The last few months at work has been manic to say the least. With starting up the blog, a rebounding market and the resultant influx of work, I was fast running out of steam and eagerly looking forward to the lead-up to Christmas. Historically, this has been a time when work slows down and you’re given the opportunity to wind down and let your hair down. No luck there.
In the end, the hard work paid off its dividends when I was fortunate enough to be invited to a dinner organised to celebrate the successes of our overall team during the past quarter. The place that was chosen to host this dinner was Monkey Magic, which, as luck would have it, has been on my ‘to-eat-at’ list for quite some time. For me, it was finally the kick-off point to the festive season and a perfect occasion to sit down to get to know fellow colleagues better. Not to mention, it was also an opportunity to be able to eat to my heart’s content on the company card.
After a quick drink at the Dolphin Hotel next door, we headed in to the restaurant and were seated immediately. Since we had a large group, we had already ordered the set menu, which at just $45 a head* is definitely good value and includes several entrees to share and a choice of three mains. The food is not the most traditional Japanese though, while it retained the some Japanese qualities and used a variety of Japanese ingredients, the food was tweaked to give it a more modern Australian twist. The interior reflected this direction and had a modern warehouse feel to it with its wooden furniture contrasting with the raw brick walls.
I loved that this rustic door was retained in its original form even though with the interior remodeling, it now led to nowhere.
Everybody got stuck into conversations while I wandered around taking photos. :)
Edamame with Pink Salt Sprinkles
Unlike edamame I’ve had elsewhere, these weren’t boiled until the soybeans were mushy but retained a good amount of crunch without being completely raw. The rough grains of pink sea salt melted nicely in the mouth to give flavour to the otherwise bland soybeans while you popped them out of the pods.
You can’t have a Japanese set menu without the inclusion of some fresh sashimi. Accompanying the fresh salmon and tuna sashimi, we were given a bowl of pickled radishes which I loved. With my penchant for sour foods, I was slightly upset that they took the unfinished bowl with the plate when the sashimi was finished, but I reacted too late to get it back.
Soft Shell Crab Roll
Always a crowd favourite. The substitution of the usual avocado with the lettuce added to the crispness of the sushi roll.
Caramelised Pork with Roasted Tomato & Nam Jim Salsa in a Lettuce Cup
Last time I checked, I don’t recall ‘sang choy bao’ being a Japanese dish. Also, coupled with the fact that nam jim is sweet Thai dressing, I was a bit perplexed with this inclusion on the set menu. Taken out of context, the sauce was light and tangy but the excess of coriander in the mix meant that the flavour of the pork was overpowered. Also, having to eat this with our hands made this dish a little messy to eat – definitely not a word that is usually associated with Japanese cuisine.
Salt & Pepper Cuttlefish with Beansprout, Chili & Coriander Salad
Again, not too sure about how this dish fit into the fact that this place is specifically advertised as a “Japanese Restaurant”. That said, this restaurant’s take on ‘salt & pepper squid’ was majority voted as the best dish on the set menu. The cuttlefish was very tender and coated with a very flavoursome salt and black pepper mix. Delicious with a light squeeze of lemon juice for some acidity, the cuttlefish overshadowed the beansprout salad which for the most part went ignored.
Twice Cooked Pork Belly with Ume-shu & Lemongrass Reduction, Tangelo & Sauteed Peppered Silver Beet
My choice for the main was the pork belly – not the healthiest dish, but I cannot resist the way the fat melts into the layers of meat when cooked properly. Unfortunately, for this dish, there were a few pieces of meat that failed at this test and could have used an extra few minutes of cooking. I did however love the sauce and the sauteed silver beets that came with this. The ume-shu and lemongrass reduction had a sweet and rich plum flavour with a slight hint of lemongrass while the peppery silver beets were a perfect accompaniment to the sweet notes of the sauce. Included for those who like it was a dollop of hot mustard to be eaten with the pork.
Seared Pepper Crusted Tuna with Eggplant & Miso Puree, & Marinated Red Pepper & White Anchovy Salad
One of the three mains we were given to choose from. I didn’t get to try this, but judging from the empty plate that was leftover at the end it must’ve been quite palatable!
Grain Fed Sirloin with Celeriac & Potato Gratin, Roasted Bone Marrow & Miso & Pepper Sauce
The last choice of the mains, unfortunately this did not receive stellar reviews from my fellow dining companions. I didn’t try this myself, but I was told that the meat was very coarse despite being a sirloin cut and was a bit overcooked.
* Note: a 10% surcharge applies for groups of 10 or more.
410 Crown Street, Surry Hills, Sydney, Australia
P: 612 9358 4444 F: 612 9358 4433