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Monday, July 27, 2015

Cafe Oratnek, Redfern

Katsuando pork fillet sandwich at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern

Let's talk about katsu, a thick slab of pork fillet, crumbed and deep-fried into one helluva juicy schnitzel. The Japanese love katsu so much, they put it between two slabs of fluffy white bread and call it a katsu sando. Katsu sandos aren't easy to find in Sydney which is probably why they're walking out the door at the newly opened Cafe Oratnek in Redfern, headed up by Bills Darlinghurst ex-head chef, Kenny Takayama.

Cake display counter at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Cake display counter

Cafe Oratnek only opened on July 20, but on Saturday - only its sixth day of trade - the kitchen was forced to close early after literally running empty on food. Locals have taken to this Japanese fusion cafe like ducks to water.

Quince at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Quince ripening on the counter for future desserts

The breakfast menu runs all day. A separate lunch menu kicks in at 11.30am. Breakfast is all about things on toast: smashed avocado; honey caramelised figs; wild mushrooms with miso butter; jamon serrano with mashed green peas; or vine tomatoes with cucumber, goats cheese and house made chilli jam. Hipsters can settle in with chia and quinoa porridge pots with almond milk. Everyone else can hang loose with bacon and free range egg rolls and banana loaf with caramel butter.

Cake of the day at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Cake of the day $4.50

In the display cabinet at the front is a range of cakes, brownies and slices made daily.

Banana loaf at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Banana loaf served with caramel butter $5.50

The Japanese influences are more evident in the lunch time menu, like the salad with daikon and wild mushroom or the hot dishes of miso bbq boneless beef short ribs, sake steamed clams and a Japanese slow cooked lamb casserole.

Piccolo latte at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Piccolo latte $3.50

Coffee beans are supplied by Mecca. Tea is by Mariage Freres. An alcohol licence means you can settle in with a beer (Asahi, Sapporo or 4 Pines Hefeweizen at $8-$9) or a glass of wine ($8-$10).

Matcha latte at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Matcha latte $4.90 large

The matcha latte I ordered was very much on the weak side, but staff did mention this was the first one they'd served and took my feedback on with eagerness. Non-caffeinated drinks include housemade lemonade and ginger beers, thickshakes and a mint and cucumber soda detox.

Indoor dining area at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Indoor dining area

The interior of the cafe is completely on-trend with subway tiles, wooden school chairs and an open counter. On a mild winter's day, it's worth sitting in the leafy front courtyard. Outdoor gas heaters will keep you toasty if the temperature dips.

Fire grilled capsicum and tomato stew at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Fire grilled capsicum, feta, shallots, herbs, tomato stew and sourdough $16

The kitchen pumps out an impressive selection of hot meals. The fire grilled capsicum and tomato stew is the perfect bowl of warmth on a mild winter's day. Thick strips of smoky and tender capsicum mingle with soft and squidgy tomato wedges. Its one big umami bomb, lifted by pops of feta and a scattering of fresh herbs. A chargrilled slice of Brickfields sourdough helps you mop up all the sauce.

Katsusando pork fillet sandwich and Japanese fried chicken sandwich at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Pork fillet katsu sandwich and Japanese fried chicken sandwich

There are currently three sandwiches on the menu: pork fillet katsu, smashed egg and Japanese fried chicken, each at a wallet-friendly ten bucks. I could have done without the oversized chopping boards though, impinging on table real estate as well as making my sandwich look smaller.

Japanese fried chicken sandwich at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Japanese fried chicken sandwich with kimchi mayo $10

The Japanese fried chicken has less batter than you'd expect, but there's a welcome zinginess from the marinade. The chicken thigh fillet is plump and juicy, with a light crunch at the edges. It's sandwiched into a soft bun with cabbage kimchi and kimchi mayo.

Katsuando pork fillet sandwich at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Pork fillet katsu with cabbage, Japanese BBQ sauce and mustard $10

And their pork fillet katsu sandwiches are so popular they're doing a roaring trade in takeaway lunches. The katsu sando yields a hefty slab of impressively tender crumbed pork fillet, sauced up with Japanese tonkatsu fruity barbecue sauce and horseradish mustard. A generous amount of raw shredded cabbage provides bonus points on the healthiness scale.

The crusts are cut off, just like they do in Japan, leaving you with a thick pillow of fluffy white bread (also from Brickfields) contrasting against the gentle crunch of the pork katsu.

Stepladder pot plants at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Stepladder pot plants

And what does Oratnek mean? If you haven't already worked it out, it's Kenny Takayama's first name in reverse: Kentaro.

