Dinner @ Gou Sushi (Sydney, Australia)

December 28, 2020 in Japanese by thywhaleliciousfay

One could say my quest to find more Japanese restaurants offering omakase in Sydney doesn’t stop. Not when a few of my favourites (1, 2) have since closed down. Ultimate sadness.

Gou Sushi has been in operation for 5 years. But it’s interesting that they don’t have much online presence despite of that. I wasn’t able to find any information on their omakase course or of their reservation system for omakase. So I dropped them a message on Facebook even though the Instagram post, which I first read about Gou Sushi, mentioned slots for omakase were fully booked till (end) January 2021.

And I was really fortunate; The staff managing their Facebook account mentioned they were booked out but offered to check if they could fit me in (as a solo diner). So yeah! The rest is history I guess, because I secured a reservation for mid-December. :)

To shed some light on the omakase course offered at Gou Sushi… It’s only available on Saturdays. But not every Saturday though. Head chef Rio Lau Chun Man takes a break every 2 weekends. Uh huh. Say omakase is available on Weeks 1 and 2. It’s not available on Week 3 as the restaurant closes to rest. And then it’s back again on Weeks 4 and 5. But omakase aside, head chef Rio mentioned set menus are offered on weekdays, together with a-la carte menu.

I reached early at 5.50pm for my 6pm reservation. And if one’s booking is for the first seating, I recommend coming either punctually (at 6pm) or 1 minute later because they only unlock the main door at 6pm sharp.

And Gou Sushi being a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, the space was designed with the conveyor-belt placed in the center of the space in a rectangular layout. So I stepped through the entrance to see head chef Rio standing in the middle of the ‘belt’ island. And upon seated, the staff passed me the omakase menu and drinks menu.

Interestingly (again), I thought everyone had to be present before our omakase course started. But heaf chef Rio started me off first. It was later through my conversation with him that I realised another group of 4 was meant to be present at 6pm too. But head chef Rio went on to say he’s flexible (with timing) because most of his customers for his omakase course were regulars. In fact, he shared his Saturday omakase came about because of requests from his regulars. And if one was curious… The group of 4 only arrived at 7.25pm.

So yes… My omakase menu, AUD85 comprised of:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Abalone sashimi. With dashi jelly and ponzu sauce. I guess I must be too used to eating braised abalone because I was expecting this to be tender too. However, this was crunchy (as how abalone sashimi would be). It’s texture reminded me much of geoduck sashimi.

2) Dish #2 (above) – Crab chawanmushi.

  
  

3) Dish #3 to #6 (above) – Bass grouper kombu-jime, tuna daikon-maki, ark shell, and bonito.

4) Dish #7 (above) – Scallop and celeriac tempura.

  
  

5) Dish #8 to #11 (above) – John dory, sea eel kombu maki, ikura, and aburi paradise prawn. The prawn was topped with mayonnaise, firefly egg and some crisp bites which I reckon was garlic. Garlic chips.

6) Dish #12 (above) – Chilean tooth fish saikyo-miso grill.

  
  

7) Dish #13 to #16 (above) – Chimaki, cuttlefish, blue mackerel, tuna tartare. Chimaki meaning a steamed Japanese dumpling made of various ingredients, wrapped in leaf (bamboo or banana). And at Gou Sushi, sea eel (anago) was wrapped within the bamboo leaf. Although when first presented, head chef Rio teased and said “糯米鸡” (Lo mai gai – Chinese dish of steamed glutinous rice with chicken, wrapped in lotus leaf). And the tuna tartare was special; Instead of sushi rice, puff rice was used.


8) Dish #17 (above) – Cold green tea soba.

  
  

9) Dish #18 to #21 (above) – Tasmania handroll, egg plant, scampi, and aburi salmon belly. And for the open handroll, there was sea urchin, scallop and salmon. However, the problem with passing the handroll by putting it on the serving plate meant that the seaweed wasn’t as crisp as it got wet from the leftover sauce on the serving plate. Such a shame cause I really like this. And for the scampi, I was told was that the the head innards was marinated with miso and cooked before topping it on the scampi.

10) Dish #22 (above) – Red bean ice cream with chocolate brownie.

