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East Meets East Meets West – Iima @ Mr B’s

by Simon on March 29, 2010

Mr B’s, or more specifically the Japanese & Thai restaurant Iima located on the same premises, is a venue that’s only come up on my radar recently; a last minute invite for dinner out with friends, and friends of friends. It is something of a curiousity, or perhaps an oddity.

Encompassed within the two levels of this establishment (ground floor and overlooking mezzanine) that use to be the premises of the old Mandarin Club, are a Thai restaurant, Japanese restaurant & a western bar/lounge (with its own menu). It’s an East-meets-East-meets-West sort of affair. However, each component remains true to itself and distinct from each other (for the most part), rarely falling into the culinarily dubious territory of fusion cuisine.

This philosophy follows through to the kitchen at Iima, as there are two distinct crews working independently on the Japanese & Thai dishes. So too, is the Mr B’s bar portion of this establishment.

Before we move onto the food, there is something to be said for these magnificent, tall-backed leather arm chairs located on the mezzanine lounge area of Mr B’s. These seats are absolutely awesome! You can’t help but feel a sense of power, or at the very least a commanding presence, whilst your seated in these leather thrones. As with any seat of power, eyes fall upon you with a covetous gaze. Vultures, patiently circling, biding their time until they can swoop down and claim these seats as their own.

Iima, however, is more of a humble affair with its basic restaurant tables and seats.

For those of you that know me, or have followed my blog for some time, you should know that there are a number of benchmark dishes that I use as a rough guide to the quality of the food served at any given restaurant. In the case of Thai food, the benchmark dish is, for better or worse, the Pad Thai, for reasons that I’ve stated in a previous post.

This Pad Thai is very much along the lines of what you can expect to find at Chat Thai, from its degree of authenticity, to its flavour & quality. This should come as no surprise to those that know that the person who had built Chat Thai to the hallmark that it is today was the same person behind Iima, namely Amy Chanta.

The dish was sufficiently sauced so that rice noodles weren’t dry or clumping together like they often tend to with lesser quality Pad Thai’s I’ve had at other restaurants in the past. In this particular case, the Pad Thai was slightly better than what I’ve previously enjoyed at Chat Thai.

The Salmon Aburi Sushi is better than what I’ve experienced at a lot of specialised sushi restaurants. The salmon was fresh. The blowtorch char of outer surface lent a wonderful smokey flavour and aroma to the dish. The sweet sauce, along with a drizzle of creamy mayo, served to complement the dish without overpowering any of its components.

Iima Cocktail Sashimi is essentially a salad of mixed salmon and tuna sashimi, served with a ponzu dressing. As with the previous sushi, the sashimi was delightfully fresh.

A mixed assortment of tempura was certainly up there with some of the better ones I’ve had. Superbly crispy on the outside without either overcooking the battered contents, or ending up tasting overly greasy.

Kareage, deep fried marinated chicken with a delightfully crispy coating, as with the tempura, was one of the better ones I’ve had. The chicken was moist and quite flavourful having been marinated in a soy-based marinade, which permeates throughout the meat. It seems to be a step that a lot of places either skip or under do. The only downside to this dish was that it could have done with a little more mayo.

The Som Dtum Tempura is where we start to enter into fusion territory. Think of a regular som dtum salad for a moment. The searing heat of the chili, the salty fishiness of nam pla, sourness of lime, the textures of dried shrimp and roasted peanuts, and so forth. It’s all there. Except that the green papaya is deep fried in a tempura batter, and the dish is served warm.

It seems so wrong in principle, in the same way that deep fried pizza seems likewise so very, very wrong. Yet, somehow the dish works. The crispy and slightly chewy texture of the deep fried papaya works so well with the rest of the salad. The warmed of the green papaya tempura intensifies the flavours & aromas of the dish that you simply cannot replicate with a standard som tum. As wrong it may have seemed in principle, and as apprehensive as I was when I was trying out this dish, it’s something that I will certainly be coming back for.

Maybe I should give that deep fried pizza thing a go sometime…

We cap off the evening with some dessert. There isn’t much in the way of a dessert menu at Iima beyond pancakes. If however, you a partial to pancakes, there’s a lot of options for you to choose from.

In my case, I went with the pandan pancakes served with pandan sauce and a side of coconut ice cream. As pancakes go, it was quite nice. The coconut ice cream wasn’t too bad either. Can’t quite say the same for the pandan sauce though, as I wasn’t a huge fan of it. Not that it tasted bad as such. Just wasn’t into the mouth feel of it. Felt like those cheap, gelatinous sauces that are meant to imitate a creamy flavour/texture but without the cream. Maybe it’s just me but I’m very particular about that sort of thing.

Overall, the experience at Iima and bar/lounge areas of Mr B’s was a fantastic one, with the food being quite good and the prices quite reasonable (around $12 a dish). It also opens quite late, with operating hours from 11am to 2am daily. With the popularity of establishments like Chat Thai or Mamak, I dare say that in time (if it isn’t already now), Iima will be a destination of choice for late night diners, or those that are just sick of waiting in hour long queues, seated in cramped quarters without the ability to reserve seats in advance. Yes, Iima takes reservations. Not that we really needed it at the time we went, as there was sufficient seating to be had.

What Iima lacks in its depth of dishes when compared to Chat Thai, it more than makes up for with an equivalent level of quality, its breadth of dishes, very reasonable price point, access to a bar &, in my mind most importantly, it’s very unlikely that you’ll need to wait around to be seated. If you do, there is a bar, and a lounge area on the mezzanine, to loiter around until a seat is made available. Even then, I doubt you’ll be waiting long.

Iima @ Mr B’s Hotel
390-396 Pitt St, Sydney (corner of Pitt St & Goulburn St)
Ph: 02 8080 7777
11am to 2am daily


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