Japanese with flair and flavour.
MUST ORDER Any sushi or sashimi; soft-shell crab; miso eggplant; fondant
WOULD I GO BACK? For the sushi and/or dessert platter
Toko, like most places in Surry Hills, is what you would call a ‘cool’ restaurant. But that doesn’t mean it’s for, or full of, young people. It just has dim lighting, features wooden panels in its interior, plays loud music and seats you on backless blocks. Ideally, you’ll be having a drink. It’s also frequented by models. Swipe right on Toko’s nigiri before hitting up Tinder.
I had visited twice already before deciding to come here for my birthday dinner–which already indicates to you what sort of restaurant this is. It’s on the edge of good value (a birthday dinner leaves room for a splurge), is good for feeding large groups and has a diverse menu designed for sharing. Can’t say the parking is easy, thanks to construction work which never seems to end.
When I came alone for lunch, I sat at the bar directly in front of the sushi chefs, who were rolling all of the fresh maki. Not only was I entertained by their knife skills and precision, but I was handed my plate of sushi straight from the chef who made it. That’s an impressive level of freshness and service.
I absolutely love the menu. Take a look at it. Some people would be overwhelmed. I see it as ambitious, diverse and delicious. There’s hardly anything on there that I’m not interested in trying.
Dengaku miso ($15.80) is sweet miso eggplant, and the nicest version of this Japanese classic I’ve ever had.
Saka no miso taru taru ($17.80) is a salmon tartare with wasabi miso to be scooped up on nori rice crackers. Most modern Japanese restaurants have a dish like this on their menu, and it’s always a winner. The robata-grilled scallops with sweet pickled apple and jalapeño garlic (‘hotate no jalapeno amazu zoe’) were also standard.
Gyu niku gyoza ($23.50) were wagyu beef gyoza served with white soy mustard and shiso. Again, it’s hard to go wrong with classic gyoza.
The hedonist in me could not go past the uchiwa ebi no tempura to yuzu koshou ($32.80) aka MORETON BAY BUG TEMPURA with a yuzu kosho mayonnaise. I have discovered that yuzu kosho is an extremely under-utilised flavour, and I always like it (so it’s definitely something to order if you see it mentioned on a menu). Moreton Bay bug is slightly wasted in tempura, as it doesn’t taste significantly better than other fried shellfish (crab; prawn etc). It wasn’t worth the price, but it was certainly delectable.
Chef’s selection of sashimi ($49.80 for 20 pieces) comes on an impressive ice dome platter. Like at Saké, they are more concerned with the fancy look of the ice than the stupidity of risking their sashimi contacting wetness. I get it. You want the sashimi to be cool (cold). But not everyone has perfect chopstick skills, and the fish tends to get dropped (or slides away) from its original position. Invariably, you taste some water (or worse – ice) on your sashimi that detracts from the slice. Ugly solution: cover the dome in glad wrap.
Spider maki ($18.80) is filled with soft shell crab, wasabi mayonnaise and chives. The crab in one of the sushi slices towers spectacularly above the other rolls. It’s very appetising. The only version I can think of in Sydney that competes with this soft-shell crab sushi is Azuma‘s. Everyone sells soft shell crab sushi, so that’s impressive. Inspired by the deliciousness of the sushi roll version, next time we ordered the equally delightful watari-gani no karaage ($21.90) i.e crispy soft-shell crab, mizuna (oriental leaves) and wasabi mayonnaise.
Pirikara aburizake to avocado maki ($16.20) is spicy, seared salmon sushi with avocado, cucumber and squid ink tenkasu. Tenkasu is tempura refuse. In my language–a crumble of chip batter. This is a clever and delicious way of adding crunch to sushi, done just as well at Sunset Sabi.
I was the only one of us who liked the double-cooked pork belly ($16.20 for 2 skewers). It was very fatty, but that suited me. The outstanding beef short rib was also of the fattier variety, but neither are on the menu anymore.
Although their sushi is divine, Toko is surprisingly famous for their dark chocolate fondant, filled with hazelnut and served with a milk ice cream. It’s a must-order for any Ferrero-flavour lover.
Every dish was made to a consistently high standard. The only Japanese restaurant as tasty as this in Sydney is the aforementioned Sunset Sabi, and Sokyo.
Visit dates: Twice in 2017 for lunch and on 9 April 2018 for dinner.