It was a nice heartwarming dinner; I came alone but left having made a new friend. Yes, with head chef Rio. Dining at Gou Sushi was like dining at a friend’s place. He was friendly, easy going, and a very engaging conversationalist too. Although my Chinese wasn’t as strong and had to mix in some English. Ha. And yes, head chef Rio was originally from Hong Kong. It’s also through my conversation with him that I learnt Gou Sushi has been opened for 5 years, and that head chef Rio was previously working at Masuya and had trained under Toshihiko Oe san (now head chef at Sushi Oe). What a small world (read my story of how I met Oe san to understand why so)!

Food wise, it was nice. But to manage one’s expectation… It wasn’t nice to the extent that it wow-ed. Rather, it was nice enough to satisfy. And head chef Rio’s sushi was more of fusion than traditional. And because my meal was in December, he shared his sushi rice was seasoned with red vinegar instead of white as a Christmas special.

Would I recommend Gou Sushi? Yes for one’s casual sushi craving. But no if one is after a more elaborated omakase experience. And if one is also looking for a venue for bigger groups, Gou Sushi is definitely a good venue because of it’s relaxed vibe! In fact, Gou Sushi was almost like a hidden gem. Although it’s a mere 3 minutes walk from Central station, there’s barely any human traffic to the restaurant; It’s located between the 2 exits. So people exiting from the left exit would head left and people exiting from the right exit would head right. Thus missing the restaurant. Pity. But that said, head chef Rio has established a pretty strong regular customer base to keep the business going. And it’s seems like he’s only going to get busier because word of his Saturday omakase has gotten out! :)

GOU SUSHI
2/30-34 Chalmers Street, Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW, Australia
+61 2 8387 1148, Website
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 7
Mon – Fri : 11:30 – 15:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Mon – Fri : 17:30 – 20:30 (Dinner)
Value: 7
Service: 8
* Closed on Sat (every 2 weeks) & Sun
** Hours are post-COVID lockdown, and may change when normality resumes.

Dinner @ Hachioji Willoughby (Sydney, Australia)

November 22, 2020 in Japanese by thywhaleliciousfay

After learning about Hachioji’s opening in August ’20 from fellow blogger I’m Still Hungry, I made my reservation for a meal in (early) November ’20. Not that the restaurant was booked out that advanced. But rather… November was my earliest slot since I restricted myself to 1 (fancy) meal a week. And yes, it’s a habit that I plan my meals in advanced.

Between the first seating (6pm) and second seating (8pm), reservation was made for 6pm. However, I was very late. I only reached Hachioji at 6.20pm. My bad. And so… I entered the restaurant to see the other 6 customers had already started their dinner omakase course. Since I was the last to reach, I could only guess that seats were pre-assigned. Especially with the perspex screens which were placed between the different groups of customers as part of the restaurant’s COVID-19 safety plan.

Prior to my meal, I didn’t know chef-owner Benson Pang wasn’t responsible for making sushi for all customers. So yes… I was assigned to the half of the counter that’s served by sous chef. Sigh. Had I known earlier, I would have indicated my preference for head chef Benson in my reservation. Shrug.

There was an option to upgrade my AUD99 course to include sea urchin and scampi nigiri sushi-s with an additional AUD31. I went with it since I wanted to have sea urchin. And with that, I (quickly) commenced my 18-courses dinner menu, AUD99 with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Lady finger (okra) topped with bonito flakes. I think there were small pieces of fish cake too.

2) Dish #2 (above) – Snapper sashimi.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Mackerel sushi.

  
  
  
  
  

4) Dish #4 (above) – Nigiri sushi assortment of trevally, 4-days aged kingfish, John dory with umeshu and white soy sauce jelly, 4-days aged salmon with caviar, snapper with yuzu pepper, blue fin tuna (really small piece of tuna, by the way), premium fatty tuna (otoro), alfonsino (ain’t sure if I got this right), aburi scallop with shiso leaf, grilled and torched firefly (this was introduced as ‘baby squid’ by sous chef), and sea eel (which sous chef introduced as ‘baby eel’). And I wished the sushi were bigger. These were like size XS. And food aside, I was quite amazed at myself that I managed to catch up with the rest by my third piece of sushi. Ha.

5) Dish #5 (above) – Rich bowl with oyster, salmon roe and wasabi leaf.

6) Top up to premium omakase menu, AUD31:-


(A) Scampi sushi (topmost)

(B) Tasmania sea urchin sushi with shiso leaf (above)

7) Dish #6 (above) – Fish soup.

8) Dish #7 (above) – Houjicha ice cream.

