Wednesday, 27 July 2011

El Jannah

4 - 8 South Street
Granville NSW 2142
(02) 9637 0977

Category: Cheapo ($0 - $50)

Ahhh yes, the famed Lebanese chicken place… At last, we are here. I am always scared to try these places. They are hyped up and talked about so much, and sometimes with this comes expectation, and with expectation normally comes failure, especially if you don’t deliver. Besides, it’s just charcoal chicken, not even organic, or corn fed or anything like that… surely it can’t be that good, right? Well… I am so happy to say wrong!

This place delivers in spades… well and truly, ever since 1998 Andre Estephan and his wife Carole have been dishing out succulent, juicy chooks, and despite some hiccups along the way (most notably a fire that shut the restaurant for a period of time, they have expanded not only the shop but also opened up a new restaurant in Punchbowl.

So let’s start with décor. Quite simply, it’s average, there is nothing to write home about, and frankly, I think that is the way they intended it. The menu is also very simple and the thing I really like about it is that face that there are not that many options! 

It really is all about the chicken, oh and there is just one more thing… the garlic sauce. If the Green Tea Crème Brulee from Musashi was revolutionary then this was mind blowing. Put politely, I think, it is f*cking amazing. Now, I have been informed by my native Lebanese friends that the recipe used at El Jannah is not exactly the traditional recipe of purely garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil which is then blended until it forms fluffy white peaks, and that they add cream, and also potentially potato, but even they agree, it is very good.

I still haven’t spoken about the chicken though. It is butterflied first before being placed on the hot charcoal, and despite being quite salty on its own, with some bread, and that garlic sauce, it is perfect. Unlike most other chickens you buy where parts of the chicken are tough and stringy and chewy, on all the occasions I have had it here, it has been juicy and succulent right the way through. From the breast piece (which normally I don’t like to eat) through to the thigh, wings and drumstick.

The chips are a great accompaniment to the meal (they drown the stuff in chicken salt which makes it taste so much better despite them being just regular store bought chips) and use the garlic sauce in place of the tomato and it is truly the stuff of legends. Other sides include Hommous (which is very good too), Baba Ganoush, and Tabouli. If you are looking for something simpler they have some great wraps for around $7.50 which will also ensure you don’t go home hungry.   

For $19.90 eat in, you get a whole chicken, that amazing sauce, pickles and bread (It is a steal!). Tack on chips, and 2 drinks and you will still get change from $30. Good luck getting a seat any night of the week however especially towards the back end and on weekends. They have also recently expanded and begun cooking shish kebabs and you can now buy mixed plates etc. For me however, this place will always be about the chicken and that garlic sauce.

Overall, it is not particularly healthy or amazing food on paper. The chicken is not grain fed, or Lilydale or free range, the chips are not hand cut, nor is the bread made on site but really… do I care about all this? No I don’t, not in the slightest… The chicken is excellent, and that sauce to die for. In this day and age, for $30 you will be hard pressed to find a more satisfying feed for 2 (You will probably have some left over for the day after too). I still remember taking my wife here for the first time, and like me, she was saying ‘come on, it’s just chicken, it can’t be that good…’ How wrong she and I were, for this is… that good.

Bottom line:
$30 (eat in) will ensure 2 people are satisfied. I recommend finding 2 more friends however and ordering up 2 chooks, hommous, tabouli, and fries to share, add drinks and it will be well less than $20 a head.  What a steal!  

Food                                       7.5/10
Cleanliness                           2/2
Value                                      3/3
BONUS                                   1.5/2 (That garlic sauce is amazing…)

NB. I have taken out service & decor as a score for the 'Cheapo' category as the 2 are not relevant, nor to me dramatically important as it is all about value (hence it has been added), and quality and less about the overall dining experience. So effectively it scores 14/17, however for consistency I have re-calcuated to reflect a score out of 20
Total                                       16.5/20

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


447 Pitt St
Cnr. Pitt & Campbell St
Sydney, 2000
(02) 9280 0377

Category: Just got paid ($50 - $100)

This is one of those places, that, well… I never get tired or sick of. I can also proudly say it is probably one of my favourite Japanese restaurants in Sydney in its class (next time I will tell you about my other favourite). Bold statement I know, with establishments including the likes of Toko, Musa, Azuma, Café Ish, Yoshii’s, Sushi E etc, but for a usual and frequent place to eat, I believe it is hard to top.

Let’s face it, not everyone can afford Azuma, Yoshii’s, Toko, Sushi E on a regular basis (I definitely can’t), so whilst I agree that some of the already mentioned have better quality food, it definitely comes with the prices to match. So for a regular dining spot, this I feel, is the pinnacle of great Japanese food, and I have my reasons.    

The décor is clean cut, spacious and bright. Seating can be at the bar, there are some outside tables and if you can, try to get the corner lounge (this is the best seat in the house). They don’t take bookings either after 5:30 so get there early otherwise you will need to wait, regardless of the day! The service is sharp, quick and effective. Sometimes the staff could be a little friendlier but overall it is very polite and clinically clean. Like a very well oiled machine everything falls into place, and the food is also excellent. Best of all, it is always consistently strong.

