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Friday, May 31, 2013

Sydney 2013: Sepia @ Sussex Street, Sydney

Our meals at Bourke St. Bakery along with Tetsuya’s help turbocharge our memorable day of being gluttons.   With us at our high from all the food consumed, we had no intentions of slowing down.  As the day turned dark, gravity played an essential role in preparing our stomachs for the next meal.  Our dinner tonight happened at Sepia in the CBD.  Why Sepia you might ask?  Well, I personally found its cuisine’s description to be the most special compared to the other offerings around town.  I was further convinced when I saw a review written by a fellow friend and foodie, Glenn.  See his post on Sepia here

 

Ranked among the top restaurants in the country and given a 3 hat score in the Good Food Guide 2013, Sepia is not short on accolades.  The restaurant as I have seen is motivated to use the best seasonal produce and draws inspiration from Japan.  Our meal was a $160 dollar degustation (also available with optional courses of oysters and cheese for an extra charge).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile I decided to not try any oysters that night, Andrew, Bel and Jordan did not hold back.  These freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters they said were one of the freshest they have had to date.  To add to the compliment, they enjoyed the white wine vinaigrette that accompanied the oysters! 

 

Amuse bouche; Smoked ocean trout consomm√©, smoked roe, smoked eggplantOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis amuse bouche for sure did not lack a wow factor.  It was beautiful to look at and its flavors were unique.  While it was hard to complement its distinctive taste on my first bite, I enjoyed it more as I savored it in my mouth.  The smokiness really lived through the whole experience and it packed mystery in its ingredients.  Some of which I would not have expected if it was not stated on the menu.

 

First course; New Zealand whitebait, braised ox cheek dashi, heart of palm, yuzu, sea samphire, mitsubaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile I only knew what half the ingredients were in this dish before looking the rest up on the internet, it did not stop me from enjoying it.  The Japanese inspirations in this dish were clear. For me, the highlight here was the perfectly cooked white bait.  I have eaten others which tasted horrible.  The dashi broth here was clear and provided a salty-sweet flavor to the fish.  Also present in this dish was a mild citrus tone that induced a slight liveliness to this dish courtesy of the yuzu!  To finish off, there was a melt in your mouth braised ox’s cheek which sat at the bottom :)!  It was joy~!

 

Second course; Beetroot butter, goat milk chevre, rhubarb, apple balsamic, rye, goat milk crispOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith its description so cleverly put together so as to deceive, it made Andrew eat a cheese he did not know exist haha.  For me, this course was visually captivating but its textures and good combination of flavors were even better.  The earthiness of the beetroot along with the sweet apple balsamic help compliment the tart flavors of the cheese. And while, the crunch of the crisps were not necessary it was still a good nice touch that gave the dish a honeycomb feel in your mouth.

 

Third course; Miso black cod smoked over Japanese charcoal, wasabi cream, smoked rice vinegar tonburi, nori, garlic, chive.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFirstly, dear Nobu fans please do not even start because the black cod fish at Sepia was amazing.  Having it smoked over Japanese charcoal might seem like an overuse of the smoking technique, but oh boy, cooking seafood over charcoal always help bring out the sensational flavors of seafood.  This was no exception! Just imagine the fish meat flaking of layer by layer each tasting buttery with a hint of miso and smokiness. OMG!  Also, the wasabi cream seemed like a lot at first but when I considered its potency which was very subtle, the cream was such joy that I went back for more and more each time. 

 

At Sepia, the bread course is served as an intermediate course.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABread n’ Butter!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhilst the butter looked amazing, its flavors were nowhere near the sensational black truffle butter from Tetsuya’s.  It was just OK.  In fact, it fared slightly under as I found it lacking in the buttery flavors I wanted. EMO:(!  What felt like a bigger disappointment were the rolls itself.  It was hard on the outside and on the inside, it was not fluffy and super soft like I thought I would normally eat.  Not a good bread course IMHO.

 

Fourth course; Butter poached spanner crab, shellfish mousse, pomelo, tarragon, fried garlic and quinoa, noriOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow, where do I even start on how awesome this was?  Well firstly, the shellfish mousse was faultless. It was perfectly flavored and its natural taste was still present.  I can tell it was fresh.  Buttery spanner crabs flesh had only a slight resistance when bitten through, proving that it was perfectly poached.  Oh a boring super grain quinoa was made fabulous.  This is a typical plain Jane becoming the hottest girl in school with the addition of spice.  For what it was worth, I’d take my hats off to the chefs.  But first I need to earn one.

