Soffritto, Newtown

It’s been 4 years since I spotted some cute looking guy kayaking towards me, trying to teach me that paddling in a straight line isn’t THAT hard. I still haven’t got it yet. But after countless adventures, numerous camping trips, bazillions of uni exams, temper tantrums on the ski slopes (well, from my part), transitions to becoming fledgling adults and four years that I wish I could joke about and say they were the longest of my life….but which have absolutely flown by like a non-crashing Concorde…here we are. And what better way to celebrate than to head to a beautiful little restaurant, down towards the quiet end of King Street in Newtown, Soffritto.

We opted to go for the three-courser, $55, with around half a dozen options for each course. Shortly after ordering, we were presented with a plate of house made sourdough and olive oil. The bread was much in the style of damper, but had a great crust, and the olive oil was fruity and zesty.

For entrees, DF went for the mushroom and truffle gnocchi. It was quite light and did have a noticeable truffle flavour. The finishing of parmesan went down a treat. Quite a generous serving, as well. I actually really like it when gnocchi is finished off in the pan to give a lightly crisp finish, though even without this, it was a solid dish.

Gnocchi me out

Gnocchi me out

I opted for an oft-reviewed duck tortellini, served with a beautifully nutty burnt butter and crisp sage sauce. There was literally nothing I could fault about this dish (well, maybe only the rush with which the waiter brought the dish, messing it up a little, but that’s just getting nit-picky). It was fantastic. Five plump tortellini, almost bursting with duck, and cooked until perfectly al dente, and finished off with a few crispy sage leaves and a good shaving of parmesan, along with that nutty burnt butter. Could have eaten about four of these.

Lucky ducky

Lucky ducky

Mains up next and DF opted for the crisp skin barramundi, served with baby leeks and almond quinoa. It was a crying shame that DF doesn’t like fish skin, because it looked super crisp and delicious (and socially awkward for me to reach across at a nice restaurant and eat it). He liked the almonds that accompanied the quinoa (though it did look like they could have been slivered or something). The fish was cooked perfectly.

Barra

Barra

I chose the roast fillet of beef wrapped in pancetta with garlic spinach (I think there were supposed to be mushrooms involved, although there was no sign of this) and mash. The beef was cooked perfectly – I like it quite rare, and that it was. Very tender. The spinach was deliciously garlicky. We also ordered some (pretty unnecessary) roast potatoes, which were stellar.

High steaks

High steaks

With tummies rapidly filling, we were surprisingly still looking forward to the desserts, expecting big things. DF went for a creme brulee with pear compote. Solid crackly top; thick and smooth custard and a sweetly tart pear. He complained about the absence of ice cream, as the resident ice cream freak, but apart from that it was gobbled up in a matter of minutes.

Creme of the brulee variety

Creme of the brulee variety

And last but not least, I went for death by chocolate – a warm chocolate fondant with ice cream and berries. There’s really no way you can stuff up a fondant. You essentially just undercook a chocolate cake. I don’t know who came up with it, but they’re a bloody genius. In fact, in hindsight I think this may have been described as a chocolate pudding, in which case, yes it was legitimately undercooked. Either way, I’m going with the theory that it was on purpose. Big blob of ice cream on top – the hot, the cold – and you’re laughing.

Fon-don't make me stop eating this

Fon-don’t make me stop eating this

Overall, a great experience was had by all. The restaurant was absolutely bustling (people were being turned away!), the food was of a high standard and the service was pretty consistent and charming (especially considering the diner to waiter ratio – far in favour of the diners). A nice place to go for a special occasion and I will be back.

Soffritto Newtown
367 King St, Newtown

Food? 9/10. My go-to dish is absolutely the duck tortellini. No complaints about any of the others. Generous servings, good ingredients. More care could have been taken with the dishes during the journey from kitchen to table, but the food itself was overall really very good.
Drinks? Not too bad. A few wines by the glass and a few bottled beers (though I believe you can also bring your own wine).
Atmosphere? I liked it. It’s a fairly small restaurant – perhaps 10 tables – and it was bustling. The decor is quite nice, the waiters dealt with the busy-ness well and it was overall a good night. Entrees came out strikingly fast as well.

