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Monday, 28 October 2013

Sydney: Una's Cafe & Restaurant

My visits to Sydney in the last few years have been centred around the inner eastern suburbs of Darlinghurst, Kings Cross, Paddington and Rushcutters Bay. I'm of Dutch descent and was recently granted my Dutch citizenship (yay!). So, really, it is quite AMAZING that I'd never been to Una's (338-340 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst) prior to last month.

Una's is somewhat of an urban legend in Sydney. Its focus is home-style, traditional European cuisine with influences from the likes of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Hungary. Its infamous plate-wide schnitzels, its relaxed and friendly vibe, and its proximity to the nightlife of Kings Cross for over 40 years have ensured its continued success. My Dad tells me tales of prolonged business lunches he spent at Una's 20 years ago, and my 20-something (OK, 30-something) friends still pop in there for a schnitzel before a night on the town.

Una's is a Victoria Street mainstay, complete with red brick archways, wooden carved chairs, everything written in cursive font (hard to read, but oh-so-European), and a husky-voiced waitress with an accent and a beaming smile. The restaurant feels warm, comfortable and pleasant - best encompassed by the German word gemütlich. There are a couple of tables out on the footpath, but the vibe is nicest indoors. Cute touches like feature tiles in the bathroom, and dark wooden panels incorporated into the ceiling, give the place even more of a European feel. The best bit is that it feels genuine, not over-the-top schmaltzy, and the food is convincing, too - not a half-arsed attempt at the cuisine, like Tex-Mex is to Mexican. I almost wish I'd worn traditional costume... (Didn't someone promise me clogs?!)

So Dutch right now

It's not exactly what I'd call 'gourmet', but the food at Una's is solidly good, and as previously stated, the servings are very generous. Offerings include hearty meals such as Schnitzel, sausage, goulash, steak, salmon, Dutch beef croquettes, soup and salads, with traditional sides such as Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage), Rösti (European grated and fried potato), and Spätzle - my favourite! (soft, Austrian, potato noodles); even Thomy brand mustard. Desserts include Strüdel and other cakes. Una's is open for breakfast as well as lunch and dinner, seven days a week, and offers its complete menu for home delivery through Suppertime.

Salmon fillet on salad

Gypsy Schnitzel with Roesti

More Schnitzel! The "Jaeger" served with mushroom sauce and Roesti

Sauerkraut ("cabbage salad")

Spicy tomato sauce served with the Gypsy Schnitzel

Thomy Mustard

As much as I could finish! (I did pretty well, I thought)

There's a decent beer list, BYO wine is perfectly acceptable, and apparently the Schnapps is also plentiful - something to be explored on my next visit. (*rubs hands in glee*)

Perusing the beer list

He went for DAB in the end, to wash down the salmon

I had BYO champers, to celebrate my new Dutchness.

My sister tried the Gluehwein... great choice on a cold, rainy day

Whilst enjoying our lunch at Una's, a prominent Australian actor came in for a quick Schnitzel with his son. I won't say who - let the man keep his private happy lunch place! Alright, alright, his first name starts with M and his surname rhymes with 'Satan' - but it just goes to show that Una's is embraced by all kinds of folk - even sober (as in, not high off their tits from Kings Cross adventures), well-paid, famous ones.

It was a rainy day when we were there, and I think Una's hearty food suits winter time best. Nonetheless, I look forward to my next Schnitzel there, rain or shine - hopefully this Christmas. Una's is well worth a visit - particularly if you have a big appetite! (Costumes optional.)

Una's Café & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, 21 October 2013

Sydney: Watsons Bay, The Golden Sheaf Hotel

A recent trip to Sydney afforded me an opportunity to fulfill my long-craved fix of its beautiful harbour. With family on the East side, someone suggested a drive over to Watsons Bay for a look-see and stroll around. Why, yes! How lovely, I thought, truthfully but somewhat nervously, the words "Watsons Bay" having invoked from the dark recesses of my brain a memory of eating fish and chips in the park one sunny weekend and a greedy seagull (one of the many that are constantly overfed by stupid visitors who ignore the signs clearly instructing NOT to feed the seagulls) flying to my shoulder and pecking a chip FROM MY FINGERS. Scared the LIVING BEJESUS out of me.

Nevertheless, I like visiting Watsons Bay - not least for the entertainingly windy drive past clean and impressive mansions, The Macquarie Lighthouse* and the notorious "Gap" to get there - but also because it feels like a little holiday nook of Sydney: sheltered, village-y... yes, expensive; with a pretty little beach, boats moored in the bay, the constantly-green Robertson Park sloping down to the water, a ripper pub (the Watsons Bay Hotel), and of course the infamous seafood restaurant, Doyles on the Beach (11 Marine Parade, Watsons Bay). There is also a M-F-ing STUNNING view looking back towards Sydney Harbour, and even a ferry terminal to get there, for those so inclined.

