My Sweet Memory

E’s review: Let me start off by saying that I associate My Sweet Memory (MSM) with many fond remembrances. I’ve played chess on their dilapidated chess board until almost midnight (they’re open until 12 every night!), I’ve purposely (read: tactlessly) gone there with a large group of friends and claimed a free cup of coffee (that comes with every purchase of 7 coffees) and I’ve been there with my brother who has a penchant for sweet things. It really is a great place to have an honest-to-god  conversation with another fellow being – unlike the usual bind of not being able to hear anyone if you go to most bars in Sydney these days. Apart from the place being a franchised ‘concept store’, that is, a store that interlaces food, music and art (more notably design stationery, office and lifestyle accessories) in one convenient location (and thus attracting a large cohort of Chinese, Korean and Japanese people), the food ain’t bad either. You can get the regular assortment of cake, coffee & other drinks and sweets. Don’t expect rich decadent delights though, it tastes like most Asian dessert places I’ve been to (i.e. they tend to add more sugar and artificial flavours and less butter and cream), but to me, this is not a big deal. What resonates, and matters to me are those ‘sweet memories’…and those have left a lasting impression.

J’s review: Cafe fused with a stationery shop? A very cute idea. MSM is as cute on the inside as it sounds, with things you’d expect to see in kikki.k lining the walls. There was quite a selection of cakes so we asked the waiters what they recommended – a chocolate mousse cake and a coffee espresso cake. I ordered a green tea latte out of curiosity, never having had one before. The cakes were both very light. As far as I can tell, that is a hallmark of Asian-style cakes in general. I didn’t mind the lightness, especially of the mousse which was quite delicate. But when I order a cake I want it to be bursting with rich flavours, and compared to other cakes these two were lacking in flavour. The highlight of this was the green tea latte! I’ve always had qualms about green with with milk, but I was pleasantly surprised. Note: I am also a sucker for all things green tea, so I am completely biased. Overall, MSM was average. I might go back again to try different cakes someday, but am quite content not to for now.

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My Sweet Memory: clockwise, mousse cake, green tea latte, coffee espresso cake.

My Sweet Memory on Urbanspoon

Prato Cafe & Diner

This place: Smack bang in the middle of suburbia, the restaurant could easily be mistaken for somebody’s century-old cottage house complete with high ceilings, wooden floorboards, and a quaint verandah overlooking a lovely wild (but kempt) garden in both the front and back. On top of the casual dining experience, there is even a random assortment of things – e.g. flora and useful or just interesting things – for sale.

The food: The kingfish carpaccio salad was sublimely beautiful. It came with a generous serving of raw kingfish too. The flavour was interesting – the salty capers mixed with the sweetness from the raisins, and then add to it, these fine violet shoots (I don’t know my vegetables, and was too embarrassed to ask what they were), rendered the salad refreshingly delicate and explosively tantalising. I’m usually not a salad person (although strangely enough I’ve been having more and more of them recently…), but this just worked so well together. Of course, the downside was, it was hardly enough to constitute a main dish, but luckily, my food buddy had ordered the smoked trout dish which I happily poached and gobbled down until I was finally satiated (and he, feeling a bit nonplussed, I’m sure). In terms of breakfast meals, his dish was decent, and well-cooked. The trout was lightly salted, the egg was crisp on the edge and gooey in the middle. There was an unsparing amount of hash. And the whole display – just gorgeous.

Suffice to say, I was quite impressed.

These were just two dishes on the menu; the breakfast and lunch selection is plentiful, so I feel like I will definitely be back to try them all…

The next time you’re in this neck of the woods, give this place a visit. Or if not, make a point to go here anyway.

Kingfish carpaccio salad

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 House Smoked Trout with Fried Egg, Potato Hash, Herbs and Sourdough

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Prato Cafe & Diner on Urbanspoon

Mori Sushi Cafe: Fusion Japanese-Korean All-you-can-eat buffet (unlimited time!)

There once was a  cafe in Glebe

That served an all you can eat!

No limit as to time, 

The food was sublime,

I’d go there again in a heap!

