Sunday, January 17, 2010

iima at Mr B's Hotel (the old Mandarin Club).

Mr B's Hotel
396 Pitt St (cnr Goulburn St)
Ph : (02) 8080 7727

Situated within Mr B's Hotel (previously the Mandarin Club), iima is an unexpected sort of an eating place, especially for a pub. The menu is divided into separate Japanese and Thai sections, with the kitchen similarly partitioned, and with only one item which seems to cross this divide. 

I have eaten at iima a few times, and at the end of each visit I have been left pondering what to try next time.

Iima Fried Rice ($12.90)

This was I had on my first iima visit, when I was in dire need of basic comfort food. Described as "rice, eggs, crab meat, bbq pork, shallot and onion in light soy seasoning", this is a simple dish that gets it just right. With the combination of the sweet tartness of the lime juice, this was pure simple tasty comfort food. The photo is somewhat deceptive, as this is a large plate and generous serving, perfect for those days when you are in need of the comfort of fried rice, but want one that stands out from the usual Sydney City/ Haymarket fried rice crowd.

Kao Pad Nam Prik Rung Rear ($16)

Fried rice with curry paste, chilli and garlic and served with crispy salty fish, salt egg, sweet pork and green bean, this combines all the classic sweet/ sour/ chilli/ salty elements of Thai cooking. 

For my personal tastes, the sourness and chilli were a bit too much. I have a reasonable tolerance threshold for both, but found myself having to balance every mouthful (which I realise some might argue should be the way to eat it) to the point where I ran out of some of the milder components for my "balancing act".  The crispy salty fish was served at room temperature and enjoyable, the sweet pork chewy and quite attractively sweet.

I know some big egg fans (though they tend to focus on the slowly boiled Japanese eggs which are known for their solid egg white and soft gooey yolk) so for their benefit I can say that the salted egg was not too salty and that I found myself wishing for the remainder of the egg.

Going onto the Japanese section of the menu, first up we have :

Tantanmen ($12.90)

A huge bowl with nice depth to the soup and a decent amount of meat (too little being an often problem with tantanmen) hiding under the huge seaweed wall, this is definitely a contender for best tantanmen in Sydney. I'd wager that it will probably also prove to be a challenge to most people in terms of finishing the soup.

Outside firm, yolk gooey.

In comparison to the previous salted egg, this ramen's egg is perfectly soft centred as per the most demanding eggy ramenaniac's requirements. Given the size of the bowl of ramen, I am surprised that they didn't provide the whole egg, and think that they should. The iima servings are generous, so giving only half an egg seemed a little odd.

I realise that these iima items may appear a little random in their selection but the dishes were taken over the course of more than one meal, and it seemed to make sense to me to put them all in the one post for rather than two.

iima Cocktail Sashimi ($12)

This sashimi cocktail, consisting of "iima special ponzu marinated tuna, ocean trout and kingfish with a basil emulsion", is not listed as an entree, but can be eaten as one. It would also work as a (very) light lunch.

Attractively presented, and far more so than your average pub/ hotel meal in inner Sydney, the sashimi was uniformly fresh and tender, the pieces cut to approximately similar sizes, and in a mildly tart ponzu dressing.  As you can see in the first photo, there was a lot of the ponzu dressing; in fact by the bottom of the glass, the sashimi was almost totally submerged in it. A smaller amount would have been quite sufficient.

As for the basil emulsion, I am still not sure that I understand the point of it, other than for decorative purposes. The sashimi was happily co-existing with the ponzu, and dipping it futher in the emulsion, which itself was not of any particular note, didn't add anything to it.

I thought I'd end this post, which will definitely not be the only one on iima, as I have developed a fondness for it, with the one Thai/ Japanese "fusion" dish.

Som Dtum tempura ($12)

This is a huge serve, a papaya salad piled high with wonderful crunchy tempura batter and the classic ingredients of som dtum (tum), in this case with dried shrimp but no salted crab. It worked brilliantly, the tempura adding a nice textural contrast and satisfying any fried food urges you may have when you are eating a salad. Sometimes I find som tum/ dtum a little too chilli (they do ask you for your preference) or sour, but for my tastes, this was perfectly balanaced.

Not too tart or salty, the dressing was not applied too liberally, meaning that the tempura stayed crunchy until the end. It is a filling salad, and if you aren't that hungry, can easily be shared by two.

As I said to an iima lunch companion, I would normally be reluctant to try any place that had two cuisines listed on its menu, let alone one that is situated in a pub/ hotel (modern or old school) but iima has been a very happy find.  The food I've had so far has been of solid quality and value for money, its ambience informal and welcoming, and the service professional, friendly and gracious.

So far I have only been for lunch, so I don't know how different the evening menu is, but it is a place where I can see myself returning to repeatedly, so no doubt I'll find out about the dinner options before too long a time has passed.


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