Burger Project- World Square

Australia’s Best Burgers, Chips & Shakes?……. Hardly!

Wow! I can’t believe it! After our less-than-favourable experience at Grille’d, we had put our “Burger Vs Burger” project of eating at all the trending burger joints in Sydney on-hold for more than 2 months! I didn’t realise that I was that badly traumatised by the messy experience. Haaha. But this Sunday arvo, we put our Burger pants back on and headed out to Burger Project-World Square, to put another burger joint through their burger-paces.

Long gone are the days when there were lines out-the-door, at the first Burger Project – eager patrons waiting for their turn to hand Neil Perry cash to try his first venture into fast food. Today, it was pretty quiet except for a bunch of primary schoolers playing fussball, an attempt to get at parent’s wallets through the youthful desires of their kids. *Rolls eyes*.

At the fast-food style counter, you make your selections. The burger options were either beef (various takes on a cheese burger); chicken burgers (various configurations involving a crumbed chicken fillet); and veg burgers (various recipes using mushrooms).  We ordered a Chilli Cheese Burger for me ($13.50); a Peking Chicken Burger for my wife ($14.90) (this was a limited edition special); and a small chips & shake combo (fries with chipotle chilli salt and coffee milkshake) for an additional $10.50)- for a total of $38.90. Ouch! And if you paid with card, there was an additional surcharge. Hmmmmm……. Feels like the Rockpool Dining Group is trying to milk every last cent from their patrons?

Armed with a buzzer, we had the entire empty restaurant to elect our seating from. Probs 6 years ago the grey and white decor was chic, but a number of years on it was just drab.

The wait for our food was considerably long (perhaps 15 mins), considering the kitchen were literally cooking for the two of us and another dude. But when our food arrived, we were pretty ready to tuck in (wifey had skipped breakfast).

Burger Project claims “Fast Food, Slow Food Values”- hey, it’s slogans like this which makes me evaluate them more critically. Ahem, let us be the judge of that.

Yes, BP has values/aspirations to be sustainable, i.e. minimal packaging and everything is recyclable/compostable. But a nearly $15 burger in an oversized paper bag (needed to be folded in on itself as the burger is too small to fill it out) in my opinion that doesn’t spell out ‘slow food values’ though.

The big bite test……. At least it was very easy to wrap both top and bottom teeth around the buns, as the burger was pretty flat. As harsh as I’ve been thus far, I can admit that the burger was good! The milk bun had a really nice chewy texture to it, although it was quite thin. The burger lived up to its chilly namesake, the jalapeño gave it a nice chilli kick and the sauce was applied perfectly! Just enough, without being messy. The veg was fresh, the beef patty was cooked perfectly- although it lacked a beef taste. I could only feel the texture of the meat when chewing, but it lacked any flavour. And same again for the cheese, there wasn’t any cheesiness, but you just felt its melty chewy qualities on your teeth.

My wife’s limited edition Chinese New Year burger – Peking Chicken, consisted of the same milk bun as mine; fresh veg (lettuce, pickles, shallots); a thin crumbed chicken schnitzel; and two sauces, one was a sweet chilli paste, while the other was the hoisin sauce (hoisin + sprinkling of shallots= Peking burger?). Her conclusion was that it was good, but if anything it was too sweet, and she preferred the standard BP chicken burger if she had to ‘do-over’.

The $10 chips and milkshake? The chipotle salt was non-descript, I’d describe it as just being salty – the complementary self-service tomato sauce was probs the most memorable element to the chips. Oops. And the coffee flavour in the milkshake was weak.

Our end verdict? 3.0 Stars from 5.0. Burger Project’s claims of “Fast Food with Slow Food Values”? More like fast food quality food, at overpriced slow food prices! When compared head to head with the other burger joints we’ve eaten at, it’s probably better than 8bit but not as good as Down N’ Out, meaning that it’s below average. To tell you the truth, it’s not much better than McDonalds; being half-the-price of Burger Project, I’m thinking 99% of families would rather go to the Golden arches for their fast food burgers, than to the Rockpool Dining groups version of a value meal for every-day Australians. Can you believe it, if you were a family of 4, it could easily add up to $80!? Eighty bucks for fast food! Has this world gone MAD!?

