I’ve always had a rule that I generally stick by and rarely break – never order food from a joint where the chef isn’t from the same background as the cuisine. Not to be discriminatory in any way, the simple fact is that I like my food authentic as I can get. Also, call it a quirk of mine, but my mind simply refuses to comprehend the disassociation.
There are however a handful of chefs that beg to differ. Sake Restaurant at the Rocks as can be expected by the name serves contemporary Japanese food and but the executive chef is not Japanese, but a gaijin by the name of Shaun Presland (previously of Sushi E and Establishment Teppanyaki in Sydney) who has been termed by SMH Good Living as being “as Japanese as you can get without actually being born in the shadow of Mount Fuji”*.
My visit here however didn’t get off to a great start though. With my less than discrete SLR camera, I started snapping photos of the impressive sake room that caught my eye as soon as I entered the restaurant – only to be cautioned by the hostess that photos were strictly disallowed. With some further conversation which resulted in the hostess ducking off to get confirmation, I was allowed to take photos of the food, but not the interior as it was frowned upon by the designers responsible. Fair enough, I thought.
Walking further into the restaurant it wasn’t hard to see why the designers were so protective of their work. The centrepiece of the main dining area is most definitely the bright open kitchen giving every eye in the dining room full view of the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. For those wanting a theatrical kitchen experience, you can also sit at a bench surrounding the kitchen for a close-up view of the action. In contrast to this, the rest of the restaurant is warm with a modern Japanese influenced interior predominated by dark wooden furniture. Along one side there are some traditional seating and for those needing just a little segregation from the crowd, there are also some semi-private dining areas separated out by some simple wooden slats along the opposite side.
The variety of dishes, cocktails, sake choices on the menu is extremely comprehensive and even includes a kids menu for the little ones. It’s a nightmare for the indecisive like myself when it comes to food with plenty of options for cold starters, hot starters, kushiyaki (grilled skewers), kushiage (fried skewers), mains, salads, sushi, sashimi, sushi maki and desserts. Determined to try as much as we could, we ordered as a group and shared every dish. We may have had a shaky start, but once the food arrived, all was forgiven.
A combination of Shochu Tantakatan, plum wine, plum puree, pink grapefruit juice and peach bitters, the tart fruits used in this cocktail nicely complimented the smooth alcoholic components.
With a strong combination of fruits in the form of strawberries, orange wedges, lime, lemon and passion fruit, the distinct taste of the plum wine in this was surprisingly not lost in the mix. The freshness of the fresh fruits and the generous serve of ice meant it was the perfect summer cocktail.
We started the meal off with a sashimi combo that was delicately presented on a bowl of ice to ensure maximum freshness. On offer were the classic sashimi in the form of tuna, salmon, kingfish and one single scallop which inevitably ended up being eaten by the birthday boy.
Tuna Avocado Salad
Sometimes simplicity results in the best dishes. With just the addition of shiso (a mint like herb), bubuarare (no idea what this is, and Google failed me here, anybody have an idea?) and mustard soy, the generous portions of tuna were super fresh against the creamy texture of the avocado.
I couldn’t eat this owing to an allergy to eggplant that could potentially send me gasping for air on the dining room floor (and have myself miss the rest of the dinner? No way!). However, my desire to try everything won over when I risked myself in the name of good eating in licking a dot of sauce from the tip of my chopstick to find a rich thick salty miso sauce which would also have gone nicely with a piece of meat. Since they say that eggplant is a meat substitute for vegetarians, the oohs and aahs from my fellow dining companions indicated to me that the sauce also went very well with the piece of grilled eggplant.
My pick of the foods from Sake Restaurant is definitely the assortment of sushi maki (or rolled sushi) on offer. So good in fact that after ordering (and eating!) several rolls between us, we simply had to add to our original order. The maki on offer are largely familiar but with a modern twist that brought all the rolls we tried to another level altogether. You won’t get these rolls at your corner sushi takeaway store!
First up, is the dynamite maki which is a combination of spicy tuna, shredded onion and cucumber with spicy tobiko (flying fish roe). Add dynamite to any dish name and I expect a mouth-burning, water-grabbing heat, however I was nicely surprised to find that the spiciness of tuna and tobiko was subtle and finessed. Contrasting the spiciness, the cool cucumber also gave a textural crunch in the middle of the roll.
Always a favourite, the soft shell crab was crunchy without being overly oily from the frying process. Combined with spicy tobiko, cucumber, mayonnaise, chives and ponzu, the citrusy ponzu sauce did nicely to cut the richness of the mayonnaise.
A lot of people I know balk at the thought of combining cream cheese with fish. In my eyes however, whoever thought of it, whether accidentally or purposely, and had the guts to offer it up as a dish is a genius! In this case, the nixon maki was a classic grilled eel and cream cheese combination with a twist of some tempura crunch for texture and jalapeno mayo for a little spicy kick.
Salmon Skin Maki
Another favourite on our table, in fact, this was the one dish that we couldn’t resist but order a double of when we decided the three rolls we had originally ordered weren’t enough to satisfy our curiosity. The combination of fresh salmon with the crisp salmon skin was most delectable. Definitely my favourite of the meal.
Another cream cheese combo, this one was instead a combination of fresh salmon, cream cheese, avocado, cucumber, chives and a tempura crunch for some added texture. I can’t say this enough – but it was delish with the creaminess of the avocado and cream cheese going together very well.
A pick from one of the boys with their constant need for lots of meat, the use of thigh fillets instead of breast meat meant that the bits of chicken were juicy and tender. The teriyaki sauce was sweet but not so overpowering that you could eat it as is without needing a bowl of rice.
Spicy Garlic Prawns
Served with baby corn, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, the spicy garlic prawns were perfectly cooked. The crispness of the baby corn and asparagus nicely complimented the tell tale crunch of the fresh prawns.
I couldn’t get enough of the sauce in this dish. The richness of the cream was nicely paired with the strong earthly taste of miso and delicate yuzu flavour which despite the strong flavours, did not overshadow the delicate taste of the pan seared scallops.
Matcha Bombe Alaska
The wow factor in a bombe alaska is undeniable with the soft meringue and sponge surrounding a matcha green tea ice cream. The white chocolate sauce made up for the lack of creaminess usually found in green tea ice cream, while the pistachio pashmak (or Persian fairy floss) was a nice nutty addition.
Green Apple Mille-Feuille
With the majority of us going for the bombe alaska, being the foodie, I waited until everybody had made their choice before I chose to have the green apple mille-feuille. I’ve always loved apple desserts particularly those incorporating granny smith apples due to their sweet and sour taste so this was the perfect choice for me. The crisp pastry gave a satisfying crackle with each spoonful was taken while the traditional crème pâtissière filling was replaced with a smooth green apple mousse. To top off the apple combo, the concentrated apple syrup was set to one side for those wanted an added sugary hit.
Deconstructed Russian Cream
Typically served as a single cup, the deconstructed Russian cream broke down this dessert into its key components. Starting off with a delectably wobbly buttermilk panna cotta, the tart and creamy flavours were a contrast to the sweet and sour notes provided by the raspberry sauce and raspberry jelly served alongside it.
12 Argyle Street, The Rocks, Sydney, Australia
P: 612 9259 5656 F: 612 9241 1613