Review: Flying Fish

To mark the end of our Foodie Adventure in Sydney, Reena and I decided to splurge and spoil ourselves by having our last meal together at the infamous Flying Fish restaurant, owned by “seafood king”, Peter Kuruvita.

Situated right by the pier at Jones Bay Wharf, it is pretty secluded and quite a ways away from anything else.  I love seafood and so ever since I learned of this restaurant I have been waiting for this day to come!  It was almost a no-go too, since it was completely out of the way from everywhere else we had already decided on going to; lucky we decided to make that special trip out in the end.

So after a pretty long walk from the tram stop, which included walking through pitch black darkness along a mostly deserted pier (the restaurant was right at the end) – we finally made it.  I remember at one point I was almost half expecting that we would have to find some secret passageway in order to get there, ala Platform 9 3/4 (sorry for the Harry reference, I couldn’t resist!).

First impression: the restaurant looks absolutely stunning.  Right by the main entrance is a full bar with a little deck area with comfy seating overlooking the water.  It was pretty dark so unfortunately there wasn’t much of a view to behold, but I can imagine how beautiful it would be during the daytime.  On a hot summer’s day, sat in one of those comfy chairs enjoying a cold cocktail…absolute heaven.  Stepping into the actual restaurant, the first thing I noticed which was a bit of a surprise to me, was that the kitchen was just, well, there.  Now we’ve all seen restaurants with kitchens that are “in the open”, that is in the same place as the dining area but separated by the counter (think Wagamama – well the one here, anyway), but this one was pretty much like an open-plan kitchen, like the sort you would see in some city apartments  – except way fancier, bigger and better equipped, of course!!  To the right there was what looked like a private dining area within this amazing wine cellar – wine bottles were perched on the walls from floor to ceiling.

We were taken into the dining area which was in the adjoining room on the left (there was also seating upstairs).  The dining area was very classy, what you would expect from a fine dining restaurant.  Floor to ceiling windows meant direct views out into the ocean – I can only imagine how incredibly stunning it must be during the day.  Shortly after sitting down at our table I looked around to take in the lovely ambiance.  Then I looked up – and gasped.  The upstairs dining area actually overlooks down to the downstairs dining area (where we were) and so basically both levels shared one very high ceiling (if that makes sense).  Hanging down from this ceiling were a whole bunch of pretty fairy lights – how magical and gorgeous!  Almost like looking into the actual sky on a starry night – and I’m sure that is the intention.  Definitely a very romantic setting, I’m sure the place is packed on Valentine’s!

I did take some photos but obviously they do not do the restaurant any justice.  The website provides a virtual tour of the place though so go check it out!

Everything on the menu sounded so delicious.  Prices are pretty steep but is to be expected considering the caliber of the restaurant and that it was seafood.  I think they did have one or two non-seafood dishes, although who would order steak at a seafood restaurant is beyond me…  The couple next to me, the guy was eating like this MASSIVE lobster – it looked really good.  In the end I decided on the prawn ravioli with poached scampi, shaved abalone, zucchini flower and tomato and coriander vinaigrette for my entree, and pan fried John Dory with king prawn, young summer vegetables, yuzu and seaweed butter for the main.

The ravioli was really good although I think what I enjoyed the most was actually that vinaigrette.  So simple but yet the flavor had so much depth and it was very refreshing too, thanks to the coriander – love coriander!  On the flipside I didn’t care for the abalone at all.  As for the main, WOW.  I’ve never had John Dory before so I was really excited at finally being able to try it after hearing about it all the time on cooking shows.  The fish is a very flat fish and really quite ugly (have a look at his ugly mug here) but boy did it taste delicious!  The fish was cooked perfectly and seasoned so well; skin was crispy and the flesh tender but still with some bite.  Now the fish was definitely the star of the dish but let me tell you, those vegetables sure gave Mr. Dory a run for his money!  I have this weird thing where I only like my vegetables soft – so really, I only eat/enjoy my veges steamed.  The veges that were on this plate were absolutely divine, they were so full of flavor and just melted in your mouth!  And that yuzu and seaweed butter was one of the best things I have ever tasted – just brought the whole dish together.

