9 | 3 | 2 | 1.5
- Contemporary Japanese food done right
- Doesn’t forget about the classics such as sushi
- Too many “miss” dishes, making it impossible to have a complete great meal
- 2% credit card surcharge (I know right?!)
- Chase Toro Toro
- Toro/Chutoro Nigiri
- DengakuMan (Miso Cod)
TL;DR – While Sokyo has several “miss” dishes and can at times be excessively expensive, it is undoubtedly the best Japanese restaurant in Sydney.
Sokyo is the best Japanese restaurant in Sydney. There’s simply no debate that it’s better than places like Sake, Sushi E and Ume.
Chase Kojima, born and raised in San Francisco and formerly an Executive Chef of the iconic Nobu Restaurant Group, has done a fantastic job bringing a contemporary and edgy take on Japanese food to Sydney.
But I say all that not out of joy, but rather out of despondence. Having been exposed to the very best of what Japan has to offer, eating at Sokyo becomes a constant reminder of what Sydney isn’t and what it will never be.
As such, my meals at Sokyo are always bittersweet. I’m happy that I’ve finally found a Japanese restaurant that I still enjoy after my many food pilgrimages to Japan. But it’s deeply saddening that the gap is still so very big.
Guess I’ll just go back to stalking Jetstar for bargain flights to Japan.
Level G, The Darling The Star,
80 Pyrmont St, Pyrmont NSW (map)
+61 2 9657 9161
Sushi for one please.
The reason why I think Sokyo has the best sushi in Sydney is because of the rice. As I’ve written before, sushi is all about the rice and Sokyo’s rice is as close as I’ve had outside Japan. The seafood (quality and variety) is not and never will be as good as Japan, but because rice is so paramount to the sushi’s balance and overall taste, you’ll almost forget.
The only problem is that the nigiri is small. Yes, you can argue that standard Australian nigiri is just super mutant size and that Sokyo is much more inline with Japanese serving sizes. But it’s not. Japanese nigiri is definitely bigger than this. This “stinginess” is disappointing given you can be paying up to $15 per nigiri.
With all that in mind, Sokyo’s Sushi Omakase is still one of the most worthwhile dining experiences you will have in Sydney. Omakase in Japanese means “I leave it to you” and this case you will leave it with Sokyo’s sushi chef Takashi Sano, who’s worked at Tetsuya and Koi and is regarded as one Australia’s best sushi chefs. Bookings essential, and make sure you request to be served by Takashi Sano himself.
Chase Toro Toro – Bluefin Tuna Belly (Toro) with Sea Urchin, Black Truffle wrapped in Seaweed –
Market Price, approx. $15 per piece (9.25/10)
Tuna Belly? Sea urchin? Truffle? Kaboom (that was the sound of my mind blowing).
Being the combination of my three most favourite things in the world, this was always going to be a favourite.
Buckets and buckets of umami. First you taste the melt in your mouth tuna, followed by the buttery creaminess of sea urchin that carries and coats your whole mouth with the musky aroma of truffle. All this rounded off by the crispiness and smokiness of roasted nori (seaweed). Simply delicious.
All this comes with a small catch though. This is on the truffle menu, which only comes round during Australian truffle season (~winter). Also, with any sushi at Sokyo that has chutoro or toro, stock can be extremely limited and good tuna belly is rare and prized. There have been times where they have run out of chutoro halfway through service. So get in early.
Ooma Premium Bluefin Toro Nigiri and Chutoro (South Australia) Nigiri –
Market Price, approx. $10 per piece (9/10)
Ooma, or more traditionally Ōma, is known to be the best hon-maguro (true tuna or Pacific bluefin tuna) in the world and is dealt almost exclusively to high-end sushi restaurants where you can pay up to and over $100 for a serving of otoro.
Ōma-cho, is a small fishing town on the Shimokita Peninsula of Aomori Prefecture responsible for Ōma tuna. The cold and fast waters nearby in the Tsugaru Strait, a dangerous passage that separates Japan’s main island of Honshu from the northern island of Hokkaido, and links the Pacific Ocean with the Japan Sea, makes it home to the best tuna in the world.
