When it comes to sushi, Sydney has its fair share of options, which would satisfy all but the most devoted sushi aficionados.
But then, what if you are one such connoisseur? For those who’ve experienced the grand omakase experiences in Japan, Sydney’s a little bit lacking – it’s no shame to admit this – facts are facts.
That said, where there’s a gap, there’s opportunity – an opportunity that Chase Kojima, of Sokyo fame has gladly embraced. If you’ve been eating sushi off of a train your whole life, be prepared to be taken on a first class experience like you’ve never had before.
Date Last Visited: 18/5/2016 (six omakase visits to date)
Address: The Darling, The Star – Level G 80 Pyrmont St Pyrmont, NSW 2009
Recommended Dish(es): book the omakase experience and you can’t go wrong
For first time readers or for those interested in Sokyo’s a la carte menu, you may want to read my initial post (new link) on Sokyo or, if you’re interested in a fuller explanation of Sokyo’s omakase experience, jump to here (same page).
Sokyo and sister restaurant Kiyomi’s “shachō” (president/head) Chase Kojima knows his way around a Japanese restaurant. I don’t exaggerate when I say that Sokyo is quite likely my favourite restaurant in Sydney, if we’re going to use number of return visits as the metric of choice. As of this May 2016 update, I’ve visited over ten times, of which six of them have been at the sushi counter for sushi omakase. The restaurant by itself is already a solid contender for some of Sydney’s best Japanese, but when you’re at the bar and Sano the sushi master himself is serving you the best sushi in Sydney, it’s nearly a superlative a sushi experience as you can get in Sydney.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that I’m always looking for an excuse to return. Seriously, I have eaten at Sokyo on as little as a friend casually remarking “wanna go Sokyo?” – a dangerous question for my wallet, to be sure.
It’s not a cheap restaurant by any means, but if I’m dropping good money on good Japanese, Sokyo’s my go-to. So when The Star & Sokyo announced a special $200 “celebration of produce” dinner (5 alcoholic drinks included – not detailed), I put my name down on the booking list faster than Sano cutting fish. Big call.
Thus, instead of the usual 16-20 pieces of sushi that comprise the traditional sokyo sushi omakase, there were only ten such pieces, with a series of starters making up the rest of the meal. While that may seem lamentable, it would be remiss to ignore Sokyo’s other specialty – that is – dishing out standout Japanese.
We started with a course of edamame, which isn’t pictured. Just letting you know in case you thought the first thing we ate was the below:
In a cue from Noma Australia, Chase Kojima’s abalone schnitzel is representative of just how influential and in some ways, peerless Rene Redzepi truly is. While it’s easy to decry Sokyo as a copycat on this front, it becomes immediately apparent that while the inspiration is decidedly Noma-esque (Chase himself declared as such), the execution is markedly different.
The abalone schnitzel at Sokyo is deep-fried whole, then thinly-sliced, paired with crunchy cabbage, even crunchier ice plant, and a sauce made from abalone liver mixed with a custom worcestershire/tomato blend. The biggest difference between Sokyo’s schnitzel and Noma’s is that the former retains abalone’s signature chewy, rubbery texture, whereas Noma’s is cooked down such that it almost resembles a liquid tofu. In this dish, the real boost comes from that thick, rich sauce that’s practically ambrosial in its rendition of abalone’s flavour. It’s like abalone concentrate, if that were a thing. As far as I was concerned, there was no better pairing I could think of than battered abalone & that sauce.
If Noma can encourage this kind of flattering mimicry, I’m all for it!
If you ask Sokyo staff to recommend a signature dish, you will, 9 times out of 10, receive Chase Kojima’s signature dengakuman miso cod – something the restaurateur mastered during his years at world-famous Nobu. My prior description of the cod still stands today, so I’ll rehash: I don’t think I ever really need to visit Nobu, because I don’t think this slab of fish could be done any better than it already is.
Well, okay, maybe it could be a little less intense/salty, but other than that, it’s perfect. It’s some of the softest, most tender flesh you could put on your fork (indeed so soft you could cut it with the handle). And packed with sweet, buttery miso flavour bursting with every bite, this is the fish dish to put on your wish list.
Something that I’ve never been served before at Sokyo also happened to be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten here – behold Australia’s best beef – David Blackmore wagyu, of which three different cuts are served. Up top is striploin, the right is rump, and oyster blade rounds out the left.
