Saturday, 8 November 2014

Sushi Omakase at Sokyo, Pyrmont - 29 October 2014


Sushi is my favourite food. Nothing gets me most excited than sushi. People that know me will know that I have a love affair with Japan. The country, the culture, the people, and of course, the food. I have been to Japan numerous times and the highlight of each trip is always the sushi (here's my write up of Sushi Tanabe in Hokkaido to see an example of what I mean).   

Unfortunately after each trip to Japan, I leave craving badly for sushi. There's just not many great options for sushi in Sydney despite the abundance of wonderful seafood in Australia. I have been trying to find a go-to sushi place in Sydney for some time now to no avail. As soon as I heard from Timeout Sydney that Sokyo was offering a sushi omakase experience, I knew I had to book myself in. I even come dressed for the occasion with tuna nigiri cuff links on the day lol!

Yes, I am a sushi geek!
Sokyo, a 1-hatted Japanese restaurant in the Star, is a restaurant that I have not been since they opened back in 2011. The executive chef is Chase Kojima, who has worked at numerous Nobu restaurants and most recently as Executive Chef at Nobu Bahamas, before heading to Sydney to run Sokyo. 

Since I was booked in for the sushi omakase menu, I was taken to the sushi bar where I would be seated in front of my sushi chef for the night, Takashi Sano (ex-Tetsuya's and ex-Koi). Sano-san has built up a reputation of being the best sushi chef in Sydney and possibly Australia. 

You know these guys are serious about their sushi here. Fresh is not always best with sushi. They age their tuna bellies like steak houses age their steaks. The flavour and texture of the tuna improves with time as steak does.

View from the sushi bar - Chase Kojima and his chefs in the kitchen
As I was on the omakase menu, no menu was required. I have put myself in the hand's of the chefs to guide me through the evening. Before proceedings commenced, Chase explained the menu to me. The starting price for omakase is $100 per person but I have opted for the $150 menu, since I am happy to pay good dosh for the best sushi. The omakase consisted of appetizer, 20 pieces of sushi, a selection of signature Sokyo dishes and desserts. The sushi consisted of a mix of traditional pieces and Sokyo's modern/contemporary interpretations.  

Sano-san torching something
For me being seated in front of the chef is the best seat in the house. You get to watch the chef construct each morsel before your very eyes. He then serves you and explains to you what each piece is. And you get to chat with him; something that excites a sushi geek like myself! This is theatre and the best service that you will find in a restaurant, and you don't even need waiters!        

Before I even start with any of the sushi, let me just say that the sushi omakase at Sokyo is a non-stop parade of exquisite seafood! Sano-san hits you with piece after piece, each one unique in their own way. I was mind blown by the variety, the quality, the flavours, the textures... this experience left me lost for words! In my foodgasm state, I closed my eyes as I savoured each piece, trying to detect the different subtleties in flavour with each piece.

Any way, that was the short version of my Sokyo review, here's the more detailed version, captured and described piece by piece!

Appetiser
Sano-san brings out a little appetiser to kick things off. There were cubes of bluefin tuna cooked in a sweet soy and shards of snapper in a yuzu ponzu sauce.

Snapper, Sand whiting, Alfonsino, Herring
My first piece was snapper (ikijime) nigiri. The snapper was sweet and slightly oily. The freshness of the fish was apparent with no hint of fishiness.

This was then followed up with sand whiting nigiri, which had a firm flesh, mild flavour and seasoned with soy and yuzukosho (yuzu pepper).

Next was alfonsino (kinmedai) nigiri. This piece was simple but that's what makes the traditional pieces so incredible. The gentle sweetness of the alfonsino was brought out by a light glaze of soy. And the texture of this piece was soft and melting the mouth.

Herring (or Australian kohada) was strong in flavour like mackerel, had medium oil content, and a nice, soft texture. Very different to kohada in Japan but still yum! 

