Friday, 9 April 2010

Ajisen Ramen, Regent Arcade

Ajisen Ramen is a Japanese owned chain of ramen restaurants. For a number of years, the Leigh St outlet has served up probably the best darn ramen in Adelaide. They’ve recently opened up a new store in Regent Arcade. I was keen to test how the new outlet stacked up against the old one.

Ramen is a Japanese noodle dish with its origins in Chinese cuisine. Noodles are served in a flavoured broth and often topped with pork, chicken, seafood and even bloody corn. Almost every area in Japan has its own variation of ramen, from the tonkotsu ramen of Kyūshū to the miso ramen of Hokkaidō. Ajisen offers around 20 different types of ramen.

To make my comparison, I ordered my regular Ajisen meal: fried squid tenticles, Tori Karaage (fried chicken) Ramen and a ramune (Japanese lemonade).

Crunchy and tender, the squid here was easily as good as the squid from Leigh St. For visit to flavour country, douse the squid with a squeeze of fresh lemon and dip into the thick and rich Japanese kewpie mayonnaise.

The ramen was equally good, except for one aspect...

...the karaage was massively overcooked. Everything else was great. The veggies were fresh and crisp (and there wasn't any corn). The seaweed was delicious. The egg was eggy. Sprinkled with fried garlic, the broth was easily as good as Leigh St, possibly better. But the whole dish was let down because the chicken was dry and chewy. I hasten to add that in the many times I have eat at Ajisen Ramen, this is the first time I have been disappointed.

No ramen lunch is complete without a ramune. The blue ramune is lemon-lime flavoured and slightly sweeter than Western lemonade. It comes in a bunch of different flavours. I've only seen strawberry and melon, but I'm told you can get it in flavours like kimchi, wasabi and curry. Ramune is well known for the design of its bottle, and the drama of its opening. To open the bottle, a plastic nub is used to push the sealing marble into the neck of the bottle, where it stays during drinking.

The colleague I dined with ordered a fried tofu bento box. I'm told the tofu and seaweed salad was delicious. He let me try once of the grilled shitake mushrooms, which were smoky and satisfyingly meaty.

In short, I love Ajisen. And despite the overcooked chicken, I'll be back.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Thea, Gawler Place

Thea Vegetarian Tea Garden is less of a garden and more of a modern iteration of a tea house. The girls at work love this place, and have been known to eat here a couple of times a week. Specialising in flavoured and textured soy protein dishes, if you're into well priced and interesting vegetarian food, Thea is the place go.

What is immediately noticeable about Thea is the striking decor. Bridging the gap between modern and traditional Asian furniture, the dark-wooded tables, arresting artwork and scattering of tea making implements in the store suggests a haven of peace. The atmosphere is anything but. Filled to the brim with office workers, this place is always pumping. I've been here a number of times before, and the food usually comes out pretty quickly.

Serving up dishes with names like Sweet and Sour Thing (breaded gluten and seaweed protien served with sweet and sour sauce) and Mushroom Nuggets with Black Pepper Sauce (which is exactly as it sounds) the menu could look quite daunting to the average anglo eater. So, while everything is pretty tasty, this is not a place for picky eaters.

I went with a couple of friends from work. Usually the soup is pretty popular, but I ordered the mushroom nuggets.

Though the nuggets didn't resemble anything like mushroom (the texture was like a rubbery cardboard), the black pepper sauce was perfectly peppery and nicely savoury. The rice was delicately flavoured and the salad was fresh and light (even if it had bloody corn in it... what is it with corn at the moment?).

A number of colleagues ordered the bbq rice, which if I remember correctly, was textured soy and rice protein made to resemble pork. This dish passed muster with the dedicated meat eaters of the group.

Thea also specialises in hot and cold tea. I ordered a hot lemon green tea, which was sweet and lemony. A fellow diner ordered a strawberry snow bubble tea, which was sculled without the offer of a taste. I'm told it was delicious.

