This year my birthday was celebrated in a number of ways and I have been incredibly blessed with family, friends and a significant other.
Some birthday-related gifts were received way before my mid-June birthday… As part of a gift swap with a friend who’s birthday was back in April, we exchanged gifts back then and I became the recipient of an Apple Pencil to complement my upgrade of iPad to the iPad Pro. In early June, my brother also treated me to a lunch at Wagyu One. One purpose of this article is also to showcase a number of TripAdvisor restaurant reviews which I have started to do as part of my food experiences.
Wagyu One is a fairly recent addition to a small block of Melbourne CBD which is unofficially something of a Japanese/Korean area – there seems to be a gravitation of Japanese cafes and restaurants in this particular part of Melbourne, Bourke St. Opened and operated by the same owner of Maedaya, Richmond, Wagya One is themed around the Wagyu beef, which is one of Japanese finest grain-fed beef exports to the world.
Most tables, if not all are sizeable wooden rectangular structures which each come with the in-built stove/burner to accommodate a yakiniku/BBQ style of cooking the beef. The reality is that this place specialises in cooking wagyu beef and most other dishes/dining options are fairly average. Since the dining experience was a weekday lunch, and I had to return to work, the option of trying out the BBQ was simply not viable. Service was fairly reasonable given it was a quiet Monday and the place was less busy. With clear menu options laid out on the single table-mat sized laminates, our food selection was:
– wagyu beef gyoza
– wagyu sukiyaki don
– grilled wagyu scotch fillet
With the lunch meal being a catch up of two people, the large table felt a little too spacious, although the BBQ stove equipment underneath had a large protective casing that inhibited leg room, even for myself as a shorter person. The overall ambience was fairly nice but would have been better with a bigger crowd since the restaurant has been designed to cater for groups.
Long Weekend in Sydney
Although the intention was focused on spending the long weekend with family, invariably, the opportunity was taken to treat me to a birthday dinner on the Sunday 12. The following is my write up as part of my TripAdvisor review of Silvas, a Portuguese restaurant which is known for their espadas:
Normally the benchmark for Portuguese dining is Nandos, but having now visited Silvas, Petersham, NSW that benchmark is redefined.
The beef meat skewers, called espadas, are a centrepiece menu item which were well prepared – it was amazing how juicy the meat was even with gravity draining the top pieces of juice & oils. Hanging them at the table was a great attraction for our 2-year-old and he wanted to help grab the meat, which required adult assistance.
Attending as a family group of 6 adults and a 2-year-old, we ordered a whole chicken & chips (we may have ended up with 2 whole chickens…), garden salads, potato chips, bread, rice, plus 3 espadas. With way too much food, we ended up taking away the leftover chicken and last espada.
For drinks, we had a nice bottle of Portuguese red wine to complement the food.
Service was probably the only area of weakness since the restaurant was getting a little busy. It helped that we were dining early (6pm because of the toddler) and had a nice table in the corner next to the painted wall. The painted wall scenery was a great feature for adding to the overall environment and ambience. All in all, a great night.
The following day – the Queens Birthday Public Holiday was an extension to the birthday treat, with a visit to the Museum of Applied Arts & Science (MAAS), Powerhouse Museum starting with the Light Rail ride from Dulwich Hill all the way to the Exhibition Centre stop, which was a 30-min ride in itself. The Light Rail ride is basically the equivalent of Melbourne’s trams, except the rail route is 100% dedicated without any car/roads sharing the route. It is interesting to see Sydney reverse what was once there, in that 70 years ago, Sydney had light rail traversing the CBD, and it is only now that billions of dollars are being spent to have it return to George St (plus more I expect).
Spending an hour at The Art of the Brick: DC Comics exhibit was a quick but enjoyable experience. Words cannot effectively capture the essence of this experience so I hope to make a photo album available here. For now, enjoy this photo – the signature of the exhibition.