Outdoor seating at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern

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Cafe Oratnek
4 Pitt Street, Redfern, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8065 4625

Opening hours:
Monday to Saturday 7am-4pm
Sunday 8am-4pm

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Redfern - House of Crabs
Redfern - Moon Park
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Redfern - Town Bike Pitstop

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 7/27/2015 12:55:00 a.m.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream, Newtown

Turkish Delight turkish ice cream at Hakiki, Newtown

Chewy ice cream. That's the fastest way to describe dondurma, or Turkish ice cream, unique not only for its dense texture, but also for its prolonged ability to withstand melting, even in the summer heat. Its secret weapon is salep, found in the roots of a special type of orchid. They use it in every ice cream in the display counter at Hakiki, Newtown's newest dessert house, with flavours that run from Black Sea hazelnut to Turkish Delight to the wild sounding melon and feta.

Service counter at Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream, Newtown

Husband and wife team Nev and Zeyneb Bagriyanik are the force behind Hakiki, opening on Enmore Road in late April of this year. Nev is in charge of the dondurma, churning it by hand each day. He uses a traditional long paddles to stretch and pull the ice cream mixture, made from a blend of goat and cow's milk.

Turkish coffee ice cream at Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream, Newtown
Turkish coffee dondurma Turkish ice cream

The display cabinet offers a rainbow of flavours. Most customers are struck by indecision. Chirpy staff behind the counter are keen to offer tastings but - speaking from experience - that only tends to increase, not decrease, the number of flavours being considered.

Sour cherry baklava at Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream, Newtown
Sour cherry baklava

Wife Zeyneb is a qualified pastry chef, pumping out a range of baklava flavours not normally seen. That includes the likes of sour cherry, apple and cinnamon, and grape molasses and tahini alongside plain pistachio or walnut.

Turkish coffee cups at Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream, Newtown
Turkish coffee cup holders

Turkish coffee is brewed the proper way - in traditional copper pots. The strong and dark brew is then poured into tiny coffee cups set inside ornate coffee holders with lids. And sure you could stick with black or white coffee, but why would you when there are flavourings of chocolate, cardamom, cinnamon or mastic on offer?

Boiling kettles at Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream, Newtown
Kettles on the boil

If it's too late for caffeine, they do hot chocolates, Turkish tea, apple tea and salep, a popular hot drink of milk thickened with salep flour and dusted with cinnamon.

Baklava ice cream at Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream, Newtown
Baklava Turkish ice cream

But let's face it. It's all about that dondurma ice cream. Who cares if its the dead of winter? The night crowds still flock here. The promise of baklava ice cream will do that to you.

Pistachio, tahini and grape molasses, and melon and feta dondurma ice cream at Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream, Newtown
Pistachio; tahini and grape molasses; and melon and feta dondurma Turkish ice cream

The ice cream comes in three sizes: small ($4), medium ($6) and large ($8). The tahhini and grape molasses is studded with chunks of halva, a crumbly sweet made from sesame paste (tahini). Pistachio has an intense and natural nuttiness but its the melon and feta that has me going back for me - a wicked combo of rockmelon with feta cheese. The rockmelon really does taste like the real thing.

Turkish coffee, Black Sea hazelnut and cacao bean dondurma ice cream at Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream, Newtown
Turkish coffee, Black Sea hazelnut and 100% cacao bean dondurma Turkish ice cream

Turkish delight is a winner too, subtly nuanced with rosewater and in a blushing shade of pink. For stronger flavour hits, head for the bitter but good 100% cacao bean or the Turkish coffee that tastes like a super strong iced coffee. My absolute favourite so far, however, has been the Black Sea hazelnut, super fragrant with an eye-opening intensity of pure hazelnut.

The ice creams all hold their own when it comes to flavour, without any overriding sense of artificial flavouring or cloying sweetness. There's a terrific chewiness to it too, like the love child of creamy ice cream and a Japanese mochi rice cake.

Hakiki means "genuine" in Turkish. We reckon it's the real deal too.

Turkish coffee copper tins at Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream, Newtown
Turkish coffee copper tins

Turkish delight at Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream, Newtown

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Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream
63-71 Enmore Road, Newtown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8040 1676

Open daily 10am-11pm

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Turkish ice cream - Mado Cafe, Auburn

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 7/23/2015 12:08:00 a.m.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Kobe wagyu beef at Wakkoqu, Kobe

Teppanyaki chef with Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan

Kobe beef. Two words that are guaranteed to make any carnivore weak at the knees. The spidery white ribbons of fat that marble this beef break down with heat, permeating its way into every fibre so each tender bite surges with juiciness. Kobe beef is highly prized in Japan but it doesn't have to be expensive. You can feast on a two-hour meal of Kobe beef for less than AU$60, and roll out completely satiated.

Japan map of our journey from Tokyo to Kobe
Mapping our Osaka to Kobe leg of our Japan trip that started in Tokyo

The best way to eat Kobe beef is to go straight to the source. We made a day trip to Kobe from Osaka, only a 15 minute shinkansen bullet train.

