You're sitting at a restaurant or cafe, chatting to your partner/friend/loved one sitting across from you, when a couple sits down at the table next to you. You take a quick glance at them, just to check that they're not someone you know or a C-list celebrity that you should take a smartphone pic of, and turn back to your conversation. But then you overhear one one of these questions...
"So have you been here before?"/"Do you come here much?"
"So do you like eating <whatever cuisine or style of food the restaurant/cafe serves>?"
"So what do you do for work?"
"So how do you know <mutual friend who set them up>?"
Yep, you guessed it - you've got front row seats to a real live first date! And for the rest of your time there, as hard as you try, it's impossible not to have your ears pricked up for questions around work, travel, play and family; let alone keep an intelligible, flowing conversation going with whoever you're there with. (Okay, I know I shouldn't eavesdrop and that someone else's dating life is absolutely none of my business, but we're all curious human beings and you'd have to be a saint to ignore something like that when it's right in front of you, right?!)
Sometimes, though, people are just as interesting even when you can't hear them, as was the case when Miss T and I went to Chanoma Cafe in Sydney's CBD. Sat on the other side of the glass partition from us was a young couple, sipping on their matcha frappés, and for the whole time we were there, they barely said a word to each other. Every time we looked over, he was looking down scrolling through his phone, and she was engrossed in some sort of candy-crush-like game - with her earphones in, mind you.
You might say "well Brian, maybe they're just mates or colleagues grabbing a snack together", so I should mention - they were also lovingly holding hands across the table while this was all happening. Now don't get me wrong - I'm not judging how other people spend their time together, I just thought it was interesting. And for all I know, they were just so comfortable with each other that they didn't feel the need to chat. Or perhaps they were actually messaging each other on their phones the whole time...
Anyway, on to more interesting things like Chanoma Cafe. It's located in Regent Place, the busy hub of restaurants and bars behind the KFC and Chef's Gallery at Town Hall which is also home to Yebisu Izakaya, Assembly Bar and soft serve kings Aqua S. Chanoma specialises in all things matcha - from traditional matcha green tea served in the traditional ceremonial style to modern matcha lattes and desserts, and they also have a fun selection of Japanese-inspired hot dogs (Japa-Dogs).
Chanoma is a fairly small cafe, but the full length mirrors at the back of the cafe help to make the space feel quite open. The inside area is mainly made up of small tables and seats around 15 people, while the 'outside' (it's still undercover) area has longer tables and could fit around 30 people. I've walked past before on a Friday night and the place has been jam-packed, but being Saturday lunchtime it's a little bit less hectic today.
Before we walk up to the counter to order, the first decision is what kind of matcha drink to order - and there's a lot to choose from! The iced yuzu green tea and oreo matcha frappe sound interesting, but in the end we go for a matcha float ($5.90) and a matcha parfait ($9.50). Being lunchtime, we can't resist a couple of their 'Japa-Dogs' and some shaker fries as well.
The matcha float, which is an iced matcha latte with matcha soft serve, has a big hit of that undeniable matcha flavour. We had a lot of matcha ice cream when we were over in Japan earlier this year and found that some of them were lacking a bit of flavour, so this matcha float hits the spot. Having said that, every Japanese chef I speak to says that Australians prefer bigger and bolder flavours, so maybe they've pumped up the flavour here to suit our palettes.
When the matcha parfait arrives, it makes me feel like a 5-year-old kid again (not that I would have ever been allowed to order something like this!). It's colourful and zany, there's stuff sticking out of it everywhere, and it just looks like a giant cup of fun. So what's in it? Let's break it down. The bulk of it is matcha soft serve, which is mixed in with some matcha syrup at the bottom of the cup. In the middle is a stack of cornflakes, then towards the top we have a few pieces of fruit (strawberry, rockmelon, honeydew), a stick of rice cakes, some azuki (sweet red bean) paste, a couple of sticks of chocolate pocky (pretzel sticks), and last of all, an inverted ice cream cone.
As you can see, it's not for the faint of heart, and my first thought is "how am I going to get through this before all the soft serve melts?". But as I start to dig in, I realise that it's probably best to let some of it melt anyway and turn into a bit of a thickshake. And it's not as big as it looks - the cornflakes do a good job of propping everything up, as well as providing a welcome crunch element to offset the soft serve. I wonder how long it'll be before we start having cornflakes with matcha-flavoured milk for breakfast...
The Japanese love putting their own spin on fast food, and it almost always works (I'm just not sure about the 'Kit Kat and Mango pizza'...). Thankfully, the Chanoma Cheese Dog and Teriyaki Chicken Dog are both examples of fusion gone right! The cheese dog features a kranksy sitting on a bed of curry-flavoured cabbage (trust me, it works), and topped with a salsa sauce and melted mozzarella; while the chicken dog has pieces of crispy chicken smothered in a thick and sweet teriyaki sauce and a white tartar (almost kewpie mayonnaise-like) sauce.
The buns also deserve a mention - while they're just plain long rolls, they're nice and crusty on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, and they work much better than the overly-sweet, no-texture hot dog buns you often get. Not to mention that these ones are able to hold more ingredients without breaking, which is always a plus in my book!
Lastly, the soy & seaweed shaker fries are a perfect accompaniment with their salty and umami flavours and irresistible crunch. There's no soggy or undercooked fries here - they're each as good as the one beside it, making it only too easy to polish off the whole bowl.
Chanoma Cafe is a great little place to pop in for a quick lunch or just to satisfy your matcha cravings (their $2.90 matcha serve soft is a steal!). Maybe not the ideal place for a first date - but if you are on a first date, whatever you do, don't sit next to me. I'll know your life story by the time you're done (that sounds creepier than I'd imagined).
Shop 11, 501 George St, Sydney
Open 11:00am-10:00pm, 7 days
I dined a a guest of Chanoma Cafe and Washoku Lovers; however, all opinions are my own.