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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Okonomiyaki, Kuromon Ichiba Market and all-you-can-eat Gyukaku Yakiniku barbecue, Osaka

Cooking takoyaki octopus balls at Shinsaibashi, Osaka, Japan

You can't visit Osaka without eating takoyaki. You'll find this classic Osaka street food everywhere, its production a show in itself as the takoyaki warriors spin, flick and stab each puddle of batter until they emerge as perfectly round orbs in a deep golden brown.

Inside the crisp shell is a jumble of chopped octopus, pickled red ginger and finely sliced shallots. Most of the time you'll end up burning your tongue as you bite into each ball, but that's half the fun.

Takoyaki octopus balls at Shinsaibashi, Osaka, Japan
Takoyaki octopus balls from Takoyaki Wanaka

We almost burn our fingers just holding this sailing boat of piping hot takoyaki, or octopus balls, from famous takoyaki outlet Takoyaki Wanaka. Lashings of Kewpie mayonnaise, a huge mound of katsuoboshi dried bonito flakes and a good dousing of fruity takoyaki sauce add creaminess, texture and a gentle fishiness. It's the kind of fast food you can shovel down on your own or hover around in a circle with friends, each armed with a toothpick.

Mapping our travels from Nara to Osaka, Japan
Travelling from Nara to Osaka

We made our way from Osaka from Kyoto, after a detour to see the wild deer in Nara. It's only 43km between Kyoto and Osaka, and the shinkansen will get you there in precisely 14 minutes.

Giant puffer fish above the crowds on Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan
Giant puffer fish above the crowds along Dotonbori

Osaka has historically been known as the "nation's kitchen", primarily due to its central significance as a merchant city, especially for rice. Perhaps that's also why Osakans are known across the country for their appetite for food. Osakans love to eat and drink.

Giant nigiri sushi on Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan
Giant nigiri sushi

Every tourist gravitates toward Dotonbori, a pedestrian mall that runs for several blocks filled with no end of restaurants. It's here you'll find the giant moving crabs above seafood restaurants, huge puffer fish lanterns and monster-sized nigiri sushi, like a food version of Godzilla.

Glico running man sign on Ebisu-bashi bridge on Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan
The famous 33m tall Glico running man sign on Ebusu-bashi bridge

And everyone needs a photo of the Glico running man, originally installed in 1935, and an iconic image of Osaka by night.

Everyday crowds at Shinsaibashi, Osaka, Japan
Everyday crowds at Shinsaibashi

The city streets can feel claustrophobic in Osaka, the second biggest city in Japan with a metropolitan population close to 19 million. The crowds we encountered at Shinsaibashi, the main shopping area of Osaka, made us feel like we were in the middle of a New Years Eve crush. It was just an ordinary weekend in an ocean of people.


DON Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki at DON, Osaka, Japan
Okonomiyaki

We end up at DON Okonomiyaki randomly. We're hungry, we want okonomiyaki and DON is the first place we find. Our okonomiyaki is cooked to order in the downstairs kitchen and then served on our table grill, turned on to medium so our cabbage pancakes remain hot as we eat.

The DON special okonomiyaki in Osaka, Japan
The DON special okonomiyaki with pork and seafood 1380 yen / AU$15.20

The DON special is so over the top we have to have it, a shuddering behemoth of octopus, bacon, plump prawns and a genuine crab claw.

Beef and cheese okonomiyaki at DON in Osaka, Japan
Beef and cheese okonomiyaki 1000 yen / AU$11.00

I share in the beef and cheese okonomiyaki too, the cheese melting into rivers of molten goo.

Spicy pork okonomiyaki at DON in Osaka, Japan
Spicy pork okonomiyaki 1080 yen / AU$11.80

Others dig into the spicy pork okonomiyaki, liberally slathered with a fiery chilli sauce that triggers noticeable sweating.

Mini okonomiyaki shovel at DON in Osaka, Japan
Mini shovels to cut up your okonomiyaki

Everyone gets chopsticks and a shovel-shaped spatula to cut your okonomiyaki into manageable pieces.

Inside the beef and cheese okonomiyaki at DON in Osaka, Japan
Inside the beef and cheese okonomiyaki

The toppings across the top are similar to takoyaki: katsuoboshi shaved bonito, a fruity okonomiyaki sauce and several shakes of dried seaweed flakes.

Crab nigiri sushi in Osaka, Japan
Crab nigiri sushi

On another night we end up in a random sushi train joint, loading up on cheap plates of sushi. We dabble through the usual salmon, raw scallop, tuna and crab until we spot a particularly odd looking plate of sushi that looks like raw beef but not.

