The Japanese dining scene in North Sydney can best be described in one word as abundant. I am very envious of Northern Sydneysiders that can, within a short drive, have their fill of yakiniku, JBBQ, ramen, sushi, soba and tempura and be guaranteed a quality feed. One restaurant adding its own version of Japanese charm to the Crows Nest precinct is En Toriciya (煙とりしや), sister restaurant of Cammeray’s Toriciya. But, as mentioned, Toriciya’s in crowded territory, so Chef Fukada’s not just going to slap some fish on rice and calling it a day. If you’re going to stand out, you’re going to go all out. I’m liking this attitude already.
Date Last Visited: 18/11/2015
Address: 104 Willoughby Road
Recommended Dish(es): Tasmanian sea urchin sashimi, assorted yakitori, charcoal grilled miso cod, dashi chazuke
In the beginning, there was only Cammeray’s Toriciya. It started out as a yakitori izakaya, but doing one thing must be terribly humdrum, so things were switched up. The restaurant began offering a plethora of Japanese fare, and now executes in its second, Crows Nest location, which is where I found myself on a rather hot Wednesday afternoon.
Before I go on, allow me to disclose that my meal and that of my friends was covered by En Toriciya, facilitated through Washoku Lovers. If you love Japanese food in Sydney, you might want to bookmark that link, just saying. Anyway, The Usual Disclaimer applies!
Like most Japanese restaurants, En Toriciya keeps the layout simple. Tablecloths are not present, being more of a Western invention. As such, bare wood tables take centre stage. While I have never visited the original Toriciya, I imagine it’s a similar setup over there.
What is definitely worth showing off is En Toriciya’s sake wall. If you’re admitting you’ve got a drinking problem, you may as well flaunt it, right? But in all seriousness, its izakaya roots are unquestionably intact. In fact, our meal tonight includes six sake pairings that Chef Fukada personally selected, believing them to be the best marriage between Japanese sake, Australian produce, and traditional Japanese (washoku) cooking. For me, the highlights were the junmai daiginjo (Yamagata Prefecture) and the Nama Gensyu (Nara Prefecture). These stood out for their fruitiness and “punch” respectively. I might have been a little tipsy by the end so I can’t quite comment on the nuances of the other sake – besides, readers will know I’m not that big on alcohol.
En Toriciya’s menu is by default, a la carte. However, a set menu is offered at $65 a head. It’s not a degustation as the dishes are designed to be shared, but close enough. The food we were presented with at our dinner is greater than the number you would get in the set menu, so it’s not representative of portions you might receive. Be sure to check the restaurant’s website for the latest prices. For reference, most dishes are in the mid-$10s to low-$20s. If you’re getting something like wagyu, cod, or sashimi then be prepared to fork out in the $30s+ range.
First up is a common Japanese starter of sashimi carpaccio – in this case, kingfish & jalapeno. The green dollops that artfully add colour to the dish is not wasabi, but a jalapeno zest. That’s a unique touch, and adds a little bit of heat that’s not so common with such dishes. Differentiation with a purpose, one that works!
There’s little comment necessary regarding the kingfish itself – thinly-sliced, citrus-y sauce, it’s a quintessential Japanese starter that’s always a pleaser.
A dish that regrettably won’t be in season for much longer is the Tasmanian sea urchin (aka Uni), served as a sashimi with nori seaweed rectangles for wrapping. Sea urchin happens to have some of the creamiest, richest textures & flavours of any seafood. If you dislike it, well…your palate is wrong 😛
But really, sashimi lovers like me totally dig uni. It barely needs any seasoning other than salt, provided in the background as pink salt. Even by itself it’s delicious, but with the nori? That’s another level of crunchiness that pairs so well with the butteriness of uni.
It’s…uni-versally loved by us all.
The third dish continues to be raw seafood-related, but we’re not complaining when we see a huge bowl of assorted sashimi land on the table. Unfortunately, our experience was compromised at this point, as this dish took nearly 90 minutes to arrive.
Yes, seriously – I checked the timestamps between photos, and that is how long the moratorium on our food was. The restaurant was definitely busy for a Wednesday night, but this is still an incredibly long wait that left me very irritated. More weight is given to the indefensibility of the delay, as 1-2 tables were still unoccupied during this time. While this was a most unfortunate experience, the sashimi did make up for some of my agitation – it is sashimi, after all!
Of particular note were the scampi and alfonsino, cuts I see far more rarely than classic tuna & salmon (which are still good). The pieces are cut just a little too thickly for my liking, but hey, you can’t please everyone.
What’s interesting is that despite the fact that ootoro (fatty tuna) season is over, En Toriciya is able to get hold of imports directly from Japan, and so its fattiness is able to grace my palate one last time, for a long time. It’s not as good as ootoro I’ve had elsewhere in Sydney, but it’s still leagues ahead of most fish simply because it’s ootoro, damn it – <3.
Two of my dining companions familiar with Cammeray’s Toriciya informed me that the oven-baked truffle savoy cabbage is one of their signature dishes, a claim which deservedly perked my attention. In actuality, it didn’t taste particularly exceptional. There was no truffle flavour, instead simple sour ponzu notes dominate. Not that it’s a bad thing – it’d be a nice, refreshing salad – but putting truffle on the menu and not getting it is a real buzzkill. I would consider this dish a side, at best.
