Where to Eat When You're Craving All the Food You Ate on Your Trip to Japan
Eat like you're back exploring the Land of the Rising Sun.
WHERE TO EAT WHEN YOU'RE CRAVING ALL THE FOOD YOU ATE ON YOUR TRIP TO JAPAN
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Eat like you're back exploring the Land of the Rising Sun.
So, you finally managed to tick a Japan trip off your bucket list. You went, adventured and — inevitably — fell hard for the cuisine. Back in Sydney, you've started having drool-inducing daydreams about those tiny six-seat noodle shops that dished up the best ramen you've ever had, the charming izakayas with their wooden walls and shelves of local liquor, the buzzy food courts in department store basements, and those endless cups of sake. You want more; we get it. But if another trip to the Land of the Rising Sun isn't on the cards for you any time soon, never fear.
Sydney is packed with great restaurants that will help you relive the gustatory joys of your Japan trip, no expensive plane ticket required. To steer you in the right direction, we've rounded up the spots where you can get lost in steaming bowls of ramen, drink sake to raucous cheers of 'kanpai!' and eat sushi so fresh it will rival the stuff you had in Tokyo. Plus, all of these eateries welcome that American Express Card you may have just signed up for. You'll get to up your Amex points balance toward that next trip (or the first one if you haven't made it quite yet), all while reminiscing about your favourite dishes from Japan. Double win. Yes, nothing's ever going to be quite as good as the original, but these places come pretty damn close.
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Yes, it’s a global chain. Yes, it’s found in mall food courts. But believe us when we say, if you’re on the hunt for that mind-blowing ramen you had in Japan, Ippudo is the place to go. Despite the mall-setting, once you’re inside, the bustling atmosphere, with loud shouts of ‘irasshaimase’ (welcome) from the staff and the appreciative slurping of the patrons, makes Ippudo feel like the classic ramen houses you find in Japan. While hopeless ramen-tics will find a lot to love on the menu, the shiromaru is the speciality that put Ippudo at the top of the ramen trade. This Hakata-style ramen with juicy pork loin, crunchy bean sprouts and silky black mushrooms is the stuff dreams are made of. Throw in the nitamago, a delicious whole flavoured egg, and your total and utter satisfaction is guaranteed.
In the coolly minimal dining room of this Potts Point eatery, all smooth slate and pale beech, the focus is on contemporary small plates prepared with traditional hibachi grilling and steaming techniques. The kingfish with sesame and cucumber, and ocean trout with wasabi and black pepper are standouts on the sashimi side of things. If you’re in the mood for meat, though, look no further than Cho Cho San’s riff on charcoal chicken, or the wagyu steak with wasabi. Wash it all down with one of the fancy Japanese-inspired cocktails and, if you still have room, grab one of those delicate cones of green tea soft serve, which are the perfect amount of sweet to top off your meal.
Image: Nikki To.
Craving those top-notch local whiskies you sampled in Japan’s buzzy capital? Put a dinner at Tokyo Bird on your calendar. In classic izakaya style, this dimly lit den is all about the drinks, coupled with a delightful snacking menu to ensure you don’t get too tipsy. The selection of premium imported whiskies here is impressive, featuring notable tipples like the award-winning 12-year-old Yamazaki and the toffee-tasting pure malt from the Nikka Distillery. On the snack-side of things, you’ll want to get stuck into those chicken sticks. The yakitori are all marinated in a sweet soy sauce and imbued with smoke from the charcoal grill.
If you did Japan right, you spent more than a couple of nights in a karaoke room with a microphone in one hand and a beer in the other. To recreate the experience, head to Goros, a kitsch Japanese ‘dive’ bar replete with yakitori, sake and games. The knowledgeable staff are more than happy to walk you through the sizeable sake list (each tipple mercifully described and numbered so you don’t have to try and get your tongue around the likes of ‘Dewazakura Karakuchi’). Match your drink of choice with yakitori, gyoza or that fiery chicken burger, then it’s time to get yourself into one of those private karaoke booths, where you can obliterate your vocal chords crooning your all-time favourite hits until the wee hours.
Already a wildly popular ramen chain back in Japan, Gogyo very quickly gained a similar status here. While the entire menu is commendable, you’re ultimately here for the kogashi (burnt) ramen. Made by cooking lard at very high temperatures until the substance turns black and bursts into flames, this scorched soup prepared with miso, chashu pork belly, nori and an umami egg will leave you already dreaming of your next meal at this Surry Hills eatery. Rich, smoky and sweet, it’s a veritable feast for the senses. All this heavenly flavour is perfectly complemented by Gogyo’s exposed brick and concrete fit-out, with the kind of moody lighting that practically screams date night.
In the mood for traditional Japanese sushi? Sunset Sabi probably isn’t for you. But if you’re on the hunt for a cheeky twist on the classics, you’re in the right place. Here, you’ll find the likes of jalapeño, beetroot crisps and pineapple salsa in your sushi rolls. There’s also burger-inspired gyoza, tuna and truffle sashimi, and a so-called ‘LA taco’. It all sounds a little crazy, but trust us when we say this California-y twist on Japanese cuisine really works. Throw in the fancy cocktails and a huge glass front perfect for people-watching, and you’re in for a good time.
When you can’t get the ultra-fresh sushi of Tokyo out of your head, it’s time to take yourself on a little date to Toko, a gorgeous restaurant that’s been serving up some of the best raw fish in Sydney for over a decade. The sliced kingfish with truffle ponzu and chives, and the scampi nigiri with truffle are the kind of dishes that are worth writing home about. While this luxe spot does incredible things with Aussie seafood, carnivores will find much to love in the likes of wagyu beef cheeks teamed with wasabi crème fraîche, and the juicy pork ribs drenched in sweet soy chilli sauce. Make sure to book beforehand to avoid disappointment.
A meal at Yebisu Yakitori feels a little like stepping through a magic portal into the alleyways of Tokyo. If you’re missing those ubiquitous izakayas with their endless sake selections and moreish yakitori, this is where you need to be. Here, brick walls and wood tones splashed with street art are a trendy cloak from the city outside — you’ll quickly forget you’re still in Sydney. The dizzyingly large menu features over 100 dishes so chances are whatever it is you’re craving, you’ll find it here. Ordering is done electronically from an iPad at your table, so you can take your sweet time deciding exactly what you want and when you want it. Make sure to pair your plates with some sake, each variety of which is served ceremoniously with a cheer of ‘kanpai’.
Tucked away in Crows Nest, this charming little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it eatery dishes up some of the city’s most delicious ramen. The fit-out — butcher’s paper decorated with kanji plastering the walls and more good luck cats than you can count — feels so authentically Japanese you’ll be forgiven for forgetting you’re still in Sydney. Great atmosphere aside, you’re really here for the bowls of ramen that are so huge you’ll struggle to finish them. While there’s a good selection of pork and chicken broths on the menu, there’s no going past their famous number eight: noodles in spicy hot chicken soup with pork, shallots and egg. While you’ll be tempted to linger, do as the Japanese do and leave as soon as you’re done — or else feel the furious ire of those waiting to nab themselves a table.
At this fun diner-bar with its open kitchen, bright red walls and lofty ceilings, you’ll come for the food and stay for the drinks. The modern Japanese bar food is perfect for small groups and relatively affordable to boot. The stars of the show include the fried chicken with wasabi mayo and the wagyu beef cheek buns. But if you’re looking for some of the more usual suspects — sushi, sashimi, nigiri and the like — you won’t be disappointed. Whatever you settle for on the food side of things, make sure to get well-acquainted with the impressive sake list. There are also top-notch Japanese whiskies and beers on tap.
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