Sakura 555 N700 series JR Kyushu shinkansen bullet train
Sakura 555 N700 series JR Kyushu shinkansen bullet train 

The Sakura 555 N700 shinkansen is ridiculously sleek and a little bit sexy, reaching top speeds of 330 kilometres per hour. We always love travelling by shinkansen in Japan, making full use of our JR passes wherever possible. JR Passes are pre-purchased tickets available to tourists outside of Japan, and enable unlimited travel on the Japan Rail network for either 7, 14 or 21 days. We find JR trains are always clean, quiet and ferociously on-time.

Soup of the day: cream of potato

Wakkoqu is one of Kobe's most famous Kobe beef restaurants. There are two restaurants in Kobe - one in the main city centre of Kitanozaka, the other in a shopping centre just across the road from Shin Kobe station. If you're only in Kobe for a flying visit, Shin Kobe is easier to access as it's a direct stop on the shinkansen line.

It's not entirely cheap to eat here. The Wakkoqu menu starts at 7,800 yen / AU$86 for the 180 gram sliced roast Kobe beef sirloin set and tops out at 13,800 yen / AU$150 for either the 250 gram Kobe special beef sirloin set or the 220 gram Kobe special beef tenderloin.

There is one massive budget saving trick. Go at lunchtime and you'll only pay 5,280 yen / AU$58 for a multi-course set meal that includes 150 grams of Kobe beef sirloin.

Fying garlic slices on the teppanyaki at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Frying the garlic slices on the teppanyaki

We chanced on lunch here without a booking and had to wait two hours for a table. We end up getting seated in only 90 minutes though, swept into a subdued dining room filled with teppanyaki hot plate grills clustered around with mix of well-heeled Japanese and several groups of tourists.

This is the second time I've been here, but the experience is just as mind-blowingly impressive. The show begins with our personal chef for the meal, working with quiet diligence. He slices cloves of garlic with machine gun speed and sniper accuracy and then splays them in a single layer on the teppanyaki flat top grill.

Bowls of soup materialise on our table - a lush and silky cream of potato soup - that we sip daintily while we watch the show unfold before our eyes. Our chef keeps a keen eye on the garlic, flipping them one by one at just the right moment, when the garlic has sizzled long enough in the shimmering oil to turn a golden shade of brown.

Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Kobe wagyu beef sirloin - 150g per person

But our eyes never wander far from the star, thick slabs of Kobe wagyu beef sirloin that are visually stunning with their intricate marbling and thick casing of fat.

What's the difference between wagyu beef and Kobe beef? Wagyu beef does not describe a single breed of cattle. Wagyu beef can be full-blood Japanese black cattle, but it also can refer to a cross-breed of full-blood Wagyu with other types of cattle. Kobe beef, on the other hand, is a registered trademark that is strictly governed, sourced from Tajima Japanese black cattle that is bred, raised and slaughtered in Kyogo prefecture, the capital of which is Kobe.

Dissecting the wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Dissecting the wagyu sirloin

Our chef dissects the sirloin directly on the grill. It's not going to be cooked as a whole slab, but broken down into specific components, each of which will have different recommendations for seasoning.

Kobe wagyu beef sirloin fat at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Kobe wagyu beef sirloin fat on the grill

The thickest and hardest piece of fat is something most diners would discreetly cut around and leave behind. Here it's a prized trophy, set aside to sizzle so the fat renders slowly.

Kobe wagyu beef sirloin separated into different cuts at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
The Kobe wagyu sirloin being separated into different cuts

It's incredible to watch one piece of sirloin treated with alarming accuracy, portioned out into distinct groups that have a similarity only noticeable when you see them piled together.

Kobe wagyu beef sirloin fat sizzling on the teppanyaki at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Kobe wagyu beef sirloin fat sizzling on the teppanyaki

The pile of fat offcuts grows in size, slowly changing colour from a creamy white to a deep golden brown. If only you could smell this photo. Hiss. Sizzle. Pop.

Crispy garlic chips at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Crispy garlic chips

We're provided with a range of seasonings, including garlic chips, sansho pepper, salt, mustard and a ponzu dipping sauce. At first we're given deliberate instructions on which accompaniment should go with each cut, but after five rounds, we're given free creative rein.

Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Kobe wagyu beef sirloin to be eaten with salt

The first pieces of meat to hit our plate have a dark crust. We're told solemnly to eat this with salt only, an addition to magnifies the buttery and caramelised flavour of the beef significantly.

Seasoning the Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Seasoning the sirloin steaks

The Kobe beef show continues. Every five minutes we're given a different part of the sirloin. Some are chewier than others, others more tender. Each piece has been seared to a medium rare, so the flesh is still bouncy with a plump softness.

Flipping the Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Flipping the seared sirloin steaks

The heat of the grill is beautifully hot and even. The sear of the surface of the meat is a consistent dapple of browns and golds.