I recommend coming here with at least 3 others, just to ensure you can get the sashimi platter which is fresh, scrumptious and there is a rather large menu so whilst coming for a romantic meal is nice, grab some friends and start sharing.

The mains are a little pricy, and I would probably skip a few menu items, especially mains, the lamb cutlets are good as are the fish and wagyu beef, but for a similar price you can get better elsewhere.  It is the sashimi, sushi, and entrees that make this place. The takoyaki with cheese reigns supreme as does most of the light starter dishes. The ox tail is fabulous, as is the agedashi tofu. The tonkatsu pork or chicken is one of the crunchiest and crispiest you will ever try and look out for the specials too!

To be honest, depending on what you are wearing, you can get away for well less than $50 for 2. There Udon’s are large and generous, with the seafood one probably your best bet at $16.80. The drinks menu is innovative, and anyone who fancies some colour will not be disappointed with the options available.

My personal favourite about this place however is the dessert. Green tea crème brulee. I remember the first time I had it, it was like heaven. To those who are not that keen on green tea there are various other items like the standard green tea and black sesame ice-creams.

Overall, I really like this place. Great food, good service, a diverse menu that can really suit all occasions, whether you want a more romantic date and splurge out on fresh seafood, grab a meal with friends and share, or grab a quick bite before you dash off, it can suit them all. Now despite not being the flagship of the Masuya Group I actually prefer it to Masuya, with it’s higher ceilings, and more open style kitchen where you can see the chefs in action.

Bottom line:
Depending on what you want to do, you can keep this well under $50 but if you do decide to go hard on the seafood, $60 - $70 will ensure you are both walking home one size bigger on the waist.  

Food                                       7/10
Service                                   2/3
Décor                                     2/3
Cleanliness                           2/2
BONUS                                   1.5/2 (That green tea crème brulee was revolutionary)

Total                                       14.5/20

Friday, 8 July 2011

Sea Bay Handmade Noodle Restaurant

Shop 5, 100 Church St
Parramatta, 2150
(02) 9633 1173
Category: Cheapo ($0 - $50)

With establishments such as the above, it is all about the food. So whilst the final score may seem low please do focus on the score which the food attains.
Sea Bay is actually already a very popular brand by most inner-west folk. With its flagship nestled on Burwood Rd they have decided to expand and as they say… go West.
The Parramatta restaurant itself is not really that inspiring however. Anchored towards the more quiet side of Church Street (heading towards all the car yards) the shabby sign out the front and pictures of the food with written price tags does not really make this a romantic spot, nor a place to be seen. Parking is ok, with a car park next door, otherwise it does make it quite difficult to access.  
That is just the outside too; the inside does not get any better. Poor décor, ok lighting, shabby menus with white labels over certain products with new hand drawn prices and vinegar and soy sauce in tomato sauce squeezers on the table. Despite all this however, I like places like this. There is something about shabby menus, bad décor, the waitress dressed like she is going to uni (jeans, and coloured tee with a cap) and a generally poor outlook. Maybe it is the fact that given all these things are not quite right, one thing must be… the food!  
Let’s start with the service though. It is… well, it is service. I must say, if you don’t speak Chinese you will need to point and I would not really ask for special requests, however it is quick and it is efficient. it does not exactly come with a smile however the wait staff are informative enough. We order 3 different bowls of noodles; their recommended beef with noodles, my wife opts for the noodles with dumplings, and I go for a classic noodle with spicy beef and cucumber stir through. We round things off with dumpling (xiao long bao). You get served loose leaf tea which is actually a lot better than most yum cha establishments I have been to I must say (I was pleasantly surprised).
Now the food… firstly, for those of you who have never tried handmade noodles, I suggest you try some bought packet stuff and have it the night before or even a couple of days just so you remember the texture etc, because you are in for a treat. All their thick, bouncy, thick white strands are made on site. Bashed, slapped, smacked around before being stretched into long strands of heaven. Our 3 noodles arrive, and at around $10 - $12 a bowl, they could easily feed 2 people for the 1 bowl. Seriously… they are huge servings, and it tastes fabulous. The way it enters the mouth is different, the way it chews, separates, and dances in the mouth is an experience you should all try.
The dumplings are good and great value, juicy and you get 10 for your troubles, however they are not as near as classy as those you would find in Din Tai Fung. The lamb skewers are also worth a go too for those carnivores however this place is all about the noodles. There should be enough variety to keep everyone satisfied including vegetarians.
Overall, I really like this place. Simple, honest, cheap food. Also amazing if you are looking for a really big feed that is a little more on the healthy side.  This is my local hang out for a quick meal.

Bottom line:
To be honest, unless you do eat a lot, 1 bowl can be shared between 2 and you can then order something small on the side. Max $30 for 2 however if you are small eaters can get away with probably $20, and that is a steal!

Food                                       7.5/10
Value                                      3/3
Cleanliness                            1/2
BONUS                                   1/2
NB. I have taken out service & decor as a score for the 'Cheapo' category as the 2 are not relevant, nor to me dramatically important as it is all about value (hence it has been added), and quality and less about the overall dining experience. So effectively it scores 12.5/17, however for consistency I have re-calcuated to reflect a score out of 20

Total                                       14.5/20