Many a first date has been held in Toko. Dark and lush, it's huge spiral matchstick-like-wall art is a beacon to passers-by on Crown Street. Toko has prestige and is known as a dead-set guarantee of good food and service, its staff slicing and dicing some of Sydney's best sushi since 2007.
People can be rather righteous about Japanese food and expect perfection and preciseness moreso than other cuisines, which is particularly pertinent to the meticulous nature of Japan's high-end cuisine. Toko plays pretty loose with the rules, where Zen is replaced by thumping house and loud chatter, but the dishes are modern and yet respectful of tradition. During lunch hours, the large, wooden-decked, L-shaped space may seem serene, but come nightfall Toko can be essentially a pumping bar with great sushi. Incorporating the casual dining style of izakaya, Toko is flash and fun and, despite the first date reputation, is also great for groups.
The tasting menu ($78) starts with a lychee and jasmine mojito before dropping customers straight into an eight-course binge. Venison carpaccio with nashi pear in light soy is delicately sliced into medallions, but the cured kingfish belly, again with pear (this time pickled), and wafu gel is something else. The second course is a trio of baby bottled squid in a jam of ume boshi with salmon and cucumber — a less memorable smoked mackerel — but a wowser of garfish in a tiny spiral roll, with ginko nuts and yuzukoshu, which is a ripe chilli pepper and zest sauce.
While quail is not necessarily equated with Japanese food, the first main — a grilled variety on the bone, with miso truffle and Japanese mushrooms — is hard to knock, but the other main, a steamed snapper in a dashi broth with seaweed, is sensational. Topping off the degustation menu is a selection of Toko desserts in a dinky little bowl, including hazelnut fondant and mascarpone ice cream.
To be honest, it's hard to fault Toko, whether in presentation or taste. It's maintained a standard in Japanese cuisine and atmosphere that's hard to beat, whether your romance is with your dining partner or just what's on the plate.