Fujisaki is a tale of two restaurants under one roof. Exhibit A, behind the sumibi (charcoal fire grill), Chui Lee Luk: a veteran of now-closed Claude’s, a legend amongst legendary Sydney restaurants. A Malaysian chef imbued with classical French training helms the a la carte side of things serving Japanese cuisine. Note the italics – ‘this should be interesting’ probably doesn’t even begin to cut it.
But that’s not what you’re here for when you clicked into this post. And it’s certainly not the reason for my initial visit. Enter Exhibit B, the sushi master, this visit’s raison d’être: Ryuichi Yoshi.
Date Last Visited: 5/Jan/2018
Address: Shop 2, 100 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo NSW 2000
Highlight Dishes: sayori, all white fish, tamagoyaki, anago, houjicha ice cream
Price Guide (approx): $160 sushi omakase
Hailing from Nagasaki, Yoshi’s upbringing as a chef was much like the life stories of many a shokunin (artisans wholly-devoted to their craft). While our generation might balk at devoting their entire life to excelling in the same field, that is exactly what Yoshi has done -and from an age when most of us still believed in cooties. It was no wonder then that when he opened the doors to the eponymous (with a cheeky additional ‘i’) Yoshii in 2002, the restaurant quickly – and easily – became one of Sydney’s go-to’s for spending big on sushi.
And then in 2016, it closed, with yours truly never having the pleasure of sitting at its sushi counter.
It remained closed for almost one and a half years, with the website’s front page staunchly bearing an unchanging promise that Yoshii’s ‘new location’ would be revealed in due course. The revival did come, except I never expected the Lotus Group to be behind Yoshii’s necromancy. Cue a (slightly altered) classic from Archibald the Koala: ‘have no fear, Fujisaki is here!’
You now see where I’m getting at when I kicked off the piece calling out Fujisaki as two restaurants under one roof. There are literally two online booking options, presenting themselves to the willing diner much like a decision point in a video game: press A for a la carte, or B for sushi omakase. While I fully intend to return to play out Chui Luk’s main story line, the decision to prioritise this sushi omakase side quest did not even register as an equally-weighted choice: there was only option B, and option B.
The main quest can wait.
Make what you will of Fujisaki’s aesthetic: brass trimmings, flashy gold and plush velvet backed by a transparent wine cellar. It whispers Scandi, but screams money, a place for those who deign to ‘be seen’ dining here. But if you want to ‘be seen’, sit at the sushi counter. No, really: it opens almost directly out onto the street, with all the light, glory and pandemonium of the outside world invading unimpeded. The counter’s positioning could certainly be better.
Actually, let’s talk a bit more about that sushi counter. It’s onyx, it’s back-lit, and boy do I dislike it: gaudy, bright, excessive. It’s set at a height where interactions between Yoshi-san and the diners is made more awkward than it has to be. Looking for traces of wood – a hallmark of traditional sushi restaurants – was a futile attempt. This is meant to be a sushi bar, not a bar bar. And then I looked to my right – to Fujisaki’s actual bar – to see that the aesthetic has been copied practically verbatim, sans the raised onyx. Oh, the actual bar is better than the sushi bar.
Even Yoshi-san agreed in his own way: the man has to be careful while working, else his head would hit the upper counter shelf! This is, unfortunately what happens when you’re brought on-board without any input into the space.
But you know me, dear readers. Notwithstanding the rant, there’s a reason why a restaurant’s decor only makes up three points: the food matters most.
And damn, Yoshi f*cking delivers on that front.
Note: the pictures of the omakase are not presented in order due to the way I have chosen to structure my writing of this post.
Where do I even begin? How about our starter of murasaki uni w/dashi ginger jelly? There’s just one sliver of this sea urchin – a shiro (white) type, in season at the peak of its flavour – laid to rest atop a bed of ‘sweet as’ QLD spanner crab. It’s almost cheating, using ingredients this good, and that would be a fair criticism. But then there’s the dashi jelly, with a dab of citric ponzu and a clever dash of gingery heat, this isn’t just another condiment that lacks substance. It’s arguably the glue that brought it all together.
Or, how about the sashimi platter? I’ve never seen one in Sydney as good as what’s on the slates Yoshi-san presented. Impeccable arrangement, impeccable flavour. Some pieces – like salmon and ootoro tuna belly – are delicious but expected. The standouts went to the more unusual selections – swordfish, latchet, and sayori (garfish). Pieces you don’t often receive, but make their presence felt with their unique textures.
It doesn’t take a keen eye to immediately notice the knife work at play, and that’s a talking point in and of itself. It’s entirely possible that Yoshi-san can lay claim to the most skilled hands of any sushi chef in Sydney, on par with Takashi Sano at Sokyo. Cases in point: the daikon flower on top of the ootoro, the ‘staircasing’ of that sayori in the lower right corner, and that middle, pure white piece? A pillar of daikon so finely shredded, it makes the act of julienning a mini boss at best.
But knife work alone a great sushi chef does not make.
Just like in the world of vino, there is a bias towards the red stuff in sushi land. Bluefin tuna. Bonito. In trout we trust. Easy wins: darker fish generally have more flavour. But there’s a selection bias here that ignores the obvious: most fish is white. The possibilities are endless, the reality anything but: it’s so, so very hard to coax flavour and harmony out of raw white fish: poorly done, it’s a one way street to bland town.