For the price of $45.50, we got the following (from left to right, top to bottom): Pork Kimchi; Tofu & Avocado Salad; Takoyaki, Unagi (eel), Fried Soft Shell Crab; Main Sashimi Dish, Fried Prawns; Volcano Rolls; the company of friends, strangers & waiters;  sizzling BBQ Beef strips; sizzling vegetable dish; Sashimi boat; sizzling pork; tuna tataki (x 2); Wagyu beef (x 3 – because it was really good!); green tea (free!):

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Here is the menu: 2014-01-12 12.56.46

Nestled further up along Glebe Point Road, the cafe is adorably small and were it not for the multitudes of signs outside alerting us to the fact that it had an all-you-can-eat buffet (along with yummy looking pictures), we’d never knew it was a cafe with such bounty. Locals can go there for a quick meal, or a drink – since it is a cafe after all – but for the ultimately starving, or buffets is just your thing (which it is for my family), then here is a place you cannot miss. When the price is so reasonable, the dishes so many, and the service so friendly (they never looked at us funnily when we kept ordering….mind you, the above was for 3 people, yeah yeah, we eat a lot) – one barely needs to mention the food. However, in this case, all the dishes were quite good, not exceptional, but then really – they prepared all the above in under 10mins between each dish; usually less for the cold dishes too, so they have my respect.

As you can see, there are heaps of other dishes you can get. They are also 3 staggered buffet menus to choose from (price discrimination at its best), so if you don’t want to get the $45.50 one (which includes wagyu, hot pot, sashimi boat, tuna tataki) then you can just go for the $39.50 meal which is everything in the more expensive buffet, less the wagyu (in my opinion, the wagyu is worth the extra $6). The cheapest is the $29.50 meal – which is good enough for most people. Children eat for less, because a reasonable person would think that children have smaller stomachs (ah but they have faster metabolisms! And really, with no time limit imposed, they’re just asking for customers to spend the whole day at the cafe).

Mori Sushi Cafe on Urbanspoon

Café Sopra

The wine and dining experience

On a cool breezy Monday night, you’ll see a comprehensive mix of suits, hipsters, artists, lovers, connoisseurs and intergenerational  families occupying the assortment of seats, high chairs, cubicles and long rustic tables (so as to suit all moods / events) in the large underground restaurant that is famously known as Café Sopra – one of the many restaurants attached to the providore, Fratelli Fresh. A truly symbiotic relationship exists whereby the Sopra kitchen converts the fresh produce from its supplier into delightfully savoury, sweet and tangy meals .

To start off the night, our group of four chose a bottle of Fratelli Fresh Sauvignon Blanc. I profess, not being an oenophile, I say only that it was pleasant enough to drink, and in the present company, none had any qualms.

Mains 

1. Smoked ham, Mozzarella and funghi pizza

2. Funghi with smoked Mozzarella and rocket pizza

To be honest, the pizzas weren’t spectacular, but they were quite decent. The ingredients truly are fresh, the dough, light and fluffy if not a bit chewy. I could eat fistfuls of their mozzarella, which I interpret as a good thing.

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3. Conchigle (type of pasta) with salsicce (sausage), crushed peas, mint and pecorino (hard italian cheese)

I’ve heard that this is their stand-out dish. However, on this night, I personally was not won over by it. My main concern was that there were not enough meatballs. Let me explain. I’m one of those people who can’t stomach more than five mouthfuls of carbs without some proteins interspersed. Another thing, the crushed peas sauce was a bit saturating. So after the meatballs disappeared (an overly meatball-enthusiast friend of mine took most of them), I found the rest of the dish a tad bland.

4. Ricotta gnocchi with pumpkin and pine nuts:

This was surprisingly good. I usually don’t like gnocchi, but the ricotta really adds richness and texture to it. The tomato sauce base was full-flavoured, which mixed well with the lighter-flavoured crescent-shaped gnocchi.

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Desserts

  • Yoghurt panna cotta with candied fruit: just luscious; the amaretto jello and fruit making it light and refreshing all at once
  • Creme Brulee: easy to crack; monstrously creamy with a light kick of liqueur; pistachio biscotti on the side for dipping (only if you want to)
  • Tiramisu: amazingly pliant in one’s mouth; the alcohol infusion not too intoxicating; so that one keeps going back for another spoonful.