Fifth course;  Seared rolled David Blackmore wagyu beef, nameko mushroom, roasted red onion juice, wasabi fried potato and kombu crumb, citrus soy.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile all the culinary skills made this dish perfect, it was ultimately the wagyu beef that made my dinner kickass.  It was simply delicious.  It was rolled and seared beautifully on the outside while keeping it medium rare inside. Eating it slowly, the meat was so tender it melt in our mouths. Red onion juice, mushrooms and the crumbs all helped intensify my enjoyment but they were mere elements to a bigger picture.  But then again, it was the effort from all that made this dish memorable.  Definitely the second best dish of the lot from Sepia with only  a marginal difference compared to the shellfish mousse.

 

Sixth course; Seared Mandagery Creek venison, chocolate boudin noir, shichimi pepper, Hachiya persimmon, coconut yoghurt.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Having felt so full and sleepy, part due from the light but mainly the food, the waiter’s description of the food reached my ears like a string of rubbish.  No it was not him, just me.  On the plate was without a doubt another meat course cooked to perfection.  Its meat was nice and red with its consistency simply being tender.  But with a unique combination of fruit, cocoa and spices as condiments, my taste buds verified each individual flavor as boring.  Conversely, as a trio, it tasted slightly curry-ish.  But it was quite enjoyable actually.   Definitely special though not outstanding.

 

Palate Cleanser'; Apple and BlackcurrantOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile Tetsuya’s set a standard for the sorbet palate cleanser, Sephia does something else.  It goes one step ahead and entices its dinners.  A ball of frozen blackcurrant shell filled with an apple-blackcurrant sorbet that was every bit decadent.  All of this oozed out as I cut the sphere into half. It was superb!  The sorbet or maybe not a sorbet was very light and airy.  Flavor wise it managed to grasp the balance between its fruity sweetness and the berry acidity! It was great!  And at the bottom was some toffee which gave good flavor though I would have personally done without it. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApple and blackcurrant

 

Seventh course; Coffee cream, mandarin, crisp yoghurt sponge, elderberry, lavenderOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe dessert looked simple but do no judge a book by its cover.  Here, the coffee cream sets the stage for a musical with the dehydrated mandarins and crisp yoghurt sponge releasing a delicious crunch that not only served as a textural component, but as a flavoring too.  The elderberries are another important element as it featured its popping berries with great acidity.  All of which take place simultaneously whilst the lavender gently floats in the air.  Put it in this way, it excites all the right senses which makes something great.  Texture, flavor and smell.  And hey, I ate coffee. Something I normally do not do.  Till this day, I am still a coffee virgin.  Have not had a single cup in my entire life.

 

Eighth course; Autumn chocolate forestOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile its ingredients spanned two lines too long, a simple description suffices.  I have eaten a few variations of this but am surprised by the lukewarm reception for Sepia’s Autumn chocolate forest.  Sepia’s rendition of a chocolate forest is extremely good IMHO.  It had all the varying textures of chocolate which were rich and very chocolaty, but at the same time quite well-balanced thanks to a variety of aromatics like the orange and thyme cream.  The sour cherry sorbet itself was light, refreshing and fruity.  It was extremely hard to fault with it although I do not blame some who might criticize it for the lack of being special as this dessert is increasingly being overused by restaurants, some good, the rest horrible.  This was definitely one of the better ones!

 

Petite foursOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile most establishments serve macarons, truffles, bite size cakes and what not, Sepia does chocolates.  It was good to have something different as I am now a little over such typical and unpredictable petit fours.  This was way better.  Each chocolate bits had the flavor we expected.  There was a chocolate and a very good green tea one.  I only sampled two as we were only entitled to two each.  It was such a deprivation I must insist!!  My tongue craved to try all the other flavors!  Unless, we were only meant to have onside of the chocolate so that we could have tasted all.  But then again, that would be rather retarded as the fillings would be one-sided! 

