In the culture of whacky Nippon, a salaryman (サラリーマン) is a man who is literally on salaried employment, usually referring to a corporate white collar archetype. However a salaryman is truly defined by what he does after work. That is – to eat, to drink, and to be merry (hey, he’s had a 14-hour day – gotta take a break, right?)
Fortunately, you don’t need to work a 14-hour day to partake in an experience at Stephen Seckold’s newly-opened Salaryman Restaurant. I mean, sure, the experience is potentially more realistic if you suffered such a day, but what’s life without a bit of cheating?
Date Last Visited: 29/12/2015
Address: 52 Albion Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Recommended Dish(es): prawn toast okonomiyaki, rolled wagyu sirloin, Smoove chocolate bar
Does Stephen Seckold sound familiar? If not, it’s time to get acquainted. He’s the man behind Flying Fish, a restaurant with a particular focus on Japanese-style preparation of seafood paired with Modern Australian technique. I visited Flying Fish quite some time ago, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience there. However, more recently I had caught wind that it “isn’t as great as it used to be”. A bit disheartening, and it truly dissuaded me from returning.
However, a chance to do something new is always a second chance well-deserved, and that is Salaryman. The spin this time is on upmarket noodle dishes, accompanied by a plethora of izakaya-style eats – think grilled beef parcels with plenty of soy, bite-sized sushi appetisers that are just a little fancy, fusion-style prawn toasts, and of course, lots of sake and beer.
The menu changes on a daily basis, so you’ll never know what you’ll be hit with, but if you know anything about Seckold – you would be gunning for all things seafood!
Seafood, such as his quick-to-be-signature torched honey bugs nigiri w/avo & white soy. Visual clout is in immediate effect here with the presentation of this nigirizushi – still with the tail shell on. I really don’t think I need to say this but…
…don’t eat it with the shell.
The Balmain bug is succulent, juicy and one of the best crustaceans Australia has to offer. As it usually is with these shellfish, torching adds that extra bit of char and smokiness that’s practically irresistible. Avocado delivers the creaminess that the piece otherwise needs (bug is fairly chewy flesh), and no need to add soy – it’s all in the piece.
There is one downside I can’t overlook – the rice. One, there’s too much of it, such that after the first few bites, I felt like I was only eating a ball of the stuff. This isn’t onigiri. Secondly, it was perhaps just a bit too tough for the delicate bug and avocado. Perhaps this would be less of an issue if there were less of it, however I’ll never know!
THIS is the dish to get, I kid you not. I’ll say it again – the prawn toast okonomiyaki is the must-order. For me, it’s even better than Seckold’s much-vaunted ramen, and if it goes off the menu, will be the cause of much anguish. There’s no real magic or trickery here – it’s just a bloody tasty twist in the form of prawn toast + okonomiyaki seasoning. Why wasn’t it done sooner? There’s a first time for everything.
The skin of the prawn toast is crispy, crunchy, and full of umami seasoning (no doubt helped along by the seaweed/furikake-like mix w/bonito flakes). The prawn flesh within is hot, juicy and most importantly – and this is what made it so good – held up its end of the bargain by bringing a truckload of its own flavour. I was amazed at just how succulent the prawn was, and the fact that it’s a generous slab of it makes it all the better.
It’s cut into four pieces, so that simply means four bites for me, right? Sometimes, share plates suck. 😛
A dish from the heavier side of the menu, but one well worth ordering, is the rolled wagyu sirloin w/shallots & egg yolk. These are parcels of thinly-sliced wagyu strips, rolled up with shallots inside, and then cooked over what should be a Japanese-style binchotan grill, delivering delicious carbonisation in abundance. On the taste front, it’s a salty and tangy mixture of gyu dare, or “beef sauce” made with soy sauce, mirin, sake & rice vinegar. Texturally, the wagyu is slippery and fatty, full of flavour, though occasionally marred by sections of stringiness and chewiness that made for a less-than-pleasant mouthfeel.
What elevates the dish up from “grilled wagyu” is the inclusion of an egg yolk, which when broken and mixed with the wagyu as a sauce, making for a creamy, luscious texture that Japanese people in particular understand very well. In fact, they use raw egg yolk, but it’s understandable that it’s cooked here, given Western stigma with using raw yolk.
Cutting teeth on glazed toothfish isn’t something I do frequently, as I don’t often see it on menus. That’s why it’s always an instant order when I spot it. At Salaryman, it’s a “give me more”-sized portion on which is donned a friable, cauterized skin with a ton of crunch. Further, that skin actually sports a ton of flavour, not that the rest of the flesh needs it. The whole dish has flavour, perhaps with exception to the water spinach. Honestly that felt like a garnish just to make the plate seem more substantial.