Kobe wagyu beef sirloin fatty marbling at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
That fatty marbling

There are moments when everything seems to stop as you survey your next mouthful. The deep pink blush of the marbled beef is a sight worth stopping to appreciate deeply before you pop it into your mouth, close your eyes and feel its fatty succulency drench from you the inside-out.

Seasoning the tofu, konnyaku and vegetables at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Seasoning the vegetable medley

Our set meat includes a vegetable medley, an assortment of green capsicum, potato and zucchini plus tofu and konnyaku, a wobbly jelly-like cake made from elephant yam.

Searing the tofu, konnyaku and vegetables at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Golden brown potatoes, zucchini, konjac and tofu seasoned with beef fat

These are cooked on the teppan grill, seasoned with wagyu beef fat for extra flavour.

Flipping the seared Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Flipping several slices of seared Kobe wagyu beef sirloin 

I don't want this show to end, but at the same time, our stomachs are starting to struggle. We sit back and watch each deft moment with growing appreciation, the meat handled and flipped with such precision it feels like a choreographed ballet performance.

Searing the fatiest Kobe wagyu beef sirloin pieces at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Searing the fattiest and most tender pieces

Our lunch crescendoes to the fattiest and most tender pieces of the sirloin. You can see these pieces from the top of the sirloin are paler than the others, promising maximum pleasure.

Fatty and tender Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
The top of the sirloin, s tender you could cut it with a plastic spoon

It's a worthy climax. Everyone is taken aback by this final mouthful of meat. It's so incredibly tender you could cut it with a plastic spoon. Halfway between meat and pure fat, this is the most succulent and indulgent morsel of beef I've ever eaten. You don't even need to chew. It's like every protein strand is enveloped in lusciousness, slipping down your throat far too quickly.

Crispy Kobe wagyu beef sirloin fat at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Crispy beef fat 

And then there are the nuggets of beef fat, super crisp and a deep brown that taste exactly like beef crackling. There's no greasy fat remaining, just a crunch of intensely beefy deliciousness.

Preparing the Kobe wagyu beef sirloin fat fried rice at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Preparing the beef fat fried rice

We go with the optional fried rice for an extra 900 yen / AU$10 per person. A huge pile of fluffy white rice is added to the grill with finely chopped shallots and vegetables.

Tapping salt over the fried rice at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Adding salt by tapping a salt dusted spatula across the top

Even watching the chef make fried rice is a spectacle. He pours salt onto the grill, divides it up into little rectangles, and then scoops up sections of it with a spatula, gently tapping it to scatter the salt evenly over the fried rice. Tossed throughout the fried rice is the rendered beef fat offcuts from before, all crunchy and golden.

Golden fried rice with Kobe beef wagyu sirloin fat at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Golden fried rice seasoned with Kobe wagyu beef fat

Everyone needs a flat top grill to cook fried rice. Our bowl is piled with fried rice grains that are uniformly golden. There's no steaming from overcrowded. Each grain is separate and chewy. Every mouthful has pops of crunchy beef fat.

Grapefruit sorbet at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Dessert: grapefruit sorbet

The included dessert is a grapefruit sorbet, exactly the kind of bitter and palate-cleansing refreshment you need after such a rich meal.

Konditorei Kobe

Vanilla fromage chiboust cheesecake from Konditorei Kobe, Japan
Vanilla fromage Japanese cotton cheesecake from Konditorei Kobe

And if you're heading back to Shin Kobe station, it would be remiss not to pick up one of Kobe's other famous highlights - the vanilla fromage cheesecake from Konditorei Kobe. Like so many lauded food souvenirs in Japan, these are presented with utmost reverence. And because the Japanese are so practical in everything they do, the cheesecakes are ready frozen for easy transport to your next destination. Defrosting will take about three hours, but if your journey is longer, they'll provide you with ice packs.

Vanilla fromage Japanese cotton cheesecake from Konditorei Kobe, Japan
Vanilla fromage chiboust

We have it as part of our hotel room dessert party that evening. The cheesecake is said to use two types of cream cheese from Australian and France, whipped into a super light and fluffy style of cheesecake that Japanese call cotton cheesecake. It's so-named because the cheesecake should melt on the tongue just like cotton candy, or fairy floss. It does. It's super airy and pillowy soft.

We weren't in you for very long, Kobe, but we think we did good.

Konditorei Kobe
JR Shin-Kobe Station, 1-3-1 Kano-cho, Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyugo


1-1 Kitanocho, Chuo-ku, Shinkobe Oriental Avenue 3F, Kobe 650-0002
Tel: +81 (078) 262 2838
Open daily 11.45am-10pm

<< Read the first Japan 2015 post: Toyama black ramen and firefly squid

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 7/19/2015 12:21:00 a.m.

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