Its popularity is not just due to the quality of Ōma’s tuna though, but rather because of a generations-old fishing method called “ippon zuri”. Ippon zuri is extremely challenging as tuna is caught using single-hook hand-line with live bait and is done on relatively small two-person boats. Such is the challenge, that it typically takes one or two hours to pull a big tuna close enough to the boat so that it could be stunned with an electric charge. Despite such difficulties, Ōma’s fishermen said they preferred ippon zuri because it allowed them to catch just large, adult fish, leaving the smaller young ones to sustain local stocks.
Ōma is also the home of the most expensive tuna ever sold, coming in at ¥155.4 million ($1.8 million AUD) or ¥700,000 ($8,000 AUD) per kilogram.
If the toro nigiri I had in some of the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo was a 10, the toro nigiri I had at Sokyo would be an 8.5, which really is as much as one can expect. All I can say is that Sokyo has the best toro nigiri in Sydney, and whether you get Ooma toro nigiri or regular chutoro nigiri, you will be treated to some of the best sushi you will have in your life. Nothing like your regular tuna (maguro) nigiris, this will melt in your mouth as soon as it makes contact with your tongue. Order lots until they run out.
Saikou Salmon (New Zealand) Nigiri – $6 per piece (7.5/10)
Saikou Salmon live in the swift cold currents of pure glacial water in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, one of the last pristine environments in the world. Constant swimming against the water flow means they develop firm flesh with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and less inter-muscular fat than ocean-reared salmon. As a result, Saikou salmon has a clean flavor and delicate taste, and together with its dense flesh, makes this salmon ideal for sushi.
Sustainably farmed, it is naturally free of parasites, GMO, antibiotics, chemicals, mercury and other heavy metals. Saikou Salmon are amongst the healthiest salmon in the world, and is one of the world’s best freshwater King Salmon.
Having said that, you can get Saikou salmon in a lot of restaurants in Sydney (fish markets included) so I would save my stomach space for better sushi.
Sea Urchin (Tasmania) – $8 per piece (8.5/10)
Speaking of better sushi, this would be up there as one of the best Sea Urchin I’ve had in Sydney. It doesn’t come cheap, but for a sea urchin fan, the price is completely justified.
Tuna Crispy Rice – Spicy Tuna, Spicy Mayo, Crispy Hokkaido “Yumepirika” Rice – $20 (7.5/10)
Sokyo’s Tuna Crispy Rice is supposedly their signature nigiri, and is the nigiri that everyone recommends. I don’t entirely agree.
Yumepirika was coined from the Japanese words Yume which means dream and Pirika which is the word for beautiful in the language of the Hokkaido’s aboriginal Ainu.
Yumepirika rice was developed by the researchers at Hokkaido Prefectural Kamikawa Agricultural Experiment Station in Bippu. Hokkaido was traditionally a region that many people considered was unsuited for rice cultivation due to its cold climate but researchers were able turn the cold climate to their advantage. Yumepirika rice plants uniquely use cold snow water to prevent the breeding of pests and use of chemicals during the year.
As a result, in 2011 the Japan Grain Inspection Association gave it a “Special A” ranking, the highest ranking, in a taste test and is now known to be one of the best rices in the world, competing with the famous Koshihikari rice.
I could not really taste the uniqueness of Yumepirika as it had been deep fried and there was so little of it as the nigiri itself was small, but it definitely tasted like quality rice.
As for the rest of the roll, spicy tuna with spicy mayo results in one of the more flavoursome nigiris on the Sokyo menu and the crispy rice, essentially rice coated in bread crumb and deep fried, adds an interesting textural element but would I pick this over a traditional chutoro nigiri? If I had to choose one nigiri from Sokyo, would this be it? Absolutely not a chance.
Salmon Belly Aburi, Spicy Daikon Oroshi – $20 (7.5/10)
Salmon Belly Aburi is good and always a crowd pleaser, but this was no better than the Salmon Belly Aburi you can get at Makoto, Umi Kaiten-Zushi and other good sushi trains. Once again, I would save my stomach space for better sushi.