Score break-down: 2 from 3 for Food (it was good, but not a stand-out); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (the service staff were professional enough); 0 from 0 for atmosphere (the restaurant was empty, the interior was ‘blah’ and they were playing music off Mtv or something); and 0.5 from 1 for Value for money (we understand that the cost needs to cover staffing, rent, overheads etc etc, but $38.90 for 2 burgers, small fries and small milkshake- that’s not affordable for most families)).

Our end comments, are that we understand that you need to position yourself in the marketplace and the marketing team has a job to do – stir up interest in a product! But outright lies of being Australia’s “best” burgers, chips, and shakes is just too much! And stating that you’re fast food with slow food values, maybe social responsibility values, but definitely not value for money though. No look-in for Burger Project in our Burger Vs Burger competition, we can and have easily struck BP off our list of potential contenders for the title of ‘Sydney’s Best Burger Joint!’

Burger Project- World Square- Sunday 31 March

https://www.burgerproject.com/

PH: (02) 9259 5600

Shop 6, Level 1, World Square Shopping Centre, 644 George Street, Sydney

Mon – Sun 11am – 9pm

**Surcharge for use of Credit cards   

Tontaro Ramen Honten- Sydney CBD

Can you ever have too much of a good thing?

Ok, guilty! I’m behaving exactly like the quintessential Sydney foodie i.e. only dining at a restaurant because it’s new! (Meanwhile giving up on an opportunity to dine at a proven winner.) I posed this question to my wife the other day: “Now that we’ve eaten at a few places over the past months, is there a restaurant deserving of our repeat patronage?” And her answer was “Yes, Yasaka Ramen”. And instead my blogger mind processed ‘something something ramen’ (cause each meal must be a bloggable opportunity’ so I instead took her (in reality she took me) to Tontaro Ramen Honten- the latest ramen joint to join the already crowded Sydney ramen scene.

Tontaro Ramen Honten (or Tontaro Ramen Headquarters for those who are curious about the English translation) – is the flag-ship store for Chef Jun Toyoda (his best known store being O-san in the Dixon Street food court). His latest venture is to introduce to Sydney a different style of tonkotsu (soup-base), moving away from the thicker soup bases which Sydney-siders are more accustomed to, to a thinner soup-base but with the same level of flavour- thanks to using the more premium (and expensive) marrow-laden pork shin bones to create the broth. Admittedly I’ve only learnt all of this after dining at Tontaro Ramen Honten this afternoon, only learning of these facts while fact-checking for this post. This explains a lot of things. Haaha.

But before diving deeper into the food, let’s back-track to the start of the experience….. Tontaro Ramen Honten is a canteen-style restaurant situated on Sussex Street, nearish to the Sussex-Liverpool Street intersection. As soon as you enter the store you’re greeted by staff behind a service counter; inevitably there will be first-time customers standing off to the side studying the menus (i.e. us), as the ramen choices are varied and plentiful, and unfamiliar to most (because of Toyoda San’s aims to introduce to us a whole new range of soups!). After knitting my eyebrows in confusion with the majority of the menu, I settled on the Seabura ramen due to the promise of extra pork fat in the soup ($16.50), while my wife ordered the Stamina ramen ($17).

After making payment, head to the left hand portion of the store and find yourself a table in the adjoining canteen style dining area. If you’re dining alone, you can elect to dine at one of the solitary dining booths (picture a polling booth with partitions to your left and right), designed for folks who just want to concentrate on their noodles (although you can fold the side partitions back, revealing your adjacent diner-  just like ‘Perfect match’….. “You’ve heard them slurp, now meet Contestant number 1!”). But for those who aren’t dining alone, you can elect seating from one of 3 rows of closely packed in tables.

Table water is a self-service station, and in less than 10 minutes the service staff bring-out your bowls of piping hot Ramen on serving trays, thanking you for your patience. Arigatou gozaimasu.

The soup is like super piping hot, so after blowing on it to cool it down, I took my first taste………Hmmmm ,at first taste the soup tasted just like any other tonkotsu I’ve had in the past and the ramen was the thin variety (our personal preference is for the thicker noodle). The protein which came with my dish was chicken, which had been diced into little cubes, so I guess you can say our first impressions were underwhelming. And I was really really hoping that I’d like it! The stand-out element to the dish was the texture of the bamboo shoots ….. Yeah, not a good sign.  But the one saving grace for the dish, was the fact that as the shavings of pork fat had a chance to melt into the soup, the tonkotsu flavour became richer and more complex (the pork fat at first were white flecks floating on-top of the soup). Eventually I did chase down pieces of the chicken, but unfortunately due to their size (you can almost describe them as morsels), they were overcooked and tough.