Thea is open during the week for lunch, and Friday night for dinner. As a dedicated meat eater, it's the kind of place I'm happy to go to once every couple of months. It's also the place to go if you want to impress that hot, sophisticated vego.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Obun Chef, Cnr Pirie and King William St

I’ve been interested by Obun Chef for a while now because I walk past it on the way to work. It’s one of the newer places along King William St and I’ve been hoping that, like the obun themselves, Obun Chef’s slightly crusty exterior contained a delicious gooey centre. Yesterday, I sampled Obun Chef.

The seating in Obun Chef is sparse, but you’d probably be ok to sit and eat lunch in there. A number of people were milling about waiting for food. In my view, large numbers of people waiting can mean one of two things. Either the place is popular because it’s delicious, or place is poorly run. Obun Chef is probably the latter. The wait was long and the meal was average. They were doing a special on teriyaki chicken and dumplings, so I ordered those. The signage promised a deliciously glossy whole piece of thigh…

… but they didn’t deliver. The chicken they served was chewy little strips. The flavour was good (they were really generous with the pepper and ginger) but the texture just didn’t cut it.

And the dumplings had bloody corn in them!

Don’t get me wrong. I like corn . But it doesn’t belong in a dumpling. Plus the dumpling skin was a bit rubbery and the meat filling a bit bland. It was an average dumpling.

Because the name of the place is OBUN Chef, I thought I’d pick one up. I’ve had obun before (there is a place in the Adelaide the Adelaide Central Market that does really good obun – except for their ham, cheese and corn (grrrrrrr, corn) obun), so I’m a bit of a fan (a big enough fan that if obun had a radio song I’d sing along (something like: I like obun and I cannot lie; all you other brothers can’t deny; when a chef walks in with yellow round thing and flaunts it in your face you get hungry!), but not so big that I’d join an Obun fan club and ask it to by my house… (apparently someone wrote a letter like this to Lucy Lawless, star of TV’s Xena: Warrior Princess!)). I tried the coconut obun.

This was one of the more disappointing obun that I’ve had. Unlike the obun from the market, this one was almost cold and tasted stale.

Disappointing obun (maybe I just got a bad one), the tough chicken and the obscurely corn filled dumplings aside, I’d probably try Obun Chef again… the salad wrap looks fabulous and they offer pancakes with strawberry and avocado (and not corn).

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Bite into Asia, Wyatt Street

Just as sushi joints appeared like a delicious plague in the late 90’s, in the last 5 or so years banh mi outlets have popped up all over the Adelaide CBD. Amongst other lunch options, Bite into Asia do a pretty good version of the banh mi.

Spawned during Vietnam’s French Colonial period, the favourite son of the salad baguette and native Vietnamese ingredients, banh mi are an affordable, healthy and deliciously exotic sandwich replacement option.

Bite into Asia is a little hole-in-the-wall place in Wyatt Street. It’s seemingly unsuspecting appearance hides one of Adelaide’s better banh mi.

The store is tiny, with minimal seating, so don’t plan to stay and eat your banh mi. However, the lines are usually short and the service is certainly speedy.

Bite into Asia is at the more expensive end of the banh mi price spectrum, setting you back $5.50. However, the price of admission is certainly worth the ride. The rolls are always fresh and unlike other Vietnamese rolls, the bread has the prefect ratio of crunch to chew.

What I really like about the banh mi here is the options of fillings. Sure, they’ve got your standard bbq and teriyaki chicken. But they’ve also got satay beef, grilled lamb and Thai lime chicken (the only filling which I have thus far found slightly underwhelming). I went with the grilled lamb today, which was as tender and delicious as usual. They’re also pretty generous with the salad fillings.

The banh mi at Bite in Asia may not be either the biggest or the best in Adelaide (and you won’t find fillings like Vietnamese ham or headcheese), but like Shane Watson they’re a pretty good all-rounder and definitely worth a try.

Bite into Asia also offer a few noodle/rice/salad options, but these are probably overpriced for the amount/quality.