Monday, February 24, 2014

Baja Cantina

All right this one is about Mexican Cuisine. Well, after a series of food outing involving Indian, Thai, Korean and Pizza’s, I was finding it suffocating to think what else I can have. I wanted a change.  A change that would involve having something new, not curries, and not stir fry’s.

Well, it was a Saturday and we came over to Broadway for a movie. After the movie, we took a walk on the Glebe Point Road and were fascinated by the great and relaxing environment. I was with my mother and brother and I loved Glebe. Not too crowded like Newtown. Quite peaceful and relaxing. There was a good mix of  cuisines, Turkish, Vietnamese, Pub Food and Indian and Nepalese.
We were in the mood for Mexican and there were two options. The Flying Fajita Sisters and the Baja Cantina. Lucky for me, there were discounts from the entertainment book. A quick look into a few Urban spoon blogs and I some how was very confused about where to eat. In one of the blogs, I got more favorable reviews for Baja Cantina and decided to go for it.  Well let me tell you, right from  in the vening when I went past, it was just full. Buzzing with all the activity and noise and chitter. We arrived half an hour later, once we made up our mind.  When we came over, we were told there was only an option in the open air Beer Garden at the rear of the restaurant.  The inside seating was all reserved. Now with a great evening which it was and with a slight breeze, sitting outside was quite the thing to do.

The interiors of the restaurant are very colorful. Two adjacent shops which have been joined and with bright orange and red walls, topped with streotyped Mexican show pieces like the Mexican bull fighting caps and wooden carvings. The music matched the ambience with light tunes on the guitars. As we walked across through the restaurant in to a thin corridor pastthe kitchen and the washrooms into the back garden, trust me I loved the ambience. Wooden cottages, and small minibar along with a another portion with green grass and a little garden. The ambience just one my heart. I was suspecting that a beer garden may not be appropriate for sitting with my mum and brother, but,  this was just great. Not too lound, a few families enoying the sangria or the margherita’s .

As we settled in we had a waiter coming over and serving the menu. Now the menu had quite a few options in terms of starters etc. Let me just say what we begun with. For the starters, we ordered the Baja’s Famous Nacho’s. Now normally it includes corn ships with black beans and avocado and sour cream, but there were options for adding chicken or other meat with a few more dollars. We settled for the chicken Nachos. The second starters we ordered is the salt and pepper calamari variant. For main course we settled for the fajita’s.

Well to be honest we were not superbly hungry initially, but the walk around glebe and the waiting time after the order did induce hunger in us. While it worked out for us, but yes the wait time can be quite long at times when its quite full.
Now once the food started getting served, it all came together. The main course and the appetisers. I wished the appetizers came before the starters. The salt and pepper calamari served was hot a fresh and served with rocket leaves and a dip, which I suspect was aioli.  The calamari was good, fresh and crunchy. It was a bit too chewy and may be that the way calamari is. I liked it, but nothing out of the world. Next time would I order it? May be no.

The next was the Baja’s famous Nacho’s with shredded Chicken. Now this one was heavenly. Out of world. Warm corn chips and with a  generous serving of molten cheese, grilled chicken. With two large dollops of avocado and sour cream, each swig of nacho chips with cheese, beans, chicken and topped with sour cream was heavenly. In fact this was the best dish of the evening.  The salsa and the hot jalapeno’s added to the heat. And if you want more, just ask them for the bottled hot sauce.  Too good and highly recommended. And caution, the Just one starter is good enough to share for two. For one, it could be the only dish.

Now coming to Fajitas. For me, it was a bit interesting as these were DIY fajitas. There was a large plate served with favored rice, black beans, lettuce, shredded cheese, fresh tomatoes. A small bowl of salsa and a cloth packet which had three tortillas inside it. Two dollops of sour cream and guacomole. Just when we thought this is too much to pack into three small fajitas, the waiter arrived with another sizzler plate filed with grilled chicken, red and green capsicum and onions. Now the quantity is so high, that again, it is purely for sharing. The way I work is that you take the tortilla, load it with rice, beans, lettuce and the cheese, top it with the chicken and create a fajita. Well, I liked it. I wish the salsa was a bit more spicy, but nonetheless, the fajita was good. The chicken in particular was great, flavored and smoked. I think we were so full by the end of it, that we might have done a bit of over eating.