Seabura ramen

My wife’s Stamina ramen was slightly different from mine, her soup was a darker colour, the chicken was shredded instead of being cubed, and her egg was a 60/60 egg (unfortunately cold at first) rather than the half hardboiled egg which I got. But even with those slight variations between our dishes, her evaluation was much like mine, the chicken was overcooked and tough, and the soup-base wasn’t remarkable. 

Stamina ramen

As we were nearing the end of our meals (almost 1.30pm) the place was at full capacity and there were people who had already made their orders and were hanging around waiting for tables to free-up. Not wanting to hog a table longer than necessary, we tried to eat faster but tell you the truth, this ramen actually felt like a bit of a chore to finish (also not a good sign, as when you have something good, you want more? Right? Not less. And the portions weren’t particularly large either). My wife commented at this moment that she had worked out why her dish was called ‘Stamina ramen’, as it took some stamina to finish it- so it wasn’t just me feeling this way!

In the end, you really can have too much of a ‘good thing’! Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like the food was bad or anything but it was just unremarkable after the hype “A Deluxe Ramen Joint from a Chef with a Cult Following” was the title of the November 2018 Broadsheet article. When compared head-to-head with other Ramen stores, they just come off second, third, even fourth best! So for these reasons our end score is 3 from 5 stars (1.5 stars from 3 for Food (the soup was quite salty, so much so that we came home and downed a bottle of our home brew Kombucha, needing the acidity to break-down the salty taste in our mouths); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (as all the staff were courteous); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (as they were playing a Jamiroquai like album and the constant turnover of customers gave the otherwise plain restaurant life); and 0.5 from 1 for Value for money ($17 for Ramen is getting pretty exxy, considering it’s just chicken and not a premium type of meat)).

Would we be back again soon? Unfortunately I don’t think so. Because the next time we’re in the mood for Ramen, there are 3-4 other places on the top of our list before we’d circle back to Tontaro Ramen Honten.

Tontaro Ramen Honten- Sunday 17 February (3 Stars).

PH: (02) 8317 6375

10-11 339 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW

Mon-Sun 12noon – 3pm, 5.30pm – 9pm  

Grill’d- World Square

Healthier, more sustainable, and possessing social conscience, how does Grill’d stack-up against the heavy hitters of the Sydney burger scene?

Since embarking on this search for Sydney’s best burger joint, we’ve eaten quite a few burgers and I’ve read quite a few lists in the past months (differing opinions of Sydney’s best burger joints). However from all the lists I’ve perused, I haven’t seen Grill’d appear on any burger roll-call.

The first time we tried Grill’d, I think the burger landscape was a lot different from how it is today. Gourmet burgers with premium produce wasn’t easy to find back then, at that time the burgersphere was still dominated by the big 2 American burger chain stores. And I remember Grill’d was a breath of fresh air, burgers which were more unique, made to order, it was clear that thought was placed into the ingredient/flavour pairings, and who didn’t like the concept of dropping a bottle cap into 1 of 3 huge jars to place your support/vote towards a local charity/initiative. But much has changed in the intervening years, and many have caught up and surpassed Grill’d…but by how much?

Back to the present day, and knowing what we know and having tasted so many burgers over the last few months, I think I’m a more astute Burgerite – how would a Grill’d burger compare to our current top-three (Bar Luca, Z-Pickle, and Down N’ Out)?

To be fair, we chose from the Grill’d Specialty burger range (3 Wagyu and 2 Pork Belly options), thinking that if we based the comparison on the premium end of their Grill’d menu, then they’d stand more of a chance to keep-up with the big boys.

I ordered the Bonfire BBQ ($15.90) – Premium wagyu patty with native Davidson plum barbeque sauce, crispy bacon, Dijon mustard, pickle, aged cheddar, Spanish onion & egg mayo.

While my wife ordered the Pork & Pine ($15.90) – Slow cooked marinated pork belly with avocado, charred pineapple, salad & smoky chipotle mayo.