You know where this is going. Here’s one of those superlatives that gets trotted out once in a blue moon: Yoshi-san’s mastery of white fish nigiri is at a level that no other sushi chef in Sydney can match. It can be seen best in the Kisu (whiting), the ‘intellectual’ piece – its chewy, brawny flesh yielding endless textural interest. Another sayori, this time in nigiri form, showing off not only Yoshi-san’s knife art again, but also his treatment of the fish itself; so tender, yielding to increasing levels of softness with each and every bite.
Mahata (bass grouper) was a playful piece in its bounciness, while sumi ika (cuttlefish), usually bland and forgettable other than its signature crunch, was expertly tended to with shiso & lime.
A particularly interesting number (as if all the others haven’t been…) was the red spot whiting. The most challenging piece, this delivered both the simultaneous grain of leather in its skin, with a bitter after taste. As I said, challenging.
Not to say that Yoshi-san’s processing of more common produce was any less impressive. Take the anago (conger eel). Ubiquitously available at almost any sushi omakase, this is usually served with a healthy dollop of ‘chef’s secret’ shoyu to bring out its briny, richly meaty flavours. Well, in Fujisaki’s case, Yoshi-san exercised another one of his specialities: home made shoyu. In fact, the recipe used for this particular piece was aged 25 years, made from the time Yoshi-san first came to Australia. Like a master stock, it’s continually added to, with a depth of flavour that I haven’t experienced outside Japan. Remarkable – and I thought Kikkoman was pretty slick.
The kihada chutoro – medium fatty tuna taken close to the rib – aged for 5 days, also deserved a sterling mention as a piece that’s a little left field to the usual ‘wagyu of fish’, not to mention its impeccable flavour: a little ‘meatier’ than the usual tuna bellies. Katsuo (bonito) would have been ‘yet another fatty fish’, were it not brightened up with a clever and unprecedented touch of zesty-sweet ume & nori paste, with none of that usual ‘bonito funk’ either. Double score.
NZ scampi, white uni, swordfish & salmon, as well as ootoro were all part of the package as well. In any other sushi omakase, they’d be the pieces about which I rave the most. However, like Yoshi-san’s sashimi platter, his treatment of the omakase underdogs completely upstaged these nigiri stalwarts.
And that in itself is a feat.
Heck, all this prose and I still haven’t even gotten to the miso soup (sorry, no picture!). It wouldn’t even be discussed, were it not for the serious possibility that this could be Sydney’s best. Made with no less than three types of miso (aka/shiro/awase) and allowed to ferment for two weeks, it would be an insult to compare this to the instant stuff, or even what’s served in most other Japanese venues.
The final piece? I expected a classic tamagoyaki. Well, I wasn’t disappointed – it was ethereally light, while still magically persisting flavour equal to its denser counterparts – but I was only half right. It’s the introduction of an intensely savoury prawn & tai (snapper) paste that could be regarded as genius, or screwing with a classic. However, I answered my rhetorical question when my pupils dilated bigger than my head at being handed half a piece from my overly-stuffed partner. Her defence? She needed room for dessert; I just couldn’t fight it: umami always wins.
The meal closed out with a creation from Kumiko Endo – Fujisaki’s dedicated pastry chef (a rare position in today’s restaurants). Call it the placebo effect, or maybe – just maybe – this is the position that’s set to pay off in spades. Houjicha ice cream w/Okinawa kuromitsu (black sugar), puffed buckwheat & houjicha-infused ice was all sorts of awesome. The fundamentals were all there: smooth ice cream, Goldilocks sweetness, and a strong houjicha flavour. The inclusion of Okinawan black sugar, and that refreshing houjicha-infused ice: this is how you leave a lasting impression of what was already an excellent dinner.
Now, to say there weren’t any issues with this dinner is gross negligence, prior gushing notwithstanding. You’re already well-acquainted with my gripes regarding the seating, but what about Fujisaki’s 5-day sumibi duck, served in between the sashimi platter and the nigiri procession? I mean, I really did quite enjoy it – it’s what gave me the confidence to seek out Chui Lee Luk’s cooking in the hopefully not-too-distant future; however, what in the world was it doing as part of a sushi omakase?
I also couldn’t help but call into question Yoshi-san’s habit of serving red and white fish nigiri in pairs, when the norm is to serve the lighter, subtler white seafood first, then build up to the stronger, bolder flavours of red fish. A performance this was, an orchestrated one, perhaps not so much.
Another minor gripe was how we were all provided our own dishes of soy sauce, instead of the chef applying the correct amount/type to each piece before serving. why risk the diner of overdosing on sodium by their own doing?
But in the end, I could only find so many creases in the clean-cut cloth that is omakase at Fujisaki. Ryuchi Yoshi’s knife work, sushi preparation ability, and the attention he gives to even the junker aspects of the meal like miso soup, as well as the inclusion of a pastry genius’ dessert all made for a meal that cannot possibly be rated any less than an 8/10. End of discussion.
Now, excuse me while I fire up the site to make my next booking…
This post is based on an independently-paid visit to Fujisaki
- Yoshii’s sushi is revived once more, and it’s one of Sydney’s premier omakase experiences
- White fish done right!
- Why’s there a duck course???
- Diners should not be trusted to work their own soy
- The counter is a design travesty & missed opportunity
Would I return: yes
F8 | S4 | A1.5