Take a trip to Japan without leaving Sydney at Ryu Japanese Kitchen. Occupy one of just six counter stools for an intimate audience with Makoto Imahashi, a former Consultant Chef at Matsuya Japanese Restaurant.
Once the home of Planet Pizza, his new digs are so tiny, the kitchen takes up most of the available floor space.
All this adds up to me feeling pretty chuffed we were able to snaffle one of two wooden tables for a meal on a recent cold and rainy night.
The weather calls for warm sake, and the chalkboard specials oblige with Hot Sake ($16/300ml) by Ippin, presented in a quirky earthenware tokkuri that boasts a face, whiskers and tail. A small dish of marinated burdock root takes the edge off our hunger as we peruse the menu.
Belying the size of the restaurant, the menu offers a good selection of dishes, including handmade tofu. We’re sad to hear it isn't available, because the tofu pots are yet to arrive from Japan. We console ourselves with Kingfish Sashimi ($9/5 pieces), presented simply to highlight the beauty of the fish. It’s served at the perfect temperature in wonderfully thick slices that allow you to revel in the texture of the fish against fluffy, delicate wasabi.
The cold weather sees me move onto hot dishes quicker than I would normally. It’s actually the first time I’ve tried Jibu-ni Duck ($27), made in the style of the Kanazawa region that sits on the edge of the Sea of Japan. Chef Imahashi explains he’s the only place in Sydney where you can try this speciality hot pot. It's based upon duck that is dusted in corn flour before being simmered in soy and dashi stock, but for me, tofu turns out to be the highlight of this enjoyable, easy to like winter dish.
Our cook at the table fun continued with kaminabe, or paper hot pots.
After opting to up the warming ante with the Spicy Miso Base ($24), we kick back with an on-tap Suntory Premium Malt Creamy Foam ($9) and watch our hot pot cook. It’s hard to keep your fingers off the generous slices of house-made cha-shu pork.
They are fully cooked in a multi-stage process that includes steaming then cooking in soy and ginger, and so are ready to place on top of the pleasantly spicy miso broth. It’s an all thriller, no filler dish, with big flavours and a filling mix of chicken, prawns, mussels in the half shell and vegetables.
Toban-yaki is Japan’s version of sizzling beef. It's presented here as Wagyu Beef Tenderloin ($36) - lightly marbled beef (marbling score about 5) that is supremely tender.
The pink-centred fingers of wagyu are best enjoyed dipped into the accompanying yakiniku (Japanese barbeque) sauce.
While the beef comes with tofu and vegetables, we also get a Tempura Vegetable ($13.50) side. Shungiku are like chrysanthemum greens, but not so bitter. They’re easy to devour, especially doused in rock salt and lemon.
We return to face the driving rain feeling like we've traveled somewhere heartfelt and authentically Japanese. Go before the popularity outpaces the number of seats.
Ryu Japanese Kitchen
51 Bayswater Road, Rushcutters Bay
Ph: (0423) 733 674