkatsu ramen ($9.80); sumo ramen (pork and chicken soup with pork kakuni); black garlic tonkatsu ramen ($10.80); spicy ramen ($11.80); seafood tsukemen ($13.80) as well as some rice bowls (pork belly and charsiu pork).

You can add extras to your ramen bowl for a small cost (like an egg, bamboo shoots, leek, shallot, nori, etc).

I love tonkatsu ramen and I measure ramen joints on the quality of this style of ramen. For ramen acolytes, this style of ramen broth is like Dom Perignon to a Champagne connoisseur. Tonkatsu is a cloudy white-coloured thick broth made from boiling pork bones for many hours which infuses the soup with a hearty pork flavor with a creamy consistency. Sometimes other lighter stock might be added to  for the final stock soup.

I ordered  Ramen O-San Bar’s tonkatsu ramen ($9.80) with the addition of a soft-boiled egg (in Japan it’s called onsen tamago), for $1.50).

Ramen O-San Bar RamenThe bowl took just over five minutes to be served (I assume as the onsen tamago was being bathed). It was a hearty, nutty and creamy, lip-smacking, collagen-enriched pork broth. Classic to the style. In the bowl was a topping of sliced spring onions, shredded wood fungus and slices of pork. The noodles were firm.

I added about half a teaspoon each of sesame seeds, minced garlic and chilli flakes (available at the the stall), to the bowl after my initial couple of slurps just for a flavour boost. Did it need it? Probably not – but I am a creature of habit when it comes to adding such tid bits to my ramen (don’t worry, I did taste the soup before adding my extras). The onsen tamago was excellent and almost perfect – it had a runny orange yolk and was a fine addition to the ramen.  

Maybe I should have also ordered a nori sheet and some menma? Next time.

This ramen hit the spot and ticked all the boxes. The only thing that I could criticise was the lack of extras – you need to build your own from a base (as in Japan) but in OZ there are other ramen places where you get a little bit more (such as nori and menma). But considering the quality of the broth – extra bells and whistles are only an after thought.

With a line starting to form outside Ramen O-San Bar as I left I hope its popularity reinvigorates my favourite food court.

The verdict: Ramen O-San Bar has one of the best food court tonkatsu ramen in town and is worthy of a place alongside the much raved about Gumshara (Eating World Food Court) and Ramen Ikkyu (Sussex Food Court).

What: Ramen O-San Bar, Stall B1 at Dixon House Food Court, cnr Hay and Dixon streets, Haymarket, Sydney, NSW Australia. The food court is open seven days a week from 10.30am to 8pm (but some outlets’ openings vary).

Ate there: February 2015.

Posted in Hawker food, Japanese, New South Wales, Ramen, Street Food, Sydney | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Woollahra Artisan Markets

IMG_7657

THE Little Champion (T.L.C.) has got involved in the market game and is one of the organisers along with two mates – a passionate Frenchman and an enthusiastic foodie – of Sydney’s newest produce market in the leafy inner-eastern suburb of Woollahra.

She texted me last week as she needed my help with her hubby and my best mate REG aka Real Evil Genius. REG was a bit out of character (he was apparently going “all gourmet”), and she asked me to come along one Sunday and catch up with him at the market for “an intervention”.

If it was true that REG was “going all gourmet” then she was right to start worrying. You may remember REG from a previous blog. “Gourmet” for REG is wearing a bib while breaking into a chilli crab sipping his cocktail of choice (either a shandy or a West Coast Cooler). I confronted REG over the phone. He confessed that ever since T.L.C. and her mates started the market he would return home each Sunday afternoon with bags full of jars of granola, cheeses, French pastries, artisan breads and flowers. To my surprise he was getting a taste for a salad mix from the providers of all things leafy to none other than restaurateurs Tetsuya Wakuda and Neil Perry.