 

While other’s have judged, why not let yourself be the judge?  With countless of praises and mentions, this establishment is easily anyone’s favourite.  Their food is consistently special from start to end though their bread leaves much to be desired.  For me, this is what I came to Sydney for.  Food that is good looking, fine tasting and over all, creates a memorable experience.  No one on this table will forget the palate cleanser or even the beef as well as the shellfish courses.  It was THAT good.  So is Sepia a 3 hatted establishment?  Of course it is.  Maybe even Michelin 2 star if not 3.  This was a great meal which everyone one thought was the better of the two fine dining meals we had in Sydney!

 

Lastly, a description taken from their website http://www.sepiarestaurant.com.au/.

“….describes the cuisine as: "smoky, sweet, crunchy, creamy, soft, gentle, toasty, scented, clear, brothy, earthy, floral. The focus is on texture and contrast even more than taste - there's always a crunch, always a cream. It's like the love-child of Tetsuya Wakuda and Rene Redzepi of Noma; a Nordic kaiseki.”

 

WenY

Sepia on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sydney 2013: Tetsuya’s @ Kent Street, Sydney

Following our meal at the Bourke St. Bakery, we took a trip around the city to see famous landmarks like the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House.  While it took us almost an hour to reach it was worth the trot.  More importantly, I can now say that I have seen these two very popular tourist attraction.  Apparently it is a big sin to go Sydney and not see them =.=!  For me, the highlights were probably the other things I saw along the way such as Hyde Park, the Botanical Garden and St. Mary’s Cathedral.  But still, it was a food trip so buildings and landmarks were secondary compared to my next restaurant which was Tetsuya’s.  Let’s put it simple: Chef Tetsuya Wakuda is the most prominent Japanese Chef in Australia with his restaurant’s consistently ranking among the top 100 in the world.  Also, he has been awarded top scores in Sydney for close to two decades.  But records, wins and awards are no more than figures if it does not live up to its hype, no? 
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we walked into Tetsuya’s on 529 Kent Street, I immediately felt like this was a different place.  The restaurant felt like someone else’s house with a Japanese stone garden.  As we reached the entrance, the waiters kindly offered to keep our bags before escorting us to our table.  In terms of service, I will say that I have not had better service anywhere else in the world but here. The waiters were keen and our cups were never empty despite only ordering water only. It was that good.  So then comes the food.
 
The start of this degustation and one of the key points which I judge restaurants (especially those who claim to associate themselves with anything French), is the bread course
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe butter with chopped black truffles and white roll.  Our first bread was cold but the butter was simply stunning.  It had the lovely buttery flavor infused with a prominent black truffle fragrance.  It is one of the few pleasures in life that can be so very simple yet extremely satisfying.  But it was not until when we had the second roll served warm where we truly felt indulgent.  The small amount of steam seeping from whatever heat that was left melted the butter that was spread on it.  Even Andrew who dislike cheese and butter was sold.  Needless to say, we were left impressed and wanting more!
 
Next came the Amuse Bouche
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChestnut Soup with cr√®me fraiche.  The soup by itself was smooth and according to my past conversation with fellow blogger ChompChomp, such soup is common in France especially during winter.  This was a treat but did not feel extremely special.  I would have liked it to be a little more runny.  As it was, the soup felt a little thicker than necessary.
 
The first course; Scallop like Oysters with Roasted Rice Vinaigrette
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn this dish, finely diced oysters were wrapped in thinly sliced scallops before being arranged with micro herbs and a drizzle of Vinaigrette.  While I found joy in the mild acidity of the vinaigrette, I found it hard to appreciate the dish.  There was some taste of the scallops but it was mainly the taste of oysters that pervaded my palate.  This dish felt like an impressionist rather than a mouth pleaser.
 
Second course; Salad of the Sea
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith such simple flavors, it is almost impossible to hide anything.  In this dish, Tetsuya’s combined the nigiri with salad.  It was simply stunning.  I enjoyed the fresh and clean flavors of the plate.  All of the fish were really awesome with the exception of the white one which I assume is King Fish? haha.  Not too sure.  But the marinated ocean trout belly and salmon were top notch product.  Also present on the plate were so many other element which gave the whole dish a lively texture where you get the crunchiness of the vegetables to compliment the softness of the fish.  Yums!  This was strongly preferred compared to the former course although it did not last for long.
 
