When cuisines cross borders, they are changed by the environment and culture they find themselves situated within. Aussie-Cantonese is a different beast to the Cantonese (Yue) food you find in Guangdong Province in South Eastern China. Similarly, Chūka cuisine reflects Chinese food as it is eaten in Japan, adjusted to suit the Japanese palate. Hamish Ingham and Rebecca Lines were the first to bring this interesting, Japanese-Chinese hybrid to Sydney at Bar H six years ago. Now Chase Kojima of Sokyo and Victor Liong of Lee Ho Fook (Melbourne) are giving it some next generation appeal at Chuuka.
Rather than an exercise in faithfulness to the original – or to either Chinese or Japanese cuisine – they’ve played with the notion and the Sydney location to come up with something befitting the high-end seafood focus of Flying Fish's former digs.
Set against the Sydney Harbour backdrop, currently disappearing in a smoky bushfire haze, the raw bar plays if-you-can’t-beat-‘em, join-’em game with a smoke billowing Sashimi Platter ($80).
Able to be split four ways, this platter makes dabbling in the menu’s Raw section redundant (which might be useful if you’re having problems narrowing things down).
Alternatively, you can take advice from the floor team, led by Lindsay Carr. They deliver a nicely cheeky blend of sass and knowledge that suits the hip, contemporary space, decked out with irezumi (tattoo) flash walls by Deepak Munsami. Carr, who can talk booze like nobody’s business, recommends us a list of dishes so appropriate, I don’t even read the rest of the one-page menu.
Instead I concern myself with little folds of freshly sliced salmon, their richness cut with spicy chilli bean paste; and a Pacific oyster that might not be freshly shucked but punches umami so hard with bonito, soy, yuzu and vividly green spring onion oil, you’re unlikely to care.
Cocktails favour originality over accessibility, but fortune favours the brave. Wood ($20) takes takes barrel-aged, hickory smoked, shiso-infused umeshu (plum liqueur) and teams it with Bulleit rye whiskey and Campari into something that riffs upon an Italian apertivo. Metal ($20) makes vodka into a chilli-balm with a creamy coconut wash, a smidgen of honeydew melon and the tangy appeal of calamansi lime against a matcha rim. Fire ($22) makes Hong Kong baijiu into an appealing cocktail (not an easy feat) with mango, chilli oil and Dom Benedictine. They’re all kind of hectic, so neck them before you get stuck into your eats.
I’d look to our Kiwi cousins and their 2018 Amisfield Chenin Blanc ($84) for a smooth, slightly chalky companion to your personal pot of Chawanmushi ($13/each). You’ll find the silky, foie gras-enriched Japanese savoury custard buried under a muddle of blue swimmer crab, carrot, ginger and shellfish-oil. It’s scrape-the-bowl deliciousness that you’ll be glad not to share.
Working with a similar syrupy texture, the top layer of fresh scallops, egg and blue swimmer crab masks a drier, more pungent layer of XO-flavoured fried rice in Tenshindon Fried Rice ($35). With some gentle agitation, it’s a standout dish.
You also need to get your stir on with the Sichuan Eggplant ($28).
It's presented Asian cobb salad-style under pungent puffed chickpeas with crispy garlic, coriander, fried wonton skins and white miso and sesame dressing rounding out the textures and flavours that only work when they're mixed.
For me, it’s slightly out of whack with the restaurant brief, so I’d pass it over in favour of a modest tangle of Wok Fried King Brown Mushrooms ($26). The golden king browns are carb’d up with rolls of chewy rice noodle, disguised under enough greens (garlic chives and asparagus) to make it seem like a healthy vegetable side.
For those not taking the high moral ground of being vegetarian, there are proteins aplenty to select. From Carr’s clever collection of white Rhone varietals, the 2016 Gilles-Robin ‘Les Marelles’ Crozes-Hermitage, Roussanne, Marsanne ($115/bottle) has sufficient weight and field-blend interest to stand up to Charred Wagyu Intercostal ($39) slices, made slightly less wicked by being sandwiched with salad in lettuce wraps.
Alternatively, you could explore the Coravin collection. The 2017 Domaine du Ladoucette Sancerre ‘Comte Lafond’ ($30/glass) from France’s Loire Valley will make you take back every hateful thing you’ve ever said about sauvignon blanc, against Peking Duck ($48/$90). Chuuka use a meaty Muscovy-Pekin cross, which means you can get by ordering a half, with refillable pancakes and a whole platter of condiments to combine, compare and share.
Ain’t nobody need to be so proud they don't pick up those drumsticks and gnaw. Besides, when your ‘Ebi Chilli’ ($42) lands with a half dozen Japanese milk buns, you’re going to be scraping up the chilli miso butter dregs with great relish, right after you devour meaty prawns along their heads prepared teppanyaki style.
Made using Australia’s best prawns (Skull Island) these massive crustaceans are too good to see any of their parts to waste.
While Carr smashed us with the volume of food, I regret nothing. Next time I promise to read the whole menu...
Suite 62-64, Jones Bay Wharf
26-32 Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont
Ph: (02) 9657 9882