Sushi and Sydney – it’s the perfect combo. In a city where you can find California rolls on almost every corner, there are still some extra special Japanese spots to discover. Kanpai!
by Renate Ruge
12 Argyle Street, The Rocks
(02) 9259 5656
This hot ticket to Sydney’s Japanese scene is tucked away down the cobbles on Argyle Street in The Rocks, where you can dine with a bunch of friends on delicious sashimi, sushi or the ‘no raw’ options like pan-seared barramundi with butter soy on buck wheat, teriyaki chicken or the hot and spicy scampi tempura on the sunken communal table or scooch up in a booth for a more romantic night out. Walk in to be greeted with a warm ‘irashaimase‘ – Japanese for ‘welcome and thank you for coming’.
This place takes sake for beginners seriously. The sake comes from carefully picked brewers in Japan exclusive to the restaurant. You can experience a flight of three glasses to get into the groove.
New here is the cool taste adventure known as umami. First isolated early last century by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda, umami is now acknowledged as the fifth taste, next to sweet, bitter, salty and sour.
“The two Japanese characters that make up the word umami are ‘delicious’ and ‘taste’,” explains Saké Executive Chef Shaun Presland.
So you can sample a mini menu of cocktails and canapés, that Shaun says, “provide a perfect balance of flavours”, like the sweet, sour and smokey Honey Dragon cocktail (honey, single-malt Scottish whiskey, cinnamon, lemon zest and a hint of chilli) matched with seared salmon belly topped with chopped chives and served with yuzu (Japanese lemon) soy. The artful presentation means the salmon slithers sit in a half lemon and the yuzu soy in a half lime.
Don’t miss the delicious blossom and lime-topped Nightingale cocktail (pictured above) which blends a clever mixture of pear vodka, sake, riesling, bianco vermouth and drops of lemon juice served with snapper sashimi and snow pea sprouts topped with crispy seaweed and bathed in olive oil and lime juice. You will need to make a reservation for the experience.
On the main menu the hot and cold starters make for great share plates with a friend or group. Cool sashimi tacos are a tasty novelty: tiny crunchy shells are served with tuna and salmon and chilled tomato salsa then matched with Kozaemon Jumai sake shots in sugar-dipped shot glasses. Then there’s beef tataki with garlic chips and snow pea sprouts as well as new-style wagyu where thin strips of beef are seared in hot oil and finished with ginger, chives and yuzu soy.
The buttercup lettuce cups are a grilled fish-filled treat and a hot and cold savoury crunch and the steamed prawn dumplings with shredded dumpling and spicy ponzu sauce rival the best in China Town. On the sushi and sashimi front, the kingfish sashimi with jalapeño slices has a real kick and the so-Sydney ‘S Express’ sushi with cucumber, seared salmon and sweet sauce with tiny witlof leaves arranged like the sails of the Opera House are definitely not to be missed.
5 Bridge Lane, Sydney city
(02) 9240 3100
Upscale and in the centre of the CBD upstairs at the sultry Hemmesphere bar on Establishment’s fourth floor, prepare for a five star Japanese experience and watch head chef Nobuyuki Ura serenely slicing fresh fish in front of you as you perch at the marble bar. Of course this is a budget blow out place but the food is fantastic and quality cocktails make it well worth a visit. Save up to take a special date.
490 Crown Street, Surry Hills
(02) 9357 6100
Feel cosy and enjoy the peace of Toko’s little sister restaurant next door. Hide out in a pale beechwood diner-style pod at Tokonomo. Cocktails are fruity and sake-based: try a passionfruit and jasmine mojito and some salted edamame for starters. What to order for dinner? Scallops with broth, some BBQ seared tuna with eggplant and the chef’s sashimi, which is served up on silver ice-filled platters.
Shop 2AB, 285 A Crown Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9380 8830 www.zushi.com.au
This chic casual Japanese diner in the heart of Surry Hills is a convenient skip from The Winery wine bar. The original restaurant in Darlo is cosy if you like squishing up but for a spacier experience and a candlelit supper of inside out rolls, Zushi spider rolls some crispy pan-fried gyoza, head to the Surry Hills place. Zushi’s signature whiting tempura with chilli ponzu dipping sauce should be included in any order.
230 Coogee Bay Road, Coogee
All aboard the sushi train in Coogee Beach. Sushi Goi is a traditional drop in sushi kaiten restaurant so named after the conveyor belt that swirls tempting small plates of sushi and dumplings and seaweed salad around the diners. But this new place is a stand out, there are no artificial lights instead sunlight flows through the ornate carved wooden trellis, jazz plays on a Sunday afternoon creating a calming atmosphere and cold Japanese beers at a very reasonable price go well with seared salmon sashimi topped with caviar and a wasabi hit.
World Square Shopping Centre
Level 1, Shop 20, 644 George Street, City (02) 9283 9686
This cute corner café has a slick interior and fantastic food, the name miso inspired by one of the key ingredients of Japanese cuisine made from soybeans. Grab an early table to snag a spot for lunch and then you can get into health conscious menu, featuring soups, sashimi and organic vegetables good for body and soul.
The Galeries Victoria
500 George Street, City
(02) 9264 9917
Head here for cheap sushi eats. The three-dollar plates spin around the traditional sushi train in a whirl. Salmon and tuna sashimi bites, money parcels and crispy battered crab claws are the go and if you feel like roaming into more expensive territory the prawn-filled omelette rolls come hot off the grill for around five bucks. Wash it down with a ginger beer. Book into a booth with i-pad ordering if you come with friends.