Third course; Marinated Scampi with Walnut Oil & Egg
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs Jordan and I snapped our cameras busily, Bel took a bite and paused.  She was like OMG. And so I went and had a bite. I too went OMG.  It was not long before both Jordan and Andrew went OMG too.  Enough said, this dish was just superb.  I am not sure how the egg played a great role in this dish but it did along with the walnut oil which coated the scampi giving it a light nuttiness and a smooth texture.  Also, the scampi had unparalleled freshness as it still had a slight bounciness to its flesh! The cream on top was a nice touch.  This dish was by far the best scampi dish I have ever had!
 
Fourth course: Confit of Petuna Ocean Trout with Fennel, Unpasteurized Ocean Trout Caviar
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALong hailed as the must try dish at Tetsuya’s one can easily tell why.  Sitting on the plate, it looked sensational.  The presentation was flawless with the seasoned crust made from konbu, sea salt and chives so well thought of.  Even the dots of oil concoction was so neatly done.    For me, I started on the thin end where my knife cut through the flesh like a hot knife melting through butter.  The chemistry between the savory crust and the buttery confit was delicious. Fennel salad was refreshing and it was simply great.  My biggest issue with this though is that this sensation felt diminishing as I continued my feast.  The middle bit felt tougher than the thin bit.  Was it because the thin bit cooked more easily?  I am not sure.   Also, Bel thought that the horseradish cream under the fennel salad was a little powering and tasted licorice like.  Nevertheless, Jordan who loves strong flavors absolutely enjoyed the cream.
 
Fifth course; Snapper with Soy Butter & Nameko Mushrooms
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis dish was damn good if you look past the recognition of Tetsuya’s.  Not everyone can pull of something so delicious.  However, if you put in all the awards, talk, hype and what not, this becomes a little underappreciated.  The flesh of the fish was cooked just right with the buttery soy giving it a distinct flavor.  Mushrooms were well cooked and gave it a little earthiness.  But that was about it.  I felt like I expected something more mind blowing as this dish comes from a Tetsuya’s kitchen.  Perhaps a really crispy skin?  That might have made a different albeit little.
 
Sixth course; Poached Spatchcock with Asparagus & Morel
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe highlight here for me was the perfectly poached game bird which can be a total flop in a matter of minutes.  High protein foods like birds tend to overcook very easily.  Seeing a shiny glaze was achieved with a tender inside was awesome.  Also, among the morel and other greens hid a speck which was very tasty!  I asked the sommelier and he said it was cured in house.   As a dish it was nice, but not great.
 
Seventh course; Lamb Backstrap with Seasonal Vegetables & Sheep’s Yoghurt.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast dish before the dessert was a lamb course.  Once again, I cannot help but feel that every course plated so far was so manicured it looked too good to eat.  This was no exception.  To complement it, the lamb was nice and tender though it was not melt in your mouth.  Smoked tomato puree which it sat on, tasted nothing like its description.  The vegetables and yoghurt were OK but when mixed together with the tomato puree created much more of an impact!
 
Palate cleaner; Pear Sorbet
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was probably the best sorbet I have ever tasted.  In our first spoonful, everyone felt over the moon.  It was smooth, super fruity and the sweetness was just right.  To us, it has rightfully claimed its position as Tetsuya’s palate cleanser.  If only we had more than 2 petite scoops.  When asked Andrew what was the best thing at Tetsuya’s he said “sorbet”. I was like =.=
 
Eight Course; Apply Granite, Mine Ice Cream & Basil Jelly
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith a thin slice of what I perceive as a dehydrated apple slice,  this dessert that stood in a martini glass fits all the requirement for a fine dessert.  It had texture, complexity and layers of flavors.  For me, I really like the pairing of the sweet apple along with the refreshing mint ice cream and basil jelly.  I think Bel and Andrew found the taste of the mint and basil a little too taxing but was ok.  I have had several variations of dessert which mixed strong flavors like basil and mint, but this was by far the best pairing.  And it suits the color theme  too i.e. green :)!
 
Ninth Course: Chocolate & Hazelnut Marquise with Cognac Ice Cream
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust looking at the level of perfection once again was kick ass! Clearly defined layers!  Not to mention the ice cream which sat on the crumbs which looked like a bird’s egg in a nest!  The chocolate was not lacking in any richness for sure!  Fortunately, it was no more than a thin slice!  Anything more and I would have been done for.  Most people know I am not a big fan of alcohol and I found the cognac ice cream to be not a big hit.  It did complement the chocolate but I would have preferred something else.  Something less sophisticated.  I am still a self-proclaimed kid after all :P!
 
