There are a lot of great Japanese restaurants in Crows Nest, so a newcomer to the hood definitely has to bring the very best. @! Restaurant (“At Restaurant”) is the latest Japanese restaurant with Atsushi Saito at the helm. Formerly of sushi e and Sushi Choo, sushi chef Atsushi Saito has broken away from the Merivale group and is part of the team at @! Restaurant which opened in early May this year. It looks like Astro Boy has followed him from Sushi Choo as well, who sits and watches over us from a shelf.
The restaurant is packed on a Sunday night and we manage to snag the last remaining table. The menu is a double sided A4 sheet split into entrees, salads, soups, mains as well as various sushi and sashimi options. The dishes are a mix of traditional and modern Japanese, with a focus on various types of sushi. The blackboard on the wall also has some specials for the night.
My eyes are immediately drawn to the cheese gyoza which are a great start to the meal. The dumpling skin is blistered and crispy and holds delicious melty cheese innards with garlic chives.
I also couldn’t resist ordering the kingfish jalapeno which are slices of kingfish artfully presented on a long plate with a coriander leaf and slice of jalapeno on each one. It’s a wonderful pairing, with the jalapeno offering a slight spicy kick to the delicate kingfish.
The chicken karaage is presented in a martini glass on a bed of salad leaves. The pieces are only small but this means more surface area for the crunchy outsides, and the karaage reminds me of KFC’s popcorn chicken – only better! Each piece remains crunchy and are the perfect size for dipping into the Kewpie mayonnaise and popping into the mouth whole.
@! Restaurant’s mixed tempura also passes the test, with a generous serving of tempura for $16. There are three prawns as well as some carrot, sweet potato, mushroom and eggplant pieces, which are served with a tempura dipping sauce with grated ginger. The tempura is fresh and crisp, and I love that there are lots of tempura nubbly bits left on the plate to crunch on at the end.
A simple roll with cooked salmon and julienned cucumber turns out to be one of my favourite dishes. The sushi roll is expertly made with a sweet, seared prawn on top of each roll and a mound of fried spring onions.
A massive potato nest arrives on the table and we immediately start digging into the fried potato sticks which remind me of French Fries (the potato chip kind), but seaweed flavour. Digging further, we find succulent, tender cubes of wagyu beef in a soy based sauce. The dish is also served with a side salad.
We order one more sushi set and we take a gamble on the @! style sushi set. We have no clues as to what it contains except for 10 pieces of nigiri sushi and 6 rolls, but we’re pleasantly surprised when we are presented with an assorted set of nigiri sushi, each with its own separate preparation and accompaniment.
The small rolls are filled with fatty tuna and wasabi.
We’re not sure what all of the fish are on the nigiri sushi but some are raw, some are seared aburi-style, and some are wrapped in daikon or dabbed with ginger, chives or wasabi. Each has its own individual flavour and style, particularly bringing out the flavour of the fish.
The food at @! Restaurant is perfectly executed and I think that the portions are quite generous and good value for money in comparison to other restaurants in the area. They also have lunch sets which vary from $15 – $25 and include a range of items including appetisers, hand rolls, sushi, a main dish and dessert, which I am keen to try. @! Restaurant might well be my new favourite Japanese around my area, so I’ll definitely be back sooner rather than later!
@! Restaurant (At Restaurant)
417 Pacific Highway
Crows Nest NSW 2065
Ph: +61 2 9437 5285
Lunch: Thursday to Sunday, noon-3pm
Dinner: Tuesday to Sunday, 5.30-10.30pm