Chinese + Japanese from two of Australia’s leading chefs.
MUST ORDER Chawanmushi
AMBIANCE Wharf’s dark edge of luxury
SERVICE Sweet and attentive
WOULD I GO BACK? For Wharf dining occassions
When Chase Kojima writes a menu with Victor Liong (head chef of Lee Ho Fook in Melbourne), you know you’re in for a trip down flavour town. If you recognise Chase’s name, you might correctly surmise that Chuuka is a baby of The Star. Much like Sokyo, there’s equal focus on fancy and flavoursome. At the end of Jones Bay Wharf, you’ll find “breathtaking harbour views with a side of ink,” according to the restaurant’s website. Ink, because the restaurant walls are tattooed with Chinese dragons and Japanese waves. Tables are spotlit in darkness and the décor is black.
The best part of fusing Chinese and Japanese cuisines is celebrating the mateship of fat and spice. The dishes evidence Kojima’s familiarity with Japanese techniques, but are dominated by Chinese flavours and textures.
The cocktail list was inviting enough to warrant experimenting. We dropped $22 on a mix of Hong Kong Baijiu, mango and chilli oleo and Dom Benedictine (tasting like mango medicine); and $18 on a wonderful version of an Aperol Spritz, spiked with apricot brandy and nashi soda.
Much like the Woolloomoolloo wharf, the vibe here is: treat yoself to a drink. I think Chuuka is better than any of the restaurants on that wharf, possibly with the exception of Otto (is great Italian better than great Asian in any objective way?). I would not be surprised if Chuuka gets one-hatted. But Jones Bay Wharf is the inferior wharf, without the wide, wooden promenade that makes weekend lunches at the Finger Wharf so aesthetic. Chuuka is unlikely to become as much of a Zimmerman magnet as Otto or China Doll.
The first small dish was $13, but not too small to share with my partner. Chawanmushi is a steamed Japanese custard, but this version was a foie gras custard with blue swimmer crab, carrot and ginger sauce and ‘shellfish essence’. It was the standout dish of the night. Impossibly smooth, only just set, with the aftertaste of bone marrow (amazing!).
Japan’s sashimi made an appearance in the form of Hiramasa kingfish ($24). To share, we had about four pieces of kingfish each; with white fungi; discs of radish; burnt garlic; spring onion garnish; with a watery white soy cream underneath it all. This dish would be a friend of the health conscious, without a sugary element, but I usually prefer a sweet citrus flavour with kingfish.
CHUUKA Ma Po tofu ($28) is dominated by chilli oil (the oil, not the chilli). Only half the tofu is silken–some is fried, with a bean-curd texture around outside of the cubes. The ‘meat’ is not mince, but rather what seems to be heart or liver (or some sort of internal organ). Mr Wong‘s version that places pork mince on top of a single uncut serving silken tofu (set into one constituent like a bowl of custard) is streets ahead of this Ma Po.
We were told the most popular dish is the wagyu short rib ($59) and I have no regrets ordering it. The most clever element was the carrot kimchi (hello Korea?), sweetly pickled. I wish I could buy that stuff and have it on salads at home. I loved how the wagyu was meant to be eaten ‘San-Choy-Bow style’, scooped up like a taco into perfectly fresh baby cos lettuce. We ran the lettuce-wagyu package through a smear of sweet miso, and dipped it in the spring onion relish.
I’ve only sampled four dishes at Chuuka, but they’ve sufficiently impressed me. I wouldn’t come running back, because it’s setting itself at a price point where many other restaurants are preferable. Kojima’s Sokyo is better, but that’s to be expected. If Chinese or Japanese is your favourite cuisine, it’s definitely worth a visit.