Akiba, Canberra 03-2015

Modern Asian tapas is all the rage at the moment. Every new Melbourne place seems to be a variation on this type and the market is soon saturated (probably Sydney too but I don't know it as well). From Chin Chin (which I haven't eaten at due to the reputation of wait time & price:satisfaction ratio not being so high), to the excellent TA #1 Rock Papr Scrs and my growing list of Uncle and Northern Light and the rest, the question is really a matter of which Asian each restaurant is trying to reinvent.

Canberra recently acquired two Japanese versions - Lilotang and Akiba. After walking past the electric glow of Akiba a few weeks back, this was the first of them to try.

The drinks menu has a nice offering of cocktails. Akiba Pop are housemade soft drinks which can be "boomed" with a shot of alcohol. Both the pineapple, coconut & chilli (with Appleton VX dark rum) and sour cherry & vanilla (with Martell VS Cognac) had a nice complement of alcohol and sweetness, with my preferred being the sourĀ 

- Soba Noodle Salad (with bamboo shoots, yellow bean, sweet & sour) $12 - a delicious refreshing dish to open with. Herbs, chilli, citrus combining extremely well;
- Soft Shell Crab Bun (with pickled baby gem, creamy ponzu) $9 each - the bun itself is terrible. You can see in the picture how dry it is such that the corners are torn and not malleable. The crab is tasty but could be more generous. Not good value for money;
- Korean Sticky Lamb Ribs (with sumac) $14 - when in doubt, go for ribs. Tender fatty meat, a slightly sweet and chilli charred coating. Not as good as the Bone Daddies' pork ribs, but it'll do me for now;
- Snapper (with jalapeno, yuzu, honey) $14 - very very strange combination. Snapper sashimi is one of my favourites and a more expensive cut usually due to a good biting texture, but the yuzu, jalapeno (tasted too similar to green capsicum) and single leaf of coriander didn't work;
- Japanese Fried Chicken (with lemon braised onions, parmesan) "supercharged" with mayonnaise & Sriracha $20 - thicker heavier coating than your typical kara-age and the pieces of meat much smaller and thinner also. This results in less juicy but more flavoursome from the fry and pick up of cheese and sauces;
- Black Angus Sirloin (with chipotle butter, zuni pickled onion) $28 - very tender and rare beef with very mild chipotle smatterings and onions. It was a nice dish, but felt a little disjointed with flavours and too expensive for what you get;
- Beef Short Rib (with tamarind caramel, Thai basil) $22 - the last dish was the one that excited me the most. Rib, caramel, Thai basil - the combination speaks for itself. A beautifully tender piece of meat that tore so easily and would mop up a sweet mildly tangy sauce. I needed rice for this to allow it to linger longer.

Even though there was only 3 of us, there was still space for the interesting sounding desserts.

- Mango & Coconut Sticky Rice (with macadamia, palm sugar ice cream) $9 - a gorgeous dessert of ice cream that was surprisingly balances and not overly sweet from palm sugar, crunchy nuts for texture and flavour, mango pieces and quality glutinous rice underneath. Very very good - perhaps a jackfruit version will enamour me even more;
- Lemon Tofu Cheesecake (with ANZAC crumb, pandan jelly) $8 - the deconstructed cheesecake with tofu was fantastic. I couldn't tell it was tofu rather than/in combination with cream cheese. The crumb added a reasonable crunch which could be a good base for an actual cake, but the fluorescent aeroplane jelly looking stuff had barely any pandan flavour which was disappointing.

Overall the meal was very good and the flavour and texture combinations varied. It seemed quite expensive ($170 for 3) but could be lessened with a few educated choices.

Next time I would order the same Soba Noodle Salad, Beef Short Rib and Korean Lamb Ribs. I'd consider trying the Sweet Corn Pancake or Prawn & Chicken Dumplings. 4 oysters for $10 is very cheap even for natural oysters so that is tempting. Something raw would be nice for variety so it would have to be the Kingfish or more likely shared Salmon Belly. I'd finish with the Sticky Rice dessert also.

I'm waiting for the modern Korean tapas to come to Canberra. If you're thinking this idea is for you, look to the USA or BistroK in Melbourne.

Akiba on Urbanspoon

Bambusa, Canberra 03-2015

After a gym session I ended up in Manuka looking for some lunch to add the calories back on. I originally wanted to get some good quality falafel from Kismet, but saw to my dismay it had closed in favour of a pizza place. Vaguely recalling many other places also had lunch specials, the search began wandering around and seeing what was on offer.

Neither Timmy's nor Abell's Kopitiam offered any lunch menu that I saw. Feeling like something Asian I strolled past Bambusa. I hadn't previously thought about coming here as it looked like another Western-based Chinese restaurant. But the 93% Urbanspoon intrigued me so eventually decided to try a lunch special.

