Hicksons Izakaya is packed at 5.30pm. The tiny forty-seater is rammed with well-dressed theatre types, speaking with modulated tones and rounded vowels.
A steady stream of joggers and hipsters in sockless shoes parade past our table, which takes in Walsh Bay and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, depending upon which direction your chair happens to be facing.
To ensure everyone has the best view, the lower part of this little glass box, thoughtfully tempered with draped canvas to limit your exposure to the sun, is dominated by a long banquette facing the sea.
On the tier above, there is bar seating facing outwards, and above that, Chef Hiro Kano (ex-Tori Bar) commands a small, somewhat green crew. With the menu orientated towards izakaya-style drinking snacks, we ask for guidance on how much to order without much success.
So we get stuck into an Ozeki Karatamba Sake ($22/180ml) that’s dry as advertised, but softens into a rounder drop with food. It’s a honjozo sake, which basically means there was a small amount of brewer’s alcohol added to the fermenting sake mash. It suits the spicy nature of our first dish to arrive – uramaki rolls, sushi rolls where the rice is on the outside.
We chose them in Fresh Tuna and Spicy Miso ($18). There's something quite Korean in the boldness of flavour in the resulting row of slightly misshapen sushi rolls, coated in bright orange roe.
You’ll find the same roe decorating a trio of Seared Scallops ($14.50) presented on the shell with honey ponzu. While the sweetness in the dressing is balanced by soy, the scallops themselves have only the tiniest kiss of sear from a blowtorch. I’m a fan of translucent centres, but this set of scallops push even my preference for lightly cooked a bit far.
Spinach with Sesame Dressing ($5) arrives looking like a magical fairy tree, with a crown of roasted sesame seeds. It’s a little on the bland side, but inexpensive, and okay when dragged through soy sauce.
Two fatty slices of Slow Cooked Braised Pork Belly ($12) are given a little caramelisation and a smear of yuzu koshu to help cut the fat, but I still find them a bit heavy going.
Labeled a main, Grilled Tiger Prawns ($26) are still a manageable tapas-style size. They’re another dish that strikes me as Korean, served red and lightly spicy with kimchi and crunchy noodles. The flavours are good on this dish, though the lettuce has seen better days.
With more attention to detail, Hicksons Izakaya could easily be adopted by the pre-theatre crowd. The next table did have their order mucked up and were asked to return for their missing dish after their show. The rest of the restaurant were packed and paid up to head across the road to Roslyn Packer Theatre by 6.25pm.
5/17a Hicksons Road, Walsh Bay
Ph: (02) 9252 2274