Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sokyo, Sydney

Yes, I went to get sushi in Sydney .  You'd think I'd know better.  I'll never forget the first day they had sushi at my office in Sydney.  Everyone was so excited.  I eagerly joined the lines, only to find that the sushi rolls were filled with ... chicken.  Or tuna salad.  As in, canned tuna.  What?  That is not what I think of as sushi!

Over the course of my next few visits to Sydney, I did end up going to real sushi restaurants, all ones that were well regarded, and while they served actual raw fish, none ever really impressed me.  But Sydney is surrounded by water, and they do have a large fish market in Pyrmont, so I had hope that fresh local seafood could be found, and, why not have it raw?

But really, I decided to get sushi this time due to limited options.  It was Australia Day (yay!), but this meant it was a holiday, and most restaurants were closed.  So we decided to take a gamble to go get sushi, at Sokyo, located inside the Star Casino.

Ok yes, now I'm talking about getting sushi ... in a casino.  But before you think I'm totally crazy, please realize that it is a full restaurant, not part of the food court or anything, and there is even a Momofuku in the Star Casino, plus an outpost of my favorite gelato shop in Sydney, Messina, so there IS precedent for good restaurants there.  Plus, the chef worked at the Nobu in Las Vegas, Dubai, London, LA, and the Bahamas before moving to Sydney and opening Sokyo.  And they received One Chef's Hat the past two years.  I had reason to believe it could be good, even though I was ordering sushi, in Sydney, on a Monday, in a casino.  Four strikes against me.

Anyway, back to Sokyo.  They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.  No, you can't get sushi for breakfast, the breakfast menu is traditional breakfast fare, like Eggs Benedict, albeit served with edamame and miso hollandaise for Japanese flair.  They offer a really good deal for lunch, $45 for 3 courses, starting with your pick of several choices of sashimi, followed by your pick of tempura, and finally a hot dish, plus miso soup and salad.  Given how expensive everything else is, this actually is a deal.  But we went for the regular a la carte menu for dinner, and focused on the sushi, although the tempura and robata grilled menus are both sizable as well.

Disappointment began at the ordering stage.  We tried to order several pieces of nigiri, only to find out they didn't have any.  No uni.  No abalone.  No toro.  Sigh.  So we placed our initial order, and decided we'd order more after we had our first batch.  This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  Spoiler: we decided not to order more.

The service was fine, fairly quick.  Dishes were brought out by different servers, making it was a bit hard to keep track of who was our actual server, when we had questions.

Overall, the food at Sokyo was fine, but not very good, and certainly over priced for what it was.  I wouldn't go back, and in fact, we decided not to order a second round of sushi as planned, and went elsewhere for more.
Sushi Bar along one wall.
The primary kitchen is an exposed sushi bar, with several chefs working at a time (I think I saw 5?)  Some diners are seated at the counter along it, but most are at tables throughout the room.
Dining Room.
The dining room is large and a bit boring.  The decor isn't great; it is somewhat modern, but filled with hard wooden surfaces and strange looking chairs.  It was not really a great ambiance.
Grapefruit Mocktail. $11. Future Words. $18.
For a drink, Ojan selected one of the three mocktails on the menu, the "grapefruit".  Described as "grapefruit, cucumber, elderflower".

He didn't like it.  He said it was interesting, and he was glad to have a mocktail that wasn't just sugar, but he didn't like the flavor.  I tried it, and the cucumber flavor was somewhat overwhelming, which I really didn't like.

I went for the "Future Words", described as "sake, burnt cinnamon, lime, and strawberry".

I also didn't like mine.  It was crazy sweet.  So much sweeter than I ever anticipated.  I did not taste any cinnamon nor lime.  Or sake for that matter.  I did taste strawberry, and there was strawberry puree in the bottom of my glass when I was done, so I know at least that was fresh muddled fruit.  But wow, so sweet.  I couldn't handle the sweet, and ended up diluting it with sparkling water to make it palatable.  Ojan said I should have just saved it for "dessert".  $18 is also a bit pricey for a cocktail, but on par with Sydney standards.
Kingfish Miso Ceviche. $22
"Green chilli, crispy potato, miso ceviche."

I did less research on Sokyo than most restaurants I go to, since it was a fall back option, but I did recall that everyone said to order the kingfish miso ceviche, listed under the sashimi menu.  When I ordered it, the waitress told me it was their most popular dish ... which isn't necessarily a good thing.

The kingfish was decent, although it didn't have a particularly great flavor to it.  It wasn't fishy or old tasting, and I liked the miso sauce that coated it.  The thinly sliced chilli and red onion added a nice balance, and just the right amount of heat.  The crispy potato shreds on top were crunchy and fairly tasty.

Overall, this was a decent dish, my favorite of the night.  Good flavors and textures, balanced.  The fish wasn't remarkable though, but overall it was fine.  $22 seemed a bit high for the small portion.
Ginger, Wasabi.
The ginger and wasabi provided on the table were both actually quite good.  We easily finished all our ginger, both this batch, and the other batches that came on the platters.  I'm pretty sure it was real wasabi, it had a nice heat to it and was slightly gritty.
Tai Ceviche Nigiri: $18 (4 pieces). Ocean Trout Ikijime (Tasmania) Nigiri. $9.

Next, we ordered nigiri.

The first was a selection from the "Sokyo Nigiri" section, another dish I had read recommendations for: Tai Ceviche Nigiri, described as "crispy nori, shio konbu, lime salsa."

It was pretty unique.  Crispy nori was wrapped around the nigri, like a taco shell.  I liked the extra crunch this added.  The tai was fine, just like the kingfish, not great, but not bad either.  The salsa on top was just a bit weird though, and I didn't really get it.

Special Sokyo Nigiri only come as sets of 4 pieces, which is a bit annoying.  Again, the price of $18 seemed a bit high.

Our other selection was just a standard nigiri, ocean trout.  We selected it because we remembered having really good ocean trout in Sydney before.

I wish I had a better photo, because while my piece looked ok from the top, when I went to bite in, I saw a thick layer of fat running the entire length of my piece.  You can almost see it in the photo, the top right piece, left side.  I showed it to Ojan, who agreed it wasn't right.  I showed it to my waitress, who also thought it wasn't right.  It was whisked away, and a new pair soon emerged to replace it.

The replacement was fine.  Again, just fine.  Not fishy, not off putting, but the fish really didn't have much going for it.  Price a bit high for what it was.
Sokyo Omelette (Tamago) Nigiri. $8.
At this point, I'd pretty much lost faith in Sokyo, so we decided not to stay at Sokyo for dessert and go elsewhere.  But I did have to conclude with the "dessert" of sushi, right?  Tamago!

Ojan and I were both temporarily stunned when the tamago was set down in front of us.  This was the strangest looking tamago we had ever seen.

It was sliced down the middle, and stuffed with rice, rather than served on top.  Ok, a bit odd, but I think I've seen that before.  Next, it also wasn't that sweet.  Again, sweetness level varies, so that wasn't too odd.  The crazy part was the texture.  It wasn't a layered omelet at all.  It was crazy fluffy, like a soufflĂ©.  I guess it WAS dessert!

I can't say I liked or disliked this, it was just quite different.  The fluffiness was rather amazing.
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