The Baronets of Balmain and I caught up with REG and his daughter, Little Nipper, at the Woollahra Artisan Market on a recent sunny Sydney spring Sunday. It’s a small market tucked behind Zigolini’s on Queen Street and is reminiscent of the type of village market you would find in suburbs and villages of France. And that’s exactly what its creator, Woollaraha local Alain Schwerm, is trying to emulate. From what I saw, smelt, heard and experienced he is on the way to making this one of the best suburban produce markets in the city.

IMG_7660The first thing that stood out when we arrived was that many of the stallholders (such as the elegant ladies that run the stall selling woven market bags and French linen), would greet you with an enthusiastic “bonjour” (in true French accents), giving this market a real Continental vibe. Secondly is the array and quantity of produce; and thirdly, not a bric-a-brac stall in sight.

REG and Little Nipper wanted to take us to some of their market discoveries (I think REG couldn’t wait to try the samples as almost all stallholders had an offering to entice a purchase), so the first stop was “Yummee” operated by a family that made their own organic granola. The granola was good, especially highlighted when layered with the fruity compote that they also sold. The family also makes its own peanut spread (which would be excellent on top of some steamed veges Indonesian gado-gado style), and an almond paste.

IMG_7655Yummee was in-between a young lad surrounded by bottles of a wine spritzer called “Sofi” and a couple of kids spruiking the health benefits of their bottled virgin olive oil from Rosto Grove in Merriwa up in the Hunter Valley. Rosto produces two varieties – a mild drop (Mellow) and a pungent beauty (Extra Oomph) which had lashings of banana and pepper tones. REG bought a bottle to send home to the Baroness.

Next door was a stall managed by an extremely fit and health passionate women from “Running Hearts” who made her own protein balls and other healthy snacks. The Baronets consumed enough protein ball samples to satisfy Arnold Schwarzenegger and gave them the thumbs up (I am now watching to see if Gob and DJ Hoot bulk up in the next week).  They insisted that I buy a box for the Baroness (so I did but I suspect it was a ploy to raid the box back at home).

IMG_7654I then felt a tug at my jeans. DJ Hoot was pointing at sticks of salami opposite. You never get between DJ Hoot and fermented sausage –  she’s a connoisseur of it and puts other eight year olds to shame when ordering pizza (with hot pepperoni every time). There were three styles of the Sicilian-inspired sarda for tasting. Also for sale was saucisson sec, pork rillettes and chicken parfait.  To one side and on a grill were large chorizo sausages on sticks spurting out their spicy perfume of minced pig and chilli for sale as a snack. And that is where I lost REG.

IMG_7658But not to worry, the sophisticated Frenchman Alain got me back on track. As we strolled he told me he wanted to create a real produce market like the ones back home – something he thinks is lacking in suburban Sydney (which is true as most of the established ones here are turning into outdoor dollar shops and flea markets).

Alain said he got initial support from some of his French food-loving/making compatriots and proudly told me they had a stall selling the classic and rare Boudreaux pastry canelé (the recipe dates back to the 1700s), and a stall (La Planchette) that had about 20 imported cheeses including comté cheese. He spoke excitedly of the stall owners who made the effort to bring fresh fruit and veg from places like Dural and Vineyard and other artisans giving the market a go.

The emphasis on produce (and being slightly selective on who they have), has worked. The small group of French foodies have been joined by other select producers selling good old cottage-industry wares which a proud Alain said was extremely satisfying and encouraging as it will help to make the market a permanent fixture.

As we chatted we stopped outside a food cart operated by Bar Phở. Alain could tell that the irony of having a Vietnamese street cart selling noodle soup in a “French Market” was not lost on me.

“You see we even have French Indochina represented,” he joked.

IMG_6481I caught up with REG and Little Nipper at “By Constance” which was home to the famous canelé. These delectable sweet pastries can be sampled and must be tried.  A canelé is a small, airy pastry with a soft custard center and a dark caramelised crust. One of the nicest sweets I have had in a while (think of a marriage of creme brûlée and panettone). Taking home a packet was a must.

