Tuesday, February 17

Char Restaurant - Darwin

A lovely family dinner from a long time ago. This will be a largely pictorial post. I'm trying to collate food pictures from the past year in chronological order and my food memory just isn't what it used to be! 


With all the new restaurants that are popping up across the CBD, Char is considered an oldie. I had heard of this well established restaurant being frequently mentioned as one of the top restaurants in Darwin, but given that we tend to make our rounds exclusively around Asian restaurants, this was our first visit.


The story goes that Char is the sibling restaurant of Cha Cha Char (what a name!) and Jellyfish in Brisbane. Admiralty House, the building pictured on the above logo and where Char is situated now, used to belong to the naval officer commanding the region. After the bombing of Darwin and 1974 cyclone, this is one of the few old-style tropical elevated houses that remain. However, there are a cluster of similar looking houses within the nearby RAAF base and this architectural style is still widespread across towns in Queensland.

Location: 70 Esplanade, Darwin. Opposite the road to the entry point of Mitchell St carpark (see map).

Website: official website and urbanspoon reviews. Also Trip Advisor has over 500 user reviews! I'm not sure why the general public in Darwin tend to use Trip Advisor more often than urbanspoon for restaurant reviews. Just on a side-note, urbanspoon now belongs to Zomato, an Indian company which is looking to expand internationally. Hence the change in the logo and website layout.

Menu: menu available on Char's website. As a guide, average price of entrees tend to ~$25, mains ~$35, steaks ~$50 and desserts $15.

Food:


Spring rolls - a complimentary dish given to us by the chef. I assume it's the same as the item on the menu - "spring rolls of braised beef kaffir lime chilli & mustard fruits with ginger dipping sauce".


Fish and chips - on the kids menu for $10-15. I didn't pick at my sister's food but let me just say that rocket, or roquette for the pretentious, isn't the best salad leaf choice for children given almost universal dislike for its rather sharp and bitter taste.


Tempura prawns - no longer on the menu, and a small entree for over $20! Char obviously has an Asian twist to its largely modern Australian menu.


Mussels - fresh mussels deliciously prepared in a tomato and herb wine sauce. Unfortunately this favourite of mine is no longer available on the current entree menu either.


Pan seared barramundi fillet - with a butter sauce, prawns and mussels. This item has also been replaced on the menu. Barramundi happens to be a favourite fish of mine. It's versatile and has a soft texture that that remains so even if it's overcooked. "Barra" is also a popular local catch found in abundance across the Northern coasts of Australia. Fishing for barra in the Northern Territory appears to be a popular hobby, and I guess the size of the fish makes it an exciting and photogenic catch.


Whole fish of the day - "crispy fried with soy and spring onion". Definite Asian inspirations there too!


Wagyu steak - with orange and fig salad. I like Char for its interesting sides that goes beyond garden and Caesar salads. The steak looks charred (funny I know) here but was actually perfectly medium-rare - pink but no dripping blood.


Other sides - you can just see the edge of a potato mash on the left, and roast vegetables on the right.


Apple & pear tart tatin - with "classic vanilla bean ice-cream, spun sugar basket". Visually tasteful, isn't it?

Other desserts - poached pear and banana "3 ways". You can see my descriptions getting briefer and briefer!



Other:


The interior design has a lot of white, making the restaurant have a sterile feel. Or clean feel, depending on your preference. There is also outdoor seating for a non wet season day!


Rating: 4.5/5 given the price range we won't be frequenting this place. But Char will remain a favourite for special occasions. The restaurant has a solid reputation in Darwin and rightfully so - although known primarily for its steaks, Char certainly does seafood well too. Consistently fresh ingredients, thoughtful sides, and no overcooked meat!

Char Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 15

Rapid Cafe

This is one from awhile ago!

Rapid Cafe is one of the rare cheap eats in the Northern suburbs, or indeed in the whole of Darwin itself, that is similar to stores you would expect to find in abundance in a place like Melbourne CBD. Takeaway or a quick sit down meal that doesn't involve fast food or some greasy Chinese takeaway store with non-Chinese dishes

Location: adjacent to the Happy Foodland supermarket at Rapid Creek Village, 48 Trower Rd, Millner, NT (see map)

Website: there is a basic Facebook page, and several urbanspoon reviews. There are also a few blog reviews at Darwin Foodies and Discovering Darwin.

Price: entrees for ~$5 with almost all mains at $12. The same prices for dine in and takeaway. See menu here or below. I like visual menus.



Food:


Vegetable tempura - consisting of mostly sweet potato. It was well made, crispy but not too oily, with a batter that wasn't too heavy or overdone. But the dipping sauce was too watery and made the dish rather bland, because the batter wasn't salty either.