Petite Fours!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeringue, truffles, meringue nut, and profiteroles.  They were all good but from memories only the profiteroles were memorable.  Yes it is simple, but at least it is different!
 
At the end of the meal, it was no surprise why Tetsuya Wakuda’s skills were unparalleled when it comes to Japanese cuisine.  With consecutive back to back 3 hatted scores for close to twenty years, he still has heaps left to offer.  However, knowing that he lost his 3rd hat 2 years ago and until today is unable to retain it makes me ponder why.  Was it for the reason that my friends and I felt a slight dissatisfaction at the end of the meal?  Several of the courses today as I have mentioned above were really good.  The salad of the sea, scampi with walnut oil & egg, as well as the confit and dessert were all plausible highlight of the day.  However, a certain something felt lacking at the end of the meal.  It felt like several dishes like the snapper, lamb and Spatchcock  could have been more special.  It needed that one extra element of surprise. 
 
Our lunch was a good meal but perhaps just need to go one notch up considering its heft tag of $210pp. So, does Tetsuya’s Japanese cuisine with classic French techniques have what it takes to knock off Le’ Atelier’s French food?  Not quite but close although the bread and butter here is definitely “one to rule them all”.  Is Tetsuya’s worth a revisit?  I have to say maybe yes.  Especially when the third hat comes back.
 
WenY
Tetsuya's on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sydney 2013: Bourke Street @ Surry Hills

Just a few weeks ago, my colleagues and I were planning a little adventure to break through our boring routine.  Being an AMEX cardholder, we each had the privilege to claim a free Virgin flight ticket.  So without any hesitation, tickets were booked and we toured some of Sydney’s best eateries over our 2 days of stay.  They were  a kickass crew that were truly supportive of my food blog and we ate like the #yolo tag which stands for “you only live once”.  So how did we do that?  Well we start by boarding a midnight flight from Perth and reached our Sydney hotel at 7am.  From there we walked from Chinatown to the fancy pants suburb, Surry Hill.  Being touristy, many things caught my eye so I could not help pointing the OMD everywhere.

Cheerful vandalism!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA#yolo

 

Bourke St Bakery as its name suggest sits on Bourke Street and is the most commended bakery in town. No. 633 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Reaching the store at 7.30am, they were still close but seeing them arrange the bread and tarts really made our mouths water. The cold morning did not help too of course! Jee man. Fortunately though, they were no lazy people as the chairs and tables have already been arranged in anticipation of a large crowd which will mainly stand while demolishing their yummy offerings!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll prepped for business!

 

While the queue builds quickly, the handy crew of Bourke St. Bakery were sure to make sure that it did not last.  Standing behind 7 others took less than 10 minutes to reach our turn and before we knew it, we were up at the counter ogling at some really delicious looking pastries!  But nothing caught our eyes more than the tart shells topped with various ingredients.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur starters were three tarts!  The chocolate ganache tart was yummy.  The shells were short and though the uneven nature of one tart shell was questionable, it was not reason to feel disappointed.  The ganache was rich and really decadent.  It was slightly sweeter than the one at Harvest Espresso @ Victoria Park but still very nice eat.  Could easily have eaten a few more!  The lemon curd tart was superb too.  Its smooth runny custard has just the right amount of zesty lemon juice which balanced well with the sweetness.  Always a favourite!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA With the burnt sugar top that releases a lovely cracking noise when cut through with a spoon, it was clear why the ginger brulee tart is a favourite on the internet.  Its sugary top was just right.  Not too thick that it sticks on your tooth when eaten and neither was it too thin to enjoy.  Its gingery flavors were subtle but still unmistakably gingery or so I thought.  Pistachios were like .. “we are pistachios, hi!” and eaten altogether formed a party! Nom nom!