 Soffritto on Urbanspoon

Vargabar, Newtown

It is an obvious consequence of having recently moved to Newtown, that my goal was going to have to be slowly, but surely, working my way down each and every restaurant along King St. The effort so far has been gallant, but when the opportunity came up to have a leisurely brunch catchup, I eagerly took it with two hands and a drooling mouth.

Slightly off the main drag, our chosen spot was Vargabar Espresso, Newtown. Absolutely tiny spot, with coffees popping out of a busy takeaway window, and patrons spilling onto the street – can’t be a bad sign. We luckily nabbed one of the last tables towards the back of the cafe and started with a latte (I’m pretty sure it was a latte…though it did look more like a flat white. I hear they also roast their own beans) ($3.50) and a home-made chai latte ($3.80). I hear their coffee is organic and fair trade; I can only speak for my chai, but despite looking like one of those ordinary syrupy blundering messes, this was a delicious, spicy, not too rich, packed full of flavour winner of a chai.

But most importantly, the brunch. My dining friend and I both went for the corn fritters with bacon, two poached eggs, spinach and spoked chilli sauce ($16.50), although there were a great number of delicious-looking treats on the brunch menu (breakfast burrito, pesto scrambled eggs, braised pork breakfast bruschetta and baked eggs to name a few…). I was quite impressed. The fritters were packed full of corn and quite flavoursome. I did think they could have done with a little more cooking, both to add a little more colour and to overcome the ever so slightly doughy texture that remained. Nevertheless, pretty delicious. The bacon was plentiful, the spinach was…spinach. The eggs were poached perfectly and runny (with none of that gross vinegar taste), and the whole dish was topped off with a nice little chilli kick at the end. Whether it was actually “smoked” or not does remain open to debate.

I fritter this will be delicious (get it?)

I fritter this will be delicious (get it?)

I used the excuse of it being a warm start to the morning to indulge in a very tasty and very refreshing pineapple, mango and passionfruit frappe ($6). Served in a large mason jar, it was plentiful, had sporadic chunks of fruit and was just bloody good, really.

Like a snow party in my mouth

Like a snow party in my mouth

Vargabar has a great, friendly atmosphere and some pretty delicious-looking morsels on its menu. It doesn’t skimp on creativity in the drinks department either, which creations like maple lattes, cherry ripe hot chocolates and banana walnut chai milkshakes). And they claim that everything is home made. Although it was very busy, our food and drinks arrived fairly quickly and despite being a small spot, it can accommodate a surprising number of people. Definitely keen to head back on the guise of “catching up with friends” for more brunch!

Vargabar Espresso
10 Wilson St
Newtown NSW 2042

Food? 9/10
Drinks? 10/10
Atmosphere? 9/10

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Hikaru Japanese, Newtown

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a nice connection with Japan throughout my life. When I was but knee high to a grasshopper, a Japanese kindergarten (yes – weirdly niche) opened up across the road from where I lived, so naturally that’s where I went. Our family formed a close bond with the Japanese chap that ran the place and he taught all of us kids the wonders of how to do cartwheels, eat raw eggs, balance a chair on one finger and do handstands. Oh, I also learned a bit of Japanese too, and this cool girl came over from Japan and homestayed with us for a little while. In primary school, I learned a bit more Japanese too and then in high school I was fortunate enough to go over there for a few weeks on a school trip. Last year I was lucky enough to go over there again for brief week of snowboarding a Tokyo-ing. And what’s more, I’ve been lucky enough to grow up with a family that loves Japanese food as well. I still remember rolling little sushis as a kid, getting rice stuck on the sushi mat, not rolling tight enough so the filling fell out, and Dad just sighing… 🙂

Anyway, the point is I freakin’ love Japanese food. I love the korokke, I love the ramen, I love the curry, I love the sashimi, I love the freshness, I love the cuteness – everything.