Queensland – Spanner Crab, Spicy Aioli, Avocado, Soy Paper – $22 (7/10)
The Queensland Roll is Sokyo’s best sushi roll. The delicate flavours of crab . The roll is wrapped in soy paper which provides an interesting textural contrast, but I would still prefer some crunch somewhere in the roll. Soy paper is more smooth and stretchy, but it lacks the crispiness of seaweed that rolls normally have.
Japanese Barbeque – Karubi Short Rib, Gochujang Sauce, White Kimchi – $21 (6.5/10)
Flavours were nicely balanced and distinctly Korean, despite the name of the roll. The short rib was a bit chewy though, so it didn’t work so well as “sushi”
Spicy Tuna – Tenkasu, Spicy Truffle Mayo – $21 (6/10)
If you were looking to get something with spicy tuna, I would definitely go for the Tuna Crispy Rice. The truffle mayo is really the only element that would make this Spicy Tuna Roll unique but unfortunately the truffle flavour was far too subtle.
Other sushi that I’ve had but never took photos of include –
- Scallop Nigiri – Very fresh scallop, worth ordering even if you’re not a scallop fan.
- BBQ Fresh Water Eel Nigiri – A far cry from the anago in Japan.
- Kingfish Furikake (Sokyo Furikake, Citrus Paste, Tosazu) – The waiter suggested I order this upon seeing the disappointment in my face when he told me that the were out of ChaseToroToro. It’ll similar he said, it will be delicious he said. It wasn’t.
Red Snapper Tempura – $20 (7.5/10)
While there is nothing particularly special about Sokyo’s tempura dishes, if you were to get tempura, you would either get the Red Snapper or the Moreton Bay Bug (below). Personally I prefer the Red Snapper simply because you get more for your money’s worth.
While Sokyo doesn’t win any awards for its tempura, it does succeed where a lot of its counterparts fail. Batter is feather light, it’s fried well and the focus of the tempura is still on the freshness of the produce itself.
The only special thing Sokyo’s Tempura is that it’s served with unique sauces, rather than the traditional tempura sauce. With the Red Snapper, it’s served with a ￼￼black pepper chilli vinegar which adds a pleasant zestiness to each piece.
Much the same with the Moreton Bay Bug (the most ordered tempura at Sokyo), but with…less.
The sauce is a Sambal Mayo and Black Pepper Amazu (a Japanese sweet and sour sauce made from unseasoned rice vinegar, water and sugar). I found that the Sambal Mayo worked better with the Moreton Bay Bug, but it may have been because I just prefer mayonnaise.
Kurobata Pork Belly Robata, Daikon, Sansho, Mustard Aioli – $8 per piece (5/10)
Looks good doesn’t it. Let me break the illusion a bit. Those beautiful white bits of fat? It’s not fat, it’s actually just daikon.
As for the pork itself, while tender enough, was too lean. Why would you serve Pork Belly Robata, and cut off all the fat? My biggest gripe though is that it just tasted of salt, lacking the complex flavours and smokiness you would expect from cooking with flame.
Beef Robata, Wagyu Tri-Tip, Caramelised Eschallots, BBQ Teriyaki – $10 per piece (7.5/10)
Despite everyone claiming that the Kurobata Pork Belly Robata is better, I’m adamant that the Beef Robata is better. The beef is more tender and more flavoursome, absorbing the BBQ Teriyaki sauce like a treat.
But let’s be real, if we wanted good yakitori and meat on sticks, we would be at Chaco Bar.
Maguro Tataki – Seared Tuna, Carbonized Leek Aioli, Pickled Mushroom, Asparagus, Smoked Ponzu – $29 (5.5/10)
Pretty as a picture. Tasted a bit like one as well.
The Maguro (tuna) was fresh and seared well, but there was nothing special about this dish, despite the seemingly interesting ingredients. Not much acidity from the pickled mushroom, not much smokiness from the smoked ponzu.
DengakuMan – Caramelised Miso Cod, Japanese Salsa, Cucumber Salad – $42 (9.25/10)
This. This is the dish.
Presenting the best fish dish you will find in Sydney.
When done well, DengakuMan is indescribably close to perfection. It is so tender that it falls into perfect flakes on the mere press of your chopstick. The slight char and grilling of the cod results in a subtle smokiness, while the sharpness of the miso and sweetness of the mirin work perfectly to cut the fish’s fattiness.