 

After sharing 2 of each flavors among the four of us,  we were still hungry and without hesitation went in for another round haha.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis time around, we got the chocolate and raspberry tart.  OMG!  Sinfully good it was.  Airy chocolate mousse had the same richness like the Chocolate Ganache one minus the sugar.  It was chocolaty and the raspberry jam in there was just perfect.   Something about the acidity of berries make it go so very well with chocolate that it is almost a no brainer combination!  It really was a damn good bite.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow to tempt even more, I held one half and shot a close up ;)! Hehehehe

 

Our last stomach filler for our breakfast were the chocolate croissants which Bel said were awesome during her last trip!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATearing through to break the croissants into half, each layer tore one by one. The croissants were fluffy and my god.  I just had my cholesterol reduced by 1 thanks to good effort and doing 20-30kms of running a week.  Now this buttery goodness…. jee man!  Jord made a joke on this and tells me to let the future WenY worry about it.  Scumbag Jordan really scumbag!  Anyways, the chocolate was yums but if the croissants were warm, I drool imagining runny chocolate!  Also, Andrew for sure was enjoying himself.  Along with Bel, both Andrew and her are sweet tooth that consume sugar like it is nothing!

 

This is not really a highlight as Perth has some pretty wicked coffee too! But anyways, to complete the experience here it is:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAndrew and Jordan’s mocha.  It looked fine and I am no connoisseur expert to comment on coffee so I shall not :P!

 

To conclude, Bourke St. Bakery really lived up to its hype!  Or at least the sweet ones do!  I am pretty sure that there must be a reason why people buy muffins and other delights by the tray loads.  Not to mention, locals are seen walking out in the jammies to queue up with Lycra-cladded cyclists.  While I can describe the many more types of people who queued for a bite at Bourke St Bakery, it is clear that this humble bakery packs something for everyone.  Kudos!  If you are travelling to Sydney anytime soon, this place should be one of the top places on your list of things to eat!  Price wise, we only paid $60 for 4 drinks, 8 tarts and 2 croissants.  What can I say?  Nom nom nom? haha!  Keep a lookout on this space! More to come from my Sydney trip ;)!

And to finish, a few more shots on the way back to Chinatown!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Blue Door on 268.

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Graffiti X Fish = GrafishiOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

WenY

Bourke Street Bakery on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 24, 2013

Bites: Red Opium @ Perth CBD

With catchy names like F-duck, Kiss of Death, and Crying Wagyu populating its menu, Red Opium is without a doubt one of the most interesting entries in Perth this year.  While the menu screams Thai, do not be fooled as Red Opium prefers to be called “Thai inspired”.  So if owner Penny drops by your table, authentic is not a word that will score you points.   This new eatery distinguishes itself from the conventional by offering unique Thai-styled tapas.   Funny thing though is that they do not serve alcohol.  Perhaps it is something they might soon obtain as I know how good Thai cocktails can be with fruits, vodka and a hint or basil/mint.  For me, its even better than a Mexican Sangria.

For Mei and Ness’s birthday dinner tonight, we had the banquet @ $50 per person.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first appetizer was the yin and yang dip.  Presumably the light creamy dip was the yang.  It was finely diced prawns in a delicious coconut broth.  The crunch from the Papadam was perfect to accompaniment for the yummy prawn dip which benefit from the sweetness of the coconut milk.  The next one was minced meat with pork crackling.  At this point I feel compelled to praise the chef behind this appetizer because it was super simple but it worked.   Just basic crunchy goodness!  With the Indian influence in the papadam and Western influence from the crackling, it was clear that the direction of Red Opium was more Thai-inspired than Thai-authentic. 

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The next dish was the Petite satay.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile it was decent, it was far from mind blowing.  The chicken bites were tender and the peanut sauce was OK, but in terms of flavors it felt lacking.  Coming from Malaysia I expected the satay to have more flavor.  Something like ginger, turmeric and more spices. 

 

Next came the tom yam soup.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEating this dish, it was a shame that Red Opium insists that their food is Thai-inspired and not Thai-authentic because it was one heck of a Tom Yam.  The flavors were all spot on.  It had spicy, sour, salty and spicy all in one magic concoction.  Also, it has been awhile since I had prawns which I can really say hit that spot of freshness with a mild sea flavor to it still present.  All seafood here are sourced from Kailis when I spoke to the owner!  To top it off, this for me was definitely a great dish that could have been Thai-authentic. Oh, and if you ask for hot, do prepare to taste some heat.  I bit into a chili and did not feel so manly after.