Yellowfin tuna, Bluefin tuna
The first four pieces were then followed up with two kinds of tuna.   

The first piece was Australian yellowfin tuna. This was a less fatty piece with an amazing, soft, silky texture and again seasoned with a little soy. Delicious!

I thought the yellowfin was amazing, but then this aged bluefin tuna from Japan arrived to steal the show. It was fatty, flavoursome and just melted in the mouth. This wasn't otoro though (the highly prized, fatty tuna belly with melty texture). Tuna belly sometimes has sinew which counteracts its otherwise soft, melty texture but this piece was sinew-free and still had the glorious texture that we've all come to love with otoro. I was absolutely mind blown by this piece; these are the moments that I live for!

Scampi, Kingfish belly, Ocean trout
Scampi is one of my favourite pieces in Australia. It has a deep sweetness and a soft, creamy texture. This one was seasoned with a pinch of lemon salt.

The kingfish belly, which has been finely scored 47 times to give it melt in the mouth texture and seasoned with mustard and black pepper, made me wonder why I don't ever eat this cut of the fish anywhere else. It was much more flavoursome and softer than any other kingfish out there.

The ocean trout had a beautiful, buttery texture and was seasoned with soy, lime zest and kombu.    

Tempura asparagus, edamame dip
A brief intermission from sushi came in the form of tempura asparagus. This was excellent tempura, with light crispy batter that didn't feel greasy. The tempura was served with a creamy edamame dip.     

Sea urchin, Engawa, Seared scallop
To start the next act was sea urchin (uni) from Tasmania served on a ultra-crispy sheet of nori. Sano-san informs me that the sea urchin had only just arrived in the afternoon! I was salivating at the thought of how fresh and amazing the sea urchin was going to be but the proof was in the uni, literally.
 
Obviously, the urchin was really fresh, as there was no hint of fishiness. The rich, creamy texture of the sea urchin was heavenly in the mouth. A heavy sweetness and aroma of the sea urchin filled my mouth as I ate it. This was a pure foodgasmic moment that I wish could have lasted longer!

The next piece was seared engawa kinmedai. Engawa is the thin muscle of the fin of the kinmedai (alfonsino). This part of the kinmedai had a higher fat content, which made it very soft and more concentrated in flavor than the earlier kinmedai.

A piece of lightly seared scallop was served on a crispy sheet of nori. Scallop is another favourite of mine in Australian sushi restaurants for its sweetness and soft texture. The light sear gave the scallop a nice, smokey flavour.  

Robata king brown mushroom, lime, coriander, truffle soy
I was given another break from sushi with king brown mushrooms cooked on the robata grill. The mushrooms were great: meaty, juicy with nice, charred flavour from the robata. The king brown mushroom was dressed with lime, coriander and truffle soy.  

Squid, Seared kingfish belly, Makerel
The cuttlefish (ika) was sweet and delicate in flavour. The cuttlefish was scored to tenderise the flesh, which gave it an almost milky texture. This piece was seasoned with lemon, kombu, and sesame seeds.

Next was seared kingfish belly with sweet miso. The blowtorch melted the fat and miso into the flesh, creating an absolutely amazing nigiri that was full of melting, umami goodness. This was one of my favourite pieces of the night. 

The mackerel was an oily, strong tasting piece, marinated in vinegar for acidity and balance. A sheet of clear Japanese seaweed was laid on top of the mackerel and the firmness of the fish was a nice contrast against the fluffy sushi rice.

Dengaku Man
Dengaku Man (or caramelised miso cod) is a signature dish at Sokyo and probably their most popular warm dish. It's just incredible and I would give it the title of best miso cod in Sydney. The outside is wonderfully caramelised, sweet and sticky. The flesh was flaky, moist and buttery. The miso cod was served with a Japanese salsa and cucumber salad to freshen things up.