My overall take was that it was great food and ambience. Mexican food is great, although I wish it was a bit hotter, but we could do that with the sauces. I loved this place. Great value for money. Two starters and one main course, that left us struggling to finish and costing just $50, was superb.
All in all, I loved it.
Would I recommend? Yes. Would I go there again? For sure.

43~45 Glebe Point Road
Call 9571 1199 ~ open every day from 6pm.
Saturdays open from 12pm for lunch

Baja Cantina on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Abhi's Indian Fine Dining, North Strathfield

All right this one is about Abhi’s Indian Restaurant. It all started with my 32nd birthday. After a long day at work, I returned back. Originally I planned on going to this restaurant called Aki’s at Woollomoolo. Coming from city to Strathfield and then going back to Wooloomooloo, did put me off a bit, especially since I seemed to be high in spirits and that my mom and brother were not too keen to walk. So I did a quick look up and decided to give a try to Abhi’s, which is another restaurant at North Strathfield. Both Abhi’s and Aki’s belong to the same chain. Apparently Abhi’s has been around for 24 years, and this is where Chef Mahadevan started off. Of course in years to come, he did open Aki’s about 10 years ago at a more prime location at Finger Bay in the city.

Now I had heard of Abhi for quite a few years, but since it was quite off the public transport network, never really venture to the side of North Strathfield. But this year, to celebrate the big day and after getting sloshed with a few shots, I reckon there was no way I could go to Woolomoolo. Also, I checked up the entertainment book and it had a discount. Read the reviews and looked nice. So we took a cab from Strathfield station and got here. Now quite a little restaurant from the outside, as we stepped in, it was just full of people. We were asked if there was a reservation and we said no. Then we had to wait for 10 -15 minutes, before we got a seat. Well, the interiors look small, yet cozy and elegant with the dim lighting and the different and amazing silver wall paper with the black exotic design on it.

As we settled and looked into the menu, what I liked in the menu was that there were just too many dishes. A few select and that what makes the selection easier. We decided to go for the non-veg platter for starters. This had the lamb chops, the seekh kebab and the chicken Tikka. For the main course, we asked the waiter for the recommendations and the good ones, but somehow I got a feel that the waiter wasn’t too interested. A bit of a put off, when the person serving you says everything is good at our place, please order. A bit arrogant I suppose. But nonetheless, he told us Madras Prawn Vendakai was a good dish, which was quite popular and presented in master chef. The second dish we ordered was the Patiala goat curry. This was accompanied by the various breads.

Now once we did the order, it took long for the dishes to arrive. I mean quite a wait and we were really hungry. I did look around to see if I could see any waiter and ask him where my food is. But you know, what, there is also the art these guys have, to not look at customers. At the hindsight, I look back and think Aki's had a far better service. This one’s service while prompt could be a more friendly and responsive. But nonetheless, it’s not a deal breaker.

Let’s come to the food. The Mixed Tandoori Platter looked great as it was served. The food. Well the chicken tikka's were good. I mean in line with what I would expect from a fine dining. Good chicken Tikka's. Recommended. The Hariyali chops were the lamb chops. I liked them. They were tasty, but not out of the world. For people who like lamb, they should go for it. I liked the well cut pieces and with a little bit of fat on top of it.  The seekh kebab, was about average. I wish it was juicier. A bit coarse in texture and a bit too much like run of the mill restaurants.

Next come to the Patiala Goat Curry. This was the Punjabi style slow cooked goat. It was dark brown gravy topped with coriander and ginger strands and cherry tomatoes.  The taste was yum. It was well spiced. Very delicious. The beauty of this dish lied in the fact that the goat meat pieces were very soft and tender. And each piece was delectably selected, with a bit of fat with each piece which made it so soft and juicy. I loved the flavors. Beautiful. And you know what, it tasted like Punjabi north Indian curry.

