When it comes to Japanese food, residents of Sydney’s Lower North Shore are not exactly spoilt for choice: with a higher concentration of authentic restaurants than anywhere else in Sydney, this is the postcode to consider. Despite the abundance of choice, restaurants can still stand out if they have the chops. Case in point: Toshiya, in Cremorne.
Date Last Visited: 11/3/2017
Address: 1/283 Military Rd, Cremorne NSW 2090
Highlight Dishes: sashimi tacos, prosciutto & salmon nigiri
Price Guide (approx): $50-80pp plus drinks
Toshiya is eponymously named after its head chef: Toshiya Kai. With over 20 years of cooking experience, Toshiya-san is well-practised across the culinary gamut: from traditional ryotei-level kaiseki in Japan to traditional French techniques. At Toshiya, the cooking is decidedly Japanese, but with a modicum of fusion techniques sprinkled in, along with ingredients that one wouldn’t ordinarily find in washoku (traditional Japanese cooking). If you’re getting worried, you can relax: the fusion touch is light, but effective where it counts. Toshiya is first and foremost a Japanese restaurant – sushi, noodles, tempura and everything in between is all par for the course.
We were served a set lunch menu, with a few modifications/additions from the a la carte menu.
I don’t usually cover drinks, but my absolute first time trying sparkling sake deserves a mention. Served in a champagne flute, Mio Sparkling Sake is literally sake with bubbles. There was a lot of residual sugar, so sweetness was definitely at the forefront of the palate. However, the fresh flavour of sake still shone through. Recommended if you’re a sweet tooth.
I don’t drink beer very often, but Japanese craft beer is new territory, and new territory is worth exploring: the Ishikawa pale ale I sampled smelled like honey, with its taste characterised by an intensely crisp and refreshing mouthfeel. I could have downed many, many bottles of this – a great (albeit expensive) beer for my tastes.
Our first course is an appetiser-esque plate of salmon carpaccio. The fusion was apparant before even tasting – the aroma of truffle oil was unmistakable. The salmon was as expected, delicious; there was going to be no doubt about that when it’s served with a perfectly-balanced ponzu, delivering equal bursts of soy & sweetness.
The alfalfa was surprisingly strong (I know, alfalfa of all things!), though it could be argued that it cut through the intensity of the ponzu. Personally, I could have done without it, though I did appreciate the crunch.
One of Toshiya’s signature dishes, it’s surprising I don’t come across sashimi tacos more often. Cubed sashimi of various fish (I’m guessing salmon & kingfish; maybe snapper?) is well-seasoned with chilli mayo, and ensconced in a taco made from a deep-fried gyoza wrapper. The taco itself was light, satisfyingly crunchy and didn’t get in the way of the fresh fish within. Yeah, this was really good.
I do have to point out that it’s quite messy to eat – especially if your taco ends up cracking the wrong way. Additionally, don’t wait too long before eating – I suspect you’ll have to deal with a rather soggy taco underside if you do!
Superbly thin and slick, the skin was easily the best part of the duck gyoza. The insides weren’t as admirable – the filling was too dry, and I wasn’t really able to discern the duck meat. Perhaps fattier cuts of duck are required, which would address both quibbles at once.
Toshiya’s hand at fusion showed itself again in the wagyu tataki. While classic ponzu was used as the condiment of choice, the presence of lemongrass & ginger was unmistakably Thai, along with a fair bit of heat. Traditionalists may balk, but as I like Thai food, Toshiya’s tataki was straight up my alley.
The wagyu itself was soft, tender and chewy. It was less seared on the outside than most tataki I’ve eaten, being closer to tartare-levels of rawness. It worked, though I’d have preferred a bit more browning of the edges.
I understand that it’s a set menu and so portions need to be kept small, but serving only one piece of soft shell crab per person was bordeline criminal. The crab was almost too juicy, though the batter was less impressive – sporting a bit of toughness that belies its light & crunchy look. Eh, its juiciness more than made up for it.
So far, I’ve been thinking “yeah, this place is not bad”. But then Toshiya-san brought out the prosciutto & salmon belly nigiri w/tobiko, and I truly entered dreamworld.
This is easily Toshiya’s best dish by far. Combining the meaty umami of prosciuitto with the fishy, fatty umami of salmon belly is pure, unadulterated decadence. This is the sort of nigiri that should be served everywhere, tradition be damned. The flavour was heavenly, the piece consumed all too quickly.