Following the success of the dessert platter at the Red Lantern, we decided to do the same here and go for the dessert tasting plate.  What a scrumptious ending to a fantastic meal it was – passionfruit souffle with burnt orange ice cream, toasted coconut marshmallow and pineapple, fig carpaccio with creme fraiche sorbet and carrot financier, and lime cheesecake, almond strusel, lime curd, guava sorbet and compressed kiwifruit.  My favorites were the toasted coconut marshmallow (they were like fluffy coconut-ty pillows!) and that guava sorbet – so refreshing.

Here are some photos, again please excuse the poor camera quality!  Additionally because I was trying to be discreet, most of the pictures turned out a wee bit out of focus too, unfortunately.

Overall, an excellent (fine) dining experience.  If I can ever afford to eat there again, I will go there for lunch so I can enjoy the views.  I must mention that the waitress who looked after us was top notch; very friendly, attentive and knew the menu pretty much like the back of her hand – she got a really good tip from us.

One last thing I simply HAVE to mention – as if everything about the place wasn’t already completely amazing, wait ’til you hear about the toilets!  They are magical.  I kid you not!  When you first step in, you will notice that the cubicles are see through.  The whole cubicle is just one giant translucent glass box.  So you start to panic for a moment.  Then you figure, well no one else is in here right now, I’ll just hop in, quickly do my thing and hope that I will be done before anyone walks in.  So you get in and here’s the craziest-but-most-amazing thing – the second you shut the door and lock it – WHOOSH!! – the whole glass box gets all cloudy and is no longer see through!  What is this black magic?!?!  But how cool is that!

Hands down.  Best.  Toilet.  Ever.  (and I’ve been to a lot – curse you, weak bladder!)

So yeah to sum up, if you love seafood, if you want to treat yourself and that special someone, or if there is a special occasion of some sort – consider making a night of it at Flying Fish.  When it comes to food this is my motto: life is too short and pretty crappy most of the time, so every once in awhile treat yourself to the good stuff!

Whimsical Banana rates Flying Fish: 5/5 Bananas!

Review: Red Lantern

Apologies for the delay in getting my restaurant reviews up, as had been promised in my previous blog entry – it has been a crazy past few weeks!  I have a lot of time on my hands at the moment though so I will be blogging a bit more regularly now.

To start the food-ball rolling, I will begin with Luke Nguyen’s Red Lantern Restaurant in Surrey Hills, just outside the Sydney CBD.  For those of you who watch Masterchef Australia, you will know who Luke Nguyen is and/or have heard of his restaurant.

Being Malaysian/Asian, obviously I love Asian cuisine, but being very “Western” too, I enjoy European food as well.  What’s the best of both worlds?  Asian fusion cuisine!  And that’s what Red Lantern is all about.  Vietnamese cuisine with a modern Western-esque twist to it.  As if that wasn’t already music to my ears, what scored more brownie points in my book – the restaurant’s “mantra”: ethical eating.  They are committed to leaving as light an environmental footprint as possible through using only the freshest in local sustainable and organic produce.  They dedicate a whole page on this on their website, you can check it out here.  This is something I feel quite strongly about and have been practicing in the last few years so it’s really great and inspiring to come across a restaurant that believes in the importance of being environmentally conscious.

So we hadn’t planned on going to Red Lantern that night (even though it was on my “places-I-must-eat-at-when-I’m-in-Sydney” list) but due to being behind schedule and the awful weather, among other things, it became the most convenient place to go for dinner in the end.  We hopped in to a cab and were halfway there when we realized that we hadn’t made a reservation, and it was a Saturday night.  Since we were nearly there we thought we’d just try our luck anyway, and if we couldn’t get in, we would just pick another place – the restaurant was on a street that was a bit of a “restaurant zone” so we would be spoiled for choice.

Got there, and of course, it was fully booked.  Being a Saturday night I was thinking that our chances were pretty slim.  It was still pouring down so we were all wet and cold, and by this point we were all starving too.  Luck was clearly on our side though because while they were fully booked, the hostess had some promising news for us – she was still waiting on a group of 4 who still had not arrived yet – and what do you know, there were 4 of us!