At point of sale, we were both given the option of what bun we’d like, and we both chose the sour dough bun (they lost me at ‘sour dough’, as soon as I heard those words I stopped listening to the other options).

And to make our burgers a meal, we ordered a side of Zucchini fries to share ($8.90) and an apple juice ($4.50). Our total bill amounting to slightly over $45.

On this day, we ate at the World Square Grill’d store.

And after a short wait (proving that burgers are made to order), our food was brought out to us on plates.

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but my pet-hate when consuming burgers is when the bun is soggy when you first pick it up due to the sauce being applied too liberally or it being too runny.  This time the bottom bun wasn’t soggy, but a lot of sauce had already leaked out so that after first contact with the burger my fingers were already sticky with sauce (which got considerably worse as we went along). The big bite test? Full marks, as the stack was tall but still easy enough to get all of the ingredients into one single bite after compressing the bun slightly.  The first element which stood out was the pickle-  it was unique because it was sliced quite thin, but it was a large square probably 1.5 inch by 1.5 inch and one side was all pickle skin (which was quite firm , like apple skin). And all subsequent pickles were consistently the same, it was like they were sheering just the skin off pickles and serving it; when you’d might do the opposite and discard the skin. But that was unusual and gave it a sour element, and a textural change-up. However that was the only unique taste and texture which stood out, unfortunately the BBQ sauce was applied so generously that all I could taste was the BBQ sauce. I couldn’t tell if the beef patty was Wagyu as all beef flavours were masked by the overpowering BBQ sauce, the only difference I noticed was that the meat patty seemed more … Um…. Mushy? Like it was cooked rare? But I think I need to do more reading up on Wagyu beef, to better understand its characteristics and know what I’m sensing for. And unfortunately I couldn’t taste the sour flavour from the sour dough bun, or the cheese, or the mayo, or Spanish onion, as my palate was owned by the BBQ sauce, and so were my hands by the end.

On the other hand (a much cleaner hand), my wife liked her Pork belly burger, the grill’d pineapple the stand-out. And the Zucchini chips were good at first, as it was thickly coated in a crunchy batter that delighted us at first bite! However we had ordered the Zucchini chips thinking that we’d choose a more healthy option, than straight potato fries. But as the batter was coated so thickly and the shreds of Zucchini so thin, it was like just eating batter. So it didn’t feel much healthier as we were probably consuming just as much carbs as potato fries and this feeling settled in our minds as we ate and in the end we didn’t finish them. At the time the meal prompted a discussion about whether or not we should detox for a few weeks, and give the Burger Vs Burger taste test a rest as well, for the sake of our health. Haaha. But I’m one who has a short memory with oaths, I’m sure we’ll be back handling burgers in a fortnight’s time. *Smile*.

Our end verdict, 3.5 Stars from 5 (2 from 3 stars for Food; 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (the youngsters at Grill’d are always friendly); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (they had a pop/R&B playlist going on); and 0.5 from 1 for Value for money (as $45+ is starting to get into the big boy burger pricing territory).

In conclusion, we love what Grill’d stands for, a more healthy take on burgers; a more sustainable approach to doing business and reducing/eliminating their impact on the environment (banning straws and sourcing from responsible producers); and making donating to local charities their ongoing mission! Yeah, their burgers aren’t in the same league as our top 3 burger joints, and unfortunately Grill’d offering when put through the Burger Scorecard only scored a 10 from 20, not high enough to be added to our Burger Vs Burger list (probs many before me also came to this same conclusion).

In the end, can a chain store compete with a bar or a restaurant where the boss and creatives behind the menu are still on the grills? And/or still influence the every-day running of the restaurant and the food that they serve up? I think it’s not the same nor a fair comparison when you’re a guy/gal on the grills 5-6 layers removed from the people who create the menu, and the totality of your interaction with the leaders of your company is probably the odd pump-up email, or monthly e-newsletter. But Grill’d is still a good burger option, it has the right motivations and I’ll still go back now-and-again. Next time I’ll stick to the regular burger options, so my expectation/anticipation can be lowered, so it won’t be horribly shattered again.

