Pyrmont is becoming quite the little hub for contemporary Japanese cuisine, with chef Hideki Okazaki’s Eiju Fusion Japanese Dining now being joined by chef Yoshitaka Kojima’s Tokyo Bistro. Taking the noble road of collaboration over competition, these restaurants have collaborated on events, pulling in over-the-bridge star, chef Tomoyuki Matsuya. Matsuya jumped from being HaNa Ju-Rin’s master sushi chef to a partner in Ramen Ichibandori earlier this year, though I have yet to visit.
We enter the tiny green restaurant to the tinkling notes of modern jazz, which instantly reminds me of chef Yoshi Harada’s now defunct Kagura. Yoshi-san is another Japanese chef marching to this avant-beat, and I am pleased to report he will be re-opening his restaurant as Harada in Glebe next month. All this adds up to a contemporary Japanese playground for Inner Westies and those who choose to travel to our streets.
With his face framed through a well-stocked bar (one of the hallmarks of this emerging genre of contemporary Japanese cuisine reinterpreted by Japanese chefs) Kojima looks relaxed and content in his tiny kitchen. Making regular forays onto the floor, his menu is best explored through a well-priced 7-course Degustation ($65/person) that kicks off with a nod to the season.
Orange curls of Tasmanian salmon are treated with sakura (cherry blossom) salt and tororo kombu (long flakes of shaved, dried kombu cured in vinegar). They’re dabbed with wasabi cream and adorned with an eye-catching arrangement of roe, edible blooms and micro-herbs for an enjoyable opener.
We choose to match it to a pricy carafe of Kubota Hekiju ($93/450ml) from the famed Niigata prefecture. Brewed using the Yamahai method, which develops deeper flavour, this faintly yellow sake has a honey-like sweetness that dries up into spicy intensity.
While it’s perhaps too big for this particular dish, it performs well against more savoury courses later in our dinner, like the seared Jumbo Wagyu Nigiri ($12) that I can't help but throw in. For everything else, there's always a Yebisu Premium Beer ($16/500ml) chaser.
Between courses, we take in the rapidly filling dining room, cleverly expanded by a wall of organic, distressed mirrors. Your eye is caught by a low-hanging cluster of round ball lights sitting over a high central bar that helps to divide up the compact space. Using every available inch of storage space, a structural concrete pillar is made into a feature with two encircling, well-lit booze shelves. The overall effect is quirky and intimate, I ponder, as I munch a cone of wagyu tartar corn and explore the Yamazaki whiskey overtones in shiraae. It’s an updated spinach dish that keeps the focus on alcohol by employing sake lees along with a hint of New Zealand’s famous manuka honey.
Arriving in a mysterious bag, edamame are given a smoky twist using applewood.
It comes up best when you drag your teeth along the pods to extract the beans.
At this point we switch over to a warm sake – Mansaku No Hana ‘Ginmaru’ ($36/250ml) that arrives heated in little handled pots. Sadly, us gaijin (foreigners) are not instructed by our waiter to remove the inner core before pouring them into our sake cups so things get a bit wasteful and wet.
We’re quickly placated with another serve of wagyu nigiri sushi and informed our friendly Dutch waiter has had just four days on his first Japanese restaurant floor after flying in from Eindhoven.
Our spilt sake is soon forgotten when the king prawn fry lands. In this dish, a whole king prawn is fried crisp and golden, then served with green leaves and a cream cheese sauce. You can eat everything, just proceed with care (we get clear instructions from Kojima himself this time) - the carapace is spiky but rewarding.
Perched on yaki-onigiri (a grilled rice ball) and surrounded by a lake of umami soup made using kombu dashi, our unagi (grilled eel) is a complete turnaround in texture from the previous dish. It is comfort food personified, served on a beautiful, textural earthenware plate with a dip that seems custom-made to contain this particular dish.
We get a third go at wagyu with Yoshi-san’s take on a loin steak, served lovely and pink in the middle, against an array of fresh and cooked vegetables with a Japanese wasabi through line.
Your palate is put back together with a gleaming goblet of green tea ice cream, that’s more savoury than it is sweet. It’s a fitting end to a well-priced degustation that comes with plenty of options to spend up big on premium Japanese alcohol.
Shop 1, 16-30 Bunn Street, Pyrmont
Ph: (02) 9518 8852