The steam engine display behind the main entrance was a key highlight for the two-year-old who has this obsession over all things relating to trains and Thomas the Tank Engine in particular. It was a life-size display of a steam engine and whilst the toddler was fascinated with it, he was also a little scared of it since his last encounter with a real-life train was at the station when the train driver blew the horn and startled him with the loud sound.
Having lunch at the upstairs cafe was an enjoyable experience, where we ate a turkey panini, ham & cheese sandwich plus tacos whilst sharing chips. All the food was average in quality with a low-light being the tacos which were quite dry and obviously not freshly cooked.
Wednesday Life Group
I was surprised with a cake at my Wednesday Life Group during supper. This was a nice treat and opportunity to share the moment with both life-group thanks to my significant other. We shared one of our first moments in a photo together, surrounded by our church family. Life group that night was an example of the two of us serving and co-leading the group – she was hosting whilst I was leading worship and the study on forgiveness (that’s a whole other topic).
The Birthday Itself
This year, unlike recent years, I have had to work on my birthday. The practice of not working on my birthday was first introduced to me by friends and I had adopted this for myself over the years. In recent years, with work being quite stressful the day off enabled me to enjoy my birthday without the stress, Unfortunately, this year with two projects on the go at the time, taking a day off that week, particularly after the long weekend beforehand made the practice harder to enact. So, in this way, my birthday was a typical Friday at work.
A lunch with work colleagues was planned with a visit to a burger joint called Royal Stacks, 470 Collins St. Interestingly, this place does not appear on TripAdvisor as a restaurant venue for reviewing, even though the business has been operating for a good while. The following would constitute my review of the place anyway, and it is probably one of my least favourable reviews in a while.
With the competition between burger joints heating up in Melbourne in the last couple of years, all eating places that specialise in burgers are under pressure to demonstrate an affordable and enjoyable meal. Visiting Royal Stacks on 470 Collins St was an easy tram ride from across the other side of town, and with no queue outside, our group of five were able to walk in off the street – fortuitous timing at best given this was a Friday lunch-time. From the interaction with the server at the entrance, it was clear that this is a place that allows for bookings.
The menu selection helped to explain the whole Royal theme that this burger joint has clearly adopted as part of its branding – Prince Harry, The King, Miss Elizabeth, Saint and Queen Bee. It was definitely interesting and fun later on to be able to say “How did Prince Harry taste?” LOL My selection of a single stack, as the smallest sized burger, was motivated by the fact that I had a big dinner planned for that night. With a price tag of $8.90, I was unimpressed with the small size of the burger – it was only marginally bigger than a MacDonald’s cheeseburger but more expensive. The quality and taste of the ingredients was average, although I did find the pickle to be not so strong and palatable. Normally, I remove pickles from my burger but this time, I found eating them as part of the whole burger to be quite acceptable.
Between my two friends from work, I was treated to the meal, complete with chips and a milkshake drink. The banana milkshake drink ended up being a large size and was disproportionate to the small burger. Whilst the milkshake was enjoyable, it did remind me of the same burger meal I had exactly one week earlier – when I visited Charlie & Co in Sydney. Overall, my rating for Royal Stacks would be in the middle – average (3/5) using the TripAdvisor rating scale.
After work, a birthday dinner date awaited me. This dinner date was held at a highly anticipated and expected Japanese restaurant – Shira Nui. The following is again, a replication of my TripAdvisor review for the restaurant with some slight edits, titled “Fine dining, Japanese style”
Attending the 8pm late night seating saw us dine in an izakaya style, which is the Japanese equivalent of tapas, or in plain English – small dishes. At least, we attempted to approach the menu selection/ordering in that way… This approach meant that for two people, we had a lot to eat. This also goes to show that our expectation was slightly misaligned since our expectation was for smaller portioned serves. In this way, the portions were generously sized, and we had to slow down our degustation experience. We still managed to squeeze in the green-tea creme brulee, partly because we had heard good things about the dessert.