Grill’d World Square- Sun 27 January (3.5 Stars)

https://www.grilld.com.au/

PH: (02) 9261 4900

Shop 10.58 Ground Level, 58/680 George Street, Sydney NSW

Mon-Thurs 11am – 10pm

Fri 11am – 11pm

Sat 11am – 10pm

Sun 11am – 9.30pm

Bar Luca- Sydney CBD

In the red corner we have our Challenger, Bar Luca! Tossing their hat into the ring for consideration as Sydney’s Best Burger Joint!

We didn’t know what to expect, everyone knows Mary’s, Betty’s, and Burger Project as trending Burger joints, but I’m not sure if everyone knows all about Bar Luca? (I definitely didn’t). Only open on a Saturday evening for weekend trade (closed Saturday day and Sundays) we had to flip our routine around to dine at Bar Luca. *Shock-horror*. And hey! It wasn’t a bad change at all! There is definitely a different vibe in the city as soon as the sun goes down and walking down George street in the evening, it was nice. There was a cool breeze on this otherwise warm summer’s day, and with parts of George street now pedestrianised, it felt like Melbourne with live performers doing their thang on each block. Real nice, can’t wait until the Light Rail is finally up-and-running!

Bar Luca is located on Phillip Street which is closer to the Circular Quay end of the CBD, and it’s a pumping place situated on an otherwise quiet street in the evenings. We rocked up at 8pm, and it was only a short 10 minute wait before a table freed up for us. We had dressed up a little bit nicer, as we were going out to a ‘bar’ in the ‘evening’ but it turns out that Bar Luca is pretty casual; we got the impression from the maitre d’ who was in t-shirt and shorts (and why shouldn’t he, it was a hot summer’s day). And when we were seated and taking in the surrounds, Bar Luca was essentially a typical Sydney pub, interesting how the use of ‘bar’ had conjured up mental-images of sophistication and class, compared to say being named ‘Hotel Luca’ or something equally pubby.  But for us, we felt even more at home knowing that it was just a relaxed venue which happened to be located in the posh end of town.

In terms of our orders, during our brief wait outside the venue we studied their menu and decided on The Blame Canada burger- $17 (of course), as it seems all first-timers end-up ordering their signature burger. For me, I went with the Mr T-ruffle burger- $17 which was essentially the same as the Blame Canada, but I instead had truffle aioli sauce (instead of Maple aioli) and truffle infused mushrooms. And as a share dish we ordered a plate of Potato scallops- $7, for the simple fact that you rarely see a restaurant serve up the humble deep fried potato oval!

The other burger options which caught our eye were the BL Burger, Bar Luca’s own take on the humble BLT; The Lot, a whole heap of stuff stuffed into a burger including a fried egg; the Flame Canada, basically the Blame Canada with jalapeños and a spicier sauce; and there was a chicken   version of the Blame Canada. And many many share dishes to choose from, and for a few extra bucks you can basically shove any side into your burger and customise the heck out of your bun stack.

Taking in the atmosphere, it was very much a pub/bar/hotel scene; heavy wooden tables, heavy wooden chairs, high stools and sports being played on the large screen TVs. The venue was pretty packed, not like a usual pub where people are free to stand and mingle wherever they pleased, but it was more like a restaurant where people took their seats and kept to their own groups (entry to the venue as an example, you were only allowed entry into the venue when tables became free, rather than a free-for-all at your neighbourhood pub). So it was very civilised, and the whole place was buzzing with people all chatting happily, which was enough to create atmosphere making the music a moot point (more so just for background music than to get people out of their seats and dancing).

After making your orders at the bar, our food was delivered to our table and my first impression was that the burgers were kind of small?

Perhaps the small plate on which it came added to the feeling that you weren’t getting much for your money? As after 2 burgers and one side (no drinks), it already added up to $41, which is a reasonable amount of cash to fork out (at first I thought I’ll be going home hungry again).