While pretty much any cut of Blackmore is going to be top class, there has to be a winner out of the three presented here, and that’s the striploin. It sports the best flavour, a heady balance of sweetness and fattiness brought on by its high level of intramuscular fat (that marbling goodness). It was destined to win. The oyster blade comes up next, with a tougher, more complex texture that’s really a textural exploration of the beef through chewing. Last up is the rump which – while no slouch – is perhaps the plainest in terms of both flavour and texture. However, this is what makes rump a safe cut – when cooked well, it won’t lead you astray. Of course, Sokyo knows how to cook beef – that was never a question.
Equally important are the condiments on the side – umeboshi & chilli paste + vinegar miso (1), shio kombu (salt) & wasabi (2), and plain ponzu (3). We were given enough slices so that a piece can be treated to a different condiment exactly once, and I found that the best combination was the shio kombu + wasabi with the striploin. Once again, it’s proven to me that when your beef is high quality, all you need is a lil bit of salt. In Sokyo’s case – alongside a touch of Japanese flair. That said, points for the fiery umeboshi paste and sour, punchy vinegar miso – those come a close second, and I could see them being most welcome at a high-end Japanese BBQ joint.
The beef was the last of the non-sushi courses, which was signalled by the presentation of these literal spoonfuls of lime jelly & fennel granita. Clearly a palate refresher, these icy mouthfuls did exactly that – with the tart kick of lime and liquorice-like aroma of fennel.
While the experience was brief, the refreshments did their jobs exceedingly well, priming our palates for round two: the sushi. Even though I only got back from Japan one month earlier, I was already craving sushi – you could say I never disembarked from the sushi train in the first place. No sir, not at all.
One thing has changed at Sokyo, and that’s for the better: they acquired an aging fridge specifically to age fish.
But let’s take a step back – did you know that fish are able to be aged in the first place? Yep! Like a great cut of beef, fish can undergo the same processes to obtain a cut that’s fuller in flavour. This is accomplished through moisture reduction (dry-aging) which concentrates flavour, as well as (good) bacteria releasing enzymes that break down the proteins in the meat, resulting in a more supple texture, as well as a more complex, often sweetly umami flavour.
It’s a lot more subtle in fish than in steak, but it’s already at work. For example, the NZ snapper above is aged 9 days, and I was immediately able to taste the flavour of the fish despite there being so little soy sauce brushed on it. Why bother, when the fish itself is now its own seasoning?
A similar story with this 4-day aged imperador. More concentration of flavour, with the taste itself markedly different from fresh imperador. Fresh fish often has no flavour – let’s be honest – but aging changes the story. Another excellent piece that continues to solidify Sokyo’s position as purveyor of Sydney’s best sushi.
You can see a pattern here that fish doesn’t need to be aged nearly as long as beef. Only a few days is enough to do it, but that’ll still change the way a bigeye tuna tastes once it’s gone through 7 days in the wringer. Despite this being a rather lean piece of tuna, it tasted almost exactly like a medium-fatty piece instead. Well then, I can only brace myself for what will surely, inevitably land on my plate.
But before the piece-that-must-not-be-named arrives, we were greeted by another piece of tuna – this time of bluefin variety. This one’s been pre-marinated, and was thus a lot more flavourful than the bigeye before it, while tasting just as tender. I should point out that Sano has, to date, never over-seasoned a piece of fish. Keep it up!
And now we move onto a heavier NZ chu-toro (medium fatty tuna), which really begins to bring on the fat. I haven’t really witnessed any sushi chef aging fatty fish, and I suspect this is because these cuts already pack a ton of flavour. Thus, I also suspect that this chu-toro has not been aged, though I could be completely wrong.
It doesn’t matter – it tastes like what good chu-toro should taste like: melt-in-your-mouth goodness that can only be surpassed by…
A scallop? Hah, jokes – Sano wasn’t about to lay down what you were thinking. Though I was surprised too that a scallop piece interjected in an otherwise predictable progression. The scallop nigiri tasted great nonetheless – torched such that its sweetness comes out in its charred edges and brushed with soy, this scallop packs quite a punch. The sleeper hit is actually the seaweed crisp at the bottom – a very crunchy, almost chip-like texture wins the day and provides another edge of umami to an otherwise safe and satisfying dish.
And now we’re talking – ootoro (fatty tuna belly): arguably the best part of a tuna. Pretty sure there’s more fat than lean meat here, but I’m okay with it – fish fat is good fat, right? Regardless, not something I ever think about as I plop the whole piece into my mouth – this has always been, and always will be the quintessential piece of sushi.
This NZ toro isn’t perfect though – I wasn’t a fan of how it was scored, leading to a less-than-pleasant toughness that forced me to exert more effort than I usually would in chewing.
