Posted on Monday, 14th January 2013
Sake Restaurant operates a chain of contemporary fusion Japanese restaurants in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, with the Sydney branch sitting in the historical and touristy Rocks area near Circular Quay. The décor is lavish, yet simple; sexy, yet understated. It’s really nicely done. Catering to an upmarket and fashionable crowd, its hit the mark as the kind of place one goes to see and be seen.
As befits the name, Sake Restaurant has an amazing sake collection. The sake sommelier suggested that we try the Kozaemon Junmai Daiginjo as our aperitif (a small carafe is $58 – about £38). At over 300 years old, Kozaemon is one of Japan’s most established sake houses and Junmai Daiginjo is its premium label. It brews its sake in the mountains of Japan’s Gifu prefecture. It was delicious, as smooth as silk and an excellent way to start our meal. We also tried a couple of cocktails ($18 to $20 – about £12 to £14) which were also very tasty.
But it’s not just about the drinks. Sake Restaurant holds a ‘One Hat’ from the coveted Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide award system (from a maximum of three) which was suggests that the food is pretty good too.
From the cold starters, the tuna tasting plate for two ($33, about £22.20) containing tuna and avocado sushi rolls, a tuna tataki salad with wasabi and white dressing, and tuna corn tacos was decidedly tasty. The tuna was lovely, and the rolls filled with crispy seaweed worked to great effect. For a touch of theatre and fun, the tacos were served with some sugar-rimmed Kozaemon Junmai ‘sake shots’ which went down a treat with the flavoursome fish.
Slightly less appealing was the white-soy sashimi snapper topped with sesame seeds, chives, yuzu juice and white-soy dressing ($18, about £11.60) from the sashimi selection. The fish on its own was beautiful and cut wonderfully thin, but the heavy saltiness of the dressing drowned out the delicacy of the fish.
The tuna ceviche ($24, about £15.50) with lemon dressing, coriander, jalapeño chilli, tomato and crunchy fried onion was better. It was a wonderful combination of interesting ingredients, albeit the dressing was a touch too tart.
We asked for half portions of two maki rolls – the ‘S express’ with scallops, spicy mayo, cucumber, seared salmon, witlof and sweet sauce ($22, about £14.20 for a for a full portion); and the kingfish tempura double crunch (inside & out) with jalapeño mayo, coriander, cucumber, sweet soy and spicy masago ($16, about £10.30 for a full portion). Both rolls were very enjoyable for their inventiveness, creativity and lovely marriage of ingredients, particularly the later with its crunchy seaweed effect.
To the hot starters, Chinese-inspired steamed prawn dumplings (shumai) with spicy ponzu sauce ($17, about £11) were rather dull. Here the prawn filling had been minced so they didn’t quite have the wholesome prawn flavour that you get from good Chinese versions. In contrast, tonkatsu cups of panko-fried pork belly with spring-onion served in lettuce cups with mustard miso and Japanese barbeque sauce ($16, about £10) were crunchy, meaty and deliciously satisfying.
The Alaskan king crab in a crab salad with avocado and white radish and bonito infused vinaigrette ($38, about £24.50) was meaty and lusciously sweet. The crab was accompanied by some avocado which was a winning formula. The vinaigrette was a touch sharp, but the seaweed topping made this salad rather interesting.
A main course of buta no kakuni, onsen tamago, 12 hour braised pork belly with daikon radish, 64°C hens egg and truffle oil scallions ($28, about £18) proved to be an inspired choice. Being a slow cooked dish of pork and tender daikon submerged in sweet Asian syrupy flavours, it bore the hallmark of a good traditional Oriental dish. And with the addition of a runny, but firm, 64°C hen’s egg and the aroma of truffle oil, it was transformed to something eclectic and classy.
Our seafood options from the mains included some salt and pepper crispy fried lobster tails ($36, about £23.20), and pan-seared scallops with baby corn, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms and yuzu miso cream ($31, about £20). There was a side of yuzu pepper mayonnaise and lime squeeze for the crunchy, slightly salty and slightly peppery bite-sized pieces of the fleshy lobster tails which made this really moreish and great pickings with the tangy hues of the mayo. The scallops were also pleasantly done, and the yuzu and miso elements in the matching cream were a good flavour combination for the scallops.
However, teriyaki grain-fed wagyu (grade 7+) served on sautéed shiitake & buckwheat with yakiniku sauce ($39, about £25) was less gratifying. Cooked medium rare, the meat was tender, but the dish was a little lackluster.
A scampi miso with a whole scampi, daikon, spring onion and crustacean oil ($13, about £8.40) was a knockout. This miso soup was one of the best that I have tasted with its abundance of deep and sweet umami flavours. The whole scampi was tender and sweet. This soup was a true delight.
Also inventive was the bento box dessert with a chocolate cup cake, yuzu sorbet, interesting nashi pear gyozas with passionfruit dipping sauce ,and matcha apple mousse sticks ($22, about £14.20) which were almost fairy-floss like. There was also fun to be had with the chocolate popping parfait served with pistachio crunch, citrus segments and yuzu foam (£17, about £11) which let off a fun popping effect in your mouth followed by citrusy overtones.
A lemon and gingergrass crème brûlée with wasabi ice cream ($12, about £7.70) was tasty, although the texture of the brûlée wasn’t quite as firm as it could have been. The wasabi ice cream proved a revelation however, with only a well- judged hint of wasabi in the delicious ice cream.
A high level of creativity has gone into the creation of the fusion Japanese menu at Sake Restaurant which was both diverse and interesting. Particularly innovative were the desserts with its engaging addition of fairy-floss like mousse sticks and fun popping parfait. The food was very good with the occasional bouts of excellence, but also the occasional instances of over seasoning. But all said and done, it’s hard not to like Sake Restaurant. It’s a swish operation with good food, a sexy décor, fantastic cocktails, amazing sakes and polished service. It’s a little pricey, but definitely worth a visit.
Food Rating: 4/5
It’s a sharing experience, so it will depend on how much you order, but between $80 to $150 (about £52 to £98).
Note: Exchange rate used current at the time of this restaurant review.
I dined with FoodPornNation as a guest of the restaurant.