It’s a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in Sydney and I’m headed to Ocean Room, which is perfectly positioned to enjoy the view of sunny blue skies, the sparkling harbour and some of Sydney’s most famous landmarks.
Inside, the view is equally as stunning with Ocean Room’s dining area housing a ceiling of thousands upon thousands of bamboo cylinders, forming a chandelier of sorts above diners.
I’ve dined here before, but today, Ocean Room’s Executive Chef Raita Noda treats us to a sushi and sashimi masterclass to learn about their philosophy, the preparation of sushi and sashimi and where they source their seafood from.
Noda explains that the sushi created at Ocean Room is based on the edomae sushi concept. This style of sushi originates from Edo-mae (Edo Bay, now Toyko Bay) and referred to the fresh fish that was caught there and paired with rice. Noda explains how the piece of sushi should be balanced in flavour and fit in a single mouthful. The preparation may vary according to the type of fish used as some are fattier, or taste more fishy than others.
Of course, one of the most important parts of edomae sushi is the rice. Ocean Room uses a short grain Japanese rice called Koshihikari which is mixed with red rice vinegar. Due to the natural sweetness of the rice, Noda chooses to not use sugar in the vinegar mixture. The rice is cooled and mixed with vinegar using a paddle in a hangiri – a wooden barrel which helps with the dressing and cooling of the rice. We are given a small bowl of the rice to taste. It is lightly vinegared and I notice that each rice grain has no stickiness, and is distinct and separate from the next.
The other important part of edomae sushi is the fish. Noda shows us about his special sushi and sashimi knives which are made out of Japanese steel (the same steel that is used to make katanas!). He slices some fresh sashimi for us with the knives while his supplier, Narito Ishii of Wellstone Seafoods, talks about the fish that was sourced for us this morning.
Ishii supplies about 95% of Japanese restaurants in Sydney. He sources his fish from the Sydney Fish Markets, and the types and amounts of fish he is able to supply to restaurants is dependent on market conditions. As it was quite windy, today he has only been able to source 16-17 varieties of fish for us. He talks of the changes in seafood suppliers over time, and uses the example of the Imperador fish, which was in low demand at only $3/kg when he first entered the industry. Now, suppliers have begun to appreciate this fish, which now sells at about $28/kg. Wellstone Seafoods also has a retail store in Willoughby which I happen to frequent quite regularly to get sashimi!
Onto the food! Noda and his team of chefs have prepared a beautifully presented sashimi tasting plate for us to enjoy. We have 9 types of fish on this plate including John Dory, ocean trout, swordfish belly, blue mackerel, scallop, trevally, kingfish, sand whiting, and imperador.
Each fish has its own accompanying condiment, so that most of them don’t even need the requisite dip into the special sashimi soy sauce. Some are garnished with ginger, some with lemon, some with wasabi, so that each individual piece has its own unique flavour. My favourites are the fatty swordfish belly which is lightly seared, and the blue mackerel which is tangy with lemon.
We are extremely lucky today because Ishii has managed to source a section of the 2nd largest wild bluefin tuna caught this season. We can tell from the wing alone that this fish is massive, and Noda expertly takes a section of the tuna and starts dividing it up into three parts: the lean, blood red akami section, the middle chutoro, and the fatty, pale pink belly section called otoro.
While Noda prepares the fish, he talks about the difference between wild-caught and farmed bluefin tuna. The otoro, fatty section of wild tuna is marbled throughout the flesh much like Wagyu beef, allowing it to retain some bite. The akami section is also a deeper red in wild tuna than the farmed variety. Noda also ages the fish in a similar process to aged beef to develop and accentuate the flavours. Before we sample Ocean Room’s edomae sushi, we are served a glass of undiluted sake from the Totori prefecture over a large ball of ice.
The otoro nigiri is served first. It’s been brushed lightly with soy so there’s no need for extra dipping. I’ve had otoro before but this is the first time where it hasn’t been overly fatty and manages to retain some of the texture of raw fish, while still melting in the mouth.
Although the two sections of tuna are prepared similarly, there is a clear difference in colour between the fattier otoro and the leaner chutoro. The chutoro nigiri is slightly more chewy than the otoro.
We move away from the tuna for a bit and sample the imperador. This has been prepared slightly differently as there is a layer of fat under the skin. Rather than removing the skin which would also remove the fat, Noda scores the skin with a sharp knife and blowtorches it which makes the skin easier to eat. The imperador nigiri is quite delicate and subtle in flavour.
We’re treated to a few other types of seafood including cuttlefish and latchet, before returning to sample the last section of the tuna.
The akami part of the tuna is a deep red colour and garnished with white sesame seeds and lemon zest. As the leanest cut of the tuna, it is also the most meaty and chewy.
As the masterclass wraps up, Ishii and Noda talk about the importance of sustainability. While Noda acknowledges that he likes to use bluefin tuna which has previously suffered heavily from overfishing, he is mindful of wasting such a precious resource and aims to use all parts of the fish in the kitchen. Likewise, Ishii tries to encourage the use of lesser known fish such as latchet and imperador.
It’s been a delicious and informative masterclass at Ocean Room, and as a lover of both sushi and sashimi, it has allowed me to appreciate the source of the fresh seafood that makes up such an important part of the food, as well as see first hand the expertise and effort that goes into making what seems like a relatively simple dish to create. Noda is clearly passionate about the food he creates at Ocean Room, and I am definitely ordering Raita’s sashimi collection next time I visit!
Penguin says Feed Me attended the Ocean Room Sushi and Sashimi Masterclass courtesy of Wasamedia
Ground Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal
The Rocks NSW 2000
Ph: +61 2 9252 9585
Lunch: Tuesday to Friday, noon-2pm
Dinner: Monday to Saturday, 6pm-10pm