Sunday, January 28, 2018

Caffeine Villains Espresso Bar, Newport - Sydney Nothern Beaches

The Northern beaches of Sydney has a badass coffee joint in their midst. Caffeine Villains is a family run cafe in the heart of Newport. They have only been around for a few months but locals and people from different parts of Sydney have been flocking to this spot since their opening day. It’s probably mostly due to the powerhouse husband and wife owners Alberto (ex Three Rosetta and Cavalier Espresso) and Barbara Fuerte (ex Three Rosetta and Back & Forth Castlecrag).


Tucked away within the shopping area of Newport and just a short walk from the beach is where you’ll find Caffeine Villains. The space has a warm and modern beach shack type vibe going on. Alberto is one of the best baristas around. So with his mad skills and Melbourne’s St Ali beans put in the mix, y’all know magic is about to happen! Then there are Barbara’s creations taking inspiration from different cuisines like the Philippines, Japan and Mediterranean countries. There is no doubt that this place has got it going on!

Both the flat white ($3.50) and piccolo latte ($3.50) we ordered had the perfect milk temperature and velvet texture. Whilst the flat white was sweet and smooth, their piccolo was rich with dark chocolate notes. Alberto really knows how to deal with St Ali’s dark roast coffee beans.

Every now and then, they have beans from guest roasters. I was lucky that during our visit, I got to try a beautiful Colombian coffee from Kwila.

The CV Benny ($18) has gotta be one of the most beautiful looking brunch dishes I have come across! It’s an exceptional Japanese inspired twist to the traditional eggs benedict. The most notable parts of this dish was the textural contrast and flavours between the umami packed house smoked salmon and nutty flavoured brown rice wrapped in nori. The perfectly poached eggs and wasabi hollandaise sauce is the icing on the cake.

Y’all know those amazing burgers at Back & Forth in Castlecrag? Barbara’s the genius behind all of that! So I was pumped to see a double cheeseburger on the menu. The Caffeine Villains Double Cheeseburger ($16) is a work of art. A beautifully stacked dish of juicy double beef patties and double melted cheese, CHEESE SAUCE, bacon, onions, pickles, lettuce, tomato sauce and mustard in a soft charcoal milk bun. This burger didn’t really need the lettuce but I do really appreciate that there’s only a small portion of it. This burger was saucy but not too messy and just packed and layered with great flavours. Umami galore yo! I would smash this again for sure! For some chips on the side, just add $2.

The buttermilk pancakes ($14) tastes as beautiful as it looks! Stacks of fluffy pancakes topped with nutella, strawberries, blueberries, fresh cream and vanilla ice cream.

Congrats to my homies Alberto and Barbara for doing a great job with Caffeine Villains. Y’all need to hit them up when you’re in the Nothern Beaches area.

Caffeine Villains
Shop 7/331-335 Barrenjoey Road
Newport NSW
Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri 6:00am to 3:30pm
Sat-Sun 7:00pm to 2:30pm

Caffeine Villains Espresso Bar  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Gogyo Ramen Sydney, Surry Hills

I had many memorable bowls of ramen in Japan. The first to make an impact on my palate has gotta be Gogyo’s Kyoto ramen shop. I heard the same statement from many other Aussies that’s visited that shop in the last few years. Their signature Kogashi (burnt) shoyu and miso ramen has so much umami and smokiness that you are sure to leave their shop amazed.

Then December 2017 came and the Ippudo group has graced Sydney with Gogyo Ramen’s presence in our great city. The ex-Salaryman spot was taken over by Gogyo. Some of the fittings were kept but the shop was transformed to a moody chic Scandanavian fused with a posh modern Japanese wine house looking space. If you sit by the counter, you can watch the chefs char, caramelised or burn (whatever you want to call it) the miso or soy tare that’s used in their Kogashi ramen.

The gyozas ($14) here would pair nicely with your ramen. It had nice caramelised crusts and the filling was flavoursome.

