It came with some surprise to find that Ozeki Sushi in Chatswood had been replaced by Sushi Rio. While I wouldn't call Ozeki the greatest sushi bar in town, my experiences there weren't too bad so I wondered what their replacement would be like.
I finally managed to visit Sushi Rio today and learnt the very important lesson that there are two kinds of sushi - sushi and sushi that looks like sushi.
All of Sushi Rio's sushi dishes are set at $3.50 making dining here a straightforward experience. But looking over the menu, it seemed to me that at $3.50, the sushi here was a tad overpriced.
The menu offered little more than the standard sushi train fare: salmon, kingfish, tuna, prawn and the ever ubiquitous avocado fusion roll variations heaped with mayonnaise...
Still, credit where credit is due. The sushi was the perfect fit-in-your-mouth size. Some may find the portions too small, particularly given the price and quality, but there is an elegance to rightly sized sushi that I respect and I found the bite-sized portions to be enjoyable.
Unfortunately, that is where my enjoyment here ended. Other than the scallop - which was sprightly and fresh tasting - the rest of the toppings lacked anything resembling life. I noted some flavour to the marinated mackerel and the kingfish had a bit of texture to it but that was about it. The salmon roe, which looked sparkly and glittery, died the death of brine when you bit into it.
I'm not sure if mojo is everything but surely a little bit helps? Hopefully Sushi Rio will put the carnival back into their toppings sooner rather than later.
I think most people have heard of the old proverb that if you reach for the stars and miss, then at least you will have the moon for company.
Sushi Dai Bekkan reminds me very much of this saying. Having to wait for about 20 minutes in the queue suggested that there was something of worth inside and once we entered, we discovered that there was.
Ordering the omakase chef's choice menu ($40), I found that exactly half of the 12 offerings were fantastic and the other half merely good. Strangely, the good stuff was found in the first half of the course.
The merely good consisted of the egg omelette (tamago yaki), sweet shrimp (amai ebi), horse mackerel (aji), chopped fatty tuna rolls (negitoro maki), sea urchin (uni), seared fatty tuna (aburi toro) and conger eel (anago).
Of these, the egg omelette was nice and so too the tuna rolls but the seared fatty tuna was very much a case of 'oh why oh why did you that?!?' Fatty tuna, really, should be allowed to melt...
The stars of the course, however, were the halibut (hirame), the red meat tuna (akami maguro), the Spanish mackerel (sawara - more on this one in a moment), the red clam (akagai), the golden eye snapper (kinmedai) and the rockfish (kasago).
All of the above had lovely textures and rich flavours but none more so than the Spanish mackerel. This piece floored me. Thick, juicy and pillow-like with a hint of sweetness, the Spanish mackerel was an absolutely marvellous experience. I would happily return to Sushi Dai Bekkan just to order the Spanish mackerel.
Following close behind was the red clam which I just loved. A hint of crunch, full of texture and taste, this piece melted beautifully. Good quality clam is a delight and eating it, well, you would have seen a rather content grin on yours truly.
I was able to choose the last piece and so went with rockfish, a topping new to me. Offered with salt or soy sauce, I went with the salt. Deceptively textured, the fish had a deeper than imagined flavour that was almost hypnotic. What broke the trance, however, was the salt. A few too many grains, me thinks. Other than that, it was a piece definitely worth trying again.
The first half of Sushi Dai Bekkan's omakase course set the bar high. The second half of the course failed to reach it.
But at least there were stars.
I enjoy travelling through Haneda Airport. It has the right size and atmosphere to not get lost in but enough size and atmosphere to feel like you are somewhere.
One of the somewhere's that I had been looking forward to finding myself at was Ariso Sushi, the only counter sushi bar in Haneda Airport.
I didn't have much time though to be there due to my impending flight but with some leftover yen in my pocket I stepped in to what was a busy but elegantly appearing sushi bar.
I went quickly went over the menu and chose golden eye snapper (kinmedai), flounder (engawa), red meat tuna ( akami maguro) and mantis shrimp (shako). To my misfortune they were out of black throat seaperch (nodoguro), a sushi topping that I had so far been unable to try this trip.
Now, given what I had heard about Ariso Sushi, I was expecting something to justify the prices being charged. However, the first plate served to me, the golden eye snapper, looked dry and, well, dead. There was some of the flavour that the topping is known for but not enough to leave me satisfied.
The next plate was the flounder, one of my go to sushi toppings. A noticeable oil content combined with a delicate crunch and the flounder is a decently popular piece of sushi. Ariso Sushi's had some oil and some crunch but again, there was that feeling of lifelessness. Acceptable for 100-yen sushi bars but not when you are paying four times the price...