Next the Madras Prawn Vendakai. Now this was a strange dish for me. To start off with, it was king prawns with okra. Now in the Indian style of cooking, that is not very regular, so I had my apprehensions.  But when I tasted it, I liked it. It was really tasty. I mean, let me elaborate.  It had an orange-ish smooth gravy, with a distinct south Indian flavor.  The prawns were large and creamy. The okra went well with it as well. I loved this dish and would recommend it highly.

The breads were great and perfectly baked. The garlic naan and the butter rotis were really good. We ordered a portion of the Kashmiri Pilau. This was supposed to be with dried fruits and nuts, and to be honest, just about ok.

For desserts, we ordered the Gulab Jamun. Now I didn’t really expect much, to be honest, but this was amazing again. They served two Gulab Jamuns, served in sugar syrup topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a wafer of sesame. Awesome. The Gulab Jamun was warm and soft. They didn’t seem to be out of a ready to cook box or something, so very good I’d say and recommended again.

All in all, I had a real good experience. Really great and would highly recommend. Yes, it is fine dining so do expect the prices to be on the higher side. Average starter is about $18. The platter cost about $ 26. The main course ranged between $ 20-$30. The vegetarian curries are below $20.
Meal for two would cost about $100.

163 Concord Road,
North Strathfield NSW 2137
Contact Details:
T (02) 9743 3061
F (02) 9743 6517

Opening Hours:
Lunch: Sun to Friday from 12 Noon
Dinner: All nights from 6 PM

Abhi's Indian on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Aki's Indian

All right this one is about Aki’s at Woolloomoolo. Now, many years back, in one of my travels from Delhi to Sydney, I had heard one British lady travelling to Australia and talking to a Malaysian lady and stating that the best Indian restaurant in Sydney is one at Woolloomoolo called Aki’s. Talk about a multicultural scenario. But as I heard Aki’s, I wondered, which one this was. Being the food connoisseur, I was surprised that I hadn’t been aware of this one. Now to me, there were two points. Either the British lady dint know anything and that Aki’s was another cheap restaurant or that she didn’t know about Zaffraan or Nilgiri’s, the ones which I thought were best.

Now I did look it up once and saw that it was in Woolloomoolo and I had no clue and I gave up. Now many years later, a few dynamics changed. I had become a food blogger and started reading reviews. I got the entertainment book and saw this same restaurant in the fine dining section.  As I looked up the map, I realized, I had been to this part of the city a few years back with one of my friends. Of course when I went last was a very memorable and blissful day, which was very special because I went with one of my best friends.  For those who know Sydney, after Circular Quay, there is the Opera House and the Botanical garden. Right beyond the botanical garden, there is the navy base with all the submarines. Right next to it is the wharf with loads of restaurants. There is also the Blue, which to my surprise was a Taj Hotel property.

Anyways, enough of foreplay. Lets get to the real stuff. Now it’s a Saturday evening and I am walking from St James and I call them and decide to make a reservation. Apparently, even when I am asking for a reservation for an hour later, I am told that they are fully booked out for an outside seating, They say that they can try for indoors and ask me to come. So, to start with, please do make a reservation.

As I reach the restaurant, it’s a beautiful Saturday. Evening 7:30,  the wharf is full of people as if there is a party. We come into Aki’s and settle down our corner seat. The interiors are descent. It has a silver designed wallpaper on the corner. The restaurant is quite full. Very soon we are greeted and the menu is placed. The menu is not too diverse. I like this. Unlike restaurants which offer everything and then its so confusing to choose.

We order for the crab with iddiapam, the murg malai tikkas and the namkeen squid for starters.  It’s a very difficult decisions. I usually go for two starters. Now in this case, I really wanted to order the squid and crab, but there had to be chicken as well. So at the end, I made it simpler, and ordered all three.
Crab with Iddiappam

In the main course, there is a lot of confusion and difficult decisions to be made. The railway goat curry is already decided. The decision is between the seafood rezalla or the chicken curry. We decide for the Karaikudi Kozi Curry.