So after a 10-15 minute wait, we finally secured a table – YAY!  Everything on the menu sounded so scrumptious, and not too ridiculously over-priced too, which was the best part!  After some debating we finally decided on the following for our meal:  Entrees: their famous roast duck and enoki mushroom spring rolls followed by char-grilled chicken skewers marinated in preserved bean curd paste, lime and garlic.  Mains to share: char-grilled pork cutlets marinated in honey, lemongrass and shallot oil, Asian mushrooms wok-tossed with tofu, lotus root, Chinese broccoli and glass noodles, and crispy skin chicken poached in master stock with ginger, shallot and oyster sauce .  And to finish, we decided we just had to sample a bit of everything so we got the dessert platter.

Here are some photos to tantalize your taste buds.  Please excuse the poor camera quality.  We were seated outside and the lighting was quite dim, didn’t help that my camera doesn’t take photos well in the dark!

The food was absolutely to die for.  I have eaten in some great places but this is definitely near the top of my list.  The duck rolls were fantastic – you get so used to eating those “regular” deep fried party spring rolls that you forget that spring rolls can be so much more than that.  The best spring rolls I’ve had have been in Vietnam itself; be it fresh or deep fried, they were always packed full of flavor with a good mix of veges, fresh herbs and meat (usually prawn).  You would think duck would be a strange kind of meat to have in a spring roll but it was a match made in heaven – well Sam would beg to differ but he doesn’t like duck so he doesn’t get a vote!  The duck meat was sliced finely, moist and seasoned perfectly, the enoki mushrooms gave a great texture and the herbs just married all the flavors together.  The chicken skewers were tender, juicy and marinated to perfection; such a simple “pedestrian dish” and like any other normal chicken skewer that you can get anywhere, but it tasted amazing, so full of flavor, and even though it was char-grilled, the meat somehow stayed tender and just melted in your mouth…while still having that nice char-grilled flavor to it.

With the mains, the crispy skin chicken was definitely the hero of the night.  You should have seen the looks on our faces when we took that first bite, it was like we were having little food-gasms!  The skin was so crispy and tasty it was like pork crackling…sounded like pork crackling too!  The meat though was so soft, and had bags of flavor in it – I would really love to know what “secret ingredient” they put in their master stock, and how long it has been there for, because that’s just magic in a pot.  I wasn’t too keen on the pork as it’s not my favorite meat but it was recommended by the hostess.  I had a taste and I was actually pleasantly surprised; there was so much going on in that one cutlet that it actually masked the pork flavor which is what I don’t like and why I don’t often eat pork.  The vegetable dish we ordered was probably the most “normal” dish out of the three, but having said that, again, it didn’t disappoint on flavor.  As we all know there is not much flavor – if at all – in tofu, and yet the tofu in this dish was silky smooth and super tasty.  I also really liked the lotus root in the dish, gave the dish texture and it definitely needed that extra bit of crunch.

Now at this point we were all pretty stuffed but who can say no to dessert?!  I’m glad we didn’t pass and I’m even gladder that we got the platter because WOW.  The platter consisted of sesame and rice flour dumplings filled with sour sop served with black sesame ice cream, black sticky rice with caramelized pumpkin, jackfruit and coconut cream, and date and tamarind pudding with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream.  I don’t think I need to say much because I think the descriptions should speak for itself.  Simply, utterly heavenly.  My fave was the dumplings (which the hostess did wholeheartedly recommend) but it was a pretty close race!  Desserts have always been a very Western thing.  Growing up in an Asian family, all we had for dessert – and even then dessert wasn’t a regular affair – was ice cream and/or fruit.  It’s just so inspiring to see desserts like what we sampled at Red Lantern – taking inspiration from European classics but using Asian ingredients and flavors.

I am so chuffed that we managed to get that table at the Red Lantern because that was truly one of the best dining experiences I have ever had.  I left completely satisfied, not completely out of pocket, and I will definitely make a return visit the next time I’m in Sydney.  Food aside, the service was absolutely flawless – hostess was friendly, attentive and very knowledgeable about the menu, the wait staff were equally friendly and very efficient.   I felt the waiting times were spot on, it was just enough time between the courses – a top notch job considering it was a full restaurant.  Ambiance was lovely – tasteful Asian inspired decor, cozy and while it was a fancy restaurant it wasn’t too upmarket or “hoity toity”.  I liked that the small space gave the restaurant a very “exclusive” feel to it, almost like you were part of an invite-only party – and in some ways maybe it’s intentional?  It’s quite tucked away even considering it’s on a main street – it’s like, blink and you’ll miss it!