Basashi horse sushi in Osaka, Japan
Basashi 

It takes a couple of charade actions with the chef to confirm that yes, it's basashi or horse sashimi, a raw meat and fat duo obtained from the neck. I give it a go in the name of gastronomic openness. The meat is lean and strong in flavour. The fat is thick, hard and chewy that I have to eventually swallow in large chunks just to get it down. It's wildly different to anything I've ever eaten before.

Making egg tarts at Lord Stow's Bakery in Osaka, Japan
Making egg tarts at Lord Stow's Bakery

On a late night wander through Dotonbori we stumble upon Lord Stow's Bakery, a famous egg tart bakery started by Englishman, Andrew Stow, in Macau.

Egg tarts at Lord Stow's Bakery in Osaka, Japan
Egg tarts at Lord Stow's Bakery

Based on the Portuguese egg tart so popular in Macau, Andrew is said to have added his own English touch to local recipes. The bakery hit such stratospheric popularity it has now expanded to Japan and the Philippines.

Egg tarts at Lord Stow's Bakery in Osaka, Japan
Takeaway egg tarts from Lord Stow's Bakery 167 yen / AU$1.85

We find the pastry isn't as noisily crunchy and flaky as some of the Portuguese tarts you can get in Sydney, but the custard is super eggy, with an elegantly smooth and silky mouthfeel. They're also modestly priced too, at less than AU$2 each.

Mango Calpis soda from a Japanese vending machine in Osaka
Mango Calpis soda

And in the continuing adventures of random drinks from Japanese vending machines, I get my hands on a bottle of mango calpis soda - like fizzy mango yoghurt! -

Grape Fanta from a Japanese vending machine in Osaka
Grape Fanta

and a can of grape Fanta that tastes just like liquid bubblegum.

Umaibo corn puffs at Don Quixote on Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan
Umaibo corn puffs at Don Quixote

If I'd had the luggage space, I would have bought one of the giant bags of umaibo, hollow cylindrical corn puffs that are favourites with Japanese school kids. The corn potage flavour is so good!

Plastic sushi displays at Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street, Osaka, Japan
Plastic sushi displays at Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street

And if I'd had more money, I'd have bought one of these plastic sushi displays from Sennichimae Doguyasuji, the kitchen alley of Osaka lined with crockery shops, kitchenware stores and everything in-between.


Kuromon Ichiba Market

Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan

It can be hard to kill time between meals so we often ended up at markets, ironically looking at more food while waiting to get hungry again. Kuromon Ichiba is only a stone's throw from Sennichimae Doguyasuji, and one of Osaka's oldest markets having been established in the early 1900s.

Baked sweet potatoes at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Baked sweet potatoes

About 170 stalls run its 600-metre length. It covers everything from raw seafood to fruit and vegetables to tofu.

Baby octopus at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Baby octopus

Uni sea urchin roe at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Uni sea urchin roe

Fresh tofu and sesame tofu at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Fresh tofu and sesame tofu

Horumon beef offal stew at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Horumon beef offal stew

Fugu puffer fish at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Fugu puffer fish

Rockmelons at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Rockmelons

Bitter melon at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Bitter melon

Mountain yams at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Mountain yams

Fresh wasabi at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Fresh wasabi

Marbled rosu beef loin at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Marbled beef loin for sukiyaki or shabu shabu


Gyukaku Yakiniku

Cooking ox tongue at Gyakaku Yakiniku in Osaka, Japan
Ox tongue

We walked a lot during our Japan holiday. Maybe that's why we often ended up so ravenous all we could think of was meat. And that's where all-you-can-eat yakiniku came in. Oh yeah.

Beef short ribs and beef loin at Gyakaku Yakiniku in Osaka, Japan
[front] Karubi beef short ribs and rosu beef loin

Gyukaku Yakiniku is one of the biggest yakiniku or Japanese barbecue chains in the country. There are about 800 outlets across Japan. They're also open in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taipei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

We go for the premium buffet menu which gives us unlimited orders of over 100 dishes for 3580 yen or AU$39.40 in a 2.5 hour period. And oh boy do we eat.

Cooking beef loin and prawns over charcoal at Gyakaku Yakiniku in Osaka, Japan
Rosu beef loin and prawns on the charcoal barbecue

We indulge in a massive protein fest, searing seafood and meat over glowing coals of charcoal.

Cooking chicken with mixed cheese fondue at Gyakaku Yakiniku in Osaka, Japan
Chicken with mixed cheese fondue

The marinated chicken with cheese fondue - a foil cup of grated cheese that you melt over the grill - is dangerously tasty.

Scallops with butter at Gyakaku Yakiniku in Osaka, Japan
Scallops with butter

And whoah, did we go to town on the scallop orders. If the restaurant made minimal profits that day, it was probably due to our voracious appetites.