But first bite! OMG! I was triumphant in getting all of the burger elements into one big bite and it was so tasty! The first thing which hit the taste buds was how tasty and well-seasoned the beef patty was! It was so flavoursome, not due to spices or the sauce, but it was just the natural taste of good beef, the smoky taste of being flame grilled, seasoned well, and it was just a very thick and substantial meat patty. Mmmmm. Then the next thing you register was the super crispy bacon which had been pan-fried to a brittle crisp (glazed with maple syrup), and it was only in subsequent bites did my taste buds locate the truffle flavours (they were definitely there from the beginning). But the beef patty and the bacon were the two clear standouts, and it was later when your tastebuds got familiar with the smoky beef and the sweet bacon, did the truffle flavour come through, which came from the truffle aioli sauce, and the truffle infused mushrooms. And even later on, I and my tastebuds found the cheese and the shallots in there, so as you can see there were many many elements which contributed to the creation of this memorable bun-stack. And oh yeah! I almost forgot, the milk bun was real nice and soft as well, and held together throughout the meal although there were so many big personalities to restrain within its fluffiness. To be completely unbiased, the only negative comment I had was that as soon as the burger sat for a few minutes, the bacon lost its crispiness; so my advice is to smash out your burger first and worry about the sides at the end.

My wife was equally satisfied with her Blame Canada burger, it was a taller stack than mine so she had some trouble keeping it all together and getting her teeth around the top and bottom buns. In the end she had to raise the white flag  and surrender to the Canucks; admitting that she was so full after her burger, that she didn’t have the stomach space for her share of the potato scallops. The only knock on her meal was the lack of veg/greens, do we blame Canada for this? Or do we blame the kitchen? And considering how I thought that we weren’t getting much food for our money, our burgers initially sitting there all alone looking small on its small little plate? Yeah, I had to admit that I was wrong and looks were deceiving, as in the end I was super full as well and was unable to take it for the team and eat my wife’s portion of her potato scallops (it’s been a while since we weren’t able to finish our meals). **Side note: The scallops were good- nice and crispy and generously covered in chicken salt; although it was the memories which these little babies brought back for me; memories of primary school and waiting for the train at Strathfield station and pulling out coins to buy a single potato scallop at the platform Kiosk for 50c, those Bar Luca Potato scallops brought back all those old repressed memories. Love how food can take you back in time!

potato scallops with chicken salt

Our end verdict! Bar Luca held its own in the ring, exchanging punches with the more well-known heavy hitters in the Burger scene; and at this point in our travels to try all the Trending Burger joints in Syd, Bar Luca has taken the top spot!!!! Dethroning Z-Pickle from its position top of the stack. So the anticipation has now been turned right up! As we look forward to the eventual day when we circle round to Mary’s (people’s usual response when asked “where are the best burgers at?”). This makes for a very very interesting showdown! Is Bar Luca our modern day Rocky Balboa? The relative unknown who is going to stick it to Mary’s? Check-out the Burger Vs Burger scorecard to see how Bar Luca edged-out Z-Pickle for the title of ‘No. 1 Contender’

We score Bar Luca 4.5 Stars from 5 (3 from 3 for food; 0.5 from 0.5 for Service, everyone who we interacted with were real friendly; 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere, who needs blaring music when you have 100+ happy chatting patrons; and 0.5 from 1 for Value for money, it has been the most expensive Burger joint we’ve eaten at thus far). We’ll definitely be singing Bar Luca’s praises to friends until it’s on the tip of everyone’s’ tongues when they think of tasty burgers; and we’ll definitely be coming back, even if it’s only for the final show-down between the top ranking burger joints! In a final Cheese Burger and Chicken Burger Taste Test Tournament! Call it the big CBCBTTT! Haaha.

Bar Luca- Saturday 12 January (4.5 Stars)

PH: (02) 9247 9700

52 Phillip Street, Sydney NSW

Mon-Tues 11am – 10pm

Wed-Fri 11am – 12midnight

Sat 5pm – 12midnight

Sun Closed 

**Booking is advised.

Food Vs Food- Burger Vs Burger

In Food Vs Food, we pitch similar foods/cuisines against each other, in an attempt to identify the restaurant who is best in category! In this Chapter of Food Vs Food, we have pitch the best Burger joints against each other, which trending Burger joint will be top of the stack?

