Birthday Feast at Sake, the Rocks

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Apologies for the unusually long hiatus between this post and my last, I've been extremely busy these past few weeks with exams the oh-so-close-but-so-far end of the school term. It's funny how time passes by so quickly when you're busy.

Last Friday it was my birthday, YAY! And because it was my birthday I was was granted the powerful gift of being able choose wherever I wanted to go for my birthday meal. Now usually I'd be scrambling the wide world of food blogs for somewhere a bit special to go, but it being the beginning of exam block I didn't exactly have much free time to spend oogling over drool-worthy deliciousness. Last year we went to Sokyo for my birthday, and given our family's penchant for anything Japanese Mum piped up one day that we should visit Sake Restaurant in The Rocks.

We'd booked for Sunday lunch, and being a lazy Sunday it wasn't too full and had a luxuriously relaxed atmosphere. The busy air of the Rocks Market may have been calling from down the road, but the cool vibe here is a world away from the touristy bustle of Sydney's nearby tourist district.

The restaurant's facade is nestled in amongst the beautiful sandstone buildings of the Rocks, step inside and the interior is glossy and dark, with a front counter facing out into a long, wide hallway lined with high bar tables and a bar on one side. Further down the corridor lies a set of private dining rooms that are sheltered by ornamental Japanese paper sliding doors.

The dining area itself opens out down a small flight of stairs, just lower than ground level, and is unexpectedly large for seems like such a small area from the outside. Along the left is an open kitchen flanked by bar seating, with long rectangular and circle tables making up the central open space. Along one wall is a collection of dim, purple and blue-lit booths seating up to four people; along another are large tables, underneath these lies a surprise hole in which you can sit and dangle your legs into in traditional Japanese style.

Our waitress is warm and welcoming, letting us know about the day's specials after leaving us to contemplate the menu for while. She explains that the dishes will come out as they are listed on the menu - sashimi and sushi followed by starters, kushiyaki (grilled skewers) and then mains. Not wanting to miss out on anything (which proves difficult as every dish sounds beautiful) we order something from almost every part of the menu, aside from sashimi and sushi maki (hand rolls).

Miso (top, $6) and Scampi Miso (bottom, $13)

The first thing that arrives is our miso, one comes with the sushi set (see further down below) but we order two extra, as well as an extremely tempting scampi miso. The miso has a swirl of small cubes of tofu, spring onion and seaweed; with a taste that is only slightly more differentiable (ie. tastier) than the miso you would get in a less high-end Japanese restaurant. Or perhaps it's more of a psychological feeling.

But oh the scampi miso. A whole scampi half-submerged in crustacean oil-infused miso alongside silky, noodle-like strands of daikon and spring onion. This soup was the best miso I've ever tasted, in all it's seafood goodness, even though I only must've had about two sips and a small bite of scampi. The meat was silky smooth and tender.

Kingfish Jalapeno ($23)

Kingfish jalapeno is one of the most popular dishes on the menu, an artful arrangement of delicate, translucent slices of kingfish topped with even thinner rounds of chilli-hot jalapeno. It's dressed in a puddle of yuzu soy, which leaves a punchy citrus hit, and coriander. Fresh and light.

Sushi Set ($47)

The sushi set is a chef's selection of 10 pieces of nigiri, 6 mini classic rolls and tamago (sweet Japanese rolled egg omelet). On the platter come nigiri of tuna belly, salmon belly, scallop, prawn, kingfish, snapper, tuna and salmon. The mini rolls are tuna-filled and simply delightful, with a smear of wasabi. The nigiri are beautifully made, with the fresh pieces of fish sitting on top of delicate, almost circular mounds of rice, as opposed to the oblong shape we are used to.

Salt and Pepper Tofu ($13)

Salt and pepper tofu is both delicate and robust at the same time. The white, peppery crumb-coated cubes of tofu, hard and crunchy on