Let’s face it: there’s no shortage of Japanese food in Sydney. Need a nourishing bowl of ramen? A big bowl is never far away. Fancy some yakitori? Sydney’s Japanese community has got you covered. And Japanese barbeque? We’re flush with the stuff. And that’s not even mentioning the takeaway sushi shops in every food court, or the many neighbourhood Japanese restaurants and fine-diners strewn across the city.
All that being said, there’s always room for more. And in the past few months we’ve been graced with the addition of some excellent – and creative – takes on the cuisine. From Peruvian-Japanese to a diner where you pull the meat from the shelves and cook it yourself, here are some of the new Japanese openings we’re rating at the moment.
Nikkei, Surry Hills
It would be wrong to describe nikkei-style food as fusion – this Peruvian-Japanese hybrid is a cuisine in its own right. There’s been a Japanese diaspora in Peru since the late 19th century, and for over 100 years the community has been combining South American ingredients with Japanese techniques and flavours.
More recently the cuisine has spread across the planet – and it arrived in Sydney late last year in the form of Nikkei. The Surry Hills restaurant is by the group behind Tokyo Bird, Osaka Trading Co and Bancho. The Japanese-Peruvian influence is evident in sharp, elegant dishes such as swordfish ceviche; calamari, fried egg and pickled cabbage atop a bed of pureed roast banana; and a dulce de leche pudding with sake kasu cream, guava and coconut. In the cocktails, the influence is just as a clear: a standout is the Morada, with pisco, house-made chicha morada (a Peruvian purple corn drink), yuzu and plum bitters.
Nakano Darling, Haymarket
Go to Nakano Darling not just for the gyoza and karaage chicken made from scratch, or for the whisky highballs or bowls of noods. Go for the izakaya experience, which has been carefully cultivated by owners Tin Jung Shea, Mitomo Somehara and Chris Wu. The first two are also behind Crows Nest’s Yakitori Yurippi and Tachinomi YP, while Wu, one of the duo’s long-time customers, is now their third amigo.
In true salaryman style, begin the night with a beer and bowl of salted edamame, then continue onto highballs (Suntory whisky and soda) and plates of salty, vinegary, garlicky karaage. Wrap up proceedings with buttered, cheesy corn, sake and noodles. If it’s still a little early to head home, put a full stop on the evening with a visit to the restaurant’s karaoke room.
If we had to use one word to describe Kuro, it’d be ambitious. It’s got four distinct food and drink spaces, and its owners hope it’ll one day be added to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Venue number one is Brew Bar, where you can get coffee, house-made pastries and high-grade matcha. When the dinner service starts, 160 kilograms of coffee-making equipment is lowered into a recess in the polished-concrete bar, which becomes a huge communal table for the second venue: Kuro Dining. Though the owners are aiming for a casual experience, it’s all glitz: gold fills cracks in the concrete floor and 56 floor-to-ceiling illuminated oak pillars line the room. The menu includes dishes such as kuro (black) fried chicken, charred beef tongue with chimichurri, and crème brûlée with matcha crumble.
Then there’s the bar, where Japanese bartenders Fumiaki Michishita and Yasushiro Kawakubo make cocktails. Michishita oversees the classics, Kawakubo is all about Japanese-style drinks and molecular gastronomy. The cocktails follow the seasons and include Japanese ingredients such as sake, soba-infused Japanese whisky and “umami” syrup. Finally, there’s Teramoto, the 10-seat chef’s table experience that’s aiming for world domination. It’s slated to open in the first half of 2020, and while we don’t know much about it yet, it’ll use seasonal Australia produce and be “innovative”.
Chaco Ramen, Darlinghurst
Chaco Bar used to serve both yakitori and ramen from its very small Surry Hills shopfront. But at the end of last year owner Keita Abe decided to separate the two concepts, converting the original restaurant into the newly monikered Chaco Ramen, and moving Chaco Bar to a new space in Potts Point.
Before you could only eat Chaco’s ramen Friday to Sunday at lunchtime, now you can slurp it down for lunch and dinner six days a week. And while Abe sticks to traditional Japanese methods at Chaco Bar, his noodle soups are a little more bonkers. Expect atypical creations such as chilli coriander with poached chicken; the “fish salt”, which has chashu pork and prawn wonton in a thick, collagen-y broth; and a vegetable ramen made with tomato broth.
Chaco Bar, Potts Point
At the new Chaco Bar digs, things are a little more by-the-book. There’s Fukuoka-style charcoal-grilled skewers of chicken thigh, hearts, gizzards, liver, pork belly and lamb shoulder; tsukune (Japanese meatballs served with a semi-boiled egg); fish-roe-topped rice bowls; and gyoza. Like the original Chaco Bar, the new venue is dark, ambient and lively.
If you like to start your day the Japanese way, Kurumac, which opened in Marrickville in September last year, is the place to go. The second cafe from Eugene Leung (the fellow behind Kirribilli favourite Cool Mac) serves breakfast staples you might find in Japan. The jewel in its crown is the spicy cod-roe melt – a toasted, inch-high slice of shokupan (Japanese milk bread) spread lightly with peppery roe and grilled with tasty cheese – which has been a surprise hit with inner-westies. There’s also vegetable tempura with green-tea soba noodles and udon soup. The clincher? It does a mean flat white.
It’s understandable if you thought your life was complete without a Japanese barbeque restaurant where you help yourself to items like you’re at a supermarket and cook them on your own personal grill. But as you pull crab legs, mushrooms, chicken wings, sausages, ribs and cuts of beef from the shelves and throw them onto the barbecue at Gyusha, you may wonder where this concept has been all your life. It’s a clever idea, and a whole lot of fun.
Still hungry after your first round? Get up and grab some more food, get it scanned and bring it back to your table. Need some booze? There’s Japanese beer, plum wine and sake at hand. There’s also sushi and katsu sandos. Plus, all the beef comes from the owners’ Wagyu farm, which explains the high quality (and why the restaurant is consistently crammed with customers).