For the last few weeks I have been immersed in the Japanese culture with my new friends Mayumi, Sachiyo, Aki and Yayoi and their friends Mei, Yuko, Tomomi, Keiko and co…For years I have loved Japanese food mainly sushi,sashimi and yakitori but it was only when I visited Japan that I truly discovered the Japanese food diversity.Since my cousin was living there for 10 years I had the chance to go there twice. It was challenging at times but I keep great memories of those two trips and a nice little collection of ceramic bowls and chopsticks I brought back. I can’t wait for my next trip to Japan. Back in Sydney now where I have rediscovered parts of town following the Japanese trail.
Note that my selection is based on my own personal choices and my comments are completely independent from the venues mentioned below, ie we were not invited by any of the restaurant owners.
start the day with a nice and big breakfast at Sokyo restaurant residing in the Star Hotel in Pyrmont. The breakfast room is beautiful and conveys serenity with black and wood notes. The “à la carte” menu is mouth watering with the traditional “Choushoku” breakfast. When we were there last week with my friends Mayumi and Céline, we had the chance to try their new dish: the matcha green tea lamington with a yuzu curd and azuki red bean paste, the Aussie-Japanese fusion in this dish is just brilliant! The fish of the day in the Choushoku was just melting in your mouth with a white miso sauce…delicious! The buffet is abundant and you see the Japanese flavours of yuzu, matcha everywhere, so make sure you had a light dinner the night before. Juices are served in sake bottles with a cute arrangement. The congee, warm savoury rice “pudding”, was very yummy too with its smokey taste. Last but not least, the three of us loved the matcha mochi bites with the pistachio dukkah spices mix. All food is served in beautiful ceramics which makes even nicer to the eye. The team who was in charge of us was friendly and very helpful. In short, it is a must try if you love fine food and I’ll definitely be back for dinner!
If you are a manga or comic book fan head towards Kinokuniya in the Galleries shopping centre near Town Hall. The bookshop’s manga section is quite impressive but not only, the selection in photography, travels and design sections is quite large and interesting. Whilst you are there, sit at the café Black Star Pastry to enjoy tea and pastries (if you are still hungry after your breakfast otherwise just take away for a sweet treat later in the afternoon). I have tried their strawberry watermelon slices with the pistachio and lemon zen cakes and mini Orange cake with Persian figs.
You can find a nice selection of Chinese and Japanese teas at Quali-Tea in the Strand Arcade, together with beautiful handmade ceramics from Kyoto, paper wrap tea tins and the Japanese Lucky Cat in different cute models. Although prices are not cheap, the shop owner is friendly and very helpful.
Then live the city to cross the bridge and head towards Neutral Bay. If you are lucky to find a spot, get a quick lunch at the cosy and busy Tobikiri Japanese Kitchen. Dinner is great too but you need to book in advance.
It’s time for you to enjoy a relaxing afternoon at the Japanese hairdresser Supudupu where Yuko works. I can highly recommend it! At the wash basin the seat rises so you are lying horizontal when they do your shampoo. Plus you get an extra head massage before your blow dry! The staff is very friendly, smiling and helpful even when there is a power cut for 15 min! I drank the green tea with roasted rice (Genmaicha) the whole time as they kept refilling my cup. Overall prices quite affordable and I am very happy of my Japanese hair straightening.
Take a cooking class and discover the art of making Japanese dumplings, Gyoza with Mayumi at Sydney Cooking School. I did not do the class myself, but as Mayumi invited friends over for dinner a few times and each time made dumplings, I got to contribute to the dinner preparation and got to learn how to shape them! I still need to train as my first gyoza were not that nicely shaped, they still tasted good though!
Alternatively, if you prefer just dinning out, go to Komaru on Military Road for sushi and sashimi. I loved every bite of our meal. Every dish was tasty and the service was friendly and efficient. The restaurant is a cute spot despite the busy Mitlitary Rd.
Other dining alternatives that are on my list, yet to try:
Yakitori Yuripi in Crows Nest
Note: since the initial publication of this post, I went to Yoshii with Mayumi and two other friends on 23/06/2016. We took the degustation menu. I enjoyed every dish. It is definitely a great fine dining experience.
Last year I also tried Toko in Surry Hills: a modern style Japanese izakaya. The dishes are easy to share, beautifully presented and the food very tasty.The staff are really helpful with their recommendations and helping you to decide. That time I did not try their desserts, so I need to go back and to try one of their cocktails!
More shopping (food, tea, books, gifts and ceramics, etc.)
One morning get some brioches from the cute Fujipan, Japanese bakery on Goulburn street offers a nice mix of French style pastries and Japanese buns filled with custard or bean paste. I really enjoyed the matcha brioche bread with red beans, very airy and subtle matcha taste.
You can refill your pantry with Japanese groceries at Maruyu on Kent Street. I bought soba noodles (see recipe below), found some organic soy sauce and some green tea with roasted rice (Genmaicha) which I have learnt to appreciate over the years. Sachiyo helped me out as most products are imported with packagings in Japanese. However when I went back another by myself and the staff was very helpful.
If you love ceramics like me check Direct From Japan which offers a very large assortment of earthware pots (either online or showroom). Eastern Flair on King Street in Newtown has a nice selection of Japanese tableware among other Asian and Indian items.
The Daiso shop might not be as good as the ones in Japan as it does not carry as many references, however for an outsider like me, it is wonderland for household goods with bright colours and cute Japanese cartoons. You can also find many references to organise your storage in the kitchen and a good range of cookware. There are a few locations in Sydney CBD.
Last but not least, Tomomi makes lovely hand sewn gifts under her brand Smile Factory From Australia. I love her cute padded little toiletries zip pouches. This is a great option if you want something unique to give to your friends or for your own children.
Cooking at home
In case you do not feel like going out, here is a soba noodles soup recipe like your Japanese mother would cook it for you. Soba noodles are made of buckwheat flour, hence their brown grey colour. Their benefits among many are to help eliminate cholesterol and improve digestion. This quick and easy recipe makes a light and balanced weeknight dinner.
Prep time: 5 min – Cooking time: 4 + 4min
Ingredients (for 1 portion)
1 tsp of soy sauce
25cl of water + 1 tsp. of Japanese dried seasoning for soba noodles (dashi) composed of dried ingredients such as wheat, mackerel, sardine and soybeans.
1 stick of spring onion/scallion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. of wakame seaweed
a pinch of Japanese mix spices (Shichimi Togarashi)
a pinch of sea salt flakes
1 sour plum (umeboshi) – optional
Cook the soba noodles in boiling water for 4min or depending on the indication of your pack. It is better if they are al dente.
Pour the stock directly in the Donabe hot pot (placed on the stove), the soy sauce and salt. Bring to simmer and poach the egg in the liquid for 4-5min. You can add the soba when the egg is still poaching, then sprinkle with the wakame and spring onions. Season to serve together with the sour plum if you wish to.
Be careful, the liquid stays super hot for a long time in this earthware pot and the plum needs to be eaten in small bites otherwise the taste is very strong!
Note: the stock, spices, plums and seaweed can be found at Maruyu. You can also find soba noodles and the soy sauce in your regular supermarket.
Hope you enjoyed this list and If you have some more addresses to share with me, I’d love to hear from you.