With the top-up of AUD31 for the scampi and sea urchin sushi-s, my dinner came up to AUD130. Did I enjoy my meal? Not really. I was bummed to know there was 2 chefs and that I was served by sous chef. And very unfortunately, sous chef failed to impress too.

Sous chef wasn’t too confident with his English, so I failed to hear (or even understand) what was served for 90% of my dishes. He spoke really softly. Mumbled, to be exact. I could have asked him to repeat, but I decided not to put him on the spot because I figured it wouldn’t be any clearer. In fact, the only time when I heard him at his loudest was when he said “scallop”. And now… I could be nitpicking this but sous chef should have cleaned the sauce from the plate before placing the next sushi.

Every now and then, I could hear what head chef Benson said to the customers served by him. And I thought it was odd he always said “no soya sauce” with every sushi. Hmm…

So while I wouldn’t recommend Hachioji based on my most recent dining experience, I guess I ought to take into consideration that they are still into their first few months of operation. So yes… I may re-visit in a few months’ time to see if there has been improvement since. Hopefully sous chef would be more confident and speak louder. Although for my next reservation, I would indicate my preference for head chef Benson and for the VIP omakase course (AUD188).

But having said that, noting how most popular sushi-yas are fully booked out, one could give Hachioji a try if one is staying in the North Shore and has a very strong craving for sushi that needs to be satisfied as it’s fairly easy to get a reservation at Hachioji. Their affordable menu price is makes dining at Hachioji pretty attractive too. But in case one is strict about the chef’s background, please note the chefs are Taiwanese. Pretty evident by the way they dressed with the black tie underneath.

HACHIOJI
2/56-58 Frenchs Road, Willoughby, Sydney, NSW, Australia
+61 422 421 203, Website
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 7
Tues – Sun : 11:30 – 14:30 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Tues – Sun : 17:00 – 22:00 (Dinner)
Value: 8
Service: 7
* Closed on Mon
** Hours are post-COVID lockdown, and may change when normality resumes.

Dinner @ Shiki (Sydney, Australia) // CLOSED

November 15, 2020 in Japanese by thywhaleliciousfay

I would normally receive reminder texts prior to my dinners (in Australia). So I felt a little awkward not receiving any from Shiki. Had to double check my mail to make sure I didn’t remember my reservation detail wrongly! And I arrived at Shiki punctually at 6pm. But was surprised when no one arrived by 6.05pm. And at 6.06pm, I watched the staff call the latecomers; One was going to be late, while the other group said they had called previously to cancel their booking. I know, I am nosey observant just like that. Ha!

So just like that, a sushi counter which could sit 6 was barely filled on the night of my dinner; There were just 2 customers (including me). And because the other customer was very late (she only arrived at 6.20pm), head chef Hyota Sugihara kickstarted my dinner first. As there was no physical menu, he started off by saying the omakase course consist of appetiser, grilled fish, nigiri sushi and hotpot. And with that, I commenced my omakase dinner, AUD160 with:-


1) Dish #1 (above) – Egg custard (chawanmushi) with salmon roe and sea urchin. And yes, the sea urchin was steamed with the egg custard rather than being placed after. After (being) steamed, the urchin didn’t have its distinct ‘raw’ taste. Instead, it was almost… Bland? So instead, I was forced to focus on its texture. And I could taste (or should I say feel) the lumpy, grainy texture of the sea urchin. Really interesting. Head chef Hyota san further shared he previously did truffle with the steamed egg custard. But because truffle season had ended, it’s now done with urchin.

2) Dish #2, Complimentary (above) – This was a bonus (complimentary) appetiser. And if I didn’t hear wrongly, head chef Hyota san mentioned the Japanese name of the fish as hata. He went on to explain he intentionally chose barcod (a chewy fish) so that we would chew more and get more flavour from the truffle oil. And the sauce oddly reminded me of Sushi Tei dressing. But don’t get me wrong… This dish was great. Loved it.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Imperador collar.

  
  
  
  

4) Dish #4 (above) – Imperador (from the back and served slightly warm), imperador belly with caviar, belly form a 220kg sword fish, diced squid infused with shiso leaf, barcod (hata) and kombu, lean tuna (akami), medium fatty tuna (chutoro) and premium fatty tuna (otoro). It being late September, head chef Hyota san shared we were at the end of tuna season. But because of COVID, fishes couldn’t be exported to Japan, So yes, we were lucky because that meant there was stock of high quality tuna which head chef Hyota san managed to get his hands on for us. Yeah!