Pure amazement, pure flavour; another picture well-deserved. If only that translated into a second piece!
It was a bit difficult to come off the high that was the prosciutto nigiri, but Toshiya’s grilled scallops puts forward a strong case. The scallop meat itself is pretty much on point – juicy, firm and cooked just right. However, the broth in which the scallops were served was unfortunately too salty. Perhaps a pass on this one.
I couldn’t find this dish on any menu, so I assume it’s one of Toshiya’s newer creations – and decidedly fusion-esque at that. Soft pieces of lamb are served at room temperature with various condiments, the most important of which is a quenelle of a caramel & soy-like reduction.
I liked the flavour combination, though I can immediately tell it won’t be to everyone’s tastes: the aroma of lamb is really strong. While it worked for me thanks to lamb being an integral part of my childhood, it may challenge others.
Definitely the most experimental dish at Toshiya; However, I have my doubts about how long the experiment would last for its regular clientele of half-half Japanese & Western customers. Fun fact: Japanese people don’t really eat much lamb either, except in Hokkaido.
Maki sushi can be ordered a la carte at Toshiya, though for the purposes of showcasing Toshiya’s food, we were presented with a small & beautifully-plated assortment of these delicate little rolls.
The salmon & avocado maki delivered the “oooomph” moment – salmon & avo is a time-tested combination, but Toshiya’s use of togarashi-dusted fried leek & sweet miso really took it up a notch. Spot-on, to the point, tasty as.
I’m not as convinced about the tempura scallop maki: the deep frying, heavy shiso soy and avocado pretty made the scallop redundant, when scallops should at least be an equal, if not a hero, of the sushi. I couldn’t taste it.
You would be forgiven for thinking that Toshiya’s pari pari chicken is a dish taken straight out of a French creperie – that’s pretty much what I thought was on the plate. Actually, “pari pari” (not peri peri) is Japanese onomatopoeia for “crunch crunch”, and this is used to describe the texture of the spring roll wrapper embracing the chicken. Yup, it’s not a crepe – it’s a giant chicken spring roll with a ton of melted cheese. The entire creation was basically bathed in a sweet sauce made from ponzu/soy/mirin/dashi called tare.
The biggest risk with such a dish is that the chicken is overcooked. Amazingly, it wasn’t; juiciness and tenderness still ruled, and the cheesiness; oh my, the cheese was real…ly good.
I won’t lie – while delicious, the dish was incredibly rich. It’s intended to be a main, but I would strongly suggest sharing this so you can try out another main, whilst at the same time taking a break from every mouthful of intensity that is Toshiya’s over-the-top “giant AF chicken spring roll”.
As guests, we were provided a dessert assortment; as a regular customer, you will be able to pick and choose from Toshiya’s dessert menu. For us, we decided to go for matcha & black sesame ice cream (with red bean also available). For good measure, Toshiya-san threw in a matcha creme brulee and four chocolate spring rolls as well. Okay, we concede defeat.
While the desserts were varied, unfortunately so was the quality, The matcha & black sesame ice creams, with their intense, recognisable flavours were the safe bets. The creme brulee did possess that signature crack in the hard caramel, but the custard within was curdled. This didn’t affect flavour (still a good hit of matcha), but the texture took a significant hit – it wasn’t nearly as smooth as it should have been.
As for the chocolate spring rolls – or Nutella spring rolls as I think of them – they were okay at best. The chocolate was rich, but the spring roll pastry was overly tough and chewy, instead of being crisp and crunchy. Also personally, I don’t like finishing off Japanese meals with chocolate – it just doesn’t pair that well, and felt like a dish to cater for more Western palates.
Overall, Toshiya promises a Japanese experience that sticks to its chef’s traditional roots, while successfully experimenting with techniques and ingredients found in other culinary spheres. There are far more hits than misses, and with that, comes another name in the expansive list of Japanese restaurants in North Sydney I can vouch for.
I dined as a guest of Washoku Lovers & Yoshiya.
- Japanese fusion done subtly but meaningfully
- Prosciutto & salmon nigiri. Oh. My. God.
- Pacing during the middle of the meal was a bit off – pairs of dishes arrived at the same time, while there were 10+ minute waits between others
- The lamb dish is a very incongruent offering, relative to the rest of the menu
- The desserts could use some work
Would I return: yes.
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.
F7 | S4* | A1
*Due to visiting as guests of Toshiya, take service scores with a grain of salt