It was only a one dish lunch, but the Roast Duck Laksa was quite good. The meat was tender and the thin broth had a lot of duck flavour with a touch of coconut milk added rather than a true thick creamy laksa soup. I probably would prefer a thicker decadent version with more coconut cream added but it was still very nice for a first impression.

Next time I would order a full dinner of their Modern Asian - Fluffy Duck, Yu Xiang Eggplant or King Prawns & Scallops, Mapo Tofu, Sizzling Lamb with Cumin. It's a little on the expensive side but let's see if it's worth it.

Bambusa on Urbanspoon

Grand Trailer Park Taverna, Melbourne 03-2015

After my recent musings about all things burger (http://eatlikeushi.posthaven.com/brodburger-canberra-2014) it was time to try a new Melbourne contender. I had been assured it would be a good experience and the name left an impression of hopefully ending up in a carpark somewhere with a van dishing out unhealthily delicious offerings. To my surprise I ended up some stairs (which reminded me of the identical trek upwards into Mamasita) and into a American diner-style booth.

The food menu looked very promising with nothing but burgers served as a main. I did feel a little ominous reading at the top of the menu that the burgers are cooked medium, but the combinations seemed extremely promising - ingredients such as chilly cheese kransky, truffles, croquettes, Russian black tomato caught my eye.

- Francis Underwood (premium Aussie beef pattie, American cheddar cheese, tomato, butter, lettuce, potato mac & cheese croquette, special burger sauce & American mustard on a lightly toasted brioche bun) - a very large burger with a medium-cooked patty (probably be better rare or medium-rare), a soft molten croquette (probably be better with a nice fried crispy outside) and slightly thick bread that is a little dry. The burger is pretty decent overall and hits a spot.

I sampled one fry (forgot to order my own) and it was a thick straight cut chip with slight crisp and pretty good internal texture.

This was washed down with one of their Spiked Milkshakes - Seared Marshmallow (as they had run out of Kinder Surprise), Frangelico, Baileys which is quite expensive for $21. It ended up tasting much like a very mildly alcoholic Kahlua chocolate milkshake. Not too bad but quite overpriced I think. Especially without the Kinder Surprise.

Next time I would order any of The Chunk, Atomic or Jiro to try some other variety of burger. I'd remember to add a side of chips and probably just wash it down with water (why aren't there any non-alcoholic, reasonably priced milkshakes on the menu?)

Grand Trailer Park Taverna on Urbanspoon

Lonsdale Street Eatery, Canberra 03-2015

I've been frequently told how Lonsdale Street Roasters has the best coffee in Canberra, almost on par with the Melbourne equivalents. Considering I don't drink coffee and that ONA recently took out the best barista in Australia award, it wasn't the biggest enticement for me. But I knew I'd try the place eventually.

What struck me on the breakfast menu was how few options there are for food. Maybe that's a good thing or maybe I'm just used to being spoilt for choice. However I did note they advertised a BBQ for lunch so maybe that's the go for next time.

The coffee is strong and bitter. As a non-coffee person, I can't appreciate it but I'm told it is very good and the way coffee should be. Unfortunately the chai latte is an overly sweet (though not quite sickening) syrup drink that makes me sad. Luckily the food makes up for the liquid shortcomings.

- Quinoa, corn & "pico de gallo" on sourdough - the healthier, more refreshing option of the dishes with herbs, rocket, quinoa, avocado, tomatoes and corn served on sourdough;
- Sticky Pork Belly Roasters Benedict (served on housemade corn bread with dill hollandaise) with an extra of black pudding - I recently wrote about my joy in finding a breakfast place in Canberra (Me & Mrs Jones) that served black pudding. I'm delighted to say the black pudding here is outstanding - rich, porky, no metallic taste. The pork belly is great also with a caramelised coating, skin that was half crisp and half soft (prefer all crisp if possible) and thick decadent meat. Of the poached eggs, one was great and the other was moderately overcooked, but they soaked into and complemented the corn bread. I probably prefer thick grained sourdoughs but this was a reasonable alternative.

Next time I would order the same Pork Belly Roasters Benedict, more black pudding, or try the Eggs, Beans & Tortia (with black pudding of course). Otherwise I'll go later in the day and see if my BBQ cravings can be satiated. I'll save my drink for a smoothie or an iced coffee or good old Canberra tap water.

Lonsdale Street Roasters 23 on Urbanspoon

Temporada #2, Canberra 02-2015

After the first visit to Temporada for my birthday 8 months prior, Valentine's day proved to be the second occasion worthy of a visit to this restaurant. Interestingly enough it was the only restaurant I could find (that I wanted to go to) that actually had any availability that evening. Considering I made the booking on a Thursday before the Saturday, I couldn't quite understand why there was a 6pm spare table. Perhaps it was the $75 per head fixed 3-course menu that deterred a few, but this is Canberra where incomes are supposedly high and similarly dining prices are too.

