Matcha. Japanese green tea powder. It’s kind of big right now – at least amongst certain demographics. Is it too much? The infamous David Yip, apparently doesn’t think so.
Wait, who? Let me give you a clue: the Ramen Burger. Those buns made out of ramen noodles you saw and lusted after for the first time at the Night Noodle Markets? That’s him. In the end, the ramen burger turned out to be a cult hit which has somehow survived beyond being a mere fad, and is still being enjoyed today. This man’s clearly got some good ideas, showing them off in their full glory at newly-opened One Tea Lounge.
Even so, it’s going to take a lot more than a frankenfood or two to make a restaurant successful. Even the current freakshake trend won’t do it. One trick wonders? No thanks. But – enter matcha. Let the games begin.
Date Last Visited: 27/8/15
Address: Upper Ground Floor, 73 York St,CBD, Sydney, NSW
Recommended Dish(es): ramen/rice burgers w/teriyaki chicken or pork, sizzling rice, ice cream baogers, matcha fondue
David Yip started from obscure beginnings hosting a stall for On Ramen – he worked there at the time – during the 2013 Night Noodle Markets, when the ramen burger debuted. Sydneysiders proved, beyond a doubt that they love something whacky, even if slightly non-functional – the ramen burger exploded, both on social media and off of it, and as a the result, the On Ramen stall was inundated with people wanting to get a piece of the action.
Fuelled by this success, he left On Ramen to start up his own baby – One Tea Lounge – as a stall for the 2014 Night Noodle Markets. That year, he also debuted a rice burger, which I enjoyed even more than the ramen variant, so much so that I made multiple visits for it.
But his true dream? To realise his late fiance’s dream – to open a full-fledged bar & restaurant. As of Monday the 17th, One Tea Lounge officially launched, bringing her vision to reality.
The menu? A motley collection of Japanese food – ranging from David’s signature ramen/rice burgers, sizzling rice dishes, bento boxes and an eclectic dessert selection. A key theme? Over 80% of the dishes incorporate matcha as one or more elements. Additionally, many of the latest dishes involve an element of theatre, though many are still experiments and thus, works in progress. Keep that in mind when assessing the dishes in this review.
To be honest, it seems almost dilettantish – a means to generate hype to bait patronage. To set things straight – there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s only a problem if the underlying food is all but a gimmick, with exiguous genuine quality.
Well then, let’s put the matcha where the mouth is. Note that I’ve only visited for lunch – the dinner menu is non-trivially different. Be sure to hit up their site for the specifics!
With the warmer seasons about to roll around, it may be time to ditch the hot matcha lattes I’ve fallen in love with during winter, replacing them with matcha iced teas instead.
Well, at least that’s I would do, if it’s more delicious than a latte. One Tea’s version isn’t particularly notable on any front. It tasted like water, with virtually no sweetness. There is a very slight bitterness, but tasted very diluted. This is literally a watery iced tea, so you do pay for what you get. Nothing wrong there – it’s just not my way of enjoying the green stuff. How do I do it? Like so:
For double your money you get more than double the flavour. Ah, this hits the spot – it seems like a good ‘ol piping hot matcha latte is still the go-to order, at least until pigsty temperatures hit. You’ll be immediately thinking – does it compare to the famous (and best) lattes from Cre Asion. No, it does not. However, Cre Asion have been doing it for years, so it’s not a fair comparison. That said, One Tea’s latte is also $1.5 more expensive, so you’ll have to work the math.
I’ve heard from others that earlier lattes were too sweet, without enough bitterness. Having spoken to David, I can see that he’s been taking on that feedback – One Tea’s latte, while expensive, is actually quite good (as of my 27 August visit). It’s not quite as bitter as Cre Asion’s, but it’s likely good enough for most matcha appreciators.
What about me? I probably won’t order it again – it’s just too pricey. At a $5 price point though? Let’s talk.
Let me just say that One Tea Lounge’s food menu is extensive. It spans multiple pages, with options for almost every palate. Even with three visits under my belt, it’s hard to try a representative sample everything. With that said, it’s hard to pass up on several fundamental dishes that should reflect just how well the kitchen can execute food in general. One such dish is the popcorn curry chicken (of which I’ve had thrice). We’re talking fried chicken, so no prisoners will be taken.
Crunchy exterior, juicy interior, a hint of spiciness throughout. Not bad. I particularly dig that curry spice (just look at the rubbing in the picture) that keeps up the oomph, and differentiates it from the countless clones out there. The texture is a little less to my liking, as the small size of the chicken pieces means that I never really get enough of a satisfying amount, unless I pile many on at once. Not completely ideal, but tolerable.
If there were a major problem, it would be that the matcha mayo doesn’t really add much to the dish. Immediately, I’m beginning to sense that the whole concept of matcha could be more a contrivance, rather than functional and necessary. Indeed, I almost forgot the mayo was meant to be matcha – only the slight green/white hue gives it away.
