An Asian Foodie Fest in the Sydney CBD: Pepper Lunch & Chanoma

Friday, December 27, 2013

This probably sounds a little crazy but every time I go somewhere new to eat, I get a little tingly feeling that spreads around my body, and this is followed by a strong urge to emit a little squeal of delight. My heartbeat quickens a little and I go all jumpy and buzzy, a knee-jerk reaction triggered by food.

Despite all my foodie research and days spent scouring the internet for new places to try, never before had I heard of Pepper Lunch. Found in the Skyview Plaza near the Events Cinemas on George Street in the heart of Sydney's CBD, its neighbours are the always-busy Menya Mappen, Oiden and a newcomer Japanese hot dog eatery. My domestic goddess friend tells me Pepper Lunch is very popular with teenage high school and Uni students looking for a good, cheap Asian feed, but when we arrive at the prime hour of lunch time on a Tuesday, I see quite a few businessmen and women having lunch as well as some families and larger groups.

We had a group of 6 people, and the great thing about Pepper Lunch is that you can pay separately and get a single order for the table. The menu, plastered on large screen TVs, makes it clear that Pepper Lunch is an eatery that specialises in one thing - hot plate, pepper-flavoured dishes. As well are the classic Pepper Rice, which comes with a variety of different meats, there are combination dishes that allow you to combine different meats, sukiyaki udon Pepper plates and Pepper bowls. Meats inclue beef, chicken, salmon, steak, curry and hamburger (which is in actual fact a big crumbed and fried meat patty). In the fast food restaurant style, you are able to upgrade your meal to include a drink, miso soup or bowl of chips. You can even get a salad buffet for an added $4.95.

Salad buffet

Perhaps the only down side of an eatery like this is that you can only be seated once you order, so at the height of lunchtime on a weekday, a the chances of a table for 6 are more on the unlikely side.

Service counter

After ordering we walk by a salad buffet station and a large window, behind which is the kitchen where we see waiters moulding rice and taking pepper rice plates out from the kitchen.

Beef Pepper Rice

Pepper Lunch is actually a 'fast steak' franchise that originated and is extremely popular in Japan. The idea is that rice, raw meat and vegetables are placed on a hot metal plate that has been heated to 260 degrees Celcius, allowing for the meat to cook in front of the customer so that it can be cooked to the customers liking. This makes for an extremely entertaining dining experience, all costing less than $15.

Beef Sukiyaki Udon Pepper Plate ($13.80)

Instead of ordering the traditional beef pepper rice on my first time here, I opted for the Sukiyaki Beef Udon Pepper Plate. It came with slices of raw beef, Udon, some carrot and beans, two types of mushroom, onion and a raw egg. The plates really is steaming when it comes out, surrounded by a paper round that explains the workings on Pepper Plate, though most of it is in Japanese. It's sizzling and exciting, and I sit there perplexed for a while before my friend tells me to start mixing before the meat gets blackened and the egg sets.

Mixing the Pepper Plate!

 I don't really do it good job of it, but when I have a taste it really does have that lovely charred flavour. I'm given a special sauce to mix into it with the Udon but I forget about it in the flurry of excitement, so only add it near the end when I'm almost finished, which I regret not doing before as it's really tasty. There is a distinct pepper flavour to it as well.

Salmon Pepper Rice

I watch as all my dining companions receive their Pepper Plates - one with beef, another chicken and another with salmon. The rice comes in a nice moulded round, topped with corn, shallots and a heavy sprinkling of pepper. It is mixed together to resemble something not unlike fried rice, and there is a distinct sizzle and cloud of steam as the eater mixes the rice furiously in anticipation. There are two choices of sauce you can choose to mix in with your Pepper plate: garlic soy or honey.

Cute plate wrapper

This is such a fun restaurant, perfect for going to both with friends or on your own. The cheap prices and fast service are pros, and this isn't your typical fast food restaurant in the heart of Sydney's CBD. It's much better, and the food fresh, pleasing and tasty.

After our Pepper lunch fest we headed to Chanoma in Regent's Place for a dessert fix. I'd read about this place online numerous times and had only one item in mind that I was dying to try: the Matcha soft Serve Ice Cream. We walked up to the Japanese cafe off George Street and I could just feel the rush of excitement creeping up from my head to my toes.

Chanoma Menu

Luckily when we'd gotten there it was just past 2pm and there wasn't a queue, but at other times throughout the afternoon the line could be creeping out the door. A large menu hangs in the front window, as well as on screens above the counter. Being Japanese in origin, I'm delighted to see a Japanese take on hot dogs on the menu, as well as a large range of Japanese desserts and sweets, most of which feature Matcha (otherwise known as Green tea). There are Matcha floats, Matcha Parfaits, Matcha Frappes, Matcha-filled Noirs (cream puffs) and Anmistu, a Japanese-style Jelly dessert.My mouth drools just looking at the menu.

Filling the cone with delicious Matcha soft serve

Matcha Soft Serve ($2.90)

I order my Matcha soft serve at the counter and watch as the lady fills a crisp waffle cone with creamy, deep green soft serve ice cream. Although it's not the prettiest soft serve, upon first lick it becomes clear why Chanoma is famous for its Matcha-flavoured menu items. The Matcha flavour is rich and unsweetened, not artificially flavoured at all, and had a roasted, sightly bitter aftertaste. Unlike other ice creams, it melts quite quickly and wasn't so photogenic after a while, dribbling all over my napkin and hand as I continued to lick and bite. Near the end it was almost a liquid, cold green tea. But delicious nonetheless.

Pepper Lunch
Pepper Lunch George St on Urbanspoon

Chanoma Cafe
Regent Place, 501 George St
Sydney NSW 2000
Chanoma Cafe on Urbanspoon

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