Since Flying Fish took up residency in The Star casino last November, its former Pyrmont waterfront location has sat empty.
But now the enviable two-level Jones Bay Wharf space, with views of the Harbour Bridge in the distance, is home to Chuuka, a new Chinese-Japanese restaurant led by two of this country’s most highly regarded chefs: Sokyo’s Chase Kojima and Victor Liong, of Melbourne’s Lee Ho Fook (he also did stints in Sydney at Mr Wong and the now-closed Marque). Chuuka is the first property owned and run by The Star not actually within The Star.
The menu meshes the chefs’ two cuisines – Kojima’s Japanese and Liong’s Chinese – with Japanese ingredients and techniques used to make Chinese dishes. The concept has some history, which has given the restaurant its name. “Chuuka” were Chinese dishes introduced to Japan in the late 19th and 20th centuries by Chinese immigrants that were adapted for Japanese tastes.
Here that equates to a much lighter version of the sweet and sour dishes found right across China. There’s tempura-battered chicken coated in a sweet and sour yuzu sauce and then served with scattered dried chilli. The citrus and spice are ramped up. There’s also blue swimmer crab and scallop fried rice with Japanese XO sauce cooked Tenshindon-style, which is Chuuka’s take on a Japanese-Chinese crab omelette on rice dish. A Japanese steamed egg custard, or chawanmushi, isn’t as light – it comes with a steamed foie gras custard so it’s super savoury, rich and not dissimilar to eating pate.
While the food is a mix of cultures, Liong is cautious to call Chuuka a fusion restaurant. “I feel that fusion is misunderstood and categorised as 'bad' [because some] chefs and restaurants approach food without an understanding of the cuisine,” he says. “They try to force ingredients and techniques together without foresight and insight into the fundamentals of cooking.”
That’s why the collaboration appealed to both Liong and Kojima. Earlier this year Kojima told Broadsheet he was chatting to the execs at The Star and said he was interested in taking over the wharf space and cooking Chinese food. There was one issue, though: Kojima hadn’t run a Chinese kitchen before. That’s where Liong came in. “I thought that, even though I wanted to cook Chinese food, my CV would look very weak when opening a Chinese restaurant. I thought it would be good to work with someone on that, and one person I thought of was Victor ... I instantly knew this was the guy I wanted to collaborate with.”
And it most definitely works – the dishes are exciting and energetic, matched well to the handsome, moody and contemporary space that’s been given just a slight refurb.
Flying Fish’s statement light-bulb chandelier is gone, but the restaurant’s open kitchen, sashimi bar, private dining room and outdoor bar remain. The colour scheme is darker and there’s now floor-to-ceiling murals by local tattoo artist Deepak Munsami.
There’s a separate bar menu so if you want to come in for a drink and a snack you can. The cocktail list has been inspired by the five Chinese elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Wood’s a good place to start. It has barrel-aged hickory-smoked shiso umeshu (perilla liqueur), bullet rye and Campari.
“Daytime and night-time will have two different vibes,” says Kojima. “During the day there’ll be views of the bridge, at night the music will change and there’ll be a different menu.”
Suite 62–64, Jones Bay Wharf, 26–32 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont
(02) 9657 9882
Tue to Sat 12pm–3pm, 5.30pm–11pm