Hokkaido Cremia premium soft cream soft serve in front of Osaka Castle, Japan
Hokkaido Cremia premium soft cream in front of Osaka Castle 500 yen / AU$5.50

And sure we did non-food touristing. We made it to Osaka Castle... where we ate ice cream. The Hokkaido Cremia is noted not just for its trademark vertical piping, but also its presentation in a langue de chat cats tongue wafer.

Hokkaido milk gives an unparalleled richness. We think it's a little reminiscent of cream cheese with its lingering tang. It's super creamy, and just what we need as we stretch our legs before we head off to our next meal...

Dotonbori in Osaka, Japan
Dotonbori


Grab Your Fork on Radio National

And in case you missed it, I was on Radio National on Monday talking with host David Mackenzie about the demise of Sizzler and what this says about Australia's changing dining habits.

The podcast for this show is currently available online here. You'll have to fast forward to the 50:40 mark to get to my segment. Meantime I'll be making myself some Sizzler cheese toast.


<< Read the first Japan 2015 post: Toyama black ramen and firefly squid


DON Okonomiyaki
3 Chome-2-33 Nanba, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0076
Tel: +81 (06) 6643 6578

Gyukaku Yakiniku
1-6-10 Dotombori Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0071
Tel: +81 (06) 6484 0129
Open daily 5pm-5am (last order 4am)
Weekends and public holidays also open 11.30am-3.30pm

Kuromon Ichiba Market
2-4-1 Nippombashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0073
Open daily 9am-evening (varies for each shop)

Lord Stow's Bakery
1-10-6 Dotonobori, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0071
Tel: +81 (06) 6214 3699
Open daily 10am-12 midnight

Sennichimae Dogusuji-Ya Shopping Street
542-00075 around Nambasennichimae, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan
Open daily 9am-8pm (varies for each shop)

Takoyaki-Douraku Wanaka
3-7-24 Namba, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0076
Open daily 10am-10pm

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 7/02/2015 12:58:00 a.m.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant at the Fitzroy Inn, Mittagong

Burnt butter and frangelico parfait at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong

I grew up with Geoff Jansz on the telly. Didn't we all? What's Cooking at 11am on Channel 9 was a daily ritual during those halcyon days of university. His laugh. His charm. That hair. I still remember the time he looked straight down the barrel of the camera and said "I always get comments about my hair. It's not a wig. Trust me. It's real, " and then pulled at it to prove his hair wasn't going anywhere.

Geoff Jansz at the Campsie Food Festival in 2006
Geoff Jansz at the Campsie Food Festival in 2006

When What's Cooking ended, he moved onto Burke's Backyard, presenting a food segment for ten years until that too, ceased production. Now he's back, off the television and behind the pans at the Geoff Jansz Farm Table restaurant in Mittagong in the Southern Highlands.


Dining room at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong

Geoff isn't new to the restaurant business. Before his TV gigs he ran two restaurants: the first in Picton, the second one - Aviemore - in Wilton. He closed Aviemore to concentrate on a career in television. Fun fact: Geoff is also a qualified pharmacist, graduating from the University of Sydney in 1984.

Broccolini in the garden behind Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
The garden behind Geoff Jansz Farm Table

Geoff's farm in the Southern Highlands has been the source of several pickling products that he sells online and at markets and stores around Bowral. The restaurant is the realisation of a long held dream of his to get back into the kitchen. When we bumped into him at the Burrawang Easter Markets a few months ago, his eyes shone as he told us about how much he missed working in a restaurant.

Kale in the kitchen garden behind Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong

The Farm Table opened in May this year with a soft launch, taking over the former restaurant space at the Fitzroy Inn, a hotel retreat and restaurant set-up that reminds me of Biota Dining. Out the back is a kitchen garden complete with citrus orchard [edit: the kitchen gardens are not used or linked to the Farm Table]. The accommodation rooms overlook a sweeping garden complete with pond and a family of ducks that waddle past us as we make our way up to the restaurant.

Dining room at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
The dining room at Geoff Jansz Farm Table

The restaurant is large and inviting, splashed with natural light from the skylights above. The rustic charm of exposed sandstone, pockets of moss, raw timber and weathered shutter board windows is elevated with crisp linen and gleaming stemware. There's plenty of space between tables too.

Pickled chillies at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Home grown pickled chillies

The menu yields a choice of five entrees and five mains. The majority of produce is sourced from Geoff's farm. All the meat is obtained from farms that Geoff personally visits, our waiter explains. It only takes a few minutes for us to realise our cheerful waiter is Geoff's son, Harry. There's a strong relationship between Geoff and each of his suppliers, Harry tells us. He takes care to know each farmer from which he is buying product.