Next was the red meat tuna. This piece was not so bad but with the deadpan flavour and textures of the previous two pieces, perhaps it was me merely being desperate to enjoy what I was paying for.
Finally, the mantis shrimp. Of all the plates that I ordered, this one was by far the best. There was a noticeable crunch that I associate with this sushi and while it was not the best mantis shrimp that I have had, it certainly wasn't the worst.
It would be fair to say that I was disappointed with the sushi at Ariso Sushi. I had expected something commensurate with the stylish atmosphere, the elegant surroundings and the brand name pricing.
What I got, instead, was an empty wallet. Ouch.
A tiny bar with room for eight people standing shoulder to shoulder? I would never have guessed just how much we would soon be enjoying the food here at Sushi Okame in Tsukiji, Tokyo.
Draped by a couple of plastic curtains to keep in the warmth of the winter heaters, you could be forgiven for walking past, imagining that you had just spied a cheap drinking bar and then think nothing of it.
Stepping into the standing space, my wife and I asked if we could order. A somewhat blunt "Not yet" was the reply as the chef wiped down the counter and we both wondered if the bar was small for a reason.
When we did order, my wife went for the 2,000 yen 8-piece Okame Set ($20) while I chose the 3,000 yen 10-piece Choice Set ($30). Other than the novelty of being in a standing only sushi bar, nothing up until this moment was particularly noteworthy.
And then the first piece came out.
And then the second.
And then third.
And so on...
Both sets started with marinated tuna, fatty tuna and extra fatty tuna before splitting into halibut for my wife and yellowtail for me. This opening salvo was highlighted by the servings being perfectly bite-sized. This well-considered size balance between rice and topping would be a constant theme at Sushi Okame.
The meal continued with prawn for my wife and sweet shrimp for me. How lovely was it to find these two pieces served with their tail fins already removed? The sweet shrimp was succulent, thick and gorgeously smooth to the palate. I never thought I would be describing sweet shrimp in those terms.
Next up was scallop for my wife and arc clam for me. Again, lovely and tender with a delicious amount of texture and taste. This meal had been a delight so far and the joy continued with horse mackerel and gizzard shad. Both pieces were the picture of beauty as they avoided the too briny flavours of cheaper fare but without sacrificing the hint of their ocean homes.
The salmon roe that we were served next reminded us just why these little jewels of delight are so popular. My piece oozed ocean smoothness while my wife's piece left her beaming. At this point she got lucky and received a complimentary serving of sea urchin that matched my set one. Sourced from Hokkaido, it was creamy with an intricate taste of the sea for good measure.
My final two course servings were grilled conger eel and clam sushi. The eel was like a silky blanket over a small pod of rice while the clam was absolutely gorgeous in its texture. I cannot praise the clam any more strongly.
To say that we were satisfied would be an understatement. Once the chef saw that we were serious about enjoying our food, he opened up and answered our questions. He was particularly proud of the rice that we complimented him on - not soft but most definitely not hard, and dancing, as it were, with its topping.
As we left this tiniest of sushi restaurants, we discovered that we too were dancing.
No wonder you ate standing...
Standing bars, are quite common in Japan. I've had my share of eating noodles standing up but this was my first time to eat sushi this way.
It's ironic that eating sushi standing up would seem to be a novelty now given that sushi was originally eaten in this way but there you go, the changing times.
First of all, I'd like to state clearly that I enjoyed eating at Sushi Cyoh. Not so much for the quality - a little on that in a moment - but because of the relaxed atmosphere that I found myself in. The chef was willing to chat and even the lady seated next to me was sociable.
The restaurant is a small one, catering to only twelve people and given that it is winter right now, nice and cozy.
The wall behind the counter listed the menu items in Japanese and English, along with their prices. There were lunchtime sets available for less than 1000 yen for ten pieces of sushi as well as slightly more 'expensive' exotic 10-piece sets.
Now when I say expensive, I paid 1300 yen... add in several more ala carte selections of about 150 yen per piece and my lunch here at Sushi Cyoh came to a very light 2300 yen. That's just a little over $20...
This lunch was the 'Super Special Choice Set' which featured fatty tuna, red snapper, herring roe, marinated tuna, salmon roe, sea urchin, sweet shrimp, eel and egg. As an addition, I ordered some tuna rolls, sardine, mantis shrimp and unmarinated mackerel.
Other than the salmon roe which had a nice, gentle ocean taste and the red snapper which was textural, the rest of the toppings gave me no reason to remember them. I remembered the herring roe only because it is a traditional New Years delicacy and I enjoyed seeing it there as part of the set.