The preface to the set menu was rock oysters, of which the woodgrilled variety is the one clear memory I have from the first visit. Once again they were warm, lightly smokey (lighter than I recall), with the little traces of the mild oyster liquor. The vinaigrette is more of a palate cleanser than a topping for me as I like my oysters strong and plain.

- Roasted Duck Breast (with liver parfait, caramelised whitlof, pickled cherries) - the rare duck was exceptionally flavoured and tender with a creamy and medium strength liver that can almost emulate my memories of meatfruit. Easily one of the best livers I've had. Pickled cherries cut through the heaviness and I was lucky to be granted additional bread slices (which are warm and great in themselves) to smear the parfait;
- Spanner Crab (with chilled gazpacho, heirloom tomato, tomato jelly) - I don't envy the person who had to pick out the crab meat, but I applaud their efforts. The meat was superbly sweet and delicate. It is good enough to eat alone but the various tomato varieties and textures were impressive;
- Woodfired Beef Shortrib (with smoked potato, beetroot, horseradish) - my affection for ribs continued with this tender version that sliced so easily. The potatoes were whipped smooth and had a nice strong smoke flavour that I haven't had before;
- Grilled Swordfish (with pepperonata, octopus, lemon, capers) - the fears I have of overcooked restaurant fish dissipated with the expert handling here. I'm happy to eat swordfish raw usually but this one was cooked beautifully. The octopus added a different texture and flavour;
- Chocolate Ganache (with blood plum sorbet, liquorice, pinenut brittle) - this could be the perfect dessert combination. Rich smooth dark chocolate ganache, tangy slightly sour exceptional sorbet, very mild contrasting liquorice cream and the mother of your standard peanut brittles in an expensive packed pinenut crisp. The flavours and textures were all covered. Maybe add a little chilli next time to take it even further... but it isn't necessary;
- Champagne Chiboust (with strawberry jelly, hazelnuts) - good textures here also with smooth champagne cream, crunchy nut pieces and strawberry bits that had me reminiscing slightly about the strawberry dessert at Akelare (http://eatlikeushi.posthaven.com/akelare-san-sebastian-06-2012).

What a fantastic set course well worth the money and up to the occasion. Thanks Temporada.

Temporada on Urbanspoon

La Taberna Del Gourmet, Alicante 10-2013

The last dinner of the trip was reserved for what was probably the most prevalent name in all the internet recommendations for Alicante. Considering it was awards the best tapas restaurant in Spain at the 2009 Congress of Lo Mejor de la Gastronomia, it isn't surprising that the place is cosy, busy, loud and serving exceptional food.

It was a fantastic place to bring together all of my favourite seafood items into local Spanish tapas style. Wine glasses and jamon hang from the ceiling and the bartenders mix and serve your desires. There is a combination of traditional and modern tapas.

- Ostra special no.4 Gillardeau (1/2 docena) - the oysters are from France but it had been a short while since the last time. They were mild strength;
- Sepionets a la planca - delicious tender and juicy little squids making eat chewed morsel a memory;
- Atun crudo con citricos y soja - one of the few places I found that served raw fish (the best way to eat it!). The tuna had a nice flavour, soft fresh texture and a hint of citrus soy herbs;
- Arroces negro con sepionets, gambita, alcachofas y pimiento rojo - squid ink rice with small squids, prawns, artichokes and red peppers as good as it sounds. I wish I had a larger one.

After this dinner, I ended up there the next late afternoon before the night flight back to London.

- Tartar de salmon con eneldo y sesamo - diced salmon with dill and sesame seeds;
- Pulpo al horno con pure de patata - bakes octopus with potato puree.

Both of these were fine but not as memorable as the previous evening. I suppose that's partially my own fault for experimenting with different things rather than the tried and true, but the menu has so many choices (such as prawns, mussels, clams, fish) and I only barely scratched the seafood surface.

Monastrell, Alicante 10-2013

In amongst all the traditional tapas places in Alicante, Monastrell stands out for having a modern approach. It shares a building with the TA #1 hotel Amerigo, which I imagine lends itself to having expensive clientele looking for good food and drink at any time of day or evening. Perhaps it is just the name that makes me envisage American business people or flash tourists.

In any case, the class and refined setting of Monastrell didn't deter me although they were very busy with a lot of romantic couples spilling into the corridors the evening before. It was a very different feel around midday just after opening for the day, where one solitary man was enjoying food and a newspaper.

Green olives and a theatrical sliced-bread-in-a-bag with a pipette extra virgin olive oil were presented. Given the holiday opportunity, there was no better time than to kick things off with a red wine cocktail also.