You can also get a sweet and umami packed nasu dengaku ($12.50). The chunks of eggplant were crisped to caramelised perfection on the outside and super tender on the inside.
Kogashi sorcery

The Kogashi miso ramen ($18) is my favourite at the Kyoto shop and is also my favourite here. I feel like the miso carries the sweet smoky profile better and bursts with more intense umami in the chicken broth. My only criticism is that the broth could be heavier and more dense just like the Kyoto shop’s version and the egg yolk in the half umami egg (or ajitama) could be a tad more runny. Having said that, the broth still has amazing flavours and the chashu is still delicious and tender. The thin katame low hydration noodles here handles the heavy broth extremely well. Love the bite on their katame noodles. You also get toppings like nori, cabbage and naruto (fish cake).

The Kogashi shoyu ramen ($18) on the other hand is a little more light on the palate with nutty notes in the broth but still packs umami. Thin katame (al dente) noodles is also used and topped with half umami egg, cabbage, naruto and nori.

I didn’t know what to expect with their tonkotsu ramen ($17) as it’s normally not a Gogyo specialty. But damn I was caught by surprise as it was damn good! The pork broth was not too heavy but was flavoursome enough with a good balance of fat in the form of pulps of seabura (pork back fat) that slowly disintegrated on the broth. To be honest, I prefer this over their parent company’s (Ippudo) tonkotsu ramen. It had thin katame noodles, a super buttery and tasty chashu, menma, naruto, cabbage and negi. I especially loved the caramelised edges of the chashu.

I’m just glad that we have a piece of Japan in Sydney like no other. This is a must try when you’re in the area.

Gogyo Surry Hills
52-54 Albion Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
Opening Hours:
7 Days
11:30am to 2:30pm, 5:30pm to 9:00pm

Gogyo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Best of Tokyo Food 2017 - Cheap kit kats, Wagyu Yakiniku, gyukatsu, Maisen tonkatsu & more

Last year has been a good year for me in terms of food and travel. Y’all know that Japan is my favourite destination and I was lucky enough to go twice in 2017. I spent more time in Tokyo so I thought of collating all the places I’ve visited last year for food in this metropolis that never sleeps. Everything from yakiniku to burgers and snacks like daifuku, Tokyo has a lot to offer.

Ameyoko and Niki No Kashi (Japanese snacks at bargain prices) 

Cremia from a Japanese style Western Diner nearby (Across from Ueno Station)
Ameyoko shopping street is just a few minutes’ walk south of Ueno station. You can get anything from fresh produce like fruits, seafood etc. There’s a lot of food stalls that offers anything from chirashi don to kebabs. You can also buy cheap souvenirs, legit sneakers and more. Bought some strawberries and pineapple here and they were so sweet like fruit candy!

Niki No Kashi is a snacks store located in the heart of Ameyoko. A lot of websites and blogs have claimed that this place has the cheapest snacks in town. We’ve been here 3 times already, and team Ramen Raff can confirm that this is indeed true! Especially if you are after Japanese Kit Kat packs and Calbee chips, this store has them at bargains prices. Their range of omiyage (souvenir/gifts) boxed mochi is insane and excellent!

Ameyoko Shopping Street
6-10-7 Ueno, Taito-ku
Niki no Kashi 二木の菓子
Ueno 4-6-1, Taito-ku
Tel. 03-3833-4051
9:30 – 19:30, no holidays
Nearest station: Ueno

Maisen Tonkatsu

Some say this place is overrated. Most people including myself would disagree with that. This institution that’s been around since 1965 makes the best tonkatsu in my opinion. The OG branch is located in Aoyama and is just a short walk from Omotesando Station. I suggest getting there as soon as it opens (no later than 12pm) to avoid long queues. Yes, the lines can get crazy and I hear that you could wait anywhere from 30-45 minutes.

We always opt for the signature Kurobuta (Berkshire pork in the west) loin set(3,100yen) which includes tsukemono (pickles), miso soup, rice, cabbage salad and some condiments. I just love the delicious crunchy golden flaky coating and the fatty tender juicy pork meat that almost melts in your mouth.

