This isn’t my first rodeo with Merivale’s sushi hero. Twice before (one, two) I’ve written on Sushi E, and twice I’ve had to claw my eyes out from re-reading my ultra cringe writing. After suffering through some of the most uncomfortable ten minutes in recent history, I managed to glean that I thoroughly enjoyed my multiple visits back in the day.
Since those now-cobwebbed events of history, I’ve only made a single additional visit to Sushi E in the six years since – and that was only due to a $100 redeemable at any Merivale restaurant. So what the heck happened? It’s not you, it’s me. Okay, it’s a little bit of you as well: in that time, my palate has developed significantly (as you’d expect), and sushi as a craft in Sydney has made significant strides. Omakase experiences – once unheard of down under – such as at Sokyo, Masuya, and Sashimi Shinsengumi, have set a new bar. While I’ve nothing against sushi in a la carte form, my loyalty has, for some time now, been directed at those few institutions, for which I and other Sydney-based sushi enthusiasts are ever grateful. And so, a Sushi E drought.
That said, it’s always been great at a la carte, and as I conclulded 7 years ago, has set its own benchmark for a Japanese-cum-Aussie sushi bar experience. It’s a tight package, as evidenced by the stream of regulars I see greeting the chefs no matter when I visit. Man, if only they did…you know, an omakase or something?! To be fair, I’ve been told that as the sushi bar isn’t well-designed for omakase (an obvious example being the fish fridge obstructing diners’ views of the sushi chef), they’ve been holding off.
Well, something must have changed.
Like many things Merivale, the seeds of Sushi E’s omakase offering (and the draining of my wallet) was planted with Dan Hong (who needs no introduction – seriously, I’m not even going to bother) and sushi chef Ha Chuen Wai. Merivale’s head food honcho and the Nobu Dubai, Zuma & Sokyo-trained chef had a conversation that went something like: ‘hey let’s show Sydney what we got.’ Okay that’s probably not what transpired but I like to imagine, okay? Wai, as evidenced by his global CV, has the experience, and the will to introduce to Sydney a different kind of omakase that while prominently features sushi, isn’t wholly centred around it. Hence why I’m not really calling it a ‘sushi’ omakase.
Speaking of, this is a good time to introduce Michael Fox (err, without the ‘J’), Sushi E’s head chef, and responsible for basically everything that isn’t sushi. Fox, like Wai, brings an equally hefty CV: Mount Lofty House, 2 Michelin-starred Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, sous chef at Vue De Monde and the 2011 Good Food Guide’s Young Chef of the Year. And therein lies the secret sauce that gives Sushi E its distinctive edge: the Fusion Panda of the back kitchen’s a la carte skillset, with Wai’s sushi-forging know-how. Given my soft spot for Sushi E’s a la carte offerings, highlighting – not just retaining – this aspect in its omakase was a brilliant move.
The concept clearly passed muster with Hong, who recommended Wai & Michael to start serving the omakase on a limited, hush-hush basis in April this year. This is still somewhat true even now: at the time of writing, bookings can only be made for Mon-Wed, for 6:30pm sittings, and only by phone.
So you might be wondering what exactly this means for the omakase’s structure. In this respect, it remains familiar. We’re still talking the classic formula: a number of starters, commonly known as otsumami, followed by – in Sushi E’s case – ten pieces of hand-crafted sushi and then all the good stuff that comes afterwards. The differences? Well, those starters are substantial, and instead of simply being palate openers, are almost standalone in their own right. In a further point of differentiation, the kitchen prepares these otsumami for omakase diners only – you won’t be able to order them a la carte. Finally, there’s that ‘good stuff’ that comes post-sushi. We’re talking a full, kaiseki-esque gohan (rice), and then two full-on desserts to round out. Suffice to say, this is a lot of food, and could hardly be called traditional. But that was never what the restaurant has been about.
There’s going to be a question on everyone’s minds when they read this post, so I’ll just nip it in the bud: how does Sushi E’s omakase compare to other Sydney greats?
Well, for one, it’s a moot comparison to begin with. With seats solidly booked out nine months out – and no longer accepting reservations from newcomers no less – Sokyo has become inaccessible to all but the early-bird regulars. Even Toshi-san’s excellent omakase at Masuya, which I used to be able to book three weeks in advance, will have you clearing your calendar more than six months ahead. Shinsengumi? Good luck getting through on Sydney’s busiest phone line. Sushi E, comparatively, remains accessible, and represents the absolute best value-for-money in Sydney right now for the $150 it asks you. Yes, I say that even taking into consideration affordable places such as Gold Class Daruma. At least, for now anyway.
Finally, there’s the simple fact that it’s a different brand of omakase. I could pick on the fact that serving a large rice dish after ten handfuls of rice is over the top. Or that a tempura dish should not belong in a sushi omakase. Or that there’s no tamagoyaki (egg sushi) to round out. But then again, this is not just a sushi omakase.
Anyway, I’m dodging the question. In pure sushi terms, Wai’s personal touches – use of shaved egg yolk and even sea urchin, and his unique signature piece of quail & caviar at the end – gives his sushi genuine character. His neta (sushi topping) is a little underseasoned for my liking, with the shiro-zu shari (white vinegar sushi rice) to match. Speaking of the shari, it’s also a little softer than what I’m used to, but I’ve long preferred more al dente-ish versions, so as with most things, it’s a matter of preference. I would place it a solid third, after Sokyo, and then Masuya.
The otsumami and desserts, while perhaps too substantial for the average stomach, are excellent. The scampi soumen for example, is probably the best raw scampi dish I’ve ever had – that soumen is a summer dish and we’re in the heart of winter be damned. Also worthy of accolade is the ethereally-light-but-full-of-flavour mud crab chawanmushi. And of course, how could I go past the wagyu gohan – just heart-stoppingly sensational. Possibly literally.
Needless to say, Sushi E’s now on the regular rotation, and given my distaste for dining out on non-Friday schoolnights, that’s saying something.
Sushi E has made a quantum leap. My writing style? Eh, still just as cringey. I guess some things never change.
Date Last Visited: 2/Jul/2019
28/May/2019 (2 omakase visits, 5 visits total)
Address: 4/252 George St, Sydney NSW 2000
Price Guide (approx): $150 for omakase only
This post is based on independently-paid visits to Sushi E.
- Plays to the strengths of both the sushi bar and the back kitchen
- Another sorely-needed addition to Sydney’s omakase offerings – still a far-too-short list
- Possibly too much food for most people
- Can feel like two separate meals (large starters + desserts; plus, a 10-piece sushi course)
- You may want to consider an extended fast before taking on this mammoth course. Competitive eaters will feel right at home. Call me when you finish 3 bowls of rice and you’ll earn my respect.
Would I return: way ahead of myself!
F8 | S4 | A2
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