Our approach: When eating at each Burger restaurant, we evaluated the Burger on a 10 point scale, and then evaluated the other restaurant elements on another 10 point scale, thus all scores are out of 20. Here are the criteria’s we evaluated them against:

The Burger criteria:

Bun- 2

Protein- 2

Sauce- 2

Other fillings- 2

Bite-a-bility- 2

Restaurant criteria:

Sides- 2

Burger selection- 2

Accompanying beverages- 2

Extras- 2

Concept/gimmick- 2

Bar Luca: 17.5/20

In a happening bar, serving up modern takes on the humble bread stack! Blame Canada! Or simply Blame Yourself if you don’t end up ordering their signature burger. But if you’ve tried the Beef patty and Maple glazed crispy bacon before, there are still many many other burger options to tantalise your tastebuds! There are many sides to share and extras which you can shove into your stack, but be restrained as the burger will already satisfy both your need for tastiness and the need to be filled. A real nice venue to bring a date or just with mates, and it’s a pub afterall so there is a full bar on offer! Happy Days!

Z-Pickle: 16/20

A real thumping venue, with loads and loads of character. A vast selection of burgers, all with a twist on what you’re used to from a bun stack. Burgers tasted just as good as they read from the menu, and the large selection of beverages and sides will round-out any meal. Prices (if paying full price) were on the high side though.

DOWN N’ OUT: 15/20

Where the cool cats come n’ hang, the venue’s narrow staircase might already impede some diners. The menu is limiting, but the weekly special will bring the fans back time and time again. The burgers lacked a bit of creativity in its default guise, however throw a few more bucks at it and you can customise it into a towering bun monstrosity! Many craft beers to choose from (although they can cost as much as a burger), while sides are solid but essentially only 4 options. A meal was quite affordable, but if you start to option out your burger like a luxury Euro car, it will start to hurt the hip pocket.

8bit: 13.5/20

Soulless and hard to link the video game concept to the burgers. The burgers and hot dogs were alright, if you were at MacDonald’s or Hungry Jacks; but for a more premium place, it sadly missed the mark. 3 choices of milkshakes, but a little pricy. The only stand out were the packaging, a bit sad hey?

Burger Scorecard:

Bar Luca: 17.5/20

Bun: 1.5; Protein: 2; Sauce: 2; Other fillings: 2; Bite-a-bility: 2.

Sides: 2; Burger selection: 2; Beverages: 2; Extras: 2; Concept: 0.

Z-Pickle: 16/20

Bun: 2; Protein: 1.5; Sauce: 2; Other fillings: 1.5; Bite-a-bility: 2.

Sides: 2; Burger selection: 2; Beverages: 2; Extras: 0; Concept: 1.

DOWN N’ OUT: 15/20

Bun: 1; Protein: 1; Sauce: 2; Other fillings: 1; Bite-a-bility: 2.

Sides: 2; Burger selection: 1; Beverages: 2; Extras: 2; Concept: 1.

8bit: 13.5/20

Bun: 1; Protein: 1; Sauce: 2; Other fillings: 2; Bite-a-bility: 2.

Sides: 1.5; Burger selection: 1.5; Beverages: 1.5; Extras: 1; Concept: 1.

Yasaka Ramen- Sydney CBD

Only for the first 8 customers: Sydney to Tokyo return for $19.80! While seats are available.

Okay, I’d better stop with the tease of cheap flights to Japan, as $20 tickets are too good to be true. But today we travelled to Japan and back for under $20 each, curtesy of Yasaka Ramen.

It was only a couple of months ago when I first learnt of Yasaka Ramen, although we live on the same street as them. As soon as my wife came home from work that day, I was like “Hey Babe, did you know that there is a highly rated Ramen joint just up the street from us!?” And since that day we’ve gone up there on two occasions intending to dine there, but each time we ended up going elsewhere due to the lines out the door. And honestly at all times of the day there are lines out the door, as we had made it a habit to glance over each time we drive past. But with some pre-planning the day before, we changed up our Saturday habits and organised to beat the crowds by getting there as soon as they opened. So 11.30am on the dot we were there and seated straight away, 2 other groups had the same idea and were already seated and ordered. BTW, I don’t call my wife ‘Babe’, this is me utilising my creative license to ‘embellish a re-telling’…..   

First impressions, “I’ve been transported to Tokyo!”….. Note: I’ve never been to Japan, but I’d imagine it to be much like this! I.e. a small narrow restaurant, open kitchen and a host of polite staff.  As soon as we saw the bar only seating, stools for only 8-10 people set around the open kitchen, we had a lightbulb moment – ‘No wonder there are always lines out the door’, as they can only serve 8 patrons at a time! Thus as we reviewed the menu, the prices for their ramen were on the high side (majority of options were between $16 and $20). But we didn’t begrudge them, as they had 4 chefs and a number of wait staff, while there were 8 of us, an almost 1 to 1 ratio! **Note: later on when more people started to show up, we were a little deflated to hear them climb the stairs to an upstairs dining area.

