Sunday, 17 August 2014

Cho Cho San, Potts Point - 14 August 2014

Cho Cho San, a not-so Japanese izakaya, is one of the hottest restaurant openings of 2014. Cho Cho San opened in June to a wave of rave reviews (including a 15.5/20 from Terry Durack, equivalent to one chefs hat). So it comes as no surprise that this restaurant is packed night in night out (weekdays included), with a constant stream of people coming in hoping to land a seat. Fortunately Cho Cho Can take a limited number of reservations so it's advisable to book ahead. This is what Crystal from Delectably Degusting, M and I did for this Thursday evening catch up.

The long row of bar seating
Cho Cho San is the second venture of restaurateurs Sam Christie (of Longrain fame) and Jonathan Barthelmess, who first joined forced to open Greek Tavern, The Apollo.  The Head Chef at Cho Cho San is Nicholas Wong (ex-Kylie Kwong, Rockpool, Bodega and Ester). As you can see, a not-so Japanese cast are behind Cho Cho San.

Just as important as the fun, casual food at Cho Cho San is the drinks list. The list includes a host of diffrerent sakes, shochus and beers and ciders imported from Japan mixed in with some wines and beers sourced locally and abroad. There's also a cocktail menu that changes seasonally using ingredients such as melon, yuzu, apples, and nashi pears. I went for a Japanese craft beer, a Tama No Megumi pale ale, whilst the girls went straight for the cocktail menu, a Japanese stiletto (midori, ketel one, plum, lemon juice & melon balls) and a ginger ninja (ketel one, ginger beer, honey dew melon & fresh ginger).      

The food menu is divided into small dishes, raw bar, other (sides and seafood) and hibachi grill (seafood and meat). It is the raw bar that has been grabbing many of the headlines thanks to the sushi chef, Yukio Moriyama, who was formerly at Ocean Room, which has closed due to the redevelopment of the Overseas Passenger Terminal. 

There's also a "feed me please" chefs selection menu for $65 per person. We decided instead to sample a variety of dishes from the extensive  a la carte menu. There is plenty to keep you occupied just in the small dishes, raw bar and sides section.  In fact we did not make it to the hibachi grill section as the food was surprisingly filling. Plus M was saving her precious stomach space for the desserts :P

Another thing to note is that the menu is seasonal and changes frequently (and I stress frequently). The menu already looks different from when Cho Cho San opened its doors and favourites such as eggplant miso dip, toasted crab bun and green tea soft serve have already been replaced with other items. I guess this gives us all a reason to return to Cho Cho San, but I was sad that I didn't get to try the green tea soft serve :(

Hokkaido scallops, corn, house cured katsuobushi ($18)
First to arrive from the raw bar were the Hokkaido scallops, served raw, with corn puree and grated house cured katsuobushi (petrified smoked bonito). The delicate flavour of the scallops were enhanced by the umami of the bonito and the sweetness of the corn. This was an amazing start to the meal with clean, refreshing flavours and turned out to be my favourite course from the raw bar.   

Fried eggplant miso ($10)
Next was fried eggplant miso, kind of like a bowl of beer battered chips. These golden batons had a soft, creamy centre and a ultra-crispy, glass-like crust and coated with eggplant's best friend, a rich, umamilicious miso sauce.

Petuna ocean trout, black pepper, wasabi ($20)
Thick slices of Petuna ocean trout were wonderfully fresh with a sublime texture and sitting in a slick of a familiar-tasting soy, mirin, black pepper and wasabi dressing.

Silken tofu in tomato dashi ($4)
Cho Cho San has reinvented agedashi tofu as silken tofu in tomato dashi. The slippery disc of silken tofu was texturally pleasant and topped with tempura crumbs for texture. But it was the tomato dashi that was the star of this dish with its gentle sweet, sour an umami notes. 

Beef tataki, wild rice, ginger dressing ($18)
Ribbons of highly marbled raw beef rib were draped over crunchy, nutty wild rice grains and little cubes of raw cucumber, dressed in soy, ginger and browned butter and finished with grated horseradish. This was another excellent dish from the raw bar.   

Udon noodles, pork, chilli ($15)
From the sides section of the menu, we opted for the udon noodles, pork and chilli, which was like a Japanese version of spaghetti bolognese. Although I would have preferred the udon noodles to have more chew, the flavours were absolutely bang on. The ragu was made from chilli-bean paste, ginger and pork was rich, hearty and fiery and topped with whipped tofu. The heat was mouth numbing, which makes this udon perfect to slurp up on a cold winters night! This was one of my favourite dishes of the night and I would happily order this again.   

King crab omelette, Japanese curry ($28)
The omelette was smoky and slightly crisp on the outside with egg yolk oozing in the middle, which is the way I like my omelettes . The Japanese curry wasn't really the sweet variety that's served in Japan, it was more Malaysian or Sri Lankan. The strands of hand picked king crab meat were delicate in flavour, which got a bit lost in the omelette and curry.    

Brown rice, shitake mushroom, egg ($12)
The brown rice, shitake mushroom and egg has morphed from a Malaysian style nasi goreng (as it used to be served with a fried egg on top) to a Chinese style fried rice.  This was no ordinary bowl of fried rice, it was something quite awesome! I loathe brown rice normally but it was just brilliant here; I loved the bite in each grain and how the shitake mushrooms took this fried rice to another level.  

Cho cho snow ($10)
We decided at the outset that we would order all the desserts (which there are only 3). Cho Cho snow was a ginger custard, topped with a dome of shaved ice and drenched with caramelised syrup. The ginger custard had a beautiful, smooth and creamy texture. And the shaved ice made this a refreshing and wonderfully balanced dessert. My favourite dessert of the night!

Banana soft serve - cone, peanut, caramel ($7 each)
I may have been sad at the start of the meal when I discovered that the matcha green-tea soft serve was no longer on the menu, this soon dissipated when I tried the new soft serve flavour, banana. The soft serve was as smooth and creamy as I would have hoped from a soft serve and tasted like intense, ripe bananas (yum!). The banana soft served was dipped with crushed peanuts and drizzled with caramel sauce. The waffle cone was crispy and delicious too! 

Our waiter explained that they were trying to create the "next big thing" with the banana soft serve; I don't know about that but I think your Instagram feeds will be invaded with banana soft serves pretty soon if it hasn't already!

Steamed yuzu pudding ($12)
The steamed yuzu pudding left me slightly disappointed; maybe it's just not my kind of dessert. I am an absolute freak when it comes to yuzu. This is my favourite fruit and my eyes light up when I see it on a menu. Unfortunately I could not taste any of that amazing yuzu flavour in this dessert; it tasted more like lemon. I also found the steamed pudding to be quite sweet, sour and rich. The rather generous dollop of cream was much needed to cut through the pudding, but not enough to balance the flavours of the dessert.

Not long after 2 hours, a waiter approaches our table to inform us that our time was up and that they would need our table for the next session. As we left the restaurant we could see a healthy queue of hungry diners waiting to get into Sydney's hottest new restaurant to see what all the fuss was about.       

Highlight: There aren't many things better than slurping a bowl of udon noodles  with a comforting ragu of pork and chilli during winter.  
Lowlight: The lack of yuzu flavour in the steamed pudding
Overall: For the most part, Cho Cho San delivers delicious, well-executed food in a fun and trendy dining space that's sort of like a Japanese izakaya, but not really. There's also a great drinks menu to try its extensive range of sake, shochu and beer from Japan. 7/10 (Great)

Cho Cho San
Address: 73 Macleay St Potts Point, NSW 2011
Contact no: 02 9331 6601

Cho Cho San on Urbanspoon