Next door was “Common2Us” from Dural with a selection of quality fruit and vegetables. Across the way the Baronets were studying the huge jar of bees busily making honeycomb at the Maya Sunny Honey stall. Next door, salad merchants “Salads Direct” were selling fresh herbs in pots and bags of salad mixes ($5). I grabbed a bag of these wonderful washed and crunchy leaves which I was told would last for a week in the fridge. I got six individual serves out of the bag and the Rosto olive oil was the dressing of choice at evening meals.

IMG_7650My final purchase of the day was a jar of “Take2Eggs” lemon butter from a lady next to Phở Bar. It has been an excellent accompaniment to some freshly-toasted banana bread and is similar to a spreadable rich lemon curd. She also had some jars of preserved lemons and an organic orange marmalade.

With bags in hand we caught up with T.L.C. and Little Nipper buying bread and chocolate croissants from the Organic Bread Bar. REG also appeared and told me he had just knocked off a grilled chorizo on a stick. He had a big glob of reddish fatty goodness seeping into his shirt as proof.

“Should’ve asked for a bib,” I told him.

He grinned.

Next to REG, as if they were his prized possessions, were two cases of the Sofi wine spritzer which he said he had just bought.

I turned to T.L.C and whispered: “Situation normal, no intervention required”.

The verdict: Produce driven market with the vibe and sophistication reminiscent of a local community market in a small French provincial town. Will make its mark in Sydney.

What: Woollahra Artisan Markets, 53 Moncur Street (corner of Queen Street or second entry at Queen Street and Dorhauer Lane) Woollahra, NSW Australia. Open Sundays from 8.30am to 2.30pm (until Christmas). Web: www.woollahraartisanmarkets.com/

Visited there: October 2014.

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Posted in Food Market, French, Sydney | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Oxford Tavern

Oxford Taven - BBQI THOUGHT I had just walked into a scene from the movie Deliverance. I am greeted by a picture of a large black pig amid a haze of hickory-scented smoke bellowing from the outside smoker which was imparting flavoured carbon goodness to various meaty delights within its steel coffin.

Moving inside to the bar area there, standing before me where pole dancers used to gyrate under a disco ball, was a wooden cheetah kept company by a nearby stuffed bear. It seemed a bit odd – the animals didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the Bayou backwater swamp come retro club theme which mesmerised us after the fog of the hickory smoke lifted but the bear was a handsome beast and stood proud as a stuffed animal can.

Not so long ago Oxford Tavern wasn’t the place you would go for a decent feed (of food). With a neon sign flashing “girls, girls, girls” throughout the wee hours of the morning, it was the kind of place that Sinatra would go to for a late night swill to be among bucks parties and “dirty old men types” ogling pole dances, strippers and jelly wrestlers while being served by barmaids with not much on. But one could feel safe as the local Police station is directly across the road (and possibly in pre Wood Royal Commission days The Oxford served as a “lunch room”).

The Petersham pub has thrown out the jelly wrestling tubs and while that infamous neon sign and the stainless steel dancing polls are still there it has been transformed into a groovy retro-themed pub serving micro brew beer served by guys that look as if they have come out of a truck stop on Route 66 and some pretty decent food inspired by Southern US BBQ revolutionaries and Tex-Mex rancheros.

It is now somewhere where you can go to without getting a raised eyebrow from the Mrs if you tell her you’re just going to have a quick skewy at The Oxford.*

I attended The Oxford for lunch with some colleagues after a nearby work-related site visit and if you like meat and smoke and BBQ then The Oxford is the place for you.

Inside you could be forgiven if you think you are dining in Albuquerque or, if you choose a table outdoors, in a South Carolina or Tennessee BBQ house where the smoker billows away quietly in a corner. The menu features pub meals with a twist and some American BBQ and Tex-Mex-inspired delights such as a cheeseburger ($5); chook san chou bow ($15); popcorn squid ($16); fries from $8; and then there’s five styles of tacos for $5.50 each (fried pork belly; Baja fish; Asudo short rib, BBQ Chicken and fried avocado).

On weekends they sell a variety of smoked BBQ meats per 100g until it is all gone.