Wines by the glass are all an affordable $8 - two whites and two reds from South Australia, Western Australia and New Zealand.

Pork hock terrine at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Pork hock terrine $18
Sweet mustard dressing, butter lettuce and pickles

We kick off with the pork hock terrine, three slices of soft and tender pork chunks set in a wobble of aspic. It's one of my favourite dishes of the day, simple but hearty, served on a salad of greens from the garden and a sweet mustard dressing that we want to lick clean.

Steamed ricotta, parmesan and spinach gnocchi at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Steamed ricotta, parmesan and spinach gnocchi $18
Heirloom tomato sugo and basil oil

The steamed ricotta, parmesan and spinach gnocchi are more like giant steamed dumplings, so delicate and light that a fork slips through them with ease. The heirloom tomato sugo and basil oil make one big Italian flag on the plate.

The Farm Plate at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
The Farm Plate $12
Pickles, dips, house cured or Salumi Australia charcuterie

We also spring for the Farm Plate, a selection of pickles, dips and charcuterie. The salamis are tasty but it's the quenelle of carrot that blows our mind, so smooth and nutty and sweet without being cloying. The grated beetroot and the pickled cucumbers are also highlights.

Housemade milk buns at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Complimentary house made milk buns

House made milk buns are perfect pillows of springy softness. They're sweet enough that butter isn't necessary, but we slather it on greedily anyway.

Cotechino sausage at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Rich and flavoursome cotechino sausage $38

Cotechino is an Italian sausage that combines pork meat with pork skin and spices. It's made by Geoff himself, something that Harry wasn't even aware of until we ask him to check. After initially telling us the sausage comes from a local supplier, Harry comes back from the kitchen and confesses that "Dad made it", a newly acquired skill after a recent trip to Italy.

The sausage is lush and succulent, complemented by a side serve of cauliflower cooked with anchovies and raisins that adds a Middle Eastern riff.

Slow cooked Moroccona lamb at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Slow cooked Moroccan lamb with raisin, onion and tomato relish $38

The Moroccan lamb is another dish borne from an overseas trip. "We went to Morocco together," says Harry, "and we're still working on the flavours of this dish." They needn't worry. It's a masterful blend of aromatic spices, with a deboned lamb shank that falls apart with a nudge of a fork. The accompanying couscous is almost tasty enough to eat on its own, each grain fluffy and separate, and bright yellow in hue.

Duo of beef dry aged Hunter Valley striploin and Cowra eye fillet at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Duo of beef - dry aged Hunter Valley striploin and Cowra eye fillet $42
with wilted rocket and garlic and red wine reduction

The duo of beef is the most expensive main but all is forgiven once you hit the Cowra eye fillet. The prized medallion is as soft as butter. The dry aged Hunter Valley striploin has a satisfying chew but it's the Madeira sauce that I'd happily drown in, a glossy demi-glace that hugs every tastebud.

Burnt butter and frangelico parfait at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Burnt hazelnut and Frangelico parfait $18
on a toffee, apple and date soil 

We're torn over the choice of four desserts, eventually passing up the spiced quince galette and the fruits in blueberry and Cointreau syrup for the burnt hazelnut and Frangelico parfait. It's a visually striking dish, especially with the shards of toffee that sparkle like diamonds against the apple and date soil.

The two fat wedges of parfait are rich and creamy, studded with bits of hazelnut praline and only a faint whiff of Frangelico. Together it eats a little bit too sweet - the parfait with the caramel sauce, date soil and toffee - but the parfait on its own is an easy crowd pleaser.

Gingered oranges and rich flourless chocolate cake at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Gingered oranges with cardamom anglaise and rich flourless chocolate cake $18

And in the name of research we have the rich flourless chocolate cake too. The slightly undercooked fudgy consistency is offset by the warm spiciness of the cardamom anglaise and the citrus zing of gingered orange segments.

There's no handshake tour of the dining room by Geoff today, but we do spot him in the kitchen, a rare reassurance that the chef's name on the door is the same person cooking your meal. I reckon Geoff wouldn't want it any other way.

The Fitzroy Inn in Mittagong



Geoff Jansz Farm Table at the Fitzroy Inn
1 Ferguson Crescent, Mittagong
Tel: +61 (02) 4858 0770

Opening hours
Lunch Saturday and Sunday from 12pm
Dinner Thursday to Saturday from 6.30pm


Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Southern Highlands - Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Southern Highlands - Biota Dining, Bowral

Southern Highlands - Brigadoon at Bundanoon
Southern Highlands - Mittagong tunnel mushroom tour
Southern Highlands - Mushroom picking at Belanglo State Forest

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/28/2015 02:13:00 a.m.



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