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Verdict: Crowd pleaser – everyone who comes here will have their own favourite/stand-out dish. I could bring any one of my friends here and s/he/they will/would confess to the food being great, and having a great night (the atmosphere is wonderful and waiters are friendly, I forgot to mention). Some dishes may be a hit or miss, depending on your taste and preferences, I’ve come to realise. Regardless, this place holds a special place in my heart.

Café Sopra at Fratelli Fresh on Urbanspoon

Jang Gun (Korean) Restaurant [$10 Lunch Special]

It’s an unobtrusive little place tucked away upstairs in the semi-abandoned Victoria Plaza Shopping Centre (we came on the weekend, so it may be bursting with life on the weekdays). Upon arrival, you wouldn’t take a second glance at the restaurant’s functional décor.  You may be greeted by the waiters, or you may not – if there is a spare seat, you take it, no questions asked. Here is their menu:

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Upon arrival, unless you request a drink, you will be given a bottle of tap water and some cups. You pour yourself, of course.

As at most Korean restaurants, your meal will come with a selection of anywhere between 2 to 12 side dishes (banchan). At Jang  Gun, you get 6 side dishes, notably:

  • Fermented Cabbage Kimchi
  • Fresh salad
  • Seasonal bean sprouts (Konghamul)
  • Seasoned eggplants
  • Korean style pancakes
  • Konjac jelly

The best part about it is that when you run out, you can ask for top ups (although they don’t look too kindly if you ask more than once!)

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The manager of the restaurant was also there, and she even made one of her servehands go back in the kitchen when she saw that one of the dishes (Konjac jelly) didn’t have any drizzled at the top!

The $10 lunch special is simple great though. 

Also, No. 11-18 of the dishes is served with miso soup!

1. The marinated spicy pork & vegetables with steam rice is their best dish (out of the four that we had). The seasoning is spot on and is not frightfully hot that your taste buds will be impaled by the chilliness, and is instead delightfully rich and sweet. I’m quite picky with my rice, so I was pleasantly surprised by their use of short grain rice (the long grains are what’s served at most fast-food eateries because they are cheaper and more filling) which are slightly softer and plumper than long grain rice.

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2. The crumbed fish cutlet, deep fried, topped with special sauce, served with steam rice & salad is magnificently crunchy due to their Korean style bread crumb mix which is not overly floury and coats a thinner layer of crispiness. The fish is soft, white and melt in your mouth.

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3. The marinated sweet beef & vegetables with steam rice has tender beef and crisp vegetables with the right saturation of juices in the mix, which serves well if you like to add a little flavour to your steam rice.  The sauce is distinctly milder than the marinated pork dish, but nevertheless stands on its own.

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 4. As we liked the crumbed fish (above) so much, we opted to get the crumbed chicken cutlet too. The chicken was battened thin, but nevertheless still quite succulent. They also give you a knife and fork for the crumbled dishes, which is more suitable than using chopsticks.

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Verdict: 

Service is unexceptional – as they took awhile to bring out the side dishes (actually with the mains, so as to not promote asking for top-ups while you wait for the mains) – but for the cheapness of the price,  the quality of the mains and the cornucopia of sides (and sometimes miso soup) and if you don’t mind the no fuss approach, then you can’t go wrong coming to Jang Gun.

7/10

Jang Gun (Korean) Restaurant on Urbanspoon

E’s film review: Disney’s Frozen

Frozen (PG)

Running Time 102 mins

Genre Animation, children (and those young at heart)

Voices Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciaran Hinds

Co-Directors Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Screenwriter Jennifer Lee

Story

The plot is linear enough. Elsa, the older sister has cryokinetic powers (the ability to create and manipulate snow & ice) but one day accidentally injures her younger sister Anna with it. From then on, her power is deemed a ‘curse’, resulting in her extended self-incarceration for fear that her burgeoning powers would cause harm to her sister and others. When her powers are revealed, she is forced to flee the castle – presumably, from a combination of her inability to accept that others will understand her due to years as a recluse and also her fear for the safety of others – whereupon said fear is then physically manifested by encasing the kingdom of Arendelle (ahem, Scandinavia) in an eternal winter. Naturally, Anna, the younger princess sets out across sprawling white winterland to bring back her sister.