I’d often walked past this little Japanese joint, walking along King Street in Newtown. It’s just off the main drag and doesn’t look like anything fancy. But having had some of my best dining experiences in underwhelming-looking joints, my dining friend and I decided to give Hikaru Japanese a try.

Although the restaurant was busy when we got there at about 8pm on a Friday night, the waitresses were super polite and quick to fit us on a (really) little table in the (really) little restaurant 🙂

We started off with a couple of Japanese beers – obviously – a Kirin and an Asahi (about $8 each). Food-wise, well, we went a little mental. I won’t lie about that. As I was looking through the menu, I was thinking, “wow, if the dishes are this cheap, they’re definitely going to be really small” – boy are my estimation skills out these days.

First off the mark was edamame. Despite being what is essentially a plate of boiled beans, I actually really like the slightly salty little morsels with a nice, cold beer. For a mere $5 or so, these soybeans were a steal.

Foggy picture, but you get the idea

Next up, gyoza. I really enjoy a good gyoza – juicy, flavourful filling, steamed to perfection on the top and fried to a crisp finish on the bottom. The filling of these gyoza was so-so – nothing to write home about. But the biggest killer was the fact that they were totally fried – as in, deep fried. I get that there are different interpretations of gyoza – so I think this was more of a personal preference thing as opposed to a “they got it wrong” thing. I also didn’t love the generous smear of of mayo on top – it was a little bit of overkill. At a mere $5 or so for 3, it was again, a steal.

Gyoza – the garden salad underneath was kind of weird

Korokke. Now, I appreciate that this is a grossly westernised distortion of what should be elegant, fresh Japanese cuisine. But there ain’t nothin’ like a good old hunk of has brown, whatever the culture. A korokke is essentially the hash brown of Japan, but better, including a few specks of grated veg and meat thrown into the mix. From my hazy, hazy memory, this was approximately $6. Flavour-wise, it was good. Texture-wise, I have to admit I’ve had better in terms of crunch – this one was a little crunchy, but mostly just warm.

Korokke! (as in, croquet) – again with the sort of garden salad.

It was around this point that my lack of estimation skills became vividly apparent. Two dishes in and I was feelin’ pretty full, and realised we were about a quarter of the way through my lengthy, lengthy order (why do people even let me keep ordering??). I failed to take a picture, but the next dish up was the entree-sized mixed tempura (I think it was about $9). As one of the larger sized entrees I’ve come across, we were presented with deliciously lightly battered (but appropriately tender) brocolli, pumpkin, sweet potato, prawn, fish and calamari – about one of each – along with the requisite tempura dipping sauce. It was actually pretty good! The batter was light and the oil didn’t taste strong/old and it wasn’t too greasy. All of the components were well cooked – the seafood was still plump and juicy. Pretty good!

We also ordered sushi – two of my favourites (and altogether a bastardisation of Japanese cooking, again) – chicken katsu and tempura prawn. Below is a picture of the tempura prawn, topped with slices of avocado. Both were so good – crispy, perfectly cooked, a good rice-to-filling ratio and reasonably priced at $9.80.

Tempura prawn roll

Just as I was undoing the top button of my jeans, I realised “oh shit” there’s another dish. Chicken yakisoba. The dish was reasonably tasty, despite me not being a huge fan (I can’t get past those insipid maggi-inspired noodles). But the chicken was tasty and the vegetables were well cooked and dispersed. Unfortunately I was in a huge food coma by this point, so I picked around a bit before giving up. A huge serving at about $12.

Chicken yakisoba

All in all, I was very impressed with it all. The meals came out quickly (too quickly – but that was really our own fault for the over-ordering). The service was super polite even though the restaurant was packed!

Hikaru Japanese Restaurant
134 King Street,
Newtown NSW 2042

Food: 8/10
Drinks: we just had a couple of beers really, although there were a handful of sake options
Atmosphere: 7/10 – cute and Japanese, but a little cramped (I think we were approximately 7cm from the next table)
Recommend it? Yes, for a cheap, cheerful, filling feed – bring a few friends, share a few plates and head down the street for a good night out.

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