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Uchi Lounge

by Simon on May 17, 2011

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
http://www.uchilounge.com.au/

Trading Hours
Mon-Sat: 6:30pm – 11pm


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