It’s not all meat, there are a items for non-carnivores such as BBQ corn with a Creole mayo, popcorn and chips ($8), and buffalo cauliflower balls with hot sauce and blue cheese sauce ($14).

But it is the $10 lunch menu that is the eye-opener and was the talk of the table and the reason that we will be back (and we can’t wait). The lunch menu is available Monday to Friday from noon to 3pm and features 19 of the main menu items – BBQ pork roll; a stadium double dawg, hickory burger, Dino’s Charcoal Chicken and much more.

Thankfully the six of us all ordered something different so we could all get a feel for what The Oxford could do.

Oxford Taven - Hot DogSignorina Prada (aka La Fille avec le Téléphone d’Opale), ordered the Stadium Double Dawg – a grilled hot dog that looked as if it was over half a metre long and dressed with corn relish, onions, mustard and tomato sauce and came with a side of chunky fries (which we picked at while Signorina was out on the phone for the second time). You can also get it as a chilli double dawg.

Signorina described it as excellent but:

“. . .  has created issues regarding the fit of my jeans. I didn’t realise a “double dawg’ meant, quite literally, a hot dog double the size of a regular one. The brioche bun was a nice touch, and the corn relish was a cunning foil to the fat overload of a 60 centimeter long hot dog. It’s the type of meal that would be perfect to split between three kids with the promise of a “Jelly Wrestle” dessert to follow …”

More about the jelly wrestle later.

Oxford - steak.jpgHeracles always needs a protein fix. Not one to order small and to up the ante, he decided to get two $10 meals – the steak and the chicken salad. The steak came with a side of slaw and chips.

Heracles is usually a man of many words (he is, after all a contract lawyer), but when asked about his meal made this unusually direct comment:

“The steak was delicious but a little small for a man size appetite – however when coupled with the chicken salad – it was sensational – and for a combined total of $20, exceptional value!”

Obviously the plain English drafting seminar wasn’t lost on Heracles.

Next up was Me Julie’s meal. Being of Balkan origin, Me Julie can’t go past a nice crumbed and fried piece of meat. All the American style, NATO-inspired stuff on the menu wasn’t to her appetite and so she ordered the chicken schnitzel with a parma sauce (you could also choose natural, Mexican or Hawaiian). What arrived was a large piece of flattened chook, golden fried and covered in a vibrant tomato sauce layered with dripping melted cheese with a side of chunky chips. All that was missing for Me Julie was a serve of cabbage and a bottle of home-made rakia. There’s no photo because in true Balkan tradition once food appears on the table it should be immediately devoured in case:

1. You offend your host,

2. The guy/gal next to you polishes off his/her’s and eyes off yours (which may mean you have to fight him/her to the death with any utensil you can get your hands on if he/she goes for it) and,

3. A colleague might take a picture of you eating something that your trainer will hold against you.

Me Julie is more expressive than Heracles when it comes to describing her meal:

“Moist chicken encased in a delicious and crunchy crumb which was topped with a mouth-watering parmigiana sauce that just melted in your mouth. The meal was a thumbs up for me.”

Thankfully no one died in the eating of the schnitzel.

Oxford - SmokerThe Apprentice, as you may recall, is a man with a little tummy. He shies away from meals bigger than a 20 cent piece (that’s just over the size of an American quarter). He ordered the hickory-smoked pulled pork roll much to my amazement (I guess it was to impress upon Heracles who The Apprentice has a self-admitted man crush on). He stepped up to the challenge and devoured his pork-filled bun with ferocity. To everyone’s surprise he then enthusiastically declared that he was up to the task of sharing the Oxford’s signature dessert – the jelly wrestle – with his colleagues. Me Julie was more concerned that he may start eyeing off her half-eaten schnitzel and would have to fight him for it (sans jelly).