Commentary 

The elements of a traditional Disney ‘princess’ tale are all there – true love’s first kiss, a dashing prince and beguiling princess(es) (who in more recent times have been injected with a dash of ‘feminist spunk’) battling one peril after another and on the way, encountering allies in the form of humans (here, Kristoff, a mountain man with a reindeer named Sven) and magical creatures, endowed with the gift of the gab (here, a winsome snowman named Olaf whose role is to provide both comic support and sage advice to the protagonists, as the occasion requires).

Let’s be clear here, Disney, like most well established behemoths of their industry, have followed the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. This makes it difficult for Disney to create a batch of truly original characters that would appease the critic (and possibly, feminist) in all of us. Not to mention, the fairy tales which Disney draw upon to re-hash for the modern audience themselves have tendancies of depicting its heroines in a fragile-and-therefore-needs-to-be-rescued light. However this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t denounce Disney films altogether or say they lack originality. Instead, we should rejoice at how far the modern Disney princesses has evolved in more recent years (mostly, in response to the backlash from the viewers themselves) as seen in Tiana (The Princess and the Frog) realising that she did not need a prince to financially support her dreams, Rapunzel (Tangled) realising that she did not need others to fight her battles for her, and Merida (Brave) realising that you can’t just use magic to avoid having those awkward come-of-age conversations with the your folks (and often the misunderstandings which ensues are not worth it).

The contemporary Disney princesses  all encounter internal conflicts. They are not impervious to the human foibles of human error, familial clash, trust, naivety and self doubt –  in stark contrast to the first Disney princesses, who were more often than not perturbed by external forces as a result of their position at birth.

Disney may have marketed the film as a ‘feminist’ film, but in truth, it really isn’t.

Realistically, the word ‘princess’ can be taken out of this film and the essence of the film would remain. (side note: I’ve always wondered why Mulan was classified as one of the Disney princess even though she clearly isn’t – this only reinforces the notion that ‘princess’ is an arbitrary/easy terminology used merely to sell merchandises and proliferate the franchise with no real meaning other than, sadly at times, to be attacked by those who brashly associate it with patriarchal values).

On a personal level, I am greatly relieved that the central theme, which persists previous Disney films, steers away from love between a man and a woman (and in turn, the cause of unrealistic romantic and marital expectations everywhere) but something we can actually teach our kids, or rediscover whatever stage we are at in our lives. It is something so vital, and at times, so debilitating to our own success, and yet we have the greatest dominion over:

That our greatest adversary lies within ourselves.

Creative Team 

The film is co-directed by Chris Buck (TarzanSurf’s Up) and Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph). Lee is the first female writer, not just at Disney but at any major animation house, to become a director.

That is not an easy road. See, the usual course is to start as an animator or story artist and slowly work up the ranks to eventually becoming a director. Lee also didn’t become a co-director immediately, she was employed by Disney/Pixar’s chief creative officer John Lasseter to work on the script of Frozen, but was then meritoriously promoted to co-direct alongside Buck (probably because her success with Wreck-It-Ralph).

Another glass ceiling broken.

Visuals

Enough said.

Soundtrack

 The songs are compelling, and why wouldn’t they be. It took the married duo, Tony-award winning composer and lyricist Robert Lopez (Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, two years to flesh out the right songs. The result is lustrously theatrical and catchy numbers and at times, surprisingly cheeky lyrics. What’s even more sensational is that Kristen Bell not only voiced, but also sang her  own parts – who’d have known that she was classically trained and studied opera since a young age? I don’t think I have to say anything in relation to Idina Menzel – she’s a super-star in the musical industry (check her out in Wicked The Musical and Enchanted).

E’s Verdict: Another leap in visuals and characters. Disney uprooted for a modern audience. 7/10