The closest you can get to Tokyo-level omakase dining in Sydney.
MENU HIGHLIGHTS Toro with crispy rice; Coffin Bay oysters; tamagoyaki (‘Sokyo omelette’); chef’s dessert sampler
AMBIANCE Pre-show internationals; samurais in the dark
SERVICE Darting and dedicated
WOULD I GO BACK? In a heartbeat
Sokyo is a dimly lit den tucked inside The Star casino in Pyrmont. I’ve visited for my birthday, for breakfast, lunch and the omakase. I feel well-positioned to assess the restaurant. And it’s Sydney’s best Japanese, hands down.
I think the main reason why Sokyo is unusually Jap-antastic is the quality of their ingredients. Every constituent is fresh and selected from premium sources. Its proximity to the Sydney Fish Markets may have something to do with this, although some fish are imported from Japan.
But before sushi fans get excited, arm yourself with the knowledge that the $165 omakase (Japanese degustation) is a significantly better experience than ‘normal’ dining in the restaurant, which I have reviewed separately. An omakase is a traditional Japanese version of a degustation, of the set-chef’s-menu kind. Sokyo’s omakase means sitting along a row of eight bar stools at a counter. Each pair of diners is served by their own individually-assigned Japanese chef, who feeds you all night. Apart from being asked about dietary requirements, there’s little room for selection. The only (impossible!) choice regarding the menu was whether we wanted more tempura and ‘dishes’, or more sushi (nigiri). I said we’d like to try some tempura, but wanted more nigiri. After all, that’s why anyone would come to Sokyo. Trust the chef.
The precision behind the counter is show-stopping. Japanese chefs are dainty, scrupulous beings, whose standard is more than adequate to boggle the Western mind.
They say first impressions count. Food logic is no different. I was blown away by the very first item placed in front of me–the dish I still recall most fondly. It’s become fashionable to spike shucked oysters, and these two Coffin Bay oysters had bonus trappings, floating on a bed of ice. I cannot decide whether I prefer the one with sea urchin, toro and roe; or the one marinating in a yuzu granita. This pair of molluscs have propped themselves up on a fresh, icy, sweet pedestal, smugly overlooking every other oyster I’ve ever eaten.
Kingfish miso ceviche, is a mountainous, fishy cloud nine, capped with crispy potato shards, miso and green chilli. More flavoured sashimi arrives, this time of snapper, queued up alongside nori, capers and miso cream cheese. One bite is hardly enough, but I’m inspired to make miso cream cheese with sashimi at home. The capers weren’t necessary.
Urchin makes a second appearance with soft, sweet spanner crab, prawn and nori. This is the only ‘rice bowl’-style dish in the omakase.
There’re only two pieces of salmon sashimi, and they are so precious. Caramelised peanuts, and some tweezer-tendered garnishes zing up the experience.
Here to blow your mind and remind you Sokyo is a superior establishment–toro nigiri with spicy aioli, perched on a prism of crispy rice. Seeing one of these nori masterpieces sliced to perfection causes you to hesitate about eating an artwork.
Nanbanzuke sauce with eggplant tempura was an extremely surprising highlight. Luckily, it can be ordered à la carte, too. The tempura is surreally light and so sophisticated in flavour, brushed with little spicy elements. No restaurant in Sydney does tempura like Sokyo.
Filaments of warm, miso-glazed toothfish scores like the winner you’d expect; with Japanese salsa and cucumber on the sidelines.
Then comes the series of nigiri I’d been anxiously waiting for. 4-day-aged New Zealand snapper; kingfish belly with sweet miso; cuttlefish topped with uni and an egg-yolk sauce; soft scampi with lemon; an unreal Bluefin tuna belly from Japan; ocean trout with kombu powder, miso pepper and olive oil; and one my favourites–sheets of cucumber wrapped around little cubes of scallop, covered in Japanese mayo, topped with roe and shiso leaf.
Precisely sliced cubes of tamagoyaki, a sweet Japanese omelette, are the perfect transition into dessert. I broached the idea of a dessert omelette for the first time at Sokyo, and I still think they do it better than anywhere I tried in Japan. I’ve loved it ever since.
The only thing better than dessert is a dessert platter (or trolley). This neutralises the high-stakes gamble involved in choosing between a stellar selection of after-dinner treats for $30. Here, you can have a platter of sample-sized desserts to share, and go home feeling elated, not inflated. Mochi triangles centred with strawberry ice cream and vanilla will shock your mother. They are outstanding, warm and fresh (so that the ice cream inside slightly melts). Alternate layers of caramelised white chocolate and chocolate discs tower over a quenelle of black sesame ice cream, called ‘Goma Street‘. The peanut butter chocolate fondant ($15) with vanilla ice cream on a peanut crumb oozes like a broken dam. Finally, lowering a teaspoon into Sokyo’s yamazaki caramel macchiato ($14) yields a core of surprisingly delightful coffee ice cream, coco nibs and whisky foam.
Sokyo is an excellent restaurant, but the omakase experience is so superior, it is like visiting an entirely different establishment. I wish you luck getting a booking, though, because other people clearly agree.
Visit dates: 15 December 2018.