However I don’t think Luke Nguyen is worried that he will lose any customers because his restaurant is located rather obscurely.  He has definitely made a name for himself in Australia; this lil’ gem of a restaurant may not have a physically imposing presence but it certainly is a culinary force to be reckoned with, make no mistake about that!!  What I found really fascinating was that when I was in the local department stores in Sydney, I soon realized that Luke Nguyen was somewhat of the Australian version of Jamie Oliver!  He has his own range of utensils and cookware (down to cute lil’ dipping bowls!), and his book is pretty pricey considering he’s a “local chef”.  I was pretty tempted to get those dipping bowls or something in his range but considering I already had 2 cook books to lug back to NZ, I thought better not!  Maybe next time…

In conclusion, if you love Asian fusion cuisine, you love food that has complexity of flavors and packs a punch, then you HAVE to pay Red Lantern a visit!  Any Aussies reading this, get your butt down to Surrey Hills.  Everyone else, if you plan on visiting Sydney, make sure you put this on your places-I-must-eat-at list!

Whimsical Banana rates Red Lantern: 5/5 bananas!

Next Up: I review seafood legend Peter Kuruvita’s Flying Fish!

Foodie Adventure, Destination: Sydney

So it’s been a week since I returned from my short holiday in Sydney. I meant to write about my time there earlier but I’ve actually been really exhausted since returning to Auckland; partly from being out and about for 5 days straight but also because I jumped straight back to work like barely a day after I touched down!! This week that I’ve been back, apart from work, I’ve really just been catching up on some zzz’s, I think I’m finally back into the swing of things though!

Sydney was awesome. There were a few hiccups but all in all I had an absolute ball of a time. 😀 I was pretty proud of myself that I managed to navigate around the city fairly well, especially considering how bad my sense of directions are and also considering that on trips, I always rely on someone else to figure out where to go and how to get there!

It was great catching up with some old mates, of course, but what I enjoyed most about the trip was just being in a different country (albeit a very similar one to NZ!), exploring unfamiliar grounds, taking in the sights and just enjoying being in a bigger and livelier city. It’s amazing how much more life there is just across the ditch, so many shops and all open ’til much later which is probably what annoys me most about living here! Although I have to say I’m no longer used to the crowds, having lived in Auckland for so long. As much as I do love hustle-and-bustle, it was a tad too “busy” for my liking all the same…I swear Sydney has grown in population in the last couple of years!

I’d been to Sydney before, about 2 years back, but what was interesting about this 2nd trip was this time I was going as a recent-self-professed foodie. You see the place differently, you know? I have taken quite an interest in and passion for food in the last few months and I’ve had this mental list of restaurants that I simply had to visit should I make it to Sydney again. Of course I didn’t get to all of them, but I managed a few so I was/am happy 🙂 Thankfully the friend I was with is a fellow foodie too so it all worked out!

In the coming week(s) I will blog about the restaurants individually in separate posts as I want to give each one the undivided praise it deserves. I also want to add photos, of course!  I had the most amazing meals in my time in Sydney, some of the BEST food I have ever eaten. I really need to find out how to become a food critic, or a professional food blogger!

I want to start researching on good food/good restaurants/famous chefs in Auckland/NZ though. It’s ironic that I know so much of the who’s and what’s of the food industry in Australia but next to nothing of the industry in NZ.  Peter Gordon can’t be our only claim to fame, surely? If anyone out there knows of any good restaurants I should try in Auckland, please let me know!

BTW, Happy Easter everyone!  The rain hasn’t been great but hope everyone’s had their fair share of chocolate 🙂

Mamak has FINALLY arrived in NZ!!

In Malaysia, the term “mamak” refers to the Tamil Muslims of Malaysian nationality.  Mamak stalls are popular among Malaysians as hang out spots, serving Malaysian street food and beverages. [taken from the menu at Mamak @ Chancery]

When I first heard that someone had finally been crazy smart brave enough to open up Auckland’s very first mamak, I was surprised (at first) but this was quickly replaced by elation and excitement.  About bloody time!

Simply named “Mamak“, this quaint little eatery is tucked away at a corner in the very chic Chancery courtyard just off High Street.  My first thought was that this was an interesting, slightly strange location to choose to open a mamak.  Definitely worlds away from where most, if not all, mamaks are located back home!