 

After the three appetizers, we had a great time catching up with Mei on her time onsite and joked about the typical lame rubbish we always do.  Felt good as we do not meet up quite as often as we would like to!  It took nearly 45 minutes for our mains to be served.  But this came with a good explanation as the kitchen was short of 1 chef as he had fallen ill.  In fact, the owner kindly offered us drinks which we all declined to have (except Ness) as we are responsible drivers :P! 

 

First main was the F-duck; Roast duck, red curry, veggies, lychees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe picture IMHO is a give away.  This was Red Opium’s reinterpretation of the classic Roast Duck red curry.  What flavors does one expect?  Definitely a rich curry with great flavors coming from the fruit, duck and vegetables.  The curry sauce felt nice but in our opinion was way too little to enjoy with the rice.  Then again, it was intentional as the dish wanted to promote the other elements like cherry tomatoes, brussel sprouts and such.  I found that reasoning to be poor in justification as a diner but this is a clear case of design vs practicality.  Like a classic case of engineer vs architects, there is almost no right or wrong but a matter of preference.  Last highlight of this dish was the fact that the roast duck sat nicely there allowing its skin to still be mildly crisp which was quite a treat!

 

Next dish was the Masaman Beef; Slow-cooked beef cheeks, potatoes, masaman curry, peanuts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis for me was a true curry dish.  I have had many variations of the Masaman  as well as the Panang curry and would decline to comment on the flavor as every goddamn version seem to taste different.  But hey, this was tasty and it was everything a curry should be.  For me, the Masaman curry was the highlight with the tender beef and potatoes cooked perfectly.  It was not lacking in sauce or spices and because of this, I had heaps of rice.  A good curry and a generous serve of rice; god this was a meal on its own.  Delicious.

 

As Red Opium revolves about Thai-inspired cuisine, its decoration is not cluttered but felt rather stylish which made its food good to look at and at the same time tasty.  Sure its no dehydrated apple with a golden string through it like Robuchon and neither does it use foam or smoke like Amuse but hey! This was pretty decent!  Taste wise, I did not really put much effort in deciphering the elements but the use of garlic was quite obvious here.

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The Kiss of Death; king prawns, garlic, caramelized sauce.

 

The next dish we ordered was the Fisherman’s Catch; deep fried snapper fillets, soya bean oil, peanuts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne the outside, these snapper fillets look exactly like the perfect beer battered fish n’ chips that Heston does.  It was crunchy, crispy and just so beautifully fried.  While not everyone likes batter and some might liken it to the rip-off Chinese sweet and sour pork , I really enjoyed the batter.  The downfall though was the flesh of the fish which was  a little tough a.k.a rubbery with a slight stench too.  My friends and I also found the sweet savory sauce to be insufficient for those generous slices of fish.

 

A dish which came last in the banquet was the Som Tum; paw paw, green beans, dried shrimps, peanuts, soft shell crab.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis again felt good.  It was IMHO Thai-authentic.  Very hard to fault with a minimalistic dish but then again, it is something the chef is expected to do right, and in this instance it was.  My question here really, is it the correct course to arrive before the dessert?  Was this a palate cleanser? It was refreshing but the acidity mixed with the slight sweetness and saltiness make a person feel like eating more.  For me, this should have been served as the first main or even along with the other appetizers.

The dessert that night was ice cream with a choice of jackfruit or mangosteen.

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Both came out in little glasses and it was great to see such rare flavors reaching the table despite its out of this world price.  I really liked the flavor and the small bite size mangosteen in the ice cream.  I would question the floss but if it does no harm then I will just let it be.  Around the table most people would have enjoyed the ice cream as no one shows signs of displeasure.

 

Red Opium really felt like a great place for tapas dining. In fact, if an alcohol license is soon obtained,  Red Opium might need a bigger floor space.  However, it play its game risky by calling itself Thai-inspired and not Thai-authentic.  This always brings in the question of whether enough has been done or has it achieved enough to succeed an authentic culture.  Surely Red Opium is no old hag or a lazy slob playing safe as I tasted and saw from my dinner.  Execution was great but to me, it still lacked that final bit of finesse like the lack of sauce, and the freshness of the produce as seen in the case of the fish. However, if one were to find out the background of the owners which hails from the engineering industry, I am pretty chuffed to see how far they have came with their culinary skills.  I work in an engineering firm and I see what people eat everyday….. @@.. I shall cease to comment as it may result in insult.  Anyways, for $50 a head, I would definitely come back!

 

WenY

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