The Apprentice liked The Oxford and he liked the fact that one of the bar staff resembled what he would look like if he ventured out of The Appalachians (or Camden), wearing a trucker cap. He felt at home (even if that was 56.4km away):

“This place is designed for blokes. While the glory days of jelly wrestling may be gone, there remains a focus on out-of-date decor, good booze and meat. With this in mind, I opted for the BBQ Pork Roll. The smell of the meat smoker out the back of the pub made me crave a decent serving of pig, so I couldn’t go past the first item on the menu.  After suffering an initial bout of food envy as I watched the mouth-watering meals of others being delivered, I was finally presented with a roll that properly looked like it had been prepared by a bloke at the pub. The burger came on one of those old school soft buns which was filled with a large helping of juicy BBQ Pork with just the right amount of garlic mayo and chilli. This alone was magnificent, but on the second bite came the flavour of a juicy pineapple ring, which even further improved what was already one tasty burger. Served with a decent portion of chips in one of those vintage chocolate-brown wooden serving bowls that everyone’s mum had back in the 80s, this will clearly be remembered as probably the best $10 lunches I have enjoyed.”

Oxford - ChickenMr Burns likes charcoal (so much he has been known to throw the odd lawyer into the fire), and so he ordered Dino’s charcoal chicken with rice and beans. In my opinion it looked as if this was going to be the pick of the meals as it smelt incredible (even Me Julie seemed as if she might fight him to the death for the leftover bones). Old Man Burns told me:

“After overcoming the doubt sown by some discouraging questioning of my choice by Heracles on the basis that it could only be a quarter chicken for $10, I was pleased I stuck to my guns when I received a large half chicken, dressed with a spicy tomato based sauce, together with lightly toasted flat bread and generous sides of both rice and beans and a slaw-based salad.  The chicken was perfectly cooked, juicy and tender. The picante sauce was completed by the pepper and paprika in the slaw salad and tempered by the rice and beans. It was sensational value and motivated me to begin planning a return visit with family in tow as many other options on the menu sounded just as good.”

Oxford - BurgerI’m enjoying the current Sydney burger fad and just had to opt for the hickory burger.

Out it came in a foil covered basket. It contained a moist, hickory-smoke flavoured, lean pattie with a strip of bacon topped with cheese, tomatoes, dill pickles and hallelujah . . . . . . . .mustard! It was all served up on a fresh soft bun. This is what a burger should be – not too complex or saturated with condiments. An excellent burger and fries were not an optional extra (like in other establishments). It would receive a mighty “Yee Ha!” in the Lone Star State.

A dab of El Yucateco chilli sauce or smoky Tabasco from the bottles on the tables was an excellent addition (if you want Tex Mex then that needs to include such condiments so 10 out of 10 to The Oxford).

Oxford - Jelly WrestleFinally we were lucky enough to be able to order the Jelly Wrestle ($20) which isn’t usually on the lunch menu. The Jelly Wrestle is a huge wooden platter of four different flavoured jellies with ice cream, caramel popcorn and wafers all topped with chocolate and raspberry sauce and whipped cream. A couple of glace cherries make a feature too.

The dessert doesn’t come with cutlery – you done latex gloves and go in scooping out as much as you can eat.

We had to remind Me Julie that the ‘wrestle’ in the name was to do with an activity that used to occur at The “old”Oxford and not a declaration to fight over the dessert with the winner taking all (this didn’t stop her from keeping a fork at the ready).

At The Oxford we wrestled and we scoffed, and like it was like for those patrons during the halcyon days of The Oxford we left with cheeky grins on our faces.

*Note: a “skewy” is Australian slang for a “schooner of beer” and is not a reference to certain acts dramatised or suggested in the movie Deliverance.

The verdict: With 19 $10 lunch time options, smoked meats, a hot dog a long as an elephant’s tail, dancing poles, good beer and a dessert called the “Jelly Wrestle” served up by wild men in trucker hats what more could you ask for from a pub?

What: Oxford Tavern, 1 New Canterbury Rd, Petersham NSW 2049 Australia. Web: http://www.theoxfordtavern.com.au

Ate there: June 2014.

Posted in New South Wales, Pub food, Sydney | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments