Jaws Mint: Gourmet Sushi

Jaws Mint:  Gourmet Sushi Jaws Mint:  Gourmet Sushi

Sushi, one of those foods that people claim to love so much, and then quickly ruin it by saying “but I hate raw fish, it makes me gag”. I am not the worlds biggest sushi or sashimi fan, but I do love the simplicity and the gentle philosophy of Japanese food, which for me is embodied by the notion that quality and freshness of produce will beat any amount of preparation.

A single slice of high quality sashimi grade tuna or salmon needs nothing else to make it a taste sensation.

The people at Jaws Mint understand this concept. With the sushi train in the former Hoyts movie theatre in the city closed down, and the other sushi train in the Hay St Mall buzzing with a considerable throng of daily devotees, Jaws Mint is the newest shop to enter the Jaws empire.

Situated on the corner of Hay St and Hill St in the city, and directly opposite the Perth Mint, it’s a return to a more classic style of sushi experience. With a series of small tables and long bar running almost the length of the restaurant, behind which a solitary chef pretends to prepare dishes for everyone.

The real work however, happens out the back. Behind a tantalising curtain glimpses of furious activity can be seen as sushi and sashimi is sliced and served, and piping hot pots of chawan mushi are delivered to tables with customary warnings that you will burn yourself (and you will).

The menu is simple but well featured with enough styles of dishes to keep things interesting for everyone. There’s even a tasting menu for the less adventurous, to provide a structured overview into good Japanese eating.

Whilst initially disappointed that we wouldn’t be going to the sushi train, with it’s infinite novelty. My dinner companions for the evening were soon placated with a stack of very tasty dishes. We had some beef tataki ($15), some chicken kaarage ($9), some chawan mushi ($5?) (yes i did burn myself), some tuna sushi rolls, and a couple of 17 piece sets of nigiri sushi ($35).

Jaws Mint:  Gourmet Sushi

Of course, I don’t seem to be able to go to a restaurant like this without making life difficult for the waitresses. I confuse them, ask questions that aren’t on the script, order too much food, and generally cause problems. What this meant is that instead of receiving all of our food, we got half of it. Which was probably enough anyway. Eventually the rest of the food came and we enjoyed it all. I felt a little disappointed that sitting at the bar didn’t give me any more opportunity to be entertained or watch the action of the kitchen though… and I got more and more suspicious of what exactly was going on behind the curtain as the night went on.

In the end though, the food was great, and the service was polite and giggly with a hint of apologetic (as you’d expect of a Japanese place).

If you’re looking for something a little upmarket in the form of a traditional sushi bar, Jaws Mint may be just the spot.

Jaws Mint Restaurant – “Gourmet Sushi”
323 Hay St, East Perth
Phone: 9225 4573
Mon – Sat: 6pm – 10pm
BYO

[geo_mashup_map]

Pork Belly Kakuni with Scallop Congee

pork belly with scallop congee

I’m not what you’d call the most dedicated cook. I’m fickle… and probably lazy… and if I read over a recipe and it looks like it’s going to be either long or complicated, or will require me to scour the seven seas for perrywinkles and seaweed extract, I’m unlikely to give it a go.

This dish however… made me look twice.

Whilst browsing through my beloved flickr one day, I came across this outstanding photo from Santos, the talented author of Scent of Green Bananas. She’d been sent a copy of a book by chef Masaharu Morimoto (of Iron Chef America fame), and with some inspiration via Aun of Chubby Hubby, decided to give it a shot.

Now despite reading the recipe and finding out that the pork belly would be cooked for a total of around 10 hours, and would take around 2 or 3 days to complete if you follow the recipe to the letter, I figured that the end result looked too good not to give it a shot.

I won’t rehash the recipe here, you can feel free to get the real deal from Aun, or else go out and buy the book, which sounds like it’s full of a lot of great stuff. I will however give you a blow by blow account of the process I went through to make the whole thing.

Pork belly marathon checklist

  • Purchase one slab of boneless pork belly
  • Purchase 4 dried scallops (I got mine from Emma’s Yong Tau Foo in Northbridge), not cheap at $150 / kg !
  • Purchase sake
  • Purchase brown rice (I found some medium grain organic brown rice in Fresh Provisions)
  • Sear pork belly on both sides til brown all over
  • Place pork belly into an oven safe dish and cover it with water, add 3 cups brown rice to the water
  • Cook pork belly for 8 hours in the rice (mine was left overnight, and then cooked for another 8 hours after I realised I didn’t turn the oven on properly… stupid symbols)
  • Take the pork belly out of the rice and wrap it up, rest in fridge for 2 days
  • Make spring onion oil, by slowly heating vegetable oil with spring onions and ginger.
  • Mix rice for congee with spring onion oil, let it sit overnight to absorb the flavour
  • Soak dried scallops in warm water til they are flakey
  • Take pork belly slab out of fridge, slice it up into squares
  • Braise pieces of pork in sake, soy sauce, sugar, and water for 2 hours or so (I also added star anise like Santos)
  • Cook the congee using chicken stock, rice, dried scallops, and spring onion (I also added more pork, and a little coriander)
  • Let the pork cook until it’s nicely caramelised and falling apart
  • Serve the pork over the congee
  • Do not accompany it with an aged 1999 Gew├╝rztraminer from Henschke (it will not do it justice)
  • Savour the taste of your labour

caramelising pork belly

Nine Fine Food

Nine Fine Food

Friday evening in the city (Perth that is)… a group of news friends and acquaintances gather to catch up, drink wine, talk coffee, and listen to some great Jazz (with accompanying impromptu tap dancing) and ease their way into the weekend with some quality dining. The scene is set for one of the best restaurant experiences I’ve had in a long time.

The venue for the rest of the evening was Nine Fine Food, a modern Japanese restaurant on the fringes of Northbridge that is doing some excellent food at the moment. They are tucked away in a relatively nondescript area of Northbridge on Bulwer St, not particularly close to the rest of the Northbridge scene, but equally far away from North Perth or Highgate, and certainly not somewhere I’d expect to find a restaurant of this quality.

So Sharon and I, and our dining companions, laden with bottles of wine, whetted appetites, and great expectations, made the short trip down from Hotel Northbridge to Nine.

On arrival we were greeted cheerily by the waiter who remembered our dining companions from the last time they came. It’s nice that even in a place where they must get a lot of new people coming through all the time, they can still add a personal touch by remembering names and faces.
The waiter then seated himself casually at the head of our table and proceeded to take the order.

The menu all looked interesting. The modern Japanese theme is worked through almost every dish, each having it’s own unique take on traditional style Japanese ingredients, in beautifully presented combinations and what could be called a European style setting.

We started off with a couple of tasting plates that were mostly little morsels of deep fried goodness. Tempura fish, spring rolls, karaage chicken, with 3 different dipping sauces, a wasabi cream, a chilli soy, and another mayonnaise… Now with a taste of things to come and rapidly moving our way through the first bottle of wine, it was time for mains.

Cooked Special Pierro Pinot Noir

As is generally the case when you get a group of food lovers around a table, there was much tooing and froing of ideas and opinions on what we should try, who should get what, and how best we could suitably get to try a bit of everything on the menu. That was until we saw the specials board, of which almost everything sounded more intricate and alluring than the last. With great difficulty I finally settled on one of the cooked specials… basically a tasting plate (mental note: remember names of dishes next time) consisting of scallops, duck, prawns, octopus, mussels wrapped in chilli seaweed and fried tempura style. Sharon had the spider crab and tuna, Marhsall and Linda had the sashimi salad, Daniel had a sashimi tasting, Alex I think had a steak dish (?) and Cathy… crushing all my hopes of thoroughly enjoying my meal… ordered the Wagyu rump.

Wagyu rump

Now all of the dishes I sampled were fantastic, beautiful clean flavours that effortlessly combined the best of Japanese and European cooking, with wonderful presentation. But the waygu was something else entirely. Cooked medium rare the way any steak should be, it literally melted in my mouth as I savoured the morsel Cathy was nice enough to let me try. Combined with an excellent choice of wine in a Glaetzner Shiraz, it was heaven in a mouthful… and made it that much harder to go back to my own plate… however lovely it was.

We finished off the evening (and a few more bottles of wine) with dessert, choosing the Azuki bean and chocolate pudding with ice cream. Another taste sensation and a perfect way to round off a great meal.

Perhaps it was the wine talking, perhaps the fact that the company was so enthusiastic, but I can’t remember enjoying a restaurant experience as much in a long time. I can now easily see why Nine Fine Food won “Best Asian Restaurant” at the 2007 Restaurant and Catering Industry Association Awards. An accomplishment only detracted from by the the fact that the term “Asian” is relatively vague, and to my mind means about as much as “meat” when you’re reading through a menu wondering what to order. Though I suppose that’s more of an indication of the lack of variety in the Perth scene when it comes to “Asian” restaurants that are pushing the envelope in terms of taste, quality, and presentation.

Still, credit where it’s due… this place is a welcome addition to trendy dining in Perth, and deserving of it’s status.

Fully satisfied, and a little merry, we stayed long past the time when everyone else had left… getting an impromptu piano recital from one of the staff, while the rest of them cleared up. Not even a hint of stern “will you just bloody well leave already” look was seen, which is a credit to their commitment to their customers.

Definitely a place to go back to soon.

Nine Fine Food
227-229 Bulwer St (corner of Bulwer and Lake St)
Northbridge
Phone: (08) 9227 9999
BYO

[geo_mashup_map]

Green Tea House

How to pour tea

Tucked away in a small corner of Subiaco is one of the most charming shops I’ve come across in a very long time. Regular readers of this blog will be well aware that coffee is my beverage of choice most mornings, but even more diligent readers will also have picked up that my household often looks for inspiration from the land of the rising sun due to Sharon spending a couple of years there on exchange.

Spending a Sunday afternoon lazily gallivanting around the city we happened to be strolling down Hay St towards Subiaco when we happened to stumble (I do a lot of stumbling) into Green Tea House, the delightful tea shop owned by the exceedingly friendly Mr Wasaki.

What followed was probably an hour and a half’s worth of tasting tea, talking about tea, talking about coffee, talking about Japan, talking about food, talking about Japanese food in Japan, talking about Japanese food in Australia, talking about Chinese tea compared to Japanese tea, smelling tea in an incense burner, and eventually, actually buying some tea. As you might have guessed, Mr Wasaki likes to talk. He is a well schooled individual who has been living in Australia for the better part of 15 years now, having moved over here with his wife and family quite some time ago, but only recently having followed his heart by starting his own business importing and selling the tea he so dearly loves.

That tea in question is of course Japanese green tea. High grade, hand picked, vacuum packed, and air shipped for maximum freshness, Mr Wasaki leaves little to chance. His tea’s range from the everyday Sencha, to the superior Gyokuro, and having gotten to try just about all of them, I can say they are all quite good. I was also glad to have finally found somewhere that sells Matcha (the ground tea powder made from Gyokuro, used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, and a damn good ice cream flavouring :) ).

Not just sticking with tea, he also sells Noren (traditional Japanese curtains used to hang in homes or shops as a welcome banner), as well as a number of special Japanese foods and sweets that no doubt have the ex-pats coming back on a regular basis.

He also sells a whole range of tea cups and bowls, which go along with his tips for preparing the tea properly, i.e: NEVER pour boiling water over tea leaves. You will bring the bitter flavours out, rather, pour the water from the kettle into another bowl first, and then wait a few minutes til the water is roughly 80C before pouring it into the tea leaves.

Green Tea House

The tea itself is great. I can’t say I am in any way a tea fanatic, jasmine, oolong, and russian caravan is about as exotic as I’ve been, but the flavours of the high end Japanese teas were outstanding. Clean and crisp, yet with an almost buttery finish to many of them, most markedly pronounced in the Gyokuro, we could not help but buy a pack of our own and go home to continue the experiment. I also picked myself up a can of matcha, and have been sprinkled it into everything I think is sprinklable.

My only concern is that Mr Wasaki is a little too friendly for his own good. He almost talked me out of buying the Matcha because he said he could get me something more suitable for cooking with, and then he almost forgot to charge me when I went to pay. His enthusiasm and love for his products shows through more than anything however, and it’s this coupled with his quiet unassuming nature that make Green Tea House a welcome respite from so many shops who just want to take your money and get you out the door. If ever you find yourself in the area, do yourself a favour and drop in to sample some excellent Japanese tea in a very relaxing atmosphere.

Green Tea House
Shop 17, 375 Hay St
Subiaco
Tel: (08) 9388 7245
http://greenteahouse.com.au/

[geo_mashup_map]

Wagamama – Positive Eating ?

Wagamama

See how I put the question mark at the end of title… ? That’s called setting the tone.

I don’t really want to spend a lot of time talking about Wagamama, and I think in future I’ll be spending even less time in their restaurants. It was plainly one of the most dismal experiences I have had in a long time.

Now granted I have an issue with chain restaurants and franchises to begin with. I personally think they degrade the entire nature of hospitality, and do not allow for any kind of individuality or creativity. My concept of restaurant perfection is a place that has the freedom to do what they want with the local produce they can source, who have a commitment to quality service and a genuine love of making excellent food. The idea that you can wrap all of that up into a little ball and slap one down wherever you want and have it work, just doesn’t sit well with me.

So Sharon and I headed into Wagamama last Tuesday evening, more because we heard it had opened and wanted to know what all the fuss was about than anything else. We probably should have gone in when the hype was still going on in February when it first opened…. but I’m slow like that.

Duck Gyoza with Hoisin

First off I ordered the duck gyoza. It was dry and crusty, and what was inside could barely be distinguished as duck after dipping it in the hoisin sauce, which completely obliterated any flavour by enveloping it in an overpowering salty tang. Not good.

Chilli Beef Ramen

Sharon ordered the Chilli Beed Ramen… in her opinion, the beef was tough and the soup tasted like chilli flavoured water. Bland and disappointing for a place that compares itself to traditional establishments that have such pride in their food.

Teryaki Steak Soba

The final straw was my teryaki steak soba. A “favourite” according to the menu. It was $17, and whilst mildly tasty, took about 3 minutes in total for me to consume, even though I was consciously pacing myself to try and not finish too soon before Sharon, who was struggling to get through the ramen.

Add to that the fact that it the wine list was a joke (the best wine on their was a Stony Peak Shiraz Cabernet that I have had the pleasure of sampling at many a cheapskate companies “social” function. In a word, nasty), and the water I requested came in a bottle I was charged for without telling me so.

I seriously think it took longer for us to get out of the place, than it did to eat our meal. We were waiting for about 15 minutes while the assorted waiters/waitresses ran around with confused looks on their faces trying to process one groups bill. I was then escorted out to back to another cash register tucked into the hall way between the kitchen and the dining room, surrounded by bins, boxes, and other assorted crap.

So all in all, an unenjoyable experience. For me, Wagamama is what a place would look like if Richard Branson decided to go into the restaurant business. Lots of funky looking people and funky looking menu’s and amicable sounding values about keeping it real and bring you value, and absolutely bugger all content.

Sorry for straying away from my normal style of posting only positive sounding reviews, but really… places like this just get to me… If you like the place, good for you, I guess some people will have better experiences than I did, but if you’re looking for value for money and quality food, this is not the place to go.

Over and out.

[geo_mashup_map]

International Syndication

Well recently I was lucky enough to get my espresso cubes article picked up by slashfood.com, and now it seems that someone else has picked it up from there…

I must say, it’s rather strange seeing my photo and name attached to a post that is otherwise completely incomprehensible. So if anyone out there can translate Japanese for me, I would appreciate it.