Maisen Tonkatsu とんかつ まい泉
4-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan (Omotesando Exit A2)
Opening Hours 11:00am-10:00pm
Nearest station: Omotesando

Gyukatsu Motomura

For something different, how about trying some deep fried beef cutlet or Gyukatsu?! Apparently there was a gyukatsu boom in 2015 to 2016. In the heart of that boom was Gyukatsu Motomura. To date, it still gets long lines of customers. We found that the branch near Hotel Gracery (the Godzilla hotel) in Kabukicho is easier to get into and we only waited around 10 minutes before we were seated.

A 130gram gyukatsu mugemshi set meal for 1,400 yen is a steal! It includes a super tender deep fried crumbed 130 grams beef, rice, tasty scoop of mashed potato salad, cabbage salad, pickles, miso soup and grated yam. You can skip the yam and the meal set will only cost 1,300 yen. The beef comes to you cooked rare. You can have it that way or cook it further with the grilling apparatus that they supply you with.

Gyukatsu Motomura
9, 1 Chome-18 Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0021, Japan
Opening hours: 11am to 10pm
Nearest station: Shinjuku

Han No Daidokoro (High quality beef Yakiniku)

There are 2 shops in the Shibuya Dogenzaka area within 2 minutes’ walk apart from each other. One is located on the 7th floor in the same building as MOS burger and the other in an alley way on the ground floor just a few doors down from Tetsu and Sushi Oubei.

We ended up going to the latter. The place was a gem with great food and service. According to them, they source most of their Wagyu from Yamagata and some from Kobe. We opted for Yamagata beef cuts ranging from short rib (1,980 + tax) to loin premium (1,980 yen + tax). This place is legit! The loin premium Wagyu slices were particularly super tender and buttery.

Han No Daidokoro
Japan, 150-0043 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya-ku, Dōgenzaka, 2 Chome−29−3
Opening hours: 11.30pm to 3pm, 5.30pm to 11.30pm 7 days
Nearest station: Shibuya

Torikizoku (yakitori)

This chain restaurant is probably the most popular in all of Japan. We visited 1 of the 2 Kabukicho stores in Shinjuku. Besides having some of the best tasting yakitori and izakaya-type snacks in the country, everything is value for money with every food item priced at only ¥280 plus tax. The must try items here are their kawa (chicken skin), negima (chicken thigh pieces with spring onions) and tsukune (chicken meatballs). One of the best things about Torikizoku is that they are open until early in the morning the next day! The best time to go is around midnight where there is no queue and service is faster!

Japan, 160-0021 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Kabukichō, 1 Chome−2, 歌舞伎町1丁目2 レオ新宿ビルBF
Opening hours: 5pm to 5am
Nearest station: Shinjuku

Tamago to Watashi (Omurice)

Y’all know team Ramen Raff is obsessed with omurice! Tamago to Watashi is conveniently located on the 7th floor of Milord building at Shinjuku Station. They have a delicious classic-style omurice with tomato sauce.

Creme brulee and strawberry sorbet 
But what you need to try is the hybrid omurice hamburg dish with demi-glace! Perfectly cooked rice and juicy beef burger patty covered by a fluffy blanket of egg and sweet savory demiglace sauce.

Tamago To Watashi
Mylord Shinjuku
Level 7, 1 Chome-1-3 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyō-to 160-8001, Japan
Opening Hours: 11.00am to 11:00pm

Tempura Tendon Tenya (Tempura don)

Tenya is probably one of the best and most accessible tempura joints in Japan. In Tokyo alone, they have 16 stores that you can visit. Their Shibuya Chikatetsu Building shop is just a short walk from Shibuya station. We opted for their large sized All-Star Tendon (850yen) and Excellent don (790yen). The All-star was a massive serving with a bit of everything whilst the Excellent don had 2 large pieces of prawn tempura and some vegetable tempura. I can see why this place is so popular. The thick batter coating here is amazing and the sauce was sweet with notes of umami.

