The menu at Cho Cho San is far from straight Japanese cuisine. Owners Jonathan Barthelmess and Sam Christie were inspired by the drinking culture on their recent trips to Japan. And they wanted to bring that fun, izakaya style to the dining room at Cho Cho San. There is a long dining bar, a great cocktail list and food that lends itself to this kind of environment.
The space, designed by architect and interior designer George Livissianis, is minimal and painted cream. The only colour is from the shelves behind the bar, stocked to the hilt with spirits, sake and shochu. There aren’t many wines by the glass, but the sake list is long.
Try raw scallops, with corn, nori puree and house-cured smoked bonito. The rich puree and umami of the bonito let the flavour of the fall-through-your-chopsticks delicate scallops sing.
The pillowy, soft, steamed bun, filled with cucumber and duck smoked in jasmine tea, and the lightly wood-fired bread bun, filled with a spanner crab chowder, needs to be ordered by every diner. The side of dry udon noodles is rich and spicy – like a Japanese bolognese with chilli-bean paste, ginger and pork. The seafood and meat sections are a little more traditionally Japanese. Prawns cooked over the hibachi grill and chicken yakitori with pickled lime and sprinkled with spicy shichimi.
The matcha green-tea soft serve is simple and delicious, tasting exactly like the ones found in many little outlets across Japan. The ginger custard is delicate in texture and flavour, intensely creamy, a sweet ginger glaze on top combines with the custard as you eat.