Saturday, 10 May 2014

Casual Dining - Moga

I find it incredibly interesting to go back to suburbs where I used to spend so much time and check out new and exciting dining destinations.  The Paddington and Rosalie areas feel so familiar to me, mainly because we used to live in Bardon for years and the area was our 'back yard'.  During the week I was invited back Rosalie to check out Moga, a new Japanese restaurant that I'd never heard of.  In a strange twist of fate, a few short days after my invite to Moga, it was listed by Lizzie Loel in QWeekend as one of her top ten restaurants in Queensland, so my interest was really piqued.  

One thing that I will admit is that I am absolutely terrible with directions and even though I'd lived in the area for years, I still had to look on Google Maps to confirm where to go.  What was embarrassing was that Moga is located on the main street in Rosalie, Baroona Road, and once I'd looked at the map, I felt pretty foolish. After parking outside the Rosalie State School and walking to the restaurant, I was completely blown away that the old Queenslander where I'd once visited my Doctor had been torn down and a modern looking building with restaurants had taken its place.  I guess you can't stop progress, especially in the 'cooler' suburbs in town.

The night was to be an intimate affair with some invited bloggers and journos and I always like to get to these things early so I can pick out the best spot to sit (lighting for my camera).  As usual, I was the first of the guests to arrive, so it gave me an opportunity to have a good look around Moga and catch up with our host for the evening.  The dining area at Moga was quite a bit larger that I'd initially thought when walking up to the restaurant, with a sushi train inside but a really large inside/outside dining area fronting the main street.

Shortly after orienting myself, the remainder of the guests for the night trickled in with some familiar faces and some new.  Once we'd all introduced ourselves and done the obligatory card exchange (I love giving out my new cards with the Q-Code on the back), it was time for our hostess to explain a little about the restaurant.

Moga was testing out a new lunchtime menu by head chef Satoshi Kubota that revolved heavily around katsu sets and soba noodle dishes designed for a quick midweek lunch or a leisurely weekend meal.  The dishes all revolve around Moga's star ingredient, a crisp Panko that's specially delivered directly from Japan on dry ice from their supplier who has been making them for around 100 years.  If you're like me, you normally associate panko crumbs with fish and chips or maybe a schnitzel, but believe me, you've never had anything like these panko crumbs before!  The Moga panko crumbs are lighter and airier and results in a light coating which is crisper and more resistant to absorbing oils.  

As is the case in most Japanese restaurants, we kicked off with a miso soup, which is so ubiquitous in a Japanese setting that it fades into the background and indeed, it wasn't until the first starter of the evening was presented that I remembered to start drinking it!  

I had to set the miso soup aside though to appreciate the beauty of our first share plate of mixed sashimi, which was so wonderfully presented that we didn't want to disturb it by devouring it.  As pretty as the dish was, it was there to be consumed and after we'd all taken our photos, we got stuck into the raw fish.  I know of plenty of people that struggle with the concept of sashimi, but I absolutely love the simplicity of high quality produce speaking for itself.  I loved the fresh tuna and salmon, especially with a dash of soy sauce but my favourites were the kingfish and the scallops.  It was a fantastic way to whet your appetite.

I'd always suspected that asparagus and melted cheese would be a magical pairing, I'd just never had the opportunity before.  The panko asparagus and cheese was not only an opportunity to try this combination, it was also an opportunity to try the panko crumbs for the first time.  It was an enlightening experience!  I could not believe that the panko would remain dry when mixed with melted cheese and asparagus, but they did and they tasted sensational.  The slightly bitter taste of the asparagus mixed beautifully with the melted cheese (of course) with both flavours being enhanced by the sweet panko crumbs.  Yum!

As good as the cheesy asparagus was, they paled into comparison when I munched on the panko covered king prawns.  Wow, they were superb.  The sweet and dry panko crumbs significantly enhanced the flavour and sweetness of the prawns, without making them overly sweet.  It helped that the prawns were incredibly fresh but I was starting to get a distinct liking for these specially imported panko crumbs.

You can't have a Japanese meal without a little theatre and this came with the introduction of some of the sides to accompany the main courses.  There was a creamy potato salad presented in a beautifully purpose-built bowl, some interesting and tangy sauces but the star of the sides was the sesame seed mix.  Presented in a little bowl and a purpose made stick, the combination came with a little mortar and pestle to grind the black and white seeds into a mix to be used for seasoning.  Pretty cool but I didn't end up spreading it on my main meal when it came, I just snacked on it throughout the meal.

We'd been sharing the starters to that point but it was time for mains and we had a couple of katsu sets to choose from, including chicken thigh fillet, kurobota pork, mixed vegetables and the option that I chose, the pork loin.  The dish was simplicity itself, a tender pork loin deep fried with those delicious panko crumbs and presented on a little grill to ensure the dish maintained its aeration.  The tender pork was wonderful but again, the absolute star of the show was those panko crumbs, which seemed to enhance the flavour of anything they came into contact with.  I devoured my dish and then went looking around the table for any leftovers, of which there were not many!

It was time for dessert and I was looking forward to testing out the white sesame mousse that came with grilled almonds and warm grilled pear pieces that had a whisky maple glaze.  The sesame mousse was light and full of flavour made more interesting with the added texture of sesame seeds mixed throughout.  I'm not a whisky fan at all, so was happy that the alcohol flavour had been burnt out through the grilling process leaving pears that helped settle the sweetness from the mousse.   

Given I'd never heard of Moga before, I was pretty surprised by how great it was, but I guess in hindsight I could see why this would rate as one of Lizzy Loel's top ten restaurants in Brisbane.  In my mind it was those spectacular and unique panko crumbs that made the experience so worthwhile.  

Towards the end of the meal, head chef Satoshi Kubota came out to our table to see how we were going with the meal and to express his thanks for coming out to check out his latest offering.  To be honest, it should have been me thanking Satoshi for exposing me and incredible produce that I'd thought I'd seen before but clearly never had.

There are so many amazing restaurants in Brisbane, it would be a tough call for me to rank the meal in my top ten, but if I was to think about my top ten casual dining experiences, this one might sit right up the top.  The food was cooked well, there is no doubt, but it was the specially imported panko crumbs that helped elevated the meal from just any Japanese meal to a special Japanese meal.  I'll be back, I need to be - after explaining how good the panko crumbs were to SC, she demanded it!

**I was a guest of Lucid Media and Moga for this meal

That really interesting mix of seeds that were quite a bit of fun to play with
The creamy potato salad
Shredded cabbage and pickled vegetables
One of the pork dishes came with a curry
The chicken thigh covered in panko crumbs
The inside/outside dining area
There are always flowers and I loved the bonsai trees at each table
And the sushi train that would be packed at lunch time

Moga Izakaya and Sushi on UrbanspoonMoga Izakaya & Sushi

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