Ferry terminal & view of Sydney Harbour from Watsons Bay beach

House numbers gettin' shelly. So beachy right now

Local dinghies are stored along the beach

The bay at sunset

Watsons Bay Hotel corner sign... love the font

This was a pleasant visit - thankfully no evil seagulls too close by - and we polished off a bottle of wine in the late afternoon sunshine under some very 1980s, Cocktail-esque umbrellas in the beer garden of Watsons Bay Hotel (1 Military Road, Watsons Bay). Leaving chatty and only slightly sunburnt, we decided it would be an excellent idea to go and meet the fourth family member (sadly completely sober) at another classic Eastern Suburbs location: the Golden Sheaf Hotel (429 New South Head Road, Double Bay).

Golden Sheaf Hotel bar

We had the intention of playing pool but the marvellous Sheaf courtyard was too much of a lure, so we just drank instead. No food was involved, but I very much enjoyed the pretty lighting outside and funky lightshades over the bar. I find the staff a bit stand-offish here, but I guess that's nothing new in the Eastern suburbs (or Sydney in general... OOOOOH), and the social vibe in the courtyard makes for some great potential conversations with fellow patrons. Usually good-looking ones. Hey, just being honest.

Food counter at the Sheaf. And tall man.

Pretty night-time courtyard lighting... heaters, too

Watsons Bay and the Sheaf are both definitely worth a look if you're in town.

*Why is everything in Sydney named after Governor Macquarie? and everything in Orange something-or-other Canabolis and everything in Melbourne after Batman? -- not even the cool Batman, but the explorer? Can't we think up some new names every so often?!

Doyle's on the Beach on Urbanspoon

The Golden Sheaf on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Shop Ramen

Ramen, udon, pho and all things Asian-noodley have been far less prominent in my life since I moved from Sydney to Melbourne. Finally, it seems the awesomeness of tasty, cheap Asian food is filtering more into Melbourne's foodie radar, and there's much more choice around town these days. Shop Ramen (329 Smith Street, Fitzroy) is tapping into the trend, with great ramen on offer, endorsed by the hordes of hungry punters at the door.

Front door, punter-free... this changed within half an hour

Shop Ramen's roots sprouted in February this year as Shophouse Ramen, a staggeringly popular, 10-day pop-up at Storm in a Teacup. The brainchild of experimental foodie and blogger, Pat Breen, the pop-up's success led to its new, permanent residence up the road (just south of Johnston Street).

Owners Breen and Lydia Wegner travelled to Japan to master the art of ramen, adapting its traditions into a compact yet flavour-filled menu. The three ramen dishes currently on offer feature wheat and rye noodles hand-made on-site, and are finished with a soft-boiled egg - a delicious homely touch.

Hand-making the noodles

After missing out on a table on my first attempt (mainly due to the oh-so-Melbourne no-bookings policy - oh, and some distracting drinks at the corner pub beforehand), friends and I grabbed the window table for an early dinner one Thursday. They all went for the Shoyu, a pork belly and chicken affair, and the more traditional of the dishes on offer. Sadly, no one sampled the Dan Dan (possibly put off by the words 'brisket' and 'sichuan pepper' in its description?? -- the others just sounded more appetising). Personally, I'd like to see two Dans go in together one day and share a Dan Dan. *giggle*

Shoyu ramen

I had the Cashew Veggie Ramen, a vegan-friendly option: wonderfully rich and creamy, due to its cashew milk base. Predictably, I couldn't finish it - but I sure enjoyed trying! It was a hearty, flavoursome, and very reasonably priced meal that I will absolutely be returning for.

Cashew Veggie Ramen

The consensus on the pork buns was generally positive, but my (unpopular) opinion was 'thanks but no thanks'. I found the dough oddly smooth and too shiny, which I guess made the buns look processed, even though they're probably anything but. The pork within was alternately fatty and dry, and the 'bulldog' sauce was overpowering and, frankly, not that pleasant. I had a much nicer time with the tofu bun (and despite these leanings: no, I'm not vegetarian or vegan). Its flavours and textures were more balanced, and fresher.

Pork buns

Weird dough

Drinks are also limited: there is the odd option of a salted caramel coconut shake, apparently PHENOMENAL, but not something I would've thought to pair with Japanese food. I had an 'organic' coconut water, expecting something closer to a natural state than the poppa-style container it came in... but it was still nice. Shop Ramen's alcohol license is yet to come; a final touch on a new venture that, I think, will seal the deal on its good name.

Organic Coconut Water

Another slight downer is the hours. Although open for lunch and dinner -- closed Monday AND Tuesday? On Smith Street? C'mon, guys! I'm hungry EVERY day of the week. While we're at it, please introduce takeaway, and outdoor seating in summer would also be great. Kthanxbye.

On the upside, service was consistently helpful, and despite the crowds greedily eyeing our table, we weren't rushed out the door.

Water was constantly replenished


The venue itself is no-frills, with bare tiling, cement flooring, wooden tables (including one long communal table), sparse lighting and plastic cups. Frills are not needed here, though - the sparkle comes from the ramen. It's pretty spectacular. Get some o' this ramen into ya, Melbourne.

Communal table

Shop Ramen on Urbanspoon