It comes with a side of Japanese salsa, which I’m guessing is there to also cut through the fattiness of the fish, but I find it way too overpowering for such a delicate fish and a bit redundant.
You will find Saikyo Yaki (Miso Cod) on the menu of a few Japanese restaurants in Sydney, but none of them get close to Sokyo’s rendition. Hell, I think Sokyo’s version is even better than the original at Nobu.
I never thought I would find a fish I would have as much love for as tuna. But I may have found it, and it is Black Cod (Sablefish).
It’s important to make this distinction, for 2 reasons. Firstly, cod is a common name for a genus of fish but secondly, and more importantly, Black Cod is not actually cod. It’s the reason why you can’t recreate this dish by simply going to the fishmongers and buying “cod”. Black Cod is considered a vernacular (market) name, and is formally called Sablefish.
So why am I so in love with this fish? Black Cod has one of the highest levels of healthy Omega 3 fats, EPA and DHA and can contain up to 50% more than salmon The reason it has so much fat is because Black Cod is found in cold sea beds in the North Pacific at depths of up 2,700 metres. All this fat gives it a silky and rich texture, similar to Toothfish which they serve at their sister restaurant Kiyomi.
Binchoutan Saikou Salmon, Yuzu Miso, Slow Grilled Zucchini – $32 (6/10)
We ordered Binchoutan Saikou Salmon because we were secretly hoping it would be remotely as orgasmic as the DengakuMan. After all, it had miso, it had smokiness (binchotan), it had salmon (and who doesn’t love salmon).
Unfortunately it was not.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a good dish. Salmon was cooked well with a slight smokiness and the miso, while a little lighter than ideal, balanced the oiliness and flavour of the salmon.
But would I order it again? Probably not. It just lacked the wow factor of the DengakuMan. My recommendation would be to just order two DengakuMan’s 🙂
‘Truffle Blackmore’ – David Blackmore Wagyu Flap Meat Steak with Uni Butter, Horseradish Cream, Broccolini, Pumpkin Furikake & Black Truffle – (6.5/10)
Overall, a good dish, but given the all star line up of ingredients (wagyu, uni, truffle), one would expect more. Blackmore Wagyu is always good by Sydney standards, but the taste of uni was non existent, overpowered by the horseradish and truffle.
Green Tea and White Chocolate Fondant, Apple Brandy “Calvados” Ice Cream, Coffee Crumble – $15 (8/10)
This is my go-to dessert at Sokyo, not necessarily because it’s the best dessert Sokyo offers, nor is it the best Green Tea Fondant I’ve had (that prize goes to Creasion). I just have a thing for fondants and green tea.
So really Sokyo could do no wrong. I didn’t care for the coffee crumble, which while nice in isolation, added neither a textural element nor an extra dimension of flavour to the fondant. The ice cream flavour choice is questionable as well, but as long as they delivered that Green Tea Fondant in all its oozing nature, all would be forgiven.
Except it wasn’t…some of the times at least. Having had the Green Tea Fondant several times, about 20% of the time, the fondant will come out non-runny which is the biggest cardinal sins in the kitchen. I may as well be eating dry cake. I would really expect better consistency when it comes to a restaurant with one chef hat.
Goma Street, Caramelised White Chocolate, Sesame Ice Cream – $13 (7.5/10)
Goma Street is actually the most popular dessert at Sokyo, but as delicious as it is, I find it all a bit too heavy and a bit too sweet.
Having just completed a meal with light delicate flavours, finishing with a whack in your face, is not the way I prefer to finish my meal.
So as you can see, when it comes to the good dishes, they really are great. But my biggest gripe with Sokyo is that there are just too many average dishes. This makes it near impossible to get full from Sokyo without spending a stupid amount of money on toro.
Which brings me to my last point. DAFUQ there’s 2% credit card surcharge? For a restaurant to charge a surcharge in this day and age is really unacceptable. The meal is expensive enough, to have to carry around that amount in cash is beyond ridiculous. They are really trying to take advantage of all the cashed up diners from the casino.
So fellow foodies, where’s your favourite sushi outside Japan?