Pretty, thatched lanterns suspended over an intricate wood-panelled entryway and a welcoming committee of friendly bartenders shaking Asian-inspired cocktails are the first hints that Niji is not your usual Double Bay establishment. A newly launched sister restaurant to the well-loved Kensington sushi joint by the same name, Niji glimmers with all the excitement of the new kid on the block but backs it up with poise and presence that are sure to make it a long-term favourite.
The cocktail list is abuzz with curious Japanese ingredients like green tea sorbet, sparkling sake and celery-infused shochu. The Wet Sting ($19) crosses cultures to bring mezcal together with plum wine, yuzu juice, ginger-honey syrup and fine chilli strands, creating a magically intense flavour combination that is pushed even further by an accompanying square of rich dark chocolate drizzled with honey. For an earthier option, Kohji's Concoction ($18) is the brainchild of head chef Kohji Matsuda and builds upon a rye whisky base with yuzu liqueur, citrus juices and barrel bitters.
The food is as fresh as the cocktails and is designed for mixing and matching. Begin with the Niji taru taru ($19), a delicate tuna tartare sitting atop a bed of diced avocado, decorated with black caviar and served with crispy lotus root chips that double as handy scooping implements. The "dynamite" maki ($18) is aptly named, enlivening raw tuna sushi with shichimi pepper and crunchy tempura flakes, while the "raw pizza" ($20) matches sashimi with cherry tomatoes and a crispy pizza base in a kooky fusion dish.
Moving to the heartier end of the menu, the miso-marinated duck ($27) evokes the mesquite and alder woods on which it has been smoked before being served in fine slices over a cradle of robata-grilled asparagus. The richness and warmth of the dish echoes the atmosphere in the room: the low, happy hum of contented chatter, the friendliness of the staff and the glow of lantern-light against wood will make you want to linger long after you've punctuated your meal with a scoop of coconut and kaffir lime sorbet and a 15-year Nikka Yoichi single malt.