Takoyaki - takoyaki is a street snack I happily discovered whilst on a trip to Japan. Tako means octopus and yaki means grilled - so these are grilled flour balls with small bits of octopus, topped with Japanese mayonnaise, bonito flakes and takoyaki sauce which can be substituted by BBQ or Worcheshire sauce if you're cooking yourself. Bonito flakes on food fascinates me because as they always look like they're moving as they soak up the sauce that they're sprinkled on. Unlike tempura, takoyaki is one of those happy dishes that seem to be made well in most restaurants, and Rapid Cafe was no exception. Hot and fresh, with just the right amount of sauce. Similar to that of Bar Zushi in Casuarina. 



 Japanese curry - sorry, Japanese curry never looks visually appealing. It's also incredibly easy to make yourself with solid cubes of instant curry sauce that can be bought at most regular supermarkets. The chicken katsu add on for $4 is worth it.


Japanese fried chicken bento - chicken karaage, garden salad with Japanese mayonnaise and rice. I might have a thing for crispy fried chicken. In Melbourne I frequented Rose Garden for their spicy chicken ribs and I found an adequate replacement for my time in Darwin. This dish had good portions of juicy chicken, with crispy batter that doesn't leave you with the unpleasant after-taste that comes with KFC fried chicken. My only critique here was that there didn't seem to have been much salt in the batter, but that was easily fixed with a sprinkle of soy sauce.

Teriyaki chicken bento - no photo here but this is my favourite out of all the dishes at Rapid Cafe. It's nothing like what you would expect from teriyaki chicken. In fact, it looks similar to the dish above (ie. another deep fried chicken dish) but with a lighter and sweeter batter.


Chicken egg rice bowel - also known as oyakodon. It's strange how many restaurants give Japanese names to their not-very-Japanese dishes whilst Rapid Cafe uses English names of Japanese dishes but does them quite well. This tasted like something you might find at home, with less salt and less oil.

Variety of sushi rolls - not recommended. The sushi aren't particularly fresh, the fillings are scant, and the price is double to what you might find in Darwin CBD. The place to go for sushi with fresh seafood in Darwin is Mr Sushi, which is just adjacent to the mall.

Other:


The layout of the shop is simple and nothing fancy. The store seems a bit small for the number of people (both dine in and takeaway) that tend to come, and waiting times can be quite long. Another thing to note is the limited opening hours. The shop is only open until around 8pm and is closed all day on Sundays.

Rating: 4.5/5 I love the unpretentious dishes cooked on the spot - especially the variety of freshly fried chicken dishes (chicken katsu, chicken kaarage and teriyaki chicken). It's also refreshing to have a decent salad that comes with the meal, and healthy choices such as the oyakodon. Overall it's definitely one of my favourites in the Northern suburbs and a welcome break from the monotony of food choices at Casuarina shopping square.

Rapid Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 30

Is food blogging antisocial?

And... we're back! I haven't forgotten about this blog. As I was sorting through the un-posted food photos collected over the past year or two, some thoughts came to mind about why the posts on this blog have been so far and few in between.

The first reason is simple enough. I started working and had to make some adjustments to my priorities. As a student if I slept late because I stayed up writing, it was of no consequence. As a working person, that's irresponsible. I used to dabble in paid food and travel writing to partially fund my hobbies. Then full time work came along with a lot more money but a lot less time. Plus, my friends who loved food also started working and we could no longer share so many lovely long lunches, trying this or that cafe.

The second reason is less straightforward. I think subconsciously the question that's been floating in my mind and accountable for noticeable gaps of months and months where I hadn't taken any food photos at all is this - is food blogging antisocial? I don't know if writing about the Grilled campaign had anything to do with conjuring these notions. Is it selfish to make others wait and have their food go cold while you try to capture a photogenic shot? Does it disrupt the flow of conversation? How does the other person feel when you take out your phone or bring out a bulky camera in the middle of the meal? There are certainly a lot of people who are vocal about finding the habit of food photos before meals annoying or simply ridiculous.

"Photographing meals becomes pathological, however, if it interferes with careers or relationships or there’s anxiety associated with not doing it." - First Camera, Then Fork

Taking food photos when eating alone is a no-brainer. When eating out with others however, it depends. I've found that with some people, there is no element of being antisocial as you each take out your devices and help each other "pose" the food for a shot. Some don't mind but start to look quite hungry if you take too long. Yes, the photo may not be framed right or have the best lighting but maybe a quick snap or none at all is better than making your dinner companion wait too long. Some hate it or find it rude (but you would probably never know because friends are often too polite to say so). Some don't mind either way. For acquaintances or others you don't know so well, it's hard to tell how they would react to it. So more and more, I avoid it in those situations in case whoever I'm eating with gets the impression that I'm more interested in the food than in their company. Which may or may not be true, but building relationships definitely takes precedence over documenting my culinary journeys.

Having said all this, I will still be writing here in 2015. Hopefully more posts than 2014, which shouldn't be very hard at all!