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Uchi Lounge

Prior to this evening, it had been a number of years since I’d last spoken to this friend of mine; let’s call her Mrs Bigglesworth. It wasn’t due to an issue of distance or anything untoward. It was just one of those things that one might vaguely refer to as, well, “just one of those things”.

Perhaps it was the natural progression of our respective paths in life; work, marriage, little overlap in our respective social circles. Circumstances that slowly cast a friendship adrift for no other reason than inattention and inaction. Then one day from out of the blue contact is made, over the subject of food no less. After a brief series of exchanges, we soon find ourselves sharing a meal at Uchi Lounge.

The power of food to bring people together is one thing that never ceases to amaze; whether it be strangers or the estranged, lapsed friends or long lost ones.

Uchi Lounge is an establishment I’ve known of for some time, having read reviews offering it high praise. Situated on a secluded street away from the rich veins of restaurants, bars and other establishments that serve as the social and cultural life blood of this part of the city, one could be forgiven the mistaking this street for a back alley.

This modern Japanese restaurant and sake bar has been in business for over twelve year. Given its location off the proverbial beaten track, with very little foot traffic passing by its store front, it must be doing something right.

Were I to hazard a guess, I’d say it’d have something to do with their extensive menu of Japanese spirits, beers, cocktails and other sundry beverages, which easily outnumber the options available on the food menu.

My dining companion and I exchange our accounts of the time that had passed since we had last met over cocktails, distilling the essence of a number of years down to far less time than I would have otherwise anticipated; less than an hour or so.

Mrs Bigglesworth selects a Sweet Devil ($14) as her beverage of choice; a cocktail of lychee & chili sakes, vodka & lychee syrup that was poured into a frosted martini glass at the table.

My muse on the other hand was a Tokyo Iced Tea ($14), consisting of sake, gin, Cointreau, shochu, fresh lemon juice & cola. Whilst the presence of the alcohol is quite apparent, this refreshing beverage is not as potent as the list of alcohol may otherwise imply. It’s certainly more forgiving than the Long Island Ice Tea that, I assume, was the inspiration for this cocktail.

We’re handed menus by our polite and attentive waiter who proceeds to inform us of the restaurant’s ethos; namely that there is a “no MSG” policy and the ingredients used are organic and seasonal in nature. The menu at the Uchi Lounge consists of a series of tsumami dishes; small, snack-sized plates that are meant to be shared and consumed with beer or alcoholic drinks, much like tapas.

We begin with a dish that wasn’t on the menu, nor was something that we’d ordered. Two compressed tiles of grilled rice, with a pleasantly chewy interior and a crisp, caramelised outer crust that imparted a smoky flavour. It served somewhat as an amuse bouche of sorts; a pleasant way to kick start ones appetite. More dishes soon follow.

Roasted Edamame with Lemon & Premium Hakata Salt ($6.50) – Whilst roasting the edamame gave it somewhat of a nutty note over the typical steamed/boiled variety, it also tended to make the soybean a little on the dry side. The “premium” nature of the Hakata salt was totally lost on me as it tasted much like any other salt. Overall it wasn’t a bad dish.

Miso Soup ($ 3.50) – This classic miso soup, complete with small cubes of tofu and a garnish of spring onions, likewise isn’t bad but I wished that the soup had more body to it as it had a rather thin consistency to it.

Kombu & Daikon Salad with Sesame Mayo ($8.50) – The salad is crisp, light and lightly dressed, and somewhat reminiscent of coleslaw. It’s far more moreish than I would have otherwise given it credit for given its simple preparation.

Garlic Miso Camembert on Crispy Lotus Roots ($14.00) – This dish practically jumped off the menu and demanded to be ordered. It did not disappoint.

The pungent nutty aroma and saltiness of the garlic miso paired well with the nutty and creamy elements of the baked camembert. The lotus root chips serve both as a base as well as a crunchy textural contrast, whilst a thin wedge of radish rounded off this wonderful bite with a crisp freshness. This was by far and away one of the best dishes of the evening and one I would not hesitate to order again.

