There’s something about Sydney and its adoration of Japanese cuisine. Maybe it’s the high-quality seafood we get here that translates so well in the city’s omakase restaurants, or we simply dig a hearty bowl of ramen on the go. Whatever it is, our love affair with washoku (Japanese food and the culture surrounding it) continues unabated, with a slew of new diners opening in the last few months alone. Here’s five to check out.
Senpai Ramen, Chatswood
When Chase Kojima puts his name to something, you know you’re in for some good eating. The chef behind Sokyo and Simulation Senpai opened his singular ramen destination in a neon-lit Chatswood space in March, bringing the concept of a “ramen omakase” to Sydneysiders. While most of the seven-course menu regularly changes depending on what’s good – you might get sashimi, grilled fish and chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) – there’s one dish you can always count on: a luxe bowl of ramen. Diners have five to choose from, including the thick and porky tonkotsu, a salt-based shio ramen with a dash of yuzu, and a chilli miso butter ramen. Dial up the luxury with the addition of abalone.
White Moon Bar, Newtown
By day, 277 Australia Street, Newtown is known as Tokyo Lamington, the cult dessert shop popular for its creative spins on the Aussie cake. But at 5pm, from Wednesday to Sunday, it reopens as White Moon Bar – a Japanese-inspired tachinome (standing bar). Fitting just 14 punters, it’s a spot for winding down and enjoying a casual highball and a snack. Like the pint-sized tachinome of Tokyo it’s modelled on, it’s run by a small staff: chef Jieun Lee (ex-Cumulus Inc, Supernormal and Quay) and bartender Karen Kimura. The menus are equally as petit. Snack on prawn cocktail korokke (croquettes), miso salmon and mushroom karaage as you sip on a citrusy yuzu bomb, sake from Black Market or imported Japanese beers.
If anyone in this town knows sake, it’s Matt Young, who’s run importer and retailer Black Market Sake since 2010 – well before the drink was widely available or understood in Australia. Young has brought his deep knowledge, more than 60 sakes and his personal collection of 2500 records to Ante, a moody King Street venue modelled after Japan’s jazzu kissa, a type of music bar or cafe where people come to listen to music and enjoy a drink. Get started on your journey with a flight of three sakes tailored to your taste – whether you prefer it fruity, dry or a little unusual. Chef Jemma Whiteman is on snack duty. Her creations are by no means traditional, instead they reflect her experience in some of Sydney’s best-loved kitchens, including Billy Kwong, Lankan Filling Station and as one half of Pinbone. Think LP’s saucisson with blood plums and green chilli, tagliatelle with fermented shiitake, and beef tartare with sesame and soy cream. As Young says, “It’s just delicious food that goes with sake.”
Bones Ramen, Rushcutters Bay
Bones Ramen is one of those lockdown pivots-gone-permanent. From the executive chef and owner of Farmhouse and Jeremy & Sons, Bones Ramen continues the trend of tiny Japanese diners, with just 10 people fitting inside and 10 outside. It offers four ramens (with the occasional special). Our pick? The Tokyo-style shoyu ramen, topped with pork chashu, a gooey soy egg and watercress. The noodles float in a light broth made from pork bones and ribs, ham hock, chicken feet and kombu, punched up with a complex, barrel-aged tare (seasoning). Other options include a collagen-heavy chicken ramen, a seafood-based option and an umami-bomb veggie number. The snacks are great shakes, too – think potato salad with smoked chilli topped with a raw egg yolk, brioche prawn toast and fried chicken thigh pieces with yuzu mayo.
Bay Nine Omakase, The Rocks
Sydney ain’t short on an omakase (a dining style where the chef decides what you’ll eat) – and each offers its own special experience. At Bay Nine’s 10-seat omakase bar you’ll be sat among the dramatic sandstone bones of a 1799 warehouse, watching the chefs rotate through hot and cold courses that are based around the catch of the day. Over a couple of hours you’ll be served an array of nigiri and fresh-as sashimi, alongside other dishes that might include Wagyu, abalone, grilled salmon and tempura. Pair it with a delicate sake and you’re in for a treat.
Additional reporting by Yumi Oba, Tim Piccione, Pilar Mitchell, Dan Cunningham and Ariela Bard.
Check out our guide to Sydney’s best Japanese restaurants here.