- Tomates de nuestro huerto con burrata y jugo de albahaca (tomatoes from our garden with "burrata" cheese & basil juice) - excellent tomatoes as a modernised salad;
- Mini tortilla de patatas "monastrell" (small Spanish potato omelet) - a refined hash brown with potato slivers and a crisp coating;
- "Roast pork" de presa Iberico con crema de queso manchego, patatas paja y berros (Iberico roast pork with Manchego cheese cream, potato chips & watercress) - the pork reminded me of the texture of sliced beef fillet and contrasted well the fried chips and creamy cheese.

The food is fantastic and the bar setting very refined. The atmosphere is probably more suited to a late evening romantic drinks, but brunch allows a simpler focus on the food. There are so many other menu items I'd like to try - 65 degree huevo, bocadillo de calamares, and if I could afford them, more simple navajas gallegas or gamba roja de Denia.

Cerveceria Sento, Alicante 10-2013

Around the corner from the guesthouse is Sento. It's a tiny place with a bar for eating and service and an equal number of people standing outside snacking and drinking. Aside from its convenient location, it was listed as TA #2 (I'm sure the location also helped) but also won awards for their tapas in 2013. On this day it was lucky the place was open for an early lunch, as I wouldn't have otherwise been able to fit in all the places on my list.

- bread crisp topped with a fish salad and anchovy;
- Solomillo Pollo (parmesano y crema Italiana) - grilled chicken with parmesan and smothered in thick Modena balsamic;
- potatoes topped with jamon, fried egg and parmesan;
- montadito with beef slices, greens and sauce.

Although I didn't know it at the time, they have a dish called the Lollipop which supposedly won 2013 award for being the best. I'll have to make a trip to try it next time.

Restaurante Nou Manolin, Alicante 10-2013

Alicante had never appealed to me as a travel destination. Despite my researching Europe trips and looking at the more obscure Ryanair destinations, I only decided upon it at the end of my European life more so because it was an exit terminal after a visit to Valencia. After researching more and more, I began to get more excited. Valencia had the remarkable Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias and paella, there was a lunch time stopover in Denia for the arguable world's best restaurant Quique Dacosta (http://eatlikeushi.posthaven.com/quique-dacosta-denia-09-2013), the possibility of trying the most renowned paella at Paco Gandia (didn't make it though), and finally exceptional award winning tapas in Alicante.

Apparently Ferran Adria regards Nou Manolin as having some of the best tapas in Spain, which therefore means the world. San Sebastian was in my mind the best tapas I've had so it was a challenge to see how they compared.

The setting is warm and lovely. Food surrounds you as do friendly locals. A large jamon leg is expertly sliced and some prawns and breads line the benches.

- boquerones en vinagre - tangy slivers of anchovies;
- gambas rojas a la plancha - prawns from Denia (possibly the best type in the world after this experience and Quique Dacosta) grilled and topped with salt and lemon. Exceptionally sweet and delicious;
- Piripao (6 montaditos) - a collection of little sandwiches with meats and vegetables. After it arrived it seemed like a rash decision with too much carbohydrates. They were quite simple and not overly exciting;
- nuestras fideuas con rape y almejas - after the paella in Valencia, fideua was something different. I had it once back in 2009 and didn't quite recall whether I liked it or not. This dish was tasty with clam meat and vegetables and the noodles resembled thin chewy Chinese type. Overall I prefer paella but this wasn't bad.

There was no stomach space left to formally order a postre, but they were nice enough to provide some fruit to end on a sweet note.

I'd be very happy to return back here and would select prawns, just one montadito and an arroz dish with any combination of seafood.

Bodega Casa Montana, Valencia 10-2013

A good article I found with food recommendations was from the Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destination/spain/34915/Valencia-restaurants.html). I was trying to decide upon a place for my last dinner and after scoping out the beach area during the day, it took a monumental dedication to make the 1 hour walk there again and then back just for food.

The beach places I was considering (La Pepica, L'Estimat, La Rosa) didn't seem to intrigue me as much as hoped. Casa Montana is a highly rated tapas bar with a cosy setting, wine barrels and classic posters. Their anchovies (one of my favourites) and michirones (fava beans) are the specialties. The locals chatting inside, the friendly staff and a front seat to the bar made it the right decision in the end.

- V-2 (2 anchoa, 2 boquerones, 2 mejillones, olivas) - a nice cold platter with anchovies and mussels. They went well with the soft bread;
- Habas Estofados (Michirones) platito - small plate of thick fava beans cooked with ham hock;
- Patatas Bravas de Secano platito - smooth potatoes so good that the sauce and sour cream are unnecessary;
- Sardina Plancha (1/2 docena) - grilled sardines are rarely a first choice for me but they were recommended. They were quite good given that, but next time I'd opt for the Clochinas Valencianas or something else.

A great meal, an excellent setting, a quality house rioja, and a 50min walk back to the hostel whilst contemplating.