Sydney’s Japanese dining scene offers a range of expertly-crafted dining experiences, with menus drawn from the best local Australian produce, diverse international techniques, and minimalist, elegant Eastern aesthetics. You’ll find fresh sashimi from line-caught Australian kingfish, cuttlefish and salmon; delicious meat preparations of braised teriyaki chili, soy and yuzu, pickled pear, and miso mustard; and rare, delicate globetrotting ingredients flown in across continents to arrive at your plate. From unforgettable, 12-course feasts and elaborate kaiseki courses, to casual student sushi buffets or light plates and sake by the bar, there’s something on this list for every occasion and budget.
For over 30 years, Sydney’s sushi aficionados defer to Yoshii as an unmatched icon in Sydney’s Japanese dining scene. The restaurant’s original concept, hatched by Nagasaki-born master chef Yoshii Ryuichi, was to offer contemporary Japanese cuisine that would entice the whole diverse population of multicultural Sydney. To this end, Yoshii’s dinner menu is served in Japanese ‘Kaiseki’ style (a kaiseki being a small stone that is heated up to warm the stomach in cold Japanese winters), which involves serving several dishes in small portions like tapas. The resulting delicate creations from chef Yoshii include a $125-per-person sashimi and sushi special, which features an appetizer, six types of sashimi, special seasonal nigiri sushi, sushi roll, miso and dessert, as well as signatures like seasonal bluefin tuna belly, slivers of raw scallop and whiting, and the sea urchin egg cup (a silken custard dotted with urchin roe in a little hen’s egg). The exquisite food selection is complemented by stylish interior design, featuring an open kitchen fronted by a sushi bar, polished dark timber floors, black marble for the sushi benches, and Spanish leather for the chairs.
Tucked away in the historic, hostel-ridden harborside suburb of The Rocks, Sake serves up clean, fresh flavors matched to traditional Japanese wines by the group sommelier Miriam McLachlan. Try the eponymous sake (over 40 varieties can be found here) and umeshu (fruit wine), as well as spirits such as shochu. Head chef Shaun Presland’s extensive menu is an experimental yet balanced fusion of old and new: take your pick from standouts like the delicate silver cod lettuce cups; steamed dumplings with fillings of Chinese-inspired prawn shumai or wagyu beef with ginger and chives; or kingfish jalapeno, bocconcini tempura and popcorn shrimp. There are several dining options to enjoy here, from the special Chef’s Selection Banquets to the classic a la carte menu at a traditional sunken table, or a lighter meal of sushi and cocktails perched at the bar.
It may be booked up until next winter, but if you manage to secure a table at Tetsuya’s, you’re in for a once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience. The venue is geared towards special occasions on account of its ambitious central dining concept: a 12 course, $220 set menu for groups of ideally four to six people. Chef Tetsuya’s kitchen takes natural, seasonal Australian and Japanese ingredients (including fresh waterlily directly flown in from Japan, a unique flavor in Sydney) and employs classic French techniques to execute world class dishes. Take a seat at one of their downstairs tables overlooking the koi pond and Japanese garden, and allow a small legion of servers to present you with course after astounding course. This may include the South Australian kingfish sashimi, lightly dressed with black bean soy sauce and garnished with chili, orange rind and coriander leaf; wagyu oxtail topped with braised sea cucumber; and the signature mainstay dish, a confit of Petuna ocean trout served with konbu, celery and apple.
Sydney’s newest Japanese offering on Bourke Street, Ume takes a streamlined, striking approach to contemporary Japanese cuisine. Rather than leaning on sushi standbys, the trio behind Ume (Chef Kerby Craig, his wife Hiroko Muranishi, and Floor Manager PJ Choroomi) have crafted a creative yet uncluttered menu of fresh Japanese flavors. This includes simple delights like the seared salmon carpaccio, as well as more elaborate, elegant plates like the Cone Bay barramundi in a small pond of soy and yuzu dressing with sea flora and Jerusalem artichokes. The venue also follows a minimalist style, tied together by a lovely cherry blossom mural. This sophisticated, simplified beauty pervades the entire dining experience at Ume, earning the restaurant a well-deserved Chef’s Hat from the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide.
Niji is a standout sushi bar in the student dining hub of Kingsford. The décor here is clean and modern, with plenty of dining space to suit a variety of occasions. Diners can select from the à la carte menu, or head for the sushi-train style bar wrapping around the open kitchen for a more hands-on, tactile eating experience. Their Sashimi 21 platter is an amazing value, including three-piece selections of tuna, salmon, kingfish, snapper, scallops, cuttlefish, and the fish of the day. For lighter appetites or wallets, you can’t go wrong with the kingfish carpaccio or the mango Taru Taru.
In Japan, an izakaya is a pub-style operation where sake rules supreme, and the food is often lagging behind. Not so at Izakaya Fujiyama, an izakaya restaurant in downtown Sydney where the sleek Manhattan-styled bar and classic Japanese kitchen work together in perfect harmony. The interior is reminiscent of an oversized bento box, a quirky spark of aesthetic originality in the competitive dining precinct of Surry Hills. Chef Kenji Maenaka offers a skillful take on the usual suspects of sushi, nigiri and sashimi, but the true highlights of this menu would have to be its tapas. Fresh flavors and rich textures dominate this section: take the Kingfish Nuta with fried tortilla chips, the silken Agedashi tofu, the crispy South Australian calamari, and the sticky Teriyaki beef ribs with green chili relish. Since these are small plates, you can try all of the above and still have room for their impressive dessert menu. Don’t miss their decadent flourless chocolate cake, served with sublime condensed milk ice-cream and topped with poached quince. Be sure to explore their drink menu as well, featuring page upon page of sake selections and the tasty house Fuji-Mama cocktail (Midori, dry Vermouth and Maraschino liqueur).
Toko Surrey Hills is one of the hottest tickets in town for Japanese cuisine, partly because they don’t take reservations, but mainly due to its instrumental influence in the rise of Sydney’s izakaya dining scene. The lucky few who find seating here are treated to a wonderland of intricate dishes and drinks from the restaurant’s sushi bar, robata grill, and multilayered wine list. Guests can watch the sushi chefs prepare a range of fresh, line-caught omakase fish selections in a theatrical display of skill at the counter, or dine on richly flavored meat dishes like the shaved bonito fried quail, miso-mustard lamb rump, or duck breast with sansho pepper and pickled nashi pear. Their cooked seafood is excellent too; try the robata grilled scallop with mentaiko butter and yuzu scallop relish. There’s also a tasting menu for indecisive customers, and a private dining room hidden away for a VIP experience.