But no matter, for it gets better – as Japanese toro is superior to that of New Zealand. Unlike the NZ toro, the texture here is absolutely on point – melty, fatty goodness throughout the entire piece, and with a much sweeter taste of fishy fat. The dusting of sansho pepper also helps to cut through the richness somewhat, and being a fan of peppery things, easily meant that this nigiri is king of the night.
Not that the aburi scampi didn’t try exceedingly hard to take that coveted title – and come close it did. Sokyo’s torched scampi is a known quantity, and often comes up very close in being my favourite piece. In fact, I often request this piece again when I don’t feel like indulging in the heaviness of toro. The combination of torched fish, mayo & sansho is too good to resist, and for as long as it’s made in this lovingly flavoursome, toothsome way, I hope it never gets taken off the menu.
While it was a bit odd that we didn’t get tamagoyaki to signal the end of the meal, I’m not complaining that an aburi salmon belly was substituted instead. It’s basically like fatty tuna in texture, except tasting like salmon instead.
Wow, if only everything were that easy to describe. Seriously though, Sokyo does salmon like it does every other fish – exceptionally well.
While I could easily have chowed down another dozen pieces of sushi, life had to throw a curveball – in the form of dessert.
This is the second time I’ve had Sokyo’s Yuzu tart, and it’s still damn good. One of their newer creations (thus not having been previously covered in the 2015 visit section of this blog post), what’s very appealing is how balanced the sweet and sour components are. It’s not too much of either, and I was also able to taste the crumbly, buttery tart pastry prominently each time – the ratio between curd and tart is also well-done.
It paired well with the creme fraiche ice cream, which is almost like a creamy, neutral foil to the acidity/sweetness of the yuzu tart. Very luscious, and unfortunately gone all too quickly.
Last but not least, Sokyo will always be showcasing its black sesame-based goma (sesame) street dessert – tempered chocolate, caramelised white chocolate mousse, caramelised black sesame praline w/black sesame ice cream. It is as perfect as always, though it won’t win over anyone who was never a fan to begin with. In that sense, it’s a good thing how consistent it has been. A most appropriate finish to the meal.
Let’s go back to the beginning: Sokyo’s aim with this special, yet at times familiar dinner was to showcase produce. I can safely say that they’ve done just that. Whether it’s fresh abalone, or top-of-the-line wagyu, or even showing off their new aging fridge, they do it all, and they do it well. Don’t be surprised if the next time I blog about Sokyo I’d have notched another ten visits under my belt. This isn’t about keeping score – it’s about quality, and Sokyo delivers that in spades.
- Still the definitive sushi omakase experience in Sydney
- Sokyo’s non-sushi dishes are superb as always – as usual
- Continually inventive
- Service can sometimes still be patchy, they are a busy operation
- Not a fan of the punk rock vibe & loud music, comes down to preference
- Next available booking for omakase is in July? Good lord!
F8 | S4 | A2
This is not Chase Kojima. While he runs the show at Sokyo, it’s actually Takashi Sano who conducts the omakase sushi making theatre. He is an itamae, a proper sushi chef, with experience at Tetsuya’s & Koi. He’s the one that conducts the omakase.
Speaking of which, what is omakase? In Japanese, it means “leave it up to you”. When you ask for omakase, you’re placing your trust in the chef(s) to serve you what they think is the best produce of the night. You don’t decide what sushi you want, you don’t decide what dishes you want (bar specific allergies/aversions etc.). That is the simplicity – the beauty of it.
Omakase at Sokyo is a somewhat exclusive affair – there are only 8 spots available per night, it’s $150++ (++ depending on if you ask for more sushi at the end), and it’s only available when the chefs are. Plan this one. Date-worthy? Incredibly.
As this was our first time indulging in Sokyo’s omakase, we decided to let Sano-san handle everything for us. There were a few unexpected surprises…itadakimasu!
The first few dishes, to our surprise, are taken from Sokyo’s standard a la carte menu. Sano must have understood the foodie vibe we were giving off – visiting with king-of-puns iFat & Instagram Queen Nutellasum meant that not only were there cameras aplenty, Sano must have gotten a handle on how large our voracious appetites would be. No fish were spared to sate our palates.
First up is an old Sokyo favourite – salmon tataki. Pure and simple, some of the best salmon you can get, artistically topped with sliced cucumber and feta, complete with caramelised peanuts. The salmon itself would have done it for me, but the addition of feta was in no way compromising – it was all addictive, baby. I have no complaints as a cheese lover.
The peanuts are a more novel addition, one that leverages texture to great effect. As far as starters go, we’re already off to lala land.
