You may have heard about Juan. It’s barely been open a few weeks but there’s a serious buzz around this tiny 28-seat don and tea joint in Redfern (bookings are essential).
The don here is totally different to anything else in Sydney. One bowl is a wavy, egg-covered dome. The outer egg sheet folds to reveal a cluster of grilled eel slices, okra, shiso leaves and onion-and-dashi rice. Another has perfectly tender slow-cooked pork katsu next to roast tomatoes and another sheet of egg, this time encasing soy, sake and mirin flavoured rice. “Traditional rice bowl is just yellow. Like egg, shallots, rice, beef, boom, but I like more pretty things,” says Anna Ishiguro, the owner and chef.
The teas, all provided by premium Asian tea importer Zensation, are matched to each bowl. With a Hainanese-chicken-inspired don with lemongrass-and-ginger rice you’ll be drinking a tannin-heavy, buttery and clean oolong. Garlic-butter rice layered with slow-cooked slices of Wagyu and crispy lotus root has a suggested pairing of a golden, smoky Jin Jun Mei. “The pairing is really different, sometimes the tea can make it taste different and some can clean up your [palate] after heavy food,” Ishiguro says.
Nor does it look like the average don restaurant. Everything here is beautiful. The Hanakessho-style teacups shimmer like shattered jewels, the left wall is plastered in Japanese wallpaper showing a soft blue and grey bamboo forest scene. The fit-out mixes clean polished concrete and timber and includes a custom-built, ornate bar that overlooks Ishiguro’s tiny kitchen. “I didn't want it to be too Japanese. I wanted a cafe look. More European-Japanese fusion,” says Ishiguro referencing other Japanese restaurants with lanterns and curtains with calligraphy.
Incredibly, the design, food and fit-out is all Ishiguro’s work; she’s a first-time (and full time) restaurant owner who only recently quit work as a graphic designer. “I actually wanted to open a sushi shop, but I couldn't fund a sushi chef, so I decided to do Japanese rice bowls.” When the liquor licence comes through she’ll create a new dinner menu to go along with the Japanese sake, beer and wine offering. She won't say what exactly it will be, but hints at an obanzai-style buffet concept.
Wed to Sun 12pm–3pm
Tue to Sat 6pm–9.30pm