Our menu, which the photos help to explain, was:
– entree serve of the sashimi & sushi combo
– chicken karaage (salad was a bonus)
– salmon salad (in retrospect, given the dish sizes, we could have dropped this)
– nasu dengaku (eggplant with miso paste)
– green-tea creme brulee (single serve shared over dessert)
Everything was excellent quality and tasting the nasu dengaku was my first time in years; my baseline for this dish was Yoygi, Swanston St, Melbourne from like 5 years ago.
At ~$60/head, this was a very nice and rewarding birthday treat, thanks to my girlfriend.
I found it fascinating to learn the origin of the name – Shira Niu – comes from an Aurora (band of lights in the night sky) that can be seen over the ocean near Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan. These lights can be seen quite clearly from the mainland in summer and the Kanji characters literally translate as “The fire that is not fire”.
The plans for how my Saturday would be spent were locked in way before the day – travel to the airport in the morning, lunch opportunity with visiting friend and a family birthday celebration hosted at home. The lunch treat saw the three of us head to Knox Ozone where we had a brief peruse of the selection of restaurants before settling for Oneworld, a seafood/European restaurant which took over from the previous tenant. The following is extracted from my TripAdvisor review:
As a company of three, arriving for lunch without a booking saw us ushered to a section of the restaurant which was located next to the counter, and in a separate alcove which offered us a more private atmosphere.
Interesting books lined the eye-level shelf space located behind the seating booths, which created an interesting cafe/hang-out feel.
Ordering was a fun process of “ooh that looks great”, which saw the final menu becoming:
– twice-cooked pork belly
– salt & pepper calamari salad
– buffalo wingettes
– thai beef salad (added on later)
All dishes were ordered as entree serves so that we all could share, and the combination turned out to be fantastic.
In the evening, my dad hosted a family gathering to celebrate my birthday. Whilst he spent most of the day preparing and cooking the food, contributions from my uncle and aunts helped to ensure we had more than enough food available. Popular dishes were the prawn cracker entree and sticky chicken prepared by my uncle, chicken curry from my aunt, mapo tofu dish cooked by my dad and the birthday cake baked and decorated by my other aunt. Feeding 9 people, we probably had enough food to feed 15 people based on the amount of leftovers!
Presents & Cards
In one sense, this birthday tribute emulates the Christmas Memory Book tradition that my godmother has made an institution and tradition for 25 years. Each year, she reflects on the highlights and showcases cards in what has become a competition of sorts where a number of friends and family all compete to send my godmother the best and most beautiful Christmas Card. Whilst for me, it is not a competition, I still want to acknowledge the stand-out birthday card received from my godmother. This card is quite unique and special because it folds out like a three-dimensional artwork:
Presents received are listed in chronological order:
- Apple Pencil (back in April)
- three lunches
- two dinners
- Trip to the Art of Lego: DC Comics exhibition
- 1000-piece Star Wars jigsaw puzzle
- blue t-shirt
- two business shirts
- bedding (1000-thread-count sheets)
- 2 DVDs
- a maroon-coloured top
- mini-snooker table
- a sampling box from LuxBite
- money & a gift voucher
- work treat of coffee and cake
Social Media Impact Analysis
Being the analyst that I am, taking the opportunity to perform some data analysis based on interactions via social media on this occasion of my birthday produced the following insights:
- Total of 312 interactions across Facebook, WhatApp, in-person experiences and gifts received.
- Total of 187 individuals interacted with me specifically, creating an average of 1.7 per person.
- 41% of individuals had multiple interactions with me, with the most being 7
- 14 people interacted with me at least 4 times or more
- 24 in-person interactions took place, but for some individuals that included multiple occasions
- 61 individuals interacted with me for a life event but NOT my birthday, which I found most intriguing
All in all, I am and have been incredibly blessed, so once again, thank you all for making my birthday a special time of the year for me.