Chargrilled Seared Scallops with Enoki Soy & Crispy Soba ($19.50) – Another good dish, with the smoky seared scallops cooked to perfection. However, I personally found the small, crispy squiggle of soba somewhat superfluous.

Having exhausted our Reader’s Digest accounts of the years that have passed, the conversation gravitated towards food; a nigh-on endless font of accounts of highly regarded restaurants, establishments that disappointed, and ones on our respective to-do lists. I would have referred to it as a natural progression, though I wonder whether such progression is natural for those that are not as passionate about food as we both were.

Our conversation was briefly interrupted by this gorgeous looking dish.

Kingfish Sashimi with Shallot, Umeboshi & Tamari Dressing ($24.50) – Despite its impressive appearance, I had mixed feelings about this dish. There’s no question that some serious skills went into the preparation and presentation of this dish. The kingfish was really fresh and was elegantly sliced. However, I found the flavour of the dressing to be rather overpowering, especially the crimson drops of umeboshi dressing. Perhaps there is a degree of bias as I’ll admit I’ve never warmed to the very salty and intensely sour flavours of this pickled Japanese plum.

Isobe-fried Chicken Pieces with Sesame Mastard [sic] Mayo ($16.50) – Touted as being one of the more popular dishes of the Uchi Lounge, I’m not the least bit surprised. How can you go wrong with battered, fried chicken pieces with a mayo-based dipping sauce? The sesame & mustard elements of the mayo are rather mild so even the most xenophobic diner, culinarily speaking, should take little issue with this dish.

Well, unless you have a sesame allergy. Then perhaps you might.

Grilled Eggplant with Miso & Parmesan ($16.50) – The diced eggplant baked in its own skin serves mostly as a soft, textural component to this dish as most of its flavour was overpowered by the miso and parmesan. The fresh, undressed salad garnish served as a crispy textural contrast, not to mention a much needed foil for the salty richness of the eggplant. As with many of the other dishes, it’s not a bad one on balance.

We made our way out of the Uchi Lounge onto the back-alley-like street with our hunger sated and a friendship renewed. This dinner has since made me wonder how many other forgotten or neglected friendships lie dormant, waiting for an invitation of food to be rekindled.

Mrs Bigglesworth and the heart of food dined at the Uchi Lounge courtesy of Wasamedia.

Uchi Lounge
15 Brisbane St, Surry Hills
(02) 9261 3524

Trading Hours
Mon-Sat: 6:30pm – 11pm

View the heart of food: map

Uchi Lounge on Urbanspoon

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{ 25 comments… add one }
  • Tina@foodboozeshoes May 17, 2011, 10:02 am

    Gorgeous pics as always Simon :)

    I always find it funny that after so many years, most catch-ups can be distilled into an hour or so… then it turns normal: weekend, weather, movies, food of course etc.

    • Simon May 18, 2011, 1:43 am

      I guess it’s good to bridge the years so quickly in one way but I was hoping that there would be more to talk about regarding that considering the years that had passed.

      Unrealistic expectations perhaps :)

  • Sneh | Cook Republic May 17, 2011, 10:18 am

    Beautiful pictures. I’m glad the reconnection with Mrs. Bigglesworth was accompanied by such gorgeous food. Always a winner! That gorgeous crispy chicken and eggplant is calling out to me!

    • Simon May 18, 2011, 1:44 am

      I’m glad too. It’s been nice catching up with her :)

  • Maria @ Scandifoodie May 17, 2011, 6:37 pm

    Ooh so nice! That crispy rice dish looks so good and the eggplant is usually my favourite but I’ve never tried it with parmesan! Very interesting, will have to try this place out :-)

    • Simon May 18, 2011, 1:46 am

      Miso & dairy work quite well together, so if you like either component separately, I think you’ll love the two combined :)

  • MelbaToast May 17, 2011, 7:22 pm

    I’ve walked up (or down) this street a few times over the years and I suppose I’ve noticed this place, but haven’t “noticed” it until now – amazing looking food, no doubt helped along by your stunning pictures. Premium salt sounds…interesting!