Up next, we’ve got another ocean classic in the form of kingfish miso ceviche. I’m not quite sure how, but this already outperforms even the exemplary salmon tataki dish. That is to say, we’re on a roll here. Miso and fish go together better than bread on butter, so add some crispy potato and I’ll happily sleep with the fishes after this being part of my last meal.
The firm textures and smoky flavours of bonito kunsei means that this dish is not for everyone. For me, this is a continuation of the luxury sushi train ride that is Sokyo’s omakase. The flavour intensity is kicked up a notch here, with a good amount of smokiness and fishiness in a near-perfect balance. I found it to be just a bit more fishy that I’d have liked it. The myoga ginger does do its part to cancel that out, for what it’s worth.
A diptych of snapper + snapper skin in yuzu & alfonsino in sweet soy makes up the next course. The presentation is unlike any other dish on the menu, and definitely drew several curious murmurs from our group. That was quickly silenced when we began eating. The chewy textures of snapper skin and tender snapper flesh makes for delightful mouthfeel. Coupled with a clean and refreshing yuzu dressing, it was most disappointing when I cleaned out my far-too-small bowl.
The alfonsino is a similar story in concluding this dynamic duo’s story. It’s not a fish I have had before, but it was tasty all the same. I can’t say it’s drastically different in textures/flavours to other fish I’ve had, but that’s a good thing.
I’m like a broken record during this meal – the seafood is consistently top-notch. Surprised? Maybe less so, when you realise that a good portion of Sokyo’s produce is sourced from Japan or New Zealand. There’s no screwing around here. Let’s keep eating.
Sitting at the sushi bar does mean you often get to see the plating of other diners’ dishes. This is a terrible problem to have, as you want to eat everything. Sokyo’s sashimi platter is one such an example. Yes I know, we’re having omakase for crying out loud, but come on!
Fortunately, our next dish of asparagus w/truffle sauce arrives, and we’re spared the torture of looking at food that isn’t ours.
One of the few dishes that isn’t seafood, this is a surprising departure from the ocean. Asparagus and tempura lovers will have much to love about this dish – the crunchiness of the batter, the tender and still juicy vegetable on the inside, and the powerful aroma of truffle make for a dish that’s difficult to share.
As good as the asparagus was, we wanted to return to what the omakase was about – seafood. While we didn’t quite get our next course of sushi yet, we did get one of my favourites at Sokyo – tempura Moreton Bay Bug. Easily one of the best tempura I’ve had, this is all about the crunch, the tenderness, and the powerfully flavoursome sauces that make the dish what it is.
It’s difficult to find a flavour combo better than this one, it’s definitely on my death row menu.
The next course isn’t seafood either, but I’m definitely going to forgive it if it’s the kurobuta pork belly I’ve seen invading my Instagram feed some months ago. A somewhat newer dish at Sokyo, this was a stick I’ve been craving for quite some time.
Juicy pork belly, clean blocks of daikon, some seriously tasty mustard aioli. It’s a safe combination, but one that is so good it’ll reinforce any pre-existing biases towards pork belly, and possibly even convert a few who aren’t convinced!
There is one last dish that stands between us and our omakase starting for real. Fortunately, it was also the best.
Nobody of sane mind visits Sokyo without the DengakuMan in mind. This is Sokyo’s miso cod, and it is likely the best you’ll ever have. Word has it that it’s even better than its original populariser – Nobu. I can’t personally vouch for that as I haven’t been to the latter, but Nobu would have to find a way to put an orgasm into this dish to beat Sokyo.
The flesh of the fish cleaves off like a structurally unsound iceberg, in evenly thin slices. It’s practically buttery in texture but you still know it’s fish you’re eating. That miso brings forth flavours that are the very definition of umami. Seriously, if people ask me “what’s umami” I’d respond with one of “MSG, ramen soup, miso cod”.
It was almost a tragedy to be finishing off this dish and moving onto the omakase proper. I won’t bother talking about each piece, as one can only read so much before a coma sets on. I’ll summarise every 4 pieces.
DIGRESSION OF THE TEMPTATION KIND.
The first four pieces represent a good spread of more buttery-textured fish. Call me old-fashioned, but there’s no way to go past the bluefin ootoro. I have had this so rarely that you could hack off half my hand and the number of times I’ve eaten ootoro can still be counted with said hand. When we talk “buttery textures” in fish, ootoro is where it’s at.
If you haven’t had Sokyo’s ootoro, you won’t be able to appreciate it from just my words alone (just like how mindblowing HDTV was when it first came out, while we were used to DVD quality). On the flip side, if you’ve had ootoro, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Either way, we’re in this together.
