Sokyo at the Star, Pyrmont

Thursday, March 27, 2014

When I was little I always looked forward to reaching the age when I'd finally be old enough to go out to a fancy restaurant and order beautiful food and eat with multiple numbers of forks and knives. Sadly, that dream is one yet unfulfilled, but I have come pretty close in the way of beautiful food. Sokyo is a one hatted restaurant on the outer skirts of The Star in Pyrmont, and it is far from an ultra fancy, butter-knife and salad-fork wielding fine dining restaurant (those seem to have diminished of late). In fact, it is quite the opposite - hip, dark, bustling, and not a stark white tablecloth in sight (actually, the fabric lap napkins are raven black). Perhaps the only similarity it holds with fine dining is the high quality of fresh, tastebud-tingling food. Not that it's not fine dining, but just fine dining in a different way - a fusion of modern Japanese cuisine.

The first time we went to Sokyo for my birthday dinner we had a little bit of trouble finding the entrance to the restaurant. At first we thought it might've been inside the hotel, near the food court and Adriano Zumbo, but after doing a full lap we decided that it must be from on the street. We'd walked past the dark, rope-hanging glass windows a couple of times while on the street, and upon looking up finally saw the Sokyo sign and stepped inside. Inside it's like a whole new world with a bustling, energetic atmosphere - a bar area on the left and a sit down restaurant on the right, which leads down to a sectioned off room that doubles as both an extended dining area and function room. Along one end of the restaurant is the kitchen which opens up to a counter-seating sushi bar where diners can sit and watch in awe as chefs prepare fresh sashimi right before their very eyes.

Bookings here are taken by phone or online, and is it often booked out a few weeks in advance with multiple sittings throughout the night. We'd made sure to book a couple of weeks before, with plenty of time to look forward to our dinner, this time to celebrate Mum and CK's birthday. We're seated in the middle of the room around a black table that has minimal decor and dim lighting, and are introduced to our waiter who helpfully lists the menu and asks if we have any questions. Service is extremely attentive and friendly, making the overall dining experience all the more pleasurable.

But what to order? There are lots of menu items that will tickle your tongue - exquisite and contemporary takes on sashimi, handmade sushi rolls, gourmet tempura, grilled robata (food cooked on skewers slow grilled over fire), sides and a small number of mains. Most of the food here is designed to share, so naturally, the more people you eat with the more you get to try.

We decided to start off with the mixed sashimi platter, which came very grandly on an ice 'bowl' accompanied by a side-dish of condiments and a tall metal flask of dry ice, which added to it magnificence. I was in the bathroom when this came out, so when we got back we managed to convince the waitress to refill the dry ice, which she happily obliged to do.

Sashimi Platter ($60)

On the platter were four pieces each of salmon, tuna, squid, seared tuna, red snapper and lightly marinated scallops. All were melt in the mouth and wonderfully firm and fresh, and I was amazed at how deliciously clean it tasted despite the simplicity of the platter. The squid was something new and untried but very tender, the scallops really tasty and seared tuna very firm and peppery.

Robata - beef ($17), corn-fed chicken ($12) and prawn ($15)

Next we had an assortment of Robata. By definition Robata refers to the Japanese method of cooking meat on skewers slowly over fire or charcoal, which gives it a deep, smoky flavour. We get the beef shortrib, chicken and prawn robata, which come two to a serve. The corn-fed chicken comes skewered between short sticks of shallot and leek and is tender and tasty drizzled in a yakitori jus, a cloud of what seems to be either finely shredded and crunchy shallot or other vegetable nested on top to garnish it off. The prawns are a little too spicy for us so Dad happily finishes them off, but the beef shortrib Robata is my favourite. The cut of meat means that it's slightly fatty and without being too tough. the chunks of shortrib are wonderfully tender despite being big cubes of beef, smothered in a teriyaki sauce.

Queensland Sushi Roll ($21)

The Queensland sushi roll is pricey at just over $5 per piece, but it is is the epitome of Sokyo's unique fusion cuisine. Rolled in thin pieces of soy paper are generous tubes of Queensland spanner crab which create a kind of lumpy surface on the opaque white paper, topped off with a long pipe piping of spicy avocado. The texture is unusual; not quite firm but rather more slippery and soft.

Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice Nigiri ($20)

We ordered the spicy tuna roll but instead on our table arrives the crispy rice tuna nigiri (most likely a confusion of name..). It doesn't matter, because we love this anyway - the crispy grains of caramelised rice against the soft, buttery taste of the smooth tuna. I love crispy rice nevertheless, and this is one of my favourites.

Red Snapper Tempura ($19)

We ordered an extra dish at the end of our meal as we were still a little bit peckish - the red snapper tempura. Piece of red snapper were delicately piled on top of one another with flecks of pepper and seasoning visible in the batter, along with a fresh coriander and red onions salad and coriander vinegar sauce. Take a bite of everything and it is like an explosion of flavours in your mouth. The tempura was impossibly light and oh-so-moreish.

John Dory ($32)

On an earlier visit we tried some of the 'essential dishes', the John Dory and Lamb Chops. The John Dory was three medium sized pieces of fish with a creamy ponzu sauce, cucumber ribbon salad and Asian 'salsa'. The fish was had a caramelised, sweet outer crust and the salsa zingy with the creamy sauce.

Lamb Chops ($36)

The Lamb cutlets were an unusual take on the western meal version of lamb cutlets, with Japanese flavourings of miso and a garlic eggplant puree which was nestled underneath. It had a strong miso/unami flavour, with a little bit of seaweed and greenery strewn on top.

The hustle and bustle of this exciting modern Japanese restaurant makes for a dining experience that is hard to top in the way of contemporary cuisine in Sydney. Alas, that may be because of my lack of high-dining experience, but for me it was a wonderful meal that had little fault. Oishii! (Delicious!)


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