What was memorable though was the rice and wasabi, both of which unfortunately overpowered the toppings. It's not the best culinary experience to be recalling the fire of too much wasabi.
Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that Sushi Cyoh is a very affordable sushi bar in Tsukiji. The sushi I had wasn't particularly noteworthy but I can't deny that I had a good time there. And all for around $20.
For that price, really, what's there to complain about?
I waited five hours in line for this meal. I didn’t expect there to be anyone waiting though when I arrived at 1:30am but there they were, seven diehards. By the time 4:30am rolled around, this had turned into 70 people…
It’s fair to say that Sushi Dai is popular. Extremely so. But this is no cheap music style popularity. The sushi here is good. Perhaps not in an elegant refined kind of way but more like a returning from the wild waters with a catch of class in tow. But then, what else should you expect from a 13-seat sushi bar nestled within Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish markets?
Chatting with a Sushi Dai veteran waiting next to me, I was told that in most places in Tokyo, the sushi we were about to eat would have set us back anywhere between 10-15,000 yen. That’s roughly $100-150. Sushi Dai only charges 4,000 yen. You do the math. Mr Veteran had no idea why Sushi Dai kept its prices so reasonable but we were all glad for it.
Like everyone else, I ordered the chef’s choice set. That’s 12 pieces of sushi including an egg omelette and my own choice from what was on offer that day.
We were offered some customary green tea and miso soup before the first dish was served. The first couple of pieces tend to have gentler and milder flavours so to see that fatty tuna was first on the list was a surprise. These days fatty tuna usually appears later but upon tasting it, I got a sense as to Sushi Dai’s thinking.
Each piece of sushi in this course was characterised by the way toppings all melted into the rice beneath it. Even the cockle clam, with its typical shellfish ocean crunch, melted away. The thick slab of yellowtail followed the same pattern, a brush of freshness whilst dissolving into the rice as you ate.
The sea urchin, I was told, came from Aomori, up in the north of the country and instead of a blast of salt water, the piece offered a tender vanishing act. I’m not sure where it went but I had the distinct feeling of wanting to get back on the boat to find some more. The salmon roe, too, played the same trick on me.
The flounder, golden eye snapper, horse mackerel were all delicately fleshy. The tuna and cucumber rolls were lovely with the tuna being smeared into the rice a kind of evidence of its hand crafted nature.
The final sushi chosen by the chef was the sea-eel. If the fatty tuna was the master of the melt then the sea eel must have been its teacher. I cannot impress upon you enough just how incredible this cream-like piece was.
As a fan of the silver skinned fish toppings, I chose the cured mackerel. Needless to say, it melted and was thoroughly enjoyable on the palate.
If you ever have the chance to eat sushi at Sushi Dai, please do so. I cannot recommend this place any more highly. The staff are very friendly and serve your sushi at a relaxed pace. And while I didn’t do so, ordering a la carte is easy and very reasonably priced.
By the way, I should mention that the first guy in line had been waiting since 10:30pm the previous evening. He evidently thought that Sushi Dai was worth the wait. Having tried it, I can tell you, it is.
Very much so.
In the corner by the entrance of Sushi Masa in Camperdown sits a sushi counter. I love sushi counters. Sushi ought to be eaten at a sushi counter...
...but I'm with my family now and the kids need a place to sit. The waitress is very accommodating and helps us to our table. It's a nice little place, well designed with large windows and simple decor. I note the daily specials on the wall and the karaage tuna and kisu tempura both catch my eye. Maybe next time though as we have already settled on our orders - the lunchtime sushi set for $15.50 - sushi, salad, agedashi tofu and miso soup. This should be good.
I enjoy the entree dishes first. My wife comments that the salad is nice (and it is) but that the dressing is quite strong. It seems that I am going to need a lot of ginger to remove the taste before I move on to the sushi. It's okay, we're eating a lunch set though I do take a peek at the counter.
The sushi arrives. It looks nice though I am thinking that the plate is a tad large. The stars of the show, all eight pieces plus rolls, look a bit lonely sitting on it. But it's okay, it's just a lunch set. I glance over at the counter...
I begin with the snapper whose texture I almost miss. I'm thinking to myself that I would like to try this one ala carte one evening. I try the fatty tuna. It's nicely formed and thick but alas, no melt. The salmon tastes basic and the aburi salmon has a quick singe of flavour to it but not much going on in the way of fat. Going through the rest of the pieces - the prawn, flying fish roe, egg, eel and tuna & salmon rolls - I am thinking to myself, not to worry, it's only a lunch set...
