Barangaroo’s Callao is the latest Sydney venue to celebrate the bright mix of Japanese and Peruvian cultures. However, according to chef Jihwan Choi (ex-Momofuku Seiobo), captain of the new kitchen, Aussies have been embracing this style of food for some time: think Nikkei Restaurant & Bar and Lima Bar Bondi. The cuisine is coined Nikkei, a term encapsulating an array of dishes as well as a diaspora’s unique culture: the Japanese community living in Peru.

“Nikkei cuisine has always been around, people just think it’s a new thing,” Choi tells Broadsheet. Japanese techniques marry Peruvian ingredients – think a shoyu-spiked ceviche with aji peppers called tiradito, or a selection of seafood fried in a tempura-like batter called jalea – for a style of its own. While Choi’s dishes are indicative of Nikkei, he says modern Australian cuisine also influenced the menu.

“I met [Callao’s] owners and the team, and they talked about how they wanted to do Nikkei. It was interesting to me, the Japanese cuisine injected with Peruvian… there was a balance to it,” he says.

This balance is seen across a generous menu categorised into snacks, a nine-part crudo section, anticuchos (yakitori-esque skewers), mains kissed by the wood fire, steaks, veggie-powered sides and dessert. A dish with Nikkei at its heart is the acidic plate of salmon ceviche. Aji amarillo leche de tigre (where aji amarillo peppers spice up the lime-y “milk of the tiger” sauce) is the flavour kick, and toasted corn and sweet potato puree bring texture and depth.

Callao’s other signature dishes include a favourite of Choi’s: scampi tartare on a base of chewy, crispy rice, topped with a umami mix of truffle mayo, avocado puree and pickled jalapeno; and the revered Siberian caviar. Among the steaks is a tender Wagyu tri-top. Here, the parrilla grill does its job expertly, with a smoked date teriyaki a welcome detail. Western Australian octopus is smoked on the parrilla too, before being spiced up with ‘nduja, roasted pepper and chimichurri.

To finish, Choi riffs on a classic Aussie Paddle Pop, where pineapple parfait comes on a stick, with a squiggle of rum caramel on top. Whereas a near-deconstructed cheesecake is filled with a savoury avocado sorbet, and topped with the same toasted corn used on the salmon ceviche and shards of milk that melt on your tongue.

Although the dining room is large, the moody lighting makes for an intimate setting which, combined with the designed-to-share menu, encourages connection between guests. The most striking feature, in a fit-out designed by Kathryn Ashley Studio, is the terracotta floor-to-ceiling bar, stocked up for the wide-ranging drinks list. The parrilla grill is in full view, so diners can watch Choi and his team at work.

The cocktail menu takes a Nikkei approach too. The citrusy-sour Roku Samurai stars Roku gin alongside grape liqueur, yuzu-infused red vermouth and sweetened green tea that’s brewed in-house, while the Callao Old Fashioned mixes tart Daimyo-no Shinobu whisky with both yuzu and lemon juice.

As Choi says, Nikkei isn’t new to our city, but with his take at Callao, Sydneysiders are likely to remark on a new balance of the fresh and familiar.

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Updated: April 5th, 2024

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