5) Dish #5 (above) – 4 big tongues of violet sea urchin from Tasmania. So sweet! And the sweetness was further enhanced by the pink salt. Such a treat!

  
  

6) Dish #6 (above) – Bonito belly (foreground) and bonito back (background) with homemade ponzu sauce, swordfish marinated with shiraz & soya sauce, scampi with champagne gold and red finger limes, and upside-down scampi with scampi-truffle sauce. I especially enjoyed this leg of the nigiri sushi assortment. The swordfish was really interesting. Each bite brought burst of different in-depth flavours. And for the scampi, was told this was served ‘upside down’ intentionally so that the scampi came in contact with our tongues first. And that scampi-truffle sauce… It was so good. I shamelessly picked the dish up to slurp it all. Just shy of licking it. Keke.


  

7) Dish #7 (above) – Blood orange oyster. Was told the oyster was boiled in salt water for 15 seconds, dunked in cold water, and seasoned with pink salt since the previous steps would have removed all saltiness.

8) Dish #8 (above) – Black lip abalone, paired with a sweet sauce made with abalone and sake. And for this, the abalone was boiled in sake for 5 hours before it’s steamed for another 5 hours. And I loved how the abalone slices were cut thickly. In fact, it’s also head chef Hyota san’s intention with the thicker slices; To allow us to have more to chew on.

9) Dish #9 (above) – Ocean trout and imperador. Head chef Hyota san shared he prefer ocean trout over salmon because it’s less oily. But I personally prefer oily fish for aburi (torched/slightly grilled). So if I had to choose, my vote goes to imperador!


10) Dish #10 (above) – Handroll of squid, sea urchin and salmon roe. This was huge!


11) Dish #11 (above) – Egg omelette (tamago) with sushi rice. One of head chef Hyota san’s signature. And it was amazing! So much love for this. It was like a soufflé; Soft, fluffy, moist and sweet. I normally stick to what’s on the menu, but for this… I just had to request for another piece. And because one group of customers didn’t turn up, head chef Hyota san was able to offer me more. And bigger piece too. In fact, he also gave extra piece of his tamago to the other customer. So nice of him!


12) Dish #12 (above) – I certainly didn’t expect the soup component of the menu to be so elaborate. I mean, hotpot shabu-shabu style! Wow. And for the fishes, we were given premium fatty tuna (otoro), barcod (hata) and ocean trout. Head chef Hyota san even asked if I wanted more (fish). But I had to turn him down politely because I was full.

13) Dish #13 (above) – Homemade matcha cake and red bean paste (anko).

It was a very fun dinner. I enjoyed myself tremendously. Head chef Hyota san and his assistant were very friendly and approachable. And I especially liked head chef Hyota san’s bold interpretation and unique take on sushi. Especially with the pink salt. It’s definitely a first to see sushi placed on slabs of pink salt. We even got to bring our salt slab home because a new slab is used for every customer.

A Japanese regular joined us later at the sushi counter (he was having the sushi course and not the omakase course). And as he enjoyed his sushi, he would often tell head chef Hyota san his sushi was as good as Ginza sushi. Well… That may be a little exaggerated, but I guess it depends on which Ginza store the Japanese regular was referring to. But!!! When head chef Hyota san served his tamago, I too couldn’t help but tell head chef Hyota san “this is better than Ginza”.

Unfortunately… As I share my dining experience at Shiki, it’s their last day of operation today (15 November ’20). And yes, I’m really bummed about it. After my meal at Shiki in late September, I had been checking out the (third party) reservation website because I wanted to book my next meal. Instead, I saw the announcement on their instagram account that they will be closed permanently. Sigh. I even tried to request if I could order the tamago as ‘take away’ but was told it’s only available for the omakase. Double sigh.

But somehow… This doesn’t feel like it’s the end for Shiki. I have a weird strong inkling that head chef Hyota san will be back. Fingers crossed.

SHIKI JAPANESE RESTAURANT
35 Harrington Street, The Rocks, Sydney, NSW, Australia
+61 2 9252 2431, Website
Overall: 7.5
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Tues – Sun : 17:30 – 21:00
Ambience: 7
Value: 7
Service: 8
* Closed on Mon
** Hours are post-COVID lockdown, and may change when normality resumes.