Chase Kojima's Japanese sushi rice and nori burgers are a remarkable, mouth-watering feat of burger engineering. Who would have ever thought that a combination of small pieces of grain and dried ocean plant could firmly (and deliciously) hold together two juicy Angus patties, cheese, tomato, onion, pickles, lettuce and special sauce? Kojima did, and it redefines all thinking around alternatives to the iconic burger bun.
These morsels are the signature dish at the Japanese chef's new casual dining and takeaway restaurant, which is (somewhat confusingly) named Gojima. Keen to try them out, we find ourselves basically cutting the red ribbon as Gojima's first customer on Thursday, December 15. Located just inside the Union Street entrance to The Star, the fresh space boasts the contrast of an outer shell that looks like scaled tree bark and white wall interiors, crisp lighting and subtle geometric shapes. It's not groundbreaking, but it's strong, minimal and tailored.
At first glance the menu seems a little pricey, but, at the same time, it's clearly challenging the expectations of a plateauing Sydney burger scene. For example, the sushi burgers — which come with your choice of miso salmon, spicy tuna and sweet mustard hiramasa kingfish ($14.90 each) — are all made with 100 percent sustainable seafood, and fries come lightly dusted with Gojima's own umami salt, giving them a delicate seaweed flavour not usually associated with fried foods. Matcha inevitably makes an appearance in the form of a green tea thickshake ($7.90). But if that's too, ah, mucha you can always indulge in the chocolate miso (the miso gives an almost salted caramel twist) or the strawberries and cream — they're all made with ice cream that's made in-store on a daily basis. Each of these items breathes new life into what has traditionally been a heavily US-style dominated cuisine. It's important to note that the restaurant is licensed too, sporting a range of sake, wine and beer, including Asahi on tap ($8.90 middy) and a more exotic bottled option in a Hitachino red rice beer ($12.90 bottle).
But for those who still want to hang on to the vibe of the LA burg, you have plenty of options with classics like the Gojima hamburger ($11.90), the cheeseburger ($12.90) and the double ($16.90) — each of these fuse Japanese cuisine with the American dream (which is just straight-up wonderful beef and cheese). For those seeking their crispy katsu fix, look no further than the mushroom burger; the katsu 'shroom is good enough to lure even the biggest of beef eaters over to vegetarianism. If you can't make the sacrifice though, there's the Gojima Stack ($16.90), which combines the cheeseburger and katsu mushroom into a beautiful, saliva-inducing hybrid.
The double is a wonderful representation of the way US food can combine with Japanese cuisine. That strange sensation of 'am I eating burger or a sushi roll?' is so overwhelming that the first bite may leave you confused, but you'll soon acknowledge this dichotomy of flavour is sensational and need to take another immediately. The nori and rice 'bun' is the real star of the show though; somehow it maintains its integrity with each bite. It doesn't fall apart at all. We should be making everything out of this stuff. Walls, bridges, beds, roads, everything.
Matched with the umami chips and a rich, creamy choc-caramel malt shake, the burger reminds me fondly of what it was like when I first ate at Bar Luca or Barrio Cellar or one of Sydney's other established burger HQs. Gojima looks set to join, or perhaps even surpass, them.