Sushi is one of my all-time favourite foods ever. I will happily eat any kind of sushi – be it takeaway sushi rolls, $3 sushi train plates, or individually crafted sushi at a restaurant. But for something that seems as simple as a piece of raw fish on top of rice, there can be such a vast difference in quality, which mainly comes down to the ingredients, and the skill of the sushi chef.
There’s a good reason that becoming a sushi chef takes years of training, and it’s because sushi is all about the details. What kind of rice do you use? How much pressure do you apply to the rice? What kind of fish? How do you slice or cut the fish? Do you add any garnishes to the fish? A trained sushi chef will know exactly how to answer these questions, and know how to use their creativity to make the best use of seasonal and local ingredients in their sushi.
One of the best ways to experience this is to book yourself in for a sushi omakase. Omakase means “I’ll leave it up to you”, and you’ll have to place your trust in the sushi chef to know what’s best. The sushi omakase at Sokyo is hands down the best sushi in Sydney (in my opinion), and that is mainly down to Chef Takashi Sano (ex-Tetsuya and Koi) whose sushi skills are unparalleled in Sydney.
I’ve had the sushi omakase at Sokyo twice now, and been blown away every time. So much so that I don’t even know what to say about it (hence why this blog post has been so delayed) except that if you love sushi, you have to go and try it for yourself. It’s not easy to get a booking as the omakase is only available on weeknights for a limited number of people, but this is so Sano-san can dedicate his full attention to each omakase customer for the night.
The following photos of the food are a mix of the two omakase menus we had at Sokyo. Both times we started with some small dishes which varied depending on what was seasonal. On our first visit, we had cooked dishes of snapper and alfonsino with sweet soy sauce, whereas on our second visit, our starters were raw scampi sashimi and melt in the mouth chopped tuna belly with caviar.
Our first visit was pretty much sushi-only apart from the starters, but on our second visit we also had some non-sushi dishes dotted throughout the menu, such as slow-cooked wagyu short rib “tataki”, braised snapper wing and seared scallop muscle. These dishes added a bit of variety to the menu, but to be honest I didn’t mind eating sushi only!
I feel like what makes this experience so authentic is because it truly reminds me of eating at a sushi restaurant in Japan, while still paying homage to the amazing seafood that we’re so lucky to have access to in Australia. The level of personal attention you receive from sitting right in front of the sushi chef is just like Japan, right down to the hot towels provided at the start, to the fact that there is no need to add your own soy sauce or wasabi to your sushi.
A word of warning: you’re about to see a lot of sushi photos, so I won’t go into too much detail about each piece of sushi and let the pictures do the talking instead!
There’s a lot of variety in the sushi omakase and both times I’ve found it’s opened my eyes to new types of seafood that I haven’t tried before, or have been prepared in a different way. Pearl shell meat is not something I’ve seen in other Japanese restaurants in Sydney, so it was quite special to try this raw with a touch of lime zest on top. Big eye tuna is another fish that is new to me, and this was one of my favourites with it’s tenderness and slightly fatty mouthfeel.
There seems to be a natural progression throughout the menu from lighter flavoured, less oily fish to the fattier cuts of fish with bolder flavours. Fish belly cuts always get good representation in the omakase menu, with tuna belly and ocean trout belly being some of my favourites. I’m also amazed by the knife work that goes into each piece of fish – often the slice of fish is scored several times lengthways and sometimes widthways as well. The cuttlefish nigiri and kingfish belly nigiri are particularly impressive with the fine criss-cross scoring rendering each one tender and without any chewiness.
Seared aburi sushi also makes an appearance. Each piece of sushi is blowtorched individually by Sano-san himself, and as you’re watching him at work you can smell the smoky flavour of the searing rising up from behind the counter. Seared scampi nigiri is always a treat, with the searing bringing out a natural sweetness in the shellfish. The seared scallop with crispy seaweed is also something quite different, with a juicy fat scallop sitting on a curl of crisp nori, accompanied with fresh wasabi salsa.
During our first omakase, Sano-san susses out that it’s our first visit to Sokyo ever, and treats us to one of Sokyo’s signature sushi dishes, the spicy tuna with crispy rice. It deviates from the traditional nigiri sushi that we’ve been having, but there’s a playful contrast of textures with the supple raw tuna and the block of crispy, slightly chewy rice.
The appearance of egg (tamago) sushi signifies the end of the omakase, and for me it’s always bittersweet. I’m sad that there’s no more sushi to come, but also slightly relieved because I’m just about reaching the limits of my stomach, and always pleased to finish on Sano-san’s perfect tamago. The egg is bouncy, slightly sweet and slightly savoury but with a texture like eating a fluffy cloud.
I would have been happily satisfied to end on the sweet note of that tamago but there’s always a sweeter end to the sushi omakase. Both visits we’ve been presented with a dessert tasting platter at the end of the meal, where we have sampled 3-4 mini versions of Sokyo’s desserts. They’ve always had a Japanese theme, using ingredients like shiso, tofu, black sesame, and yuzu, and trust me you’ll want to save room for this because all the desserts are amazing. My absolute favourite is the Sokyo mochi ice cream with frozen strawberry milkshake inside the thin, chewy mochi skins!
While this is by no means a cheap meal (we paid around $120pp), to me it is worth every cent. By sitting at the counter, you can see how much care and attention Sano-san gives each piece of sushi he makes, and this translates into the quality of food that you receive.
At the end of our meal, we watched as an order for a room service sushi platter came through to the kitchen. Sano-san spent an inordinate amount of time just visualising how the platter would be constructed, placing imaginary pieces of sushi on the plate to see how it would look. This kind of dedication and passion to sushi is what makes Sokyo’s sushi omakase so special, and why we will be returning again and again.
Level G, The Star
80 Pyrmont St
Pyrmont NSW 2009
Ph: +61 2 9657 9161
Open 7 days, 7am to 10.30am, 5.30pm to 10pm.
Open on Fridays and Saturdays for lunch, 12pm to 2.30pm