The toothfish is not a must-order, but it’s a “no regrets” order. It’s a darn small portion though – $25 won’t get you far here.
If you skipped all of the fluff above and went straight to the section on ramen, I don’t blame you. After all, this is where “sh*t gets real”, and for nobody does it get more real than for me.
But let’s not get confused here; Salaryman’s ramen is, shall we say – and I’d rather not use the word but will anyway – “classy”. It’s a bit pricier, the presentation is more finessed, and the flavours are perhaps more to the subtle side. The best part? If you’re not too hungry, or want to taste the other dishes without being bloated on a bowl of ramen, Salaryman offers a choice of half–serves. Super handy stuff.
That said, I only ordered one of their four ramen options that day, and as such I’m not qualified to give a full run-down. This isn’t a ramen post, after all.
While there were many appealing options that day, I got my chopsticks out on the pork & pippie ramen. After slurping my way through the bowl, I concluded that it would be a great introduction to ramen for beginners. The soup is light, a little bit porky, and not too salty. It’s not too complex, but it’s a functional base for the noodles. Speaking of that, the noodles are springy, somewhat hard (yes!) and have quite a pleasant chewing sensation.
The supposedly pickled egg doesn’t really display its “pickled” nature, instead exhibiting a more mellow egg profile akin to a standard lava egg. There’s no tang, no zing or acidity. The chashu is fatty, chewy and melt-in-your-mouth. It’s all pretty good, though lacks the adventurous torching some other ramen joints imprint.
Most unique to this dish is the inclusion of pippies – wood-fired goodness, it’s a battle for these if sharing the dish. While I had no qualms with the sweet juicy flesh of each pippie, I did end up eating one that had a bit of crushed-up shell within, which is an incident narrowly avoided. Be careful!
All in all, I wouldn’t say ramen is the reason to visit Salaryman, but that a heartier option exists on the menu is certainly welcome. It’s not going to dethrone established players or win awards, but it’s different enough to be worthy of consideration.
While I was still hungry, the sting operation on our wallets begged me to move onto desserts pronto.
Usually, when I preach desserts, I consider “refreshing” to be mostly synonymous with light, chilled, and often acidic and tangy. Salaryman’s lemon, mint & meringue is all of these things, perhaps truly stretching the definition of acidic. A hugely revitalising lemon sorbet is at the centre of it all, and it is for all intents and purposes, relatively perfect.
The problems begin when we move onto any other element – a meringue that’s too sweet, curd that’s too tart, and most curious of all, a yuzu-like sponge cake that redefines what can be called sour. If this cake can be called “sour”, then freshly-squeezed lemon is relatively mild. I sound harsher than usual but it’s just the imagery – I could still eat any and all of the dessert, however for the above-mentioned reasons, it is not treating my palate all too well.
So, what other options are there?
Crucially, the second (and only other!!!) choice does the trick. The smoove honeycomb, almond & chocolate bar is plainer-looking than that Picnic you just unwrapped (and if you’re not doing that, you’re now thinking about it), but twice as delicious and four times as expensive (haha). Jokes aside, this is truly worth ordering. While I’m usually not too much of a fan of chocolate desserts, this is an exception that proves the rule. It’s multi-textured, with a rich chocolate coating, giving away to the variable crunch of almond, airy (and never sticky) honeycomb, and an ice cream parfait-like concoction that’s like all the good products made by Cadbury, pastiched into one ultimate chooclate bar.
And yet on the outside, it still looks like an inflated Tim Tam. Sorry Arnotts.
Get this dessert.
Salaryman is good enough that I would consider returning. It’s pricey, its ramen isn’t the best and a 30-minute wait for it (yes, that happened) doesn’t really sow the seeds of temptation. However, their other dishes are just lovely. Juicy wagyu, the best prawn toast ever, and a pretty wicked chocolate bar.
You’ll be blowing a chunk of your salary on Salaryman, but hey, live a little!
This post is based on an independently paid visit to Salaryman Surry Hills
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀
- Prawn toast okonomiyaki – a godsend
- A solid variety of food that’s all in all, pretty tasty
- Small portions and high prices make an expensive meal for the average salaryman
- Service inconsistency – the wait for ramen was nearly 30 minutes long
- Salaryman’s price-to-portion ratio needs some serious work.
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.
F6.5 | S3 | A2