It would appear – through the sheer force of coincidence – that yours truly is on a Japanese restaurant posting spree. Well, only quitters would say ‘quit while you’re ahead’, and I’m no quitter! Coupled with the fact that I’m in Japan right now (as of publication date), one more won’t hurt: especially when it comes to sushi.
Longtime readers will know that this isn’t my first rodeo at Raita Noda’s eponymous restaurant. The initial visit was in 2015, not long after the closure of Ocean Room – which still stings me to this day – freed up Raita to strike it out on his own. The result? A father-and-son (Momotaro) tag team operation on scale that is the antithesis to the lavish, live-large affair that was Ocean Room: an 8-seater counter (10 at a squeeze), omakase-only experience within the lobby of the ADGE Apartment Hotel. To this day, the gig continues to be run wholly by the Nodas. No wonder then, given its presence, location and vibe, it feels like you’re truly eating in one of the ‘secluded restaurants’ that are home to many of Japan’s finest establishments: low staff count, low guest count, plenty of chef-to-customer interaction. Where the Western world’s old guard fine diners impress with opulence at every turn, Japanese restaurants like Raita Noda impress on you what’s there through what isn’t. While there is a little bit of glitz in the fitout, the show is assuredly 99% about the food.
For the sake of efficiency, I won’t go further into the backstory, the original 2015 post is taken as read, as is my ‘oh lord, I can’t believe I used to be like that’ writing style back then. My original visit scored 6.5/10, with a food score of 5.5. In the grand scheme of things, 5.5 is decidedly average, or ‘mediocre’ by another definition; and plenty of restaurants are just that. However, relative to the average quality of a restaurant on this blog, Raita Noda didn’t do so well. I would rather offend than to lie: Noda-san’s fare just didn’t do it for me.
That was 2015, this is now. Well, July 2018, at least. You are correct to assume that the food and its price (it’s now $150) have seen the biggest changes, but it has been for the better. I usually don’t update blog posts due to time commitments, as well as Instagram being particularly well-suited as the on-the-go source for current information. BUT, and this is a big but – Raita Noda’s improvement has been sufficiently large, sufficiently drastic, that not issuing an update would be a gross disservice.
At this point, this shouldn’t be a spoiler: the Nodas’ omakase has improved in leaps and bounds. This post may record it as a two point difference, but quantifying the delta has always been a murky science. The main takeaway? It’s now wholeheartedly on my recommendations list for those seeking a special Japanese experience, especially if you have exhausted other, more popular options.
However, for those seeking a sushi-focussed experience, Raita Noda is still not for you. With only five pieces on the menu, a meal at Raita Noda focusses on a wider array of Japanese fare, a free-form, multi-course format known as kappo. It doesn’t play by the rigorous rules of kaiseki, and it certainly isn’t all about sushi. In fact, Raita arguably doesn’t need to serve sushi at all: they were the weakest link, something that my 2015 visit has in common. The shari (sushi rice) wasn’t flavourful, and a little bit on the hard side, and overall not all that memorable. The neta (sushi topping) were far more on point, particularly good pieces were the tuna and sardine; however, the cuttlefish was on the bland side, and the aburi salmon oddly cold for what it should be, making it taste less than fresh.
The rest of the meal is where it all shone. Starting from the very beginning – a cloudy snow crab espuma with brioche fingers, father & son demonstrate excellent French techniques, without forgetting flavour. It was from this very first dish that led me to think this time it’s different. This was followed on with Raita Noda’s signature tuna tartare in a can with mozzarella and roasted natto (in and of itself worth talking about), and it’s a Japanese-Italian fusion that would make Federico Zanellato’s LuMi Dining proud. The tuna was just a little bit stringy, but the flavours, textures and that technique nevertheless produced a delicious combination that’s wholly Raita’s own.
A soft shell crab taco is perhaps pedestrian, but it’s comfort food nonetheless – absolutely delicious; however, I didn’t have to wait long before technique shows up again: take the scampi millefueille. Who expects to see those two words next to each other? The scampi itself was given the tempura treatment w/nori salt, with a scampi ‘paste’ flattened and deep-fried to constitute the ‘pastry’. The result? A luxe prawn cracker sandwich that went above and beyond.
A teapot holds its weight in umami: a dashi with bar cod, glass noodles, sweet Alaskan crab & shiitake mushrooms that was sufficiently delicious such that I forgot to take a photo of the soup itself.
This warming number was followed up by a sashimi platter that’s one of the best I’ve had this year, combining another one of Raita’s signatures – smoked saikou salmon (shown earlier) – with latchet, bluefin fatty tuna, cuttlefish, flathead. All delicious. This is why despite not really liking the shari, Raita’s nigiri neta were on the money.
The final two courses before the commencement of nigiri were a sake lees marinated toothfish with a sake orange reduction (so good!!!), and a wagyu rump, whose paucity of flavour that one expects of wagyu made it quite forgettable. Rump simply isn’t that fatty, I guess.
Jumping over the nigiri, the meal finished with a Western-style dessert of strawberries, cream & shortcake. Let’s not mince words, this is a take on ‘strawberries and cream’, albeit slightly fancier. While I’d have preferred a tamagoyaki or a green ice cream (or similar) – call me a traditionalist – this fruity dessert certainly delivered on its aim of cleansing the palate. And you know, given how much Western technique was presented, it isn’t wholly surprising to see a Western finish in retrospect.
All in all, we had a great meal. If this was what 2015 led with, I wouldn’t be here today, with a re-write. While I still don’t recommend Raita Noda if you’re after a quintissential sushi experience, the rest of the meal is probably one of, if not the best kappo-style meals you could have in Sydney. At the very least, it is certainly the most unique. With technique and whimsical ingredient combinations at almost every turn, Raita Noda’s in his element once more.
Date Last Visited: 10/Jul/2018 (2 visits)
Address: 1/222 Riley Street, Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW
Price Guide (approx): $150pp, +$110 drinks pairing (total price I paid – $260)
This post is based on an independently-paid visit to Raita Noda Chef’s Kitchen, plus another independently-paid visit in April 2015
- The private, intimate Japanese counter experience is superbly well-replicated
- Very good execution of a kappo-style cuisine with effortless integration of Western techniques
- A lacklustre wagyu dish and nigirizushi
Would I return: yes
F7.5 | S3.5 | A2.5