Oh uh, and also watch for consistency differences. That is a pretty drastic portion difference…
While the popcorn chicken is a good side for sharing, there’s so much else on the menu you may instead be tempted by…
…such as a serving of matcha fries? There is a visible amount of matcha powder on these spuds which, again, turns them into a “rare item” of sorts. For thin-cut fries, they are crunchy and tasty, with just the right amount of salting and MSG-flavour from the seaweed, if you opted for that seasoning. As far as simple fries go, these are very competent, and there are no regrets to be had in ordering them.
But then, such words are reserved for normal fries. What about the matcha? Alas, I have to say that matcha powder does not work with chips. Have you ever had matcha powder just by itself? It’s an unpleasant bitterness that truly needs to be incorporated as a bind into other, often sweet flavours (e.g. desserts), or tea, to fully shine. As powdered salt on chips? I would say a flawed implementation that doesn’t really do anything to enhance the chips, other than its look.
Few things are more iconically representative of a Nippon-jin’s lunch than the humble, yet extraordinary bento box. One Tea Lounge offers several variations on the lunch set, with variety dependent on the choice of protein. The one common element? You guessed it – matcha. Yes, that isn’t some weird colour balance in the rice – that’s matcha rice. The bento box itself is a spicy cheese pork bento box.
As far as bento goes, it’s quite tasty. The rice is well-cooked, the seaweed salad is fresh and the same can be said of the veg salad as well. On the upper left there’s a wasabi & egg mayo salad, and I wouldn’t be surprised that there’s matcha in there as well. I could taste the wasabi, but not the matcha, if indeed it’s truly present. The chilli cheese pork was not something I have tried as it wasn’t my order, but I have tried it in other dishes further down the post, so read on.
I have to repeatedly take disagreement with the usage of matcha in places that don’t really require it, but also once again – this is what draws the crowds to One Tea. At least in this case, the matcha powder doesn’t actually detract from the experience.
Now, let’s shift gears. In 2013, the ramen burger was born. In 2014 the rice burger made its debut. What’s next for 2015? How about baogers?
Oops, sorry, that’s already been done by Belly Bao. But wait, what’s that you say, David?
A matcha baoger? Man, I should have seen that coming.
Any rice, ramen or matcha burger allows the choice of four fillings – wagyu beef patty, pork rib, teriyaki chicken or vegetarian tofu.
I was a little surprised that a beef short rib option wasn’t included, as this was by far and away my favourite patty flavour when the equivalent Night Noodle Markets stall was running. In fact, I had the default wagyu beef patty another time, just to be sure – and was let down by its blandness in comparison.
That spicy short rib is where it’s at. A shame that One Tea Lounge isn’t providing it. *hint hint*
The result? A rather underwhelming first go at the matcha baoger. The beef is overcooked, there’s no cheese to give a sense of cohesion, and there wasn’t much overall flavour. Then there’s the matcha-coated bun.
Here’s a clear time where matcha is definitely harmful to the end-product. The dusting of matcha powder on top of the bun invokes a fairly strong desiccating effect when I bit into it, as the powder soaked up all the saliva in my mouth and dried it out. I actually coughed from it. Plus, coupled with the lack of flavour from the bun and burger in general, meant that the bitterness of the powder was more prominent than ever.
Three visits to One Tea Lounge, one order of the matcha baoger. There are better feeds on the menu.
Such as the ramen burger! Crunchy noodle crust with a softer, noodly centre, the flavoursome “buns” are already leagues ahead of the matcha baoger.
The beef patty however, is still not cooked to scratch. I’ve been very spoilt by a bevy of excellent patties in burgers I’ve had in recent times – One Tea Lounge isn’t going to win any awards here. I would instead recommend the teriyaki chicken or pork options as patties. A massive flavour upgrade in comparison to beef.
That said, you’re here for that unique bun, which is delicious enough just to eat all on its own. Ramen buns to order, anyone?
I’m not sure about the responsible party, but I would hazard a guess that it’s Pepper Lunch that popularised the idea of served-at-the-table hot plates in Sydney. The sizzle of oil, the intense aromas of the fresh ingredients, the satisfaction of making it happen in front of your eyes. It’s great stuff, and it’s theatre that also serves a purpose.
From a flavour standpoint, my order of One Tea Lounge’s unagi sizzling rice is one of the tastiest. Apologies for the photo -our waitress just went for it and started splitting up the rice. The photo is of her handiwork 😛
In any case, this is simply delicious. In mixing, the rice becomes coated with the eggs that initially surround the rice like a moat. The result is a rice that’s soft, chewy and moist. There’s an absolute heap of spicy flavour from the saucy black pepper seasoning, backed up by a buttery creaminess. The unagi is the star of the show that elevates this dish to highly recommended – tender and juicy flesh, with a sweet & saucy, teriyaki flavour profile.
Yes, there is a bit of matcha in there, but I prefer not to think of this dish in that way – it’s just a really good sizzling rice dish. Matcha? What matcha?
Here’s the same sizzling rice, but with cheese pork as the topping. Fortunately, our waiter (yes, a guy this time) realised I was primed for the money shot.
So I got two.
Watching raw egg become cooked in front of my eyes is a sight that never gets old.