...I steal another glance at the counter. Sushi Masa, next time, I'm going ala carte.
Tokyo overflows with sushi bars. From the cheapest sushi train joints chugging away with staple toppings such as, err, prosciutto and SPAM to bank account breaking high end dining experiences, you simply cannot not find a place where you can eat sushi.
Sydney's cupboard, on the other hand, is somewhat bare - at least when compared to its Japanese big sister. But we are not without hope here. I'll travel around Sydney, try out the sushi where I can find it and give you my expertly expert sounding opinion...
A note though. I believe sushi dining to be a whole package experience. For sure, the food and its quality & taste make up the bulk of any review but I also take into account the general ambience of the meal and its service. Authentic Japanese cuisine satisfies all of the senses and I'm looking for a sushi experience that respects that culinary tradition.
Established way back in 1987, Sapporo Japanese Restaurant, in Crow's Nest, certainly has the history. Walking in, one feels a sort of slipping back into another age. A rugby age to be more precise.
The walls were completely covered in rugby jerseys. Along with the carpeted floors and TV screen, I wondered if I were in a pub or a sushi bar. Yes, I spotted the sushi counter but still...
The Wallabies were winning in the halycon days of Sapporo's opening years, so I imagine that life was pretty good for the owners of Sapporo. I wondered what the sushi would be like.
Settling ourselves at a table, my wife chose the Value Lunch Box ($14.80) while yours truly went the gluttonous route and ordered the Deluxe Wattle ($43).
Now, this Deluxe Wattle promised me 10 pieces of sushi plus 6 rolls. Scampi was included in this and when the staff brought out the plate, I must say it looked impressive.
Unfortunately, we chose to sit at a rather small table so the sushi plate, which was almost spear-like in its length, didn't really fit on the table. Given the table size, perhaps a different plate could have been used? Anyway, we managed.
Apparently in the old days, one started a sushi meal with tuna but these days, the gentler tastes of the white-fleshed fish tend to go first. I followed this modern tradition and started with the snapper, halibut and kingfish. The toppings were textured enough without being too memorable. Moving onto the more strongly flavoured pieces, the tuna, salmon, grilled salmon, scallop and scampi, I found myself searching for something to be awed by. I didn't really find it though I did appreciate the little bit of succulence that the seared scallop and the scampi offered.
I finished off with the egg and was wondering where the tenth sushi was before spying the salmon roe hidden behind the leafy decorative piece. Trying it, well, wow, I liked it. The scent of the ocean was not overpowering at all, suggestive, as it was, only after several bites. I quite enjoyed this and its fragrant release is something I suspect would be quite the showpiece when ordered ala carte.
Finally, I went through the remaining 6 salmon & avocado rolls. Avocado doesn't excite me at all and while not untasty, I just don't feel it has anything to do with sushi. But I appreciate that it has its fans.
Sapporo Japanese Restaurant also has its fans. It has some history too but for the price, I would have preferred a bit more bang for my buck.
Like the Wallabies, I think that Sapporo may be due for a much needed win.
Watch me return when it does.
Yes, I like bulgogi and udon and though Masita Sushi offers such standard Korean and Japanese fare, it was the sushi that attracted me.
The photos online were promising. The sushi toppings actually looked fresh and so taking the plunge I headed off to Chatswood in Sydney's Lower North Shore for lunch.
A simple but pleasant and cleanly modern decor greeted me. The staff were smiling which is always nice. Sitting down to order, the $15 nine-piece sushi set was superbly priced and so I went with that.
Like the decor, the plate was simple, clean and pleasantly arranged. The sushi toppings were fresh, each with their own individual flavours and textures. But with four salmon pieces, two octopus, two fried tofu pouches and one snapper... well, I felt a little let down.
And then, recalling the photos, I had another look at the menu. There was an a la carte sushi selection available and I thought, okay, let's see what they've got.
I ordered one each of salmon belly, oyster, surf clam and eel. After a few minutes, it was served. I had a good look at the plating. A funny vibe came over me and I had the distinct feeling that somebody was trying to do a good job.
The salmon belly went first. Yum. I didn't expect that. I tried the oyster next. Wow. It melted nicely. Things were on the up. The surf clam, while not as engaging, was fresh and textural. Finally, the eel. It was warm and dissolved lovingly.
My whole demeanor changed after those four pieces of sushi. And at an average of $3 per sushi, I wanted more. Sure, the rice could have been more in tune with its toppings and based on that I couldn't say that Masita Sushi was world class but really, how many places are?
What I can say is that the sushi I ate was an honest attempt at good quality. That is something worth respecting.
Masita Sushi, I will be back.