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Name: Bécasse
Address: 204 Clarence Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Phone: (02) 9283 3440
Type: Restaurant
Cuisine: French/European
Opening hours: 12:00 pm-2:30 pm (lunch, Monday-Friday); 6:00 pm-10:30 pm (dinner, Monday-Saturday)
Price: $120 (degustation); $27 and $45 (à la carte entrée and main respectively)

There is no doubt that Bécasse is one of the stars of Sydney fine dining, almost beyond review for an amateur as myself. Familiar and unfamiliar ingredients are brought together in every dish with immaculate execution and presentation. This is food that is as beautiful to look at as it is beautiful to savour. I must say that some of the meatier dishes may come across as being a little underwhelming, but this is purely because of the heavenliness of some of the other dishes; dessert here is something you can’t have enough of! As for ambience, Bécasse is a place well-suited any time a little bit of sophistication is in order. From the elegant but not too pretentious dining room, you can see the chefs deftly applying their masterful craft, as you go through this culinary journey.

You can probably tell from my description that we had the degustation, although they also have a decent à la carte selection. I think I will let the photos speak for themselves, for which many thanks are due to Daniel Tse.

Amuse bouche

Amuse bouche

Salad of heirloom tomato

Salad of heirloom tomato

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Name: Ju Ju
Address: Kingsgate Shopping Centre, Shop 320, Bayswater Rd, Kings Cross (a short walk from the train station)
Phone: (02) 9357 7100
Type: Restaurant
Cuisine: Japanese
Opening hours: 6:30 pm-11:30 pm (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday); 6:30 pm-1:00 am (Friday, Saturday)

I’ve never been to Japan, so it’s hard for me to comment as to the authenticity of the experience I had, but Ju Ju, a Japanese restaurant a short walk from Kings Cross railway station, has certainly found a way to distinguish itself in Sydney: as you enter, you are asked to take off your shoes, and at your table, you rest your behind on the ground on cushions. It’s all a rather nice thought, but there are good reasons – for me anyway – why I might not want to expose my feet during a meal. Let’s just say it has the potential to confuse the palate.

We had heard that the sukiyaki is worth a try, so we ordered that. For $39 (serving two), the sukiyaki comes with sliced beef, noodles, tofu, two eggs and a good selection of vegetables, all of which you cook yourself hot-pot style in the soy-based broth. While the quantity of food wasn’t a problem (we had some leftovers), I was a little disappointed at the meat-vegetable ratio, and while the end result was tasty (albeit slightly too salty), I can’t say it was anything out of the ordinary to justify spending $19.50 per person. (The other mains on the menu were about $10-15 per person: we should’ve ordered those instead.)

“Kung Fu Panda” was playing silently on the flat-panel monitor next to the table – repeatedly – and combined with the extensive use of wooden decor (and the menu containing a good deal of Engrish and WordArt), I wasn’t blown away by the presentation either. Taking your shoes off might be novel for some, but it doesn’t do it for me. It’s also a karaoke bar – at $1 per song – but we didn’t give that a go. Maybe with flowing alcohol, song, dance and some other dishes, it might have been a more memorable experience.

Conclusion: Competent Japanese food, but nothing special, and out of the way if you have no other reason to be in Kings Cross.

Food: 6/10
Service: 5/10
Ambience: 6/10
Value for money: 5/10
Overall: 5/10
(what do these numbers mean?)

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Name: Great Century Restaurant
Address: 23 Greenfield Parade, Bankstown, NSW 2200
Phone: (02) 9796 3366
Type: Restaurant
Cuisine: Chinese

I’m sure it has been said that while one of multiculturalism’s great products is the great variety of restaurants we can choose from in Sydney, the Chinese restaurants here are generally quite lacking. If you’ve been to Hong Kong or elsewhere, the choice on offer in Sydney seems downright pedestrian, and even if you haven’t, rude waiters and mediocre food are not uncommon tales.

The Great Century Restaurant has had many a name over the years, but there has always been a Chinese restaurant of some description in the pink building on Greenfield Parade in Bankstown for as long as I have known. While it has never been anything to sing home about, we always enjoyed having family dinners there because we would get seafood or something else that grandma couldn’t throw together herself.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite the same any more. Now, vast amounts of uneven sticky-tape adorn the walls, holding up specials typed up onto pink sheets of paper – not quite the sophisticated look. The fish tank, the staple of a Chinese restaurant, has been moved from its prime position near the entrance to one of the corners. Some of the waiters were rather casually dressed – I’m sorry, but that’s just not on.

Waiters pushing you to order never quite set the scene right. So we ordered, and we sat around for a while. We drank the complimentary arrival soup; it was lacking in complex flavours, feeling as though it were watered down or boiled with insufficient ingredients. Then we sat around for a while. Then one dish came. It was scallops with vegetables – passable, if it weren’t for the fact that it was lukewarm. Something gave me the hint it had been sitting around for a while.

So we ate the scallops, and twiddled our thumbs for a while, then the rice came, and then we twiddled our thumbs for a while some more. It’s a sure sign something’s wrong when grandpa got up to get the teapots refilled himself. Not that the tea was anything special either.

The Peking duck was probably the highlight of the meal – a tantalising slither of duck skin wrapped in a pancake with a scallion, drenched in sweet noodle sauce. Luckily for me, there were extras and I couldn’t wait to grab myself a second helping. There was a little more fat than I would have liked, but hey, that’s what you get with duck.

Then, things miraculously sped up and the dishes started piling in; suddenly the paucity of food turned into a feast. The fish was a bit chewy but the main concern was the oyster sauce – oyster sauce, I think, goes well with few things, and that fish wasn’t one of them. The noodles were soft and a pleasure to gulp down, but they were drenched in sauce. The crispy skin chicken looked like it had been hanging around for a while, and the rest of the duck meat came on a plate – not presented in any appetising way, and it was positively unappetising with the strange-tasting sauce that accompanied it. I love duck with taro, but there just wasn’t much duck and honestly, that taro didn’t taste very much like taro. We also had shark fin with some kind of vegetable – fortunately, such a dish is always bound to be a crowd pleaser.

After the casually-dressed waiters cleaned away the plates and bowls, complimentary dessert in the form of sliced oranges and cookies were served; I didn’t have the oranges (I could smell the sourness from a metre away) but the cookies were nice, except that I don’t think they should have had a soft centre.

In general, I often find that the complimentary dishes a restaurant gives away impact quite a bit on how I perceive them; however, in this case, they should probably worry about the mains first. The place just reeks of an attitude that they just don’t really care very much about you, or the food.

I’m just glad I wasn’t the one paying.

Food: 4/10
Service: 4/10
Ambience: 5/10
Value for money: 5/10
Overall: 4/10
(what do these numbers mean?)

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