The overall flavour is a little bit blander than that of the unagi, and I suspect that’s got to do with the pork – it’s a lump of chewy pork that’s a hit on texture, but a little bit lacking in flavour. There’s not enough flavoursome cheese on top to back it up, so I felt I needed some of the good ‘ol S&P. Unfortunately, that isn’t provided by default.
All in all, once all ingredients are mixed, we’ve got yet another tasty sizzling rice – it just isn’t as good as the unagi. Pay the extra $2 – it’s worth it.
This is what reels me in again and again – hook, line and sinker. Quite possibly One Tea Lounge’s most innovative dish, that works to great effect. It’s also their best – introducing the ice cream baoger. The description is most apt – deep fried bao, a choice from four ice cream flavours sandwiched in between, and a red bean filling to round things out.
That’s it, and it’s frigging great.
It’s ever slightly amusing that One Tea can produce a quality swing of such magnitude from the underwhelming matcha bao to the overwhelmingly delicious deep fried bao. Uber crunchy, crusty with equal doses of guilt: this is what deep frying is all about. Even the little sesame seeds on top of the bun sing with their nutty flavour. Really good!
The ice cream itself is served harder than normal, almost like a parfait. This has two benefits – one, it is able to withstand the heat of the bao for some time (presumably when you’re taking photos). Two, I find it more satisfying to bite through an almost parfait-like block of ice cream, than if it were a soft, air-filled version. I feel it works with the bao a lot better, and is more satisfying to eat.
In terms of ice cream flavours, my preferred picks are red bean and black sesame. The reason is purely due to flavour intensity. The matcha and lychee flavours aren’t really as prominent, which made them more forgettable.
Black and red is where it’s at.
Finally, that layer of red bean in between the ice cream and the top bun add some extra, chestnut-like mouthfeel in texture and flavour. Strictly speaking it isn’t required, but I like it, so no complaints!
If One Tea Lounge has one defining dish, it’s this one. Look, no matcha required!
Another rather unusual dessert I tried is the tofu & white chocolate cheesecake. True to what I’ve seen on social media, it possesses quite the stunning plate presence. Flowers, pressed fruits and colourful crumble = let the camera feast! First thing’s first – this is a very small portion of cheesecake. It’s definitely not worth $15. That log of tofu is perhaps the same width as a 10c coin, and perhaps 10cm long. I shared this with a friend, and got maybe two satisfying bites.
That said, it sports a nice flavour profile. I would hesitate to call it a full-blown cheesecake, as the log itself is quite aerated, with an almost marshmallow-like texture that isn’t at all reminiscent of a rich, dense cheesecake. In terms of flavour, it’s fairly light – at least if you were expecting the flavour bomb delivered in a real cheesecake. The flavour of cheese was roughly matched by that of tofu (that is, not so much flavour but that soybean “essence” in every bite), which may be off-putting to those who aren’t “seasoned” with tofu’s flavour profile. On the other hand, the lightness of flavour is quite suitable given similar paucity of texture. The polenta & berry crumbles are almost mandatory additions – to balance out the softness in the cheesecake. Good touch.
Should you order this dessert? Only if you don’t care for the price, and/or you really dig tofu.
Lucky last is a dessert that’s almost on par with the ice cream baogers in enjoyment. Welcome to Sydney’s only matcha fondue (for 2). It took me until my third visit to have this, and I’m so very disappointed I didn’t try it sooner.
It’s definitely the best matcha fondue in Sydney, but I’m glad to say that it isn’t just winning that title by default. That matcha & white chocolate sauce comprises the fondue, and it’s just so yummy. It’s served hot, as it should be, and it comes thick and sweet. I’m also happy to say that it’s got a strong matcha flavour, which persists into the aftertaste.
The best part of fondue? Rolling around all sorts of goodies in that heavenly soup of matcha. My personal favourite are the classics – strawberries & kiwifruit. The matcha cake also makes a good impression, though is quite dry by itself.
Actually, it’s all good, heh. For once, this excess of matcha works which, in considering how many times it didn’t, is a huge relief.
I didn’t expect this post to go on for so long, though I did try a lot of food. It was hard for me to write as it’s difficult to make out what One Tea Lounge is trying to be. Eclectic and different, by putting matcha on everything, producing mutant burgers? Just a darn good Japanese restaurant? A wicked sick bar (with matcha ferris wheels – seriously) that’s going to be where the cool kids hang?
I honestly don’t know yet. I’m not sure if David does either. All I know is that some of the food is a miss, the matcha is a bit gimmicky, but dang – where the dishes shine, they do so as brightly as the green they sport. One Tea Lounge will be here until it figures itself out. Until then, strap yourselves in for the ride.
This post is based on three independent visits to One Tea Lounge with the exception that one dish was provided for by David, the restaurant’s owner.
Got complicated thoughts on One Tea Lounge? Share them in the comments below!
- The ice cream baogers and matcha fondue are ace and alone deserve to draw crowds
- Competent food for the most part – decent bento boxes & sizzling rice dishes
- The ramen/rice burger are always favourites
- Matcha on everything is very gimmicky, sometimes being more harmful than good
- An experience of a restaurant whose identity seems to be trying to find one. Hopefully, they figure out where they want to be
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F6.5 | S3 | A2