Well to begin with after ordering, we waited for some time before the starters appeared. Now I had done my research and I was told that the crab with iddiapam is the specialty. At the time of ordering IO had ordered for an extra portion, as we were three people dining and the usual plate offers two servings. As it came through I can definitely tell you that it looked gorgeous and very different. After a very long time, I had the feeling that I was having something new. It’s basically the signature dish here. Its basically got portion of vermicelli which is also called as hoppers in Sri Lankan cuisine. Now apparently if you go into any regular Sri Lankan restaurant, they serve hoppers with a creamy sauce. The hoppers are like small net mesh, more like a mat. On top of the hoppers were a mixture of blue swimmer crabs, cooked with black mustard and tomatoes and turmeric. Now as I took a spoonful, the taste is very mild.  You top it with the creamy little sauce and its yum. I mean its got a mix of mild tastes and creamy tastes and with some Indian spices. I’d definitely recommend this dish. Quite different.

The next was the namkeen squids, which is basically the aki‘s version of the salt and pepper squid. Its again not too spiced, but lovely dish. Squids dusted with spiced flour, lightly pan fried and topped with ginger strands. It is served with a sweet tamarind or imli chutney and a red chilli. Now, this dish was my favorite among the starters. Very delicious. The fried squid was not over cooked and so the squid was soft, and with the flour batter, which was quite light and fluffy. The squids with the sweet chutney and the ginger was a riot of taste. And finally when the red chilli which I thought was for garnish, was the hidden revolutionary, cos it was so hot and re-energized the taste buds.

The chicken malai tikkas were great. Relatively more spiced, but not spicy. Very well marinated tender chicken morsel and grilled. Served with a green chutney, which wasn’t too sweet. I loved chicken and l loved the tikkas, although I would have thought the malai tikkas would have been with cream and without the turmeric, if I were in India. But very good again. I cant coplaina nd this was yum as well.

Chicken Malai Tikkas
Next coming to the main course, there was the koraikudi kozhi curry. Now this was the dish of the evening. It came on a wooden board with a small steel pan with the curry and a big semi spherical rice flour pancake which is called as the appam. Man, this was the dish. Now I have had various variants of the south Indian chicken but this dish hit the spot. It was creamy, spicy and quite exotic to be honest.  It had the distinct flavor of a south indian cuisine with the curry leaves and with cashew and poppy seeds, it gave a wonderful texture to the curry. A beautiful dish and very highly recommended. Specially with the appam.

Moving next to the railway goat curry, it was well presented in a thick brown curry topped with garnished coriander and ginger strands. Now the curry was very very good again. Being a strict connoisseur of goat meat, I usually look out for perfect cut goat, goat meat which is soft, tender, juicy bones and well cut and cooked with the gravy. Now in this case of the dish, all this seemed to match to be honest. Very beautifully cut portion of goat meat, with a little bit of fat and really juicy meat. So all in all it did pass the test. The only thing which was a bit minor is the smell. I mean I am from India and I usually have goat meat there and usually I don’t like lamb because it is more chewy and it has a smell to it. Now I know for the lamb lovers they might say that it’s the fragrance of the lamb. Now in this case, the curry, meat everything was great, but there was very slight smell, which did seems to bother me just a little bit. But nonetheless, loved this dish as well. In fact that night I could finish it and did a take away. Next morning, when I heated it up, the aroma and the fragrance was intoxicating and out of the world. So full marks from my side on the goat curry as well. The breads were fresh and crisp.

The service was spot on. It was quite busy but the service was impeccable. The young guy attending to us turned out to be the son of the master chef and the restaurant is his namesake- Aki. He was quite chatty and we did discuss at depths about the Indian cuisine in Sydney and how there are so many variations.

All in all a great evening and a great place. Would I visit again? Most definitely yes. Would I recommend? Very much.  Price- Well it is on the pricier side, considering its fine dining and with a great location.  Average starter cost is about $20. Average Main course is about $34 approx. So a meal for two can range from $ 80-140.
Aki’s Fine Dining Cuisine
1/6 Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo NSW 2011
T: (02) 93324600

Aki's on Urbanspoon