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14° & CLOUDY ON THURSDAY 22 AUGUST IN SYDNEY
New in Town
Chuuka
By Marissa Ciampi
July 22, 2019
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By Marissa Ciampi
July 22, 2019
  shares

Pyrmont's new waterfront restaurant sees two top chefs pump out a menu that combines Chinese and Japanese cuisines.

Pyrmont has gained an atmospheric new addition to its dining scene, thanks to two of Australia’s top chefs: Sydney’s chef Chase Kojima (SokyoGojima) and Victor Liong, who is most notably behind Melbourne’s Lee Ho Fook. The two have come together to open Chuuka, a new Chinese-Japanese fine diner at Jones Bay Wharf.

The waterfront space used to be home to Flying Fish, which, earlier this year, moved across to The Star. Here, the two chefs are putting their own mark on the well-known location. They’ve combined their respective specialties and techniques (Kojima in Japanese cuisine and Liong in Chinese) to create a cross-cuisine menu that goes well beyond your standard Asian fusion.

“What we’re doing is taking Chinese food and giving it that Japanese precision, lens and aesthetic,” says Kojima.

The restaurant’s name means “Chinese” in Japanese, and plays to this cultural exchange and historic culinary influence of the late-1800s Chinese immigrants in Japan. This menu features an amalgamation of flavours and traditional cooking techniques, all while using fresh Aussie produce.

In partnership with Zantac we’re uncovering the best new restaurants and bars around Australia as they open. Chuuka opened earlier this month, and we’ve got the lowdown on the team, the design and — most importantly — the menu so that you can head in educated, excited and ready to take it all in — with a few dishes recommended by the chefs, no less.

The Team

Kojima and Liong first met after last year’s Good Food Guide Awards in Melbourne, when Kojima and his team came in to dine at Lee Ho Fook.

“Chase gave me a call in November and asked if I was interested in doing something in Sydney together in terms of a collaboration,” says Liong. “After a series of meetings, they revealed it would be at the [ex-Flying Fish] site — and that’s when I made my decision to do it.”

The collaboration has, so far worked out in a very natural way. “Chase is very technical and he’s known to use a lot of premium ingredients and for his high-end Japanese style,” says Liong. “I’m known for kooky and quirky Chinese aspects, so it worked out really well.”

“I think I’ve always loved the idea of exploring Chinese subcultures and Chinese food outside of China, like in Singapore, Macau and Japan,” he adds. “A restaurant that does Chinese food with a Japanese lens has always been really appealing to me.”

Chuuka is the first off-property restaurant for The Star Sydney, which plans to continue to expand as a luxury entertainment group beyond its Pyrmont casino and hotel. As such, the two chefs have secured the group’s long-time bar manager Behzad Nvaziri, who has also worked with Kojima at Sokyo. He’s looking after the expansive outdoor deck bar and mixing cocktails with an Asian twist. On the wine side of things, ex-Billy Kwong sommelier Lindsay Carr is looking after the extensive wine offering. More on these later.

The Design

Just as its Melbourne laneway location is integral to Lee Ho Fook, Chuuka’s heritage-listed spot on the Sydney wharf is set to be part of its identity.

The two-level interior offers a range of seating options with varying vibes. The ground floor boasts a 60-seat restaurant, wine room and outdoor bar — all of which are arranged to amplify the venue’s encompassing views across the harbour, including the Harbour Bridge. Upstairs, a 70-seat private dining space allows you to look down over the action of the restaurant below. Local tattoo artist Deepak Munsami has also painted intricate red and grey murals across the restaurant’s walls, which reflect the combination of Chinese and Japanese elements on the menu.

“I think the big part of the design brief is to kind of shake the connotation of what Flying Fish was,” says Liong. “It was an iconic restaurant in the space and it set the idea of what belonged here, so we want to do the opposite and to get our little fingerprint on the space.”

