Sydney loves Japanese food – the city lives on lunchtime sushi rolls and healthy sashimi bowls and by night, it’s all about izakaya and steaming bowls of ramen. The options run the gamut: at the high end there’s the iconic Tetsuya’s and back down to earth, there are delicious options such as Sake and Chaco Bar. Our 10 favourites have all corners of the cuisine covered.
An izakaya-meets-cocktail-lounge vibe attracts Toko’s hip crowd. The restaurant delivers a bevy of killer pre-dinner tipples and a dining experience designed for dining while imbibing. Start with salads, sashimi or tempura then move on to something more substantial – kingfish, wasabi and blood lime; saikyo miso black cod with seasonal pickles; or tiger prawns with yuzu koshou-garlic butter.
490 Crown Street, Surry Hills; (02) 9357 6100
The little place that changed the perception of fine-dining Down Under, Tetsuya’s is arguably Sydney’s best-known establishment, with a clever Japanese intent, French technique and modern Australian nuances. Strap yourself in for a 12-course lesson in the art of food. Yuzu and black radish add spark to subtle spanner crab. Garlic cream provides a base for miso-cured duck. And love it or hate it, that signature confit of ocean trout with celery, apple and roe is still singing its song. It’s quite the feast – so lock in a nap at stumps.
529 Kent Street, Sydney; (02) 9267 2900
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Cho Cho San
Yes, it’s cool and yes, it’s contemporary but Cho Cho San owes its success to deeply rooted Japanese technique and ingredients – albeit with a clever twist. From the team that rocked Sydney with Longrain and The Apollo comes this bright modern izakaya, where the cocktails are cracking and the saké is spot-on. Pull up a stool at the long concrete bar, in the window or at tables around the perimeter and grab your chopsticks. Chef Nic Wong is a dab hand at joining tradition and invention in the middle to deliver a feast that puts a capital F in Fun. Kombu butter bolsters Hervey Bay scallops. Lamb cutlets get a koji glaze. Beef tartare gains crunch with wild rice. And don’t leave without ordering the green tea soft-serve.
73 Macleay Street, Potts Point; (02) 9331 6601
We don’t have yakitori bars in the traditional sense but Chaco Bar comes closest to the ideal. This tiny hole in the wall (25 seats) dishes up a series of things on sticks cooked over charcoal: chicken, pork belly, mushrooms and more. But it's not all skewed towards skewers. Fried calamari is spot-on, while charred Wagyu tongue, served with its own jus and pickled daikon, gets tongues wagging.
238 Crown Street, Darlinghurst; (02) 9007 8352
One of the leading forces to bring a contemporary aesthetic to Japanese in Sydney has had a menu-makeover by chef Neil Perry and added a sibling site at Double Bay for good measure. Saké, housed in a heritage-listed building in The Rocks, is dark, vibrant and boisterously loud, and is more a big night out than dinner date. So jump on a communal table and tempt yourself with scampi tartare with kombu crisps, agadashi tofu in a dashi broth or Glacier 51 toothfish in miso butter.
12 Argyle Street, The Rocks; (02) 9259 5656
Image: Jason Loucas
The rock’n’roll is loud, the saké is flowing and the food is sensational. This Australian spin on the classic Japanese izakaya is more restaurant than drinking den, thanks to the prowess of owner-chef Kenji Maenaka. It’s dark and atmospheric but as honest as the day is long. Sit at the bar and watch the chef brandish his sashimi blade or join communal tables where punters let the chopsticks do the talking. Agedashi tofu comes with the gooey goodness of okra and slippery shiitake. Charred kingfish head lands with a cheek of lemon. Plus there’s crisp pork belly with yuzu, and karaage (KFC – Kenji’s fried chicken) with the chef’s version of Kewpie mayonnaise. And don’t miss the signature salty-but-sweet spin on Snickers.
Shop G09, 38-52 Waterloo Street, Surry Hills; (02) 9698 2797
Known by many a Japanese expat as the best sushi in town – with the most extensive saké list to boot – this relaxed Japanese restaurant is pretty hard to get into but worth the wait. The highlights at Masuya are the chef’s incredible sashimi – kingfish, tuna, scampi, eel and scallop – and his delicate batter, as exemplified in tempura vegetables and karaage chicken.
12-14 O'Connell Street, Sydney; (02) 9235 2717
Raita Noda Chef’s Kitchen
There’s no menu and only eight seats but Raita Noda’s little homage to the technique and flavours of his homeland is a journey worth taking. Sit at a stool and watch the chef prepare a series of omakase-style (chef’s choice) dishes – think cherry wood smoked salmon, immaculate nigiri and softshell crab tacos.
Level 1, 167 Enmore Road, Enmore; (02) 8093 9807
Fueled by the robata grill, this relative newcomer to the Japanese fraternity in Sydney has already made waves. An open kitchen provides all the theatre for this quaint sit-on-stools izakaya-style venue, where guests jump into a series of share plates. Balmain bugs land in iceberg cups dressed in a spicy sauce; karaage chicken comes with yuzu or wasabi mayo; and grilled Wagyu hits the spot with a side of sesame and soy.
146 Queen Street, Woollahra; (02) 9363 0219
One of the unsung heroes of dining in Sydney, Sokyo strikes a beautiful balance between adventure and satisfaction. Chef Chase Kojima has his eye on the future with a modern, inventive Japanese menu that doesn’t ignore the building blocks that make it so great. The dark, sleek space seats groups, while a lucky few can grab a stool at the chef’s bench for traditional omakase (chef’s choice – one piece at a time). Wagyu and smoked eel tango in shio kombu jus; cuttlefish gets some tempura attention; carbonised leek and smoked ponzu add punch to seared tuna. Add a stellar saké list and quirky cocktails and you’ll understand why Sokyo delivers big on the big night out by getting all the little things right.
The Star, Level G, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont; (02) 9657 9161
Top image: Sokyo
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