Scallop abductor muscle, Minced tuna, Seared scampi, Seared salmon belly

Next was scallop abductor muscle gunkan, topped with shavings of lime zest. The flesh was firmer and the acidity and acidity of the lime zest went nicely with the sweet scallop.

Then I was treated to another piece of glorious tuna. This was minced tuna and obviously had an amazing flavour. I was completely taken by surprise with the texture of this one. It was mushy and a bit grainy.

It's hard to choose a favourite, but the seared scampi with Japanese mayo comes close. The seared scampi had an intense sweetness and together with the mayo, which melted into the scampi from the blowtorch, and soy, created a bite that put my taste buds into overdrive!

Next was seared salmon belly topped with aged grated daikon and yukari shiso. Another melting moment!

Seared sea urchin (extra), Sea urchin salmon roe and squid (extra), Sea urchin and scampi (extra), Tamago
Sano-san announced that there would be one piece left in the sushi part of the omakase menu. What already? I did not want this omakase to end and to Sano-san's surprise, so I requested for more sea urchin. I think I almost knocked the chef off his feet with the size of my appetite!

The first sea urchin was in the form of seared sea urchin with a crispy sheet of nori. I've never tried sea urchin seared before and I think I usually prefer it fresh. But this one was pretty amazing! The sear was quite brief, long enough to intensify the sweetness and give the urchin a slight smoky tinge while still retaining its sublime, creamy texture.            

Next was sea urchin, salmon roe, and cuttlefish gunkan. Not only was this piece food porn to my eyes, it tasted ridiculously good. I could taste each  component separately and together they created one amazing flavour bomb!

With the last savoury piece, it was as if Sano-san could read my mind. It consisted of sea urchin, my favourite, and scampi, also my favourite. Sano-san described this as sweet on sweet. I call this awesome on awesome!   

I signalled to Sano-san to bring on the tamago, as I was completely stuffed by this stage. The tamago was like a sweet, soft and slightly dense sponge cake. Tamago done properly, like this one, is always the best way to end a sushi meal.

Sokyo “Mochi Ice Cream” and Tofu Cheesecake
I thought my dessert was the tamago and then a waitress brings out a tray of desserts! Despite being filled to the brim, I pushed on as there was no way I was going to let this go to waste. 

The first dessert was Sokyo mochi ice cream. The Yatsuhashi kyoto mochi was a green, chewey rice ‘dumpling’ that was filled with a delicious frozen strawberry milkshake.

The tofu cheesecake was my favourite of the two desserts. The cheesecake was so light, it was like eating fluffy clouds of cheese. This dessert was served with thyme sugar, fresh strawberries, strawberry jellies and strawberry consomme.

After dessert, I emerged from my food coma to thank Sano-san for what was my best sushi meal since Hokkaido. He gave me his business card and asked me to give him a call when I wanted to return to Sokyo. You can pretty much guarantee that I will be back at Sokyo very soon based on this meal. I think I have found my go-to sushi place in Sydney!

Verdict
Highlight: Uni heaven!
Lowlight: Having to compete with the speakers blaring out loud music to have a conversation with the sushi chef.
Overall: Sushi omakase is a must-do experience for any sushi lover in Sydney. This was a non-stop parade of exquisite seafood that left me mind blown. There is nothing else like it in Sydney! 8.5/10 (Excellent)  

Sokyo at the Star
Address: Level G, The Darling, The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont NSW 2009
Contact no: 02 9657 9161
Websitehttp://www.star.com.au/sydney-restaurants/signature-fine-dining/Pages/sokyo.aspx

Sokyo on Urbanspoon 

Making a reservation for sushi omakase: no booking are taken over the phone, all booking need to be directed to Sokyo and made a week in advance due to the lengthy preparation required (maximum of 6 customers per night and 4 per booking). Reservations are managed by the restaurant directly and not by The Star.

Reservation requests can be made through STARSokyoRestaurant@echoent.com.au or by contacting the chefs directly.