To that end, the interiors have a more fun, casual vibe, with no tablecloths and plenty of nooks to dine in. At night, the music gets turned up and the atmosphere changes completely, taking on a more dark and romantic vibe.

With so many spaces to choose from, we had to know what’s the best seat in the house. Kojima recommends the corner seat at the raw bar.

“If you’re open to looking into the kitchen, there’s a seat at the cold bar on the corner,” says Kojima. “You get a background view of the Harbour Bridge day and night, and you get to be in the middle of the action.”

For Liong, it’s the upstairs dining room. “I really like sitting upstairs,” he says. “You feel you’re above the activity and can peer down, but you have your own little space.”

For those who love to watch the kitchen activity, there’s also a big chef’s table right next to the pass. For more casual bites and waterside views, grab a seat at the bar deck — it’s potentially the venue’s most recognisable spot to dine.

The Menu

The dining experience at Chuuka takes ‘Asian fusion’ to the next level, creating dishes that truly combine both cuisines. Take the ebi chilli, which is a Japanese version of a Szechuan dish that is very popular in Japan. The stir-fried prawns are dosed in chilli miso butter and served with a Japanese milk buns for dipping.

Another favourite dish of the chefs is the tempura yuzu chicken. The fried chicken is powdered with dried chilli and coated in a sweet and sour sauce that’s made using the Japanese citrus.

“Chase is an American and he’s always got this connotation of PF Chang’s and Panda Express, so it’s a nostalgic dish for him and fits well [with what we’re doing] because it keeps it a little bit fun.”

Chuuka’s ‘roe service’ brings  Sydney’s fresh seafood into the mix, and, at the moment, includes marinated trout roe caviar and Tasmanian sea urchin roe. Each order comes with accompaniments that include tea-smoked eggs, which are served sashimi-style — another example of the influences from both cuisines.

The popular Szechuan dish bang bang chicken is already a fan favourite, too. Strips of silken chicken are pounded and topped with chilli oil, peanuts, shiso salad and yuzu kosho (a fermented paste made from yuzu and chilli).

“This dish is one that’s purely a fifty-fifty dish,” says Kojima. “We came to the agreement where we kept the chicken in the bang bang sauce exactly as Victor had done it, then added a slaw with yuzu pepper sauce just to add a touch more acidity.”

For dessert, there’s a frozen yogurt service, which acts as an ode to Japan’s many fro-yo bars. Freshly churned yoghurt sorbet, mascarpone ice cream and frozen French meringue are served with a variety of toppings, including yuzu and ginger jam, Vietnamese coffee jelly, roasted hazelnuts and matcha milk crumb.

Out at the bar, manager Behzad Nvaziri has created a seasonal cocktail list named for five elements. Liong’s favourite is the Earth, a balanced and, of course, earthy combination of mezcal, pomegranate and sansho pepper. There’s also the Metal (coconut-washed vodka mule with honeydew and calamansi) and the Fire (Hong Kong baijiu with Dom Benedictine liqueur and mango and chilli oleo) to choose from. The extensive wine list spans two pages of by-the-glass and seven by-the-bottle, and focuses on Australian and European drops.

Pair these with bar bites, like the wagyu short rib with carrot kimchi and sweet miso, or the pickled Spring Bay mussels with kohlrabi, charred green garlic, whipped tofu and chilli.

 

CHEF’S PICK: FOUR THINGS TO ORDER

So what should you order? Liong and Kojima have spent months this menu, so we thought they’d be the best people to ask. Here are four picks from the Chuuka menu.

Chuuka is now open at 62-64 Jones Bay Wharf, Pyrmont . For more info, visit chuuka.com.au.

Keen to check out more newbies? Have a sift through the newest crop of Sydney openings.

To find out more about Zantac, visit the website. Zantac relieves heartburn. Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, worsen or change unexpectedly, talk to your health professional.

Words: Marissa Ciampi. Images: Steven Woodburn.

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