But no matter, I think having a front row seat to watch the chefs do their thang was a far more satisfying experience, than to be upstairs and have your food miraculously appear. From where we were seated, we were watching our own dishes being created right before our very eyes!

Black Garlic Ramen with squid ink

I ordered the Kakuni ramen i.e. slow cooked pork bone in Tonkotsu Shio [pork bone broth with salt])- $19.80, while my wife had the Black garlic Shoyu [pork bone broth with soy)- $17. On the menu there were over 20 different ramen choices (some with a long, detailed, almost poetic descriptions of its providence and inspiration), and 3 soup bases to choose from. And on the flip side of the menu, there were your non-ramen dishes, if you weren’t in the mood for noodles or wanted something extra to share.

As soon as the chefs receive your order, you can see them kick into action and construct your dish right in front of you! They’re so close, I could literally reach out and take the blow-torch they were using to double cook the BBQ pork (if I wanted to be kicked out of the restaurant). It was a memorable experience, and worth the pre-planning to beat the crowds and score the best seats in the house. We watched our empty bowls removed from a hot water bath where they were floating in to ensure that the bowls were going to be as hot as your freshly cooked food. We watched our ramen lifted out of a large pot where it had been cooking, baskets shaken off to get rid of the excess water before broth and toppings were added. Then the waitress brought out our food coming from around the bar, bowls sitting on small serving plates (the chef could have handed the food to us from over the counter if he wanted to).  

But when I was poking at my noodles with my chopsticks, I had hoped for more. And I was panicking at the half way point when I wished that there was just more food as I wanted this experience to last longer. But in the end I was so full, and the portioning was actually just right. When it came down to it, they were actually quite generous with their toppings. At other ramen joints, you get a load of noodles but perhaps 3 thin slices of pork? For my dish, I had 2 huge chunks of pork. They were so tasty, with both intensely salty and sweet flavours, and the meat was soft and filled with melted bone. The noodle were thick and chewy; initially thinking that there wasn’t enough of it, but due to its density it was actually quite filling. And the broth! The broth was thick, salty and filled with collagen. So as you drank the soup with your soup ladle, your lips were left with a layer of oiliness which you know it’s the good stuff! Broth slow cooked for many many hours.

Grilled Kakuni Ramen

My wife’s dish was a thinner soup base, dark liquid due to squid ink (be sure not to wear light colours if you’re going to order this dish), served with thin slices of tender meat. Both dishes had the usual toppings of bamboo shoots, seaweed, and fried garlic and if you wanted chilli flakes or sesame seeds, you can add additional condiments. But don’t be expansive with your hand gestures if you’re sitting at the bar, as you can literally knock over the tubs of condiments down onto the chef’s workstation! It felt like we were sharing the same space!

So as we ate, I was so content feeling like I’d been transported to another country, listening to the kitchen activity and all of their interaction in Japanese. It was like watching ‘Terrace House’ on Netflix while eating dinner (guilty, we eat dinner in front of the TV most nights).

So our end verdict, 4.5 from 5! (2.5 from 3 for food (perhaps some might find the broth too salty); 0.5 from 0.5 for service (as everyone were super polite and efficient); 0.5 from 0.5 for atmosphere (they had Japanese pop playing, but you didn’t need it as you had all the kitchen activity right in front of you); and 1 from 1 for value for money (although it was on the pricier side, it was worth every cent!)).

So I think we’ve found our ‘go to’ Ramen joint! And now that Bondi Junction Yasaka Ramen has opened and there is also the Neutral Bay store, I’m sure there is enough Raman and seats to go around for everyone!

Yasaka Ramen- Saturday 22 December (4.5 stars)

http://www.yasakaramen.com.

PH: 02 8318 0405

126 Liverpool Street, Sydney CBD (North side of the Street in-between Pitt and Castlereagh St)  

Mon- Sat 11.30am – 10pm

Sun 11.30am – 9pm

**Accepts cash only