    • Simon May 18, 2011, 1:48 am

      The premium salt did indeed sound interesting but as I’d stated, it wasn’t appreciably different to regular salt from what I perceived.

  • Phuoc'n Delicious May 18, 2011, 9:40 am

    I remember walking down this alleyway a few years ago and taking note of a restaurant but it didn’t occur to me until now that this was the actual restaurant that I had stumbled upon. Food looks great! Must check it out…

    • Simon May 19, 2011, 9:29 am

      I wonder how much better it would do in a different location.

  • Apple@Polkadotsandchopsticks May 18, 2011, 9:41 pm

    Mmmm that crispy chicken looks delicious. But I think the dish that really caught my eye was the garlic miso camembert, it sounds to die for!

    • Simon May 19, 2011, 9:31 am

      The most disappointing thing about the camembert dish was that I had to share it :)

  • Heather May 19, 2011, 2:00 am

    Glad you were able to reconnect with an old friend :-)

    Forgive me if it seems I say it every time, but I mean it each time I say it — these are definitely some of my fave food photos of yours to date. I’m not even hungry and I found myself salivating! I’d like to have the eggplant dish when lunch does come around.

    • Simon May 19, 2011, 9:32 am

      Ah, the occupational hazards of reading food blogs. Glad the photos did their job.

      Thanks for the glowing comment :)

  • Jenn Brigole May 19, 2011, 3:58 am

    If that magnificent looking kingfish sashimi were coming my way, I think I’ll cease to breathe for a few seconds, too. That is quite an art right there.

    • Simon May 19, 2011, 9:33 am

      It’s quite a beautiful looking dish, no? :)

  • Gaby May 19, 2011, 10:15 am

    I agree, the edamame looks horribly dry. And what’s the point of using premium something if customers can’t tell the difference?

    • Simon May 19, 2011, 10:30 am

      It could just be my palate, or more likely just marketing.

      From what I’ve read online, even the Hakata part as the implied place of origin is dubious as some percentage of the salt used is sourced from Mexico.

  • Vivian - vxdollface May 19, 2011, 2:56 pm

    This is one of my favourite bars! Love their cocktails <3

  • mademoiselle délicieuse May 19, 2011, 10:17 pm

    Sometimes it’s good that the gap in life events can be caught up on quickly. It may seem a bit boring and mundane for both parties involved, but that just means that there hasn’t been anything untoward which has occurred either.

    More time to chat about the present, I say, and food =p

  • Christy May 20, 2011, 10:36 am

    I am guilty of not catching up with all my catch-ups with friends!:p
    I tried to squeeze in as much time as possible whenever I go back to my hometown, but I only have slightly more than a day in the weekend and packing them with all the appointments made me fully exhausted (I’ve tried it before).

    It’s nice to catch up, and I’m amazed that you only took an hour? Hehehe…guess the food took up the attention…LOL! No wonder, with such amazing and yummy-looking food….:D

  • chopinandmysaucepan May 23, 2011, 1:35 am

    Hi Simon

    Strange that I’ve never heard of this place though the food looks pretty good. But I’m glad I discovered a new Japanese in Crows Nest which is pretty neat :)

  • Raff (Ramen Raff) May 25, 2011, 3:12 pm

    Dude, first of all, your photography skills are off the hook!
    Hope I can take photos that good one day.

    The isobe-fried chicken pieces are mouth-watering! That mayo would surely go nice with the chicken. I love fried food!

  • Sara @ Belly Rumbles May 26, 2011, 4:10 pm

    Gorgeous pictures. I am a massive grilled eggplant fan and the dish you ordered looks delicious. Actually it all looks delicious.

  • Jenny May 28, 2011, 10:51 am

    This place is such a good find, I remember having boozy sake late nights here!

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