The next dish once more originates from the sea, this time being subjected to the deep-fry treatment – a whole flounder. And they mean it when they say whole – the entire fish can be eaten. We didn’t eat the head, but everything else was game. It’s a good thing there was a ponzu sauce to go with the fish, as the fish was quite dry by itself. As a result, the flesh of the fish was also quite tough – I would say it has been overcooked.
There’s plenty to go around, so this one’s for sharing.
One of En Toriciya’s best offerings unsurprisingly harkens back to its roots – the yakitori. There’s all sorts here – chicken skins, sausages, chicken hearts, giblets, quail egg, pork belly, and so on. I’m a bit confused as to the portioning – as some skewers have 3 pieces, some 4, and some five. How to share between four people? You can’t.
Just as well – some of it is too good to share. My faves? The sausages, quail eggs, chicken and chicken skins. You could say they’re all good – including the offal! Everything was grilled well, nothing was overcooked, and flavours sweet and smoky.
Be sure to order this, even if it’s a bit awkward to prorate between your fellow diners.
If you see the words “miso cod” on a Japanese restaurant’s menu, the laws of the universe dictate that you order it. This rule has never steered me wrong, and it’s not about to betray me here. Miso and cod go together better than bread and butter – the soft, almost-creamy tender fish with the powerfully savoury, umami earthiness of miso is always a crowd favourite.
While En Toriciya’s cod is a bit too salty relative to the competition out there, it’s still a piece that we fought over – we easily could have eaten four times this portion!
The only non-seafood protein other than the yakitori for our dinner is the wagyu moro miso steak. Moromi miso is a type of miso that’s mellow and sweet in flavour, not as pungent as many of its other cousins. It’s also a fair bit chunkier, and this combination allows the beefiness of the wagyu to come through with a lot more clarity, and backed up by some extra texture.
To date, I’ve never had a bad wagyu at a Japanese restaurant, and En Toriciya continues this pleasant trend – tender, with a deliriously addictive salt crust, this is also a must order.
Dashi chazuke is usually the finisher savoury in a washoku meal, where a pot of dashi is poured over a bowl of rice & protein. It’s essentially a rice bowl, with the extra kick and depth provided by umami-rich dashi. The dashi can be replaced with green tea, but I think I’ll stick with dashi for this. We got a salmon version, as well as one with eel on top.
Hot dashi with rice and tender fish & seaweed is a surefire way to please, and these two dishes are no exception. The rice is worth gorging on, the salmon & eel supple and rich, the dashi drinkable by the bottle. I preferred the eel one a bit more, as it’s almost buttery texture lends itself well to such a dish. However, you really can’t go wrong whichever way you go. Got the stomach for both? Why not?
I did say the dashi chazuke is traditionally the last savoury course of a washoku meal, but when your blog is titled “I’m Still Hungry”, tradition can be left in Japan – let’s get some sushi! Indeed, I was still hungry, four pieces of nigiri will be just the ticket to salvation from starvation!
At this point, the meal had gone on for nearly four hours – that 90 minute wait is not easily forgotten – so the sushi was eaten without me remembering any of it. I was simply far too tired at this point. Based on the sashimi earlier, I’m doubting you’ll get poor quality sushi at En Toriciya. Feel safe ordering away – if not, skip to dessert!
A matcha dessert at a Japanese restaurant? Well I never. But gibes at the overabundance of matcha aside, it does work quite well in a creme brulee, bringing a funky earthiness into an otherwise overwhelmingly sweet dessert. The caramel layer cracks easily, and the matcha custard within isn’t as sweet as I had expected it to be – a good thing.
In the end, creme brulee isn’t usually a dessert I’d order – it’s too banal for me – and this dessert doesn’t change that. But if you must get your matcha fix, this won’t steer you wrong.
Whoa, they really deep fry anything these days. There was Snickers, and now there’s a Mars bar. As if that isn’t shocking enough, it’s served with – wait for it – a vegemite sauce. Chef Fukada isn’t messing around when he talks local.
You might already be able to guess what I’m going to say here – this dessert works well. The Vegemite sauce offsets the sweetness of the Mars bar, adds just the right amount of bitterness and savouriness, with the resultant interplay between savoury-sweet is a combination that just works. I presume you’ll have to – at the very least – not mind Vegemite in the first place, but hey Cadbury did it, why can’t En Toriciya? I’m also glad the portioning is done quite well – small bits of Mars bar, a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s just about right to offset the richness of the former with the chilled, refreshing nature of the latter.
And so our meal at En Toriciya comes to an end. I would say it stacks favourably next to all of the competition in the area, however contention is very strong. The food is strong at best, mediocre at worst. The key pain point? This was a 4.5 hour meal, when it really should have lasted only 2 hours. You just can’t do that on a weekday. A 90min wait is inexcusable if it’s a frequent occurrence, but other diners seemed to have faster turnover, so this could have been my bad luck. However, that is what I must report.
Is it worth visiting? Undoubtedly. And for lovers of Japanese cuisine, it’s even worth a little bit of a drive. Certainly so, if you live in the area. That said, it’s an imperfect experience – your mileage will vary.
This post is based on a visit paid for by En Toriciya
What has been your experience like with En Toriciya? Let me know in the comments section below!
- A solid selection of dishes that are sure to impress
- Deep fried Mars bar w/Vegemite? Sold!
- A strong focus on the pursuance of Washoku cuisine – but with Australian touches
- An extremely long wait between dishes and inconsistencies in serving gaps for other dishes severely mar the service
- Other competing Japanese restaurants in the area provide solid alternatives, should the diner’s whims fall that way
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F7 | S2 | A2