The pretty fairy lights, bright and inviting ambiance, along with the friendly beckoning staff all create a very welcoming atmosphere and definitely great first impression.  The writing on the walls which bear typical “mamak speak” (in Malay, with accompanying English translation) instantly makes any Malaysian feel at home, but at the same time give non-Malaysians a glimpse into Malaysian culture, or at least the mamak culture.

The excitement and expectations were definitely mounting and considering how many various Malaysian cafes/restaurants/eateries I have eaten in in the 8 years that I have been living here, I was really curious to see how this “newbie” will stack up, and stand out.

The hosts/staff were incredibly hospitable and warm – they greeted us immediately on arrival and they seemed genuinely happy to have us; it felt more like being welcomed at a friend’s house, which I liked.  Anyone who frequents Asian eating places knows that this does not happen often!

The menu boasts a good variety of tasty, well-known Malaysian delicacies – all mamak-influenced, of course.  What I thought was pretty cool was the menu was divided into two – Mamak tapas and Mains.  It’s interesting that tapas as we all know originates from Spain but these days every other cuisine has its own localized version of tapas.  I thought having the menu worded in this “Western-friendly” format was a good move for the non-Malaysian customers.

Back to the food – there was just so much to choose from!  There were the usual “goodies” on offer – nasi lemak, mee goreng, nasi goreng, beef rendang – but then there were also SEVEN types of roti available – all homemade – including roti pisang and roti tissue!!  Plus murtabak (onion omelette), which I’ve never seen served anywhere else.  And satay…yum!  After salivating for a bit, I finally decided on sticking to the basics and went for the nasi lemak.  And to wash it all down – teh tarik…again, YUM!  I have an unofficial rule of thumb when it comes to ordering for the first time at a new restaurant, specifically a Malaysian one; I believe that the mark of a good Malaysian restaurant (overseas) is if they can get the “classics” right.  Dad decided to try the original roti canai, and Mum picked mee goreng.  So we had a good variety to taste test!

While we waited for our food to arrive, the host entertained us with talk about what they had planned for the restaurant, namely what new dishes were going to be rolled out in the coming weeks.  Very ambitious and very optimistic considering it’s still early days but I say good on him!  As the chatter progressed to discussing ways to generate more business/traffic to his door and then unavoidably to which part of Malaysia we were from before we came to Auckland, the wonderful aroma of our dinner came wafting through the kitchen, dining area, and to where we were sitting (we were outside).  If the smells were anything to go by, this was gonna be one satisfying meal!

Food arrived in under 20 minutes which is pretty decent timing (not too long in that you’re getting impatient, and not too quick so much so that you suspect food is just being microwaved and not cooked fresh).

VERDICT: AMAZING!!!  My nasi lemak was excellent – chicken curry was cooked to perfection and the rice had just the right amount of coconut in it.  Sambal was a wee bit on the spicy side, but then I like spicy!  Roti canai could have been crispier but considering it’s homemade – hats off to the chef!  The accompanying fish curry and dahl to dip the roti in was delicious – very authentic!  Loved that they served it in those silver tin trays, just like at the real mamaks back home.  Mee goreng was also top notch – just the right amount of spice and ‘tomato-ey-ness’.  Mee goreng is one of my all-time favorite Malaysian dishes and so I order it the most often when dining at a Malaysian restaurant.  I have never had a bad mee goreng, all Malaysian restaurants seem to know how to get it right, but this one is definitely one of the better ones I’ve tasted.

All in all, it was a super tasty dinner and a great dining experience – I will definitely be returning!  If you are Malaysian, or if you are not a Malaysian but love Malaysian food, then Mamak at Chancery is a must visit!  They are located at Unit 21, Chancery Court –  just off High Street in the courtyard where Invito and Mecca Cafe are.  I truly hope this very unique Malaysian eatery – Auckland’s first mamak, no less – will have a long and prosperous life!

Whimsical Banana rates Mamak @ Chancery: 4/5 Bananas!

Excellent and authentic Malaysian mamak food, warm and efficient service, inviting and cozy ambiance.  It loses 1 banana for being slightly over-priced (most mains are about $12) but that’s understandable considering the location.  Another downside is there aren’t any desserts!  What can I say, I’m a sucker for something sweet at the end of a meal.  Bring on the cendol and ais kacang! *hint hint*