Tempura Tendon Tenya
Chikatetsu (Subway) Building, 1-16-14 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: 11:00am to 11:00pm 7 days
Nearst station: Shibuya

Tsukiji Itadori Uogashi Senryo

There’s more to Tsukiji Market than just lining up for sushi. The outer market has kaizen and chirashi don restaurants worth a visit. One in particular is called Tsukiji Itadori Uogashi Senryo. The rice bowls here are exceptional and one of the best things is that there’s no line nor a long wait for your food! The must try items here are their Kiwami don (2,280yen) which includes various sashimi with uni over sushi rice and their “Original Kaisen Hitsumabushi”  (2,570 yen). The latter has instructions on how to eat the rice bowl in 5 different ways to maximise the fish and shellfish (including uni) sampling experience.

Tsukiji Itadori Uogashi Senryo
104-0045 Tokyo, 中央区Tsukiji, 4 Chome−10−14
Opening Hours: 7am to 11pm
Nearest station: Tsukiji

Ginza Lion (Japanese Western-style)

This a massive popular chain of Japanese Western-style restaurants. The space is designed like a European tavern with a menu that ranges with anything from karaage chicken, steaks to corned beef on potato baked with cheese and spaghetti.  For lunch, you will need to try their large serving of omurice with demi-glace (1,100yen). The blanket of egg was so damn fluffy! For both lunch and dinner, their uber delicious Pineapple sorbet (680 yen) is a must for dessert.

Ginza Lion Shinjuku
Japan, 160-6606 Tokyo, 新宿区Shinjuku, 3 Chome−28−9
Opening hours: 11.30am to 11.00pm 7 days

Blue Bottle (Specialty coffee)

It was an instant hit for locals and tourists alike, when Blue Bottle opened its first Tokyo shop in Kiyosumi Shirakawa. That’s no surprise as coffee is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and blue bottle does amazing things with their drip and siphon brewed coffees. My pour over Ethiopia Hambela Guji Buku coffee was sweet with notes of cranberry. The espresso for milk based coffees is also on the sweet side with medium body. Snacks like pastries and beignets with caramel sauce are also available.

Blue Bottle Aoyama
3-13-14 Minamiaoyama
Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062
Opening hours: 8am to 7pm
Nearest station: Omotesando

M Le Bihan (Boulangerie)

Japan is obsessed with Boulangerie shops. One accessible shop with amazing baked goods and pastries is M Le Bihan. The shop is located near the Shinjuku Station west exit. You can get everything from fluffy melon pans to fancy tasty caneles.

M Le Bihan Shinjuku
Chome-24-55 Sendagaya, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0051, Japan
Opening hours: 8am to 10pm 7 days

Ginza Akebono (Mochi)

For premium mochi that will not disappoint, headover to Ginza. You will find Akebono almost right next to Suzuran Street and near the main Ginza intersection. Everything from delicious ichigo daifuku to Hokkaido azuki bean filled mochi and more!

Ginza Akebono
5-7-19 Ginza, Chui City, Tokyo
Opening Hours: Mon to Sat 10:00am to 9pm, Sun & public holidays 10:00am to 8pm
Nearest station: Ginza

 Shake Shack (Burger)

This place needs no introduction. Shake Shack in my opinion still makes the best premium American-style burgers at a fairly affordable price. They are specially known for their potato buns and smashed burger patties. The caramelised crust that forms the surface of the patty gives the burger an extra meaty umami flavour. I prefer going to the Yurakucho branch because the line and wait is shorter.  

The Shack Stack (1,230yen) which has beef patty, fried crumbed mushroom, lettuce, tomato and shacksauce in a soft potato bun.

My personal favourite is the double patty Smoke Shack (1,180yen) which contains 2 beef patties, applewood smoked bacon, chopped cherry pepper, and that smoky shacksauce.

Shake Shack Yurakucho
Opening Hours: 11am to 10pm 7 days
Nearest station: Yurakucho
Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza

No time to go to Hokkaido on your Japan trip? Don’t worry, you can find a little piece of it in Tokyo at Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza. Near Yurakucho station (on other side of Shake Shack) is where you’ll find this paradise and check out all their groceries of Hokkaido food products! They have everything from scallops, smoked fish, to Royce chocolates, cheese, and premium Hokkaido milk! You can also get cheap milk and melon soft cream near the entrance!

Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza
2-10-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 

Hours: 10am to 8pm 7 days


 Click here for my list of 2017 Best Tokyo Ramen.