I’m on a Japanese food binge. Last week, I had Japanese for dinner 4 out of 7 nights. Not by coincidence. Totally deliberate.
It started on Saturday night when a friend and I had dinner before watching a panel of feminist speakers debate vajazzling at Town Hall. I wanted to check out Yebisu Izakaya at Regent Place, which is quickly becoming Sydney’s little Japan – complete with bright neon signs and Mothra graffitied on the wall!
No photos (because sometimes I’m just ceebs) but a new discovery: Kushiyaki. Also known as Yakitori, it is the ancient Japanese art of grilling obscure meats on short skewers.
In particular, chicken. The ugly parts of the chicken that people usually won’t eat if they can help it. Though we didn’t get kokoro (heart), sunagimo (gizzard) or bonjiri (butt), we did get torikawa (chicken skin – similar concept to crackling chips and AMAZING) and nankotsu (chicken cartilage – which looked like squid, but turned out to be milky white delicious cartilage). Truly giving the great and giving beast that is the common chook the respect it deserves.
Excited about the prospect of more chicken skin on skewers, I booked two different Kushiyaki restaurants for the two catch up dinners I had scheduled that week.
First, on Wednesday night:
Izakaya Masuya is the newest addition to the Masuya empire and also happens to be conveniently located down the road from my office. It’s been around for more than a year and I walk past it every day, but it never really interested me because it looks kind of dull and expensive from the outside.
It’s also more of a Sake bar than a restaurant so it didn’t seem worth visiting for the food. But with my new food obsession, and Kushiyaki on the menu as a bar snack, it jumped right to the top of my list.
From the outside, it looks like a high class Japanese takeaway, but when you walk to the back of the restaurant, there’s a surprisingly nice dining area with booth seats and tables made from centuries old tree trunk.
A group of posh looking Japanese ladies were at the table next to us, which gave me confidence. You know a place is legit when it is patronised by rich Japanese ladies. Our waiter had a lot of trouble speaking English, which is also a good sign. No dodgy Koreans with fake “Irasshaimase!“s here!
The prices on the dinner menu are very reasonable – probably because it’s the Japanese version of a bar menu and they’re counting on you to spend big on their massive 1.8L bottles of sake.
Sorry, light weight Asian girls only drink tea on school nights. Who am I kidding – on any night. Sake is gross.
Agedashi tofu ($4.80)
Chicken Karaage ($6.80) Always a good choice.
Salmon sushi roll ($6.80) – I’ve never seen sushi service like this – basically a sushi lunch roll cut into four pieces.
Braised pork belly ($9.80) I always find Asian style pork belly difficult to eat when it’s served in big chunks like this. So much fat! Not trimmed, AT ALL. The Aussie part of my brain is screaming “You can’t just eat chunks of pure fat, that’s CRAZY! Do you want to die of obesity?“, but the Asian part of my brain is arguing “There is a 10:1 fat to meat ratio in this. They wouldn’t serve this to you expecting you to only eat the meat bits. Is it really THAT BAD to just eat pure animal fat… IS IT???”
I don’t know the answer to that question. But I left just enough fat on my plate to avoid the judging eyes of my co-diners.
YES! The assorted Kushiyaki! ($28.80)
WHAT no chicken offal?! Unimpressed. This is clearly sophisticated Kushiyaki. Pork belly, wagyu beef, vegetables (?!), chicken meatball and chicken thigh. Tasty, but would have preferred meats that were a little bit less.. mainstream.
Jump to Friday night:
I booked Sakuratei on FFKF’s recommendation. It’s his favourite little authentic Jap place that nobody knows about. Not so secret any more! Sorry mate, that’ll teach you to share your food secrets with a blogger =P
Sakuratei is hidden amongst drab office buildings on Clarence Street. In fact, if you’re coming from City North, you won’t even see the sign. The sign is double-sided and the north-facing side will tell you you’re at Kabuki Shoroku, Sakuratei’s sister restaurant, located in the same building. Kabuki is fancier, with a menu focused on sashimi, while Sakuratei has a more casual, Izakaya style.
Very cute servingware decorated with sakura blossoms
The menu has little hand drawn illustrations that reminded me a of a manga cartoon.
Most of the main noodle/rice dishes come in small and large size so if you’re not particularly hungry, you can have something small to yourself, and also snack on an assortment of skewers.
King prawn kushiage (deep fried skewer) $3.50 each
Wagyu beef ($3.30) and quail egg ($2.50) The wagyu was a table favourite. I was excited about the quail eggs, but they’re not quite the same as chicken eggs. Flavour’s a bit too mild for me and the yolks aren’t as buttery.
Some soft shell crab roll ($14) for those who weren’t too keen on the skewers. Less crab meat and more crispy battered crab shell – just the way I like it.
Chicken wings ($3.30). Seems a bit silly to put chicken wings on skewers but not complaining – these were substantial and delicious.
Chicken thigh and shallots ($3.00). I love how chicken breast is totally shunned. Like why eat dry, rubbery breast when the bird has so much more to offer?
But alas, again no chicken skin. Not even on the menu. Disappointing for a place known for its skewers. Where else besides Yebisu can I get some chicken skin on a stick?
Cartilage, however, featured heavily on the menu.
We opted for the deep fried version ($8). This was incredible. One of the best things I’ve eaten. And thanks to my food-conservative friends who gagged at the thought of eating chicken gristle, I got to eat as much as I wanted. Super light and crispy seasoned batter combined with the crunchy cartilage. For a cuisine that’s known for its freshness, the Japanese sure know how to fry things.
Finally, my pork katsu-don ($9.50 – small) FFKF rates this as the best katsu don in Sydney – which is a big call. I’m not sure I’d go that far but it’s definitely up there. I especially liked how sauce soaked up all the rice – not a white grain in sight!
I can’t finish this post without mentioning the fact that some of our food came out ridiculously late. My friend’s shoyu ramen took an hour. We kept asking our waitress about it, and she kept assuring us that they hadn’t lost our order and that the kitchen was just having a really busy night. Knowing that ramen is usually just pre-made broth with fresh noodles and should take a kitchen less than 5 minutes to whip up, we figured that either the waitress was lying about not forgetting our order, or the kitchen had a to slaughter a pig for the chashu topping. The waitresses were actually really sweet so I’d like to think they weren’t lying. My guess is that the kitchen was unexpectedly understaffed that night.
Though, if it were my food that were an hour late, I’d definitely be much less forgiving. This entire post would probably have been just one big rant. But I was too happy and full on my skewers and katsudon to be outraged on my friend’s behalf. I’m a bad friend.
So where else should I go for good Yakitori in Sydney? Must have chicken skin. Google tells me Jap’s Table and Toriciya? Sepia’s bar menu also looks promising – expensive, but wagyu tongue and miso-glazed chicken hearts sound so good!