The other three pieces are naturally leaner, with peculiarities of their own. The alfonsino was a bit tougher than the tuna, but as a result had a bit more of a muscly texture which was quite a nice departure from the rest.
So what of the nigiri as a whole, so far? I’m a fan, for sure. I’m not well-versed in just how good omakase can get, but this handily beats any sushi train, that’s for sure. I did wish the rice would be a little bit more sour than it is, it would carry much better with the fish.
Onto the next four pieces.
The next four pieces are quite diverse, with the shellfish gaining momentum. The scampi was a crowd pleaser, and iFat declared it to be his favourite piece of the meal. I can see where he’s coming from – the usual slipperiness of the scampi actually works in its favour this time, without ever getting too tough. It’s quite a silky texture in the mouth and it’s easily backed up by the custom soy mixture Sano uses to flavour it.
My personal favourite goes to the trout – Sano’s horizontal slicing of the fish gives it some extra texture in addition to the natural smoothness of the fish. It’s not a novel idea – but not one you’d often see at lower-end sushi joints as this is extra effort.
The scallop is a safe choice, and a delicious one – especially as it’s been torched. Can’t go wrong here!
We’re getting a little fancier here, and the shellfish game remains strong.
Tough chops are required to make work of the cuttlefish, while the kingfish belly makes for a grand “steak of the sea” moment – without kingfish (and tuna), I’m not even sure what I’d be eating.
Engawa (fluke) is another fish I have not had before. It’s almost like a red meat in texture, but go below the surface (literally) and you’ll find it hides a most rich and supple fatty part that’s sure to delight.
Scallop abductor muscle make for a chewy little gunkan (“battleship” sushi – as it looks like the fat shape of a cruiser), and we’re just hankering for more!
And so we are at the end – 16 pieces and an ungodly number of starters later, we were feeling “a tad” sated. That is to say, the temptation to get more was definitely there, especially after going through a seared scallop and Sokyo’s signature crispy rice spicy tuna sushi. I bet you haven’t heard of that one before. It’s a big departure from proper nigiri, but your adventurous nature is well-rewarded with a spicy umami kick from that tuna, and then a most crunchy but also somewhat sticky and warm sensation from the crispy rice. It’s really well done! One of the most flavoursome pieces as well.
The meal is finished off with some tamagoyaki which is kind of like a rolled egg omelette with both sweet and savoury characteristics. It’s commonly served at the end of omakase, so this made quite a bit of sense. In other words : legit.
Wow, what a meal, except you know, we’re not done. Living up to this blog’s namesake, we move onto even more dessert, because we live in quite a hedonistic world, and – if you can’t fight them – join them.
Happy to do so.
This is Sokyo’s mochi ice cream. My previous post on Sokyo highlighted how delicious and novel these are, and that doesn’t change here. We love mochi, we love ice cream. We’re going to love mochi ice cream.
It’s almost axiomatic.
Now we’re talking. Combining all that is sweet about Sokyo into one, we have a custom Sokyo dessert platter which is pretty much the bee’s knees in the joint.
Now imma let you finish ogling at the picture but let’s get straight onto their signature – goma street. Cracking into each of those chocolate discs, mixing up the sesame crunch and the sesame ice cream is one of my greatest pleasures at Sokyo. Easily their best dessert, a must-order each time.
The other desserts are ok, not great, not bad either. I only have eyes for goma. Sorry, other sweet things!
Wow, ok. We’re about done here. Actually, we are done here. This omakase experience is something else. We were all blown away. It’s going to go down as one of the definitive dining experiences of 2015, that’s for sure.
Personally, I would have preferred a purer omakase, that focuses on only the sushi. While the starters were all quite delicious, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting when I let Sano decide everything. Next time (and yes, there will be a next time), I’ll ask for sushi only. It’s going to be more expensive, but it will be worth it.
Sokyo, it really is as close as we’ll get to Sydney x Tokyo.
This post is based on an independent visit to Sokyo at The Star
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀
- This is the definitive sushi omakase experience in Sydney
- Sokyo’s non-sushi dishes are superb as always
- The existence of goma street
- Starters mar what I expected was a pure omakase experience (they’re still great though)
- It will be difficult for every piece of sushi to impress, adjust expectations accordingly
- The pacing of the meal is a bit off – some were plated quickly, others took a fair stretch of time
- Be prepared to give your bums four hours of seat loving. Try not to think too much about the soreness afterwards. They’re not the most comfortable
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.
F8 | S4 | A2.5
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