Moderately Mexican flavours in modern Japanese style.
MENU HIGHLIGHTS Nori crisps; toothfish; popcorn shrimp; spider maki; hiramasa kingfish
AMBIANCE Crowd pleaser
WOULD I GO BACK? For a predictably good Japanese meal; celebrations
As far as I’m concerned, Sydney’s best Japanese restaurants must be judged according to their own specialties. For soft-shell crab, miso eggplant and red meat, it’s Toko (Surry Hills). For nigiri, omelette and tempura, it’s Sokyo (Pyrmont) and Izakaya Fujiyama (Surry Hills). Sushi e (CBD) is for the high-class treatment. Zushi (Barangaroo) is the best all-rounder, with quality fish for an affordable price. Chaco Bar (Darlinghurst) serves the best ramen. North Bondi Fish rules on the sashimi front. Sushi Tei (CBD) and Hikaru (Newtown) do a good Salmon Aburi. The tastiest, most outstanding sushi is found at Sunset Sabi. I can’t speak for Tetsuya’s yet. I really disliked Cho Cho San (Potts Point) when I went for my birthday (the party of four could not eat four of the dishes!), but I plan on revisiting it for a final judgement.
At Saké, you go for the snacks and the dragon egg dessert (Sokyo and Toko are the only dessert competitors).
- The hiramasa kingfish ($23) is unusually outstanding for two reasons. The kingfish is dressed in lime, jalapeño kosho and a coriander- infused ponzu. For the kingfish rookies, ponzu is a citrusy, sweet, soy sauce. Kosho is similar, but with more zest, garlic, chilli, acidity. Usually kosho is made with yuzu.
- The nori crisps ($12 for two) are my favourite item on the menu. They’re puffed seaweed rectangles. One’s topped with tuna, the other with kingfish. Both mingle with togarashi (a Japanese spice blend) and sesame dressing.
- The popcorn shrimp ($26) is an essential crowd pleaser. Doused in yuzu and chilli mayonnaise, these mini prawns are juicy and moreish.
Saké serves a bunch of great vegetarian dishes if you’re so inclined. Agedashi tofu ($14) is super impressive, with shimeji mushroom, ginger and daikon sprout. I think their version of nasu miso ($16), which is grilled eggplant, is too clean and small for me. The coriander and chilli threads didn’t compensate for the underdone, un-oily eggplant flesh.
‘Clean’ works well when it’s applied to sushi. I’ve visited enough times to have tried all of the sushi rolls on offer. They all share a low rice-to-filling ratio, sliced into bite-size rounds. All of the sushi is good, but I like the kingfish double crunch ($21) because of the sweet soy, tempura shards and spicy masago. The spider maki ($21), surrounding fried soft shell crab and spicy tobiko is my favourite of the options. Spicy tuna ($19) is not up to scratch, as it’s usually my go-to sushi order alongside the spider rolls. I thought this version lacked sufficient flavour and texture (potentially because the tuna was minced). At least the vegetable roll ($16) is a lot cheaper than the other sushi (maki) rolls on offer, because it was more of a crunch punch than a flavour bomb. But increasing price isn’t correlated to a better roll, since the spanner crab ($23) roll was boring and lacking in crunch. I think pairing a soft and sweet crab meat with watery and soft ingredients like cucumber and avocado is not the best idea. Sushi shouldn’t be a mouthful of mush. The seared salmon ($19) is far from the best I’ve had, paired with cream cheese, pickled daikon and baby cos. It lacked in sweet sauce, crunch, and fat. Ugh, health.
For the meat eaters, I like the Cape Grim short rib ($46) and the 200g tajima wagyu strip loin ($75), but neither are worth their price. You’re much better off aiming for the miso glazed glacier 51 toothfish ($58). It’s far too dry, but the den miso coating melts in your mouth.
The spicy pork gyoza ($25) are average. The scampi tempura ($38) is an unnecessary, small and flour-y luxury. For hot starters, you might enjoy the shumai ($21), which are open steamed (and fried) prawn dumplings dip-dived into a spectacular, spicy ponzu pond. They stand out from your average dim sum, because the outside looks like a sea urchin, with shards of batter sticking out like a bad hair day. The result is increased angles/surface area of crunch.
Whereas any of the nigiri pairs possess traits of a superior quality, particularly the tuna ($12) , salmon belly ($12), and snapper ($10).
There are six Saké restaurants in Australia, which tells a tale. It’s popular, predictable and a place for drinks, birthdays, groups and diets.
One of the great mysteries to me is why Sake at Double Bay is the only one of the six with one Good Food hat. I significantly preferred the service, atmosphere and location of The Rocks venue, and also thought the sushi wasn’t as fresh and warm at Double Bay (which could have been unique to that particular visit). The only explanation must be that the menus differ slightly. Double Bay offers three different maki rolls, a larger range of nigiri (including cuttlefish, alfonsino, wagyu, kingfish belly etc), white soy snapper starter, more versions of sashimi, a robata selection and a few other additions. I can’t tell if it helps that Double Bay has a special ‘Dietary Menu’ to cater for problem people from the Eastern Suburbs. The Rocks has one too, though. (Compare the menus of Double Bay and The Rocks.)
The only dessert I’ve had is the dragon egg ($23). Like the snow egg at Quay, it’s so popular that it’s always on the menu in different flavour versions. Sometimes it’s white chocolate, roasted banana, hazelnut, banana cream and miso caramel. I’ve never had the goma ($18), which sounds like a Sokyo dessert imitation. I better branch out next time.
Saké is worth a visit for fans of Japanese food, but also suits most people because it’s very modern and westernised. You won’t leave feeling too full.
Visit dates: Once in 2017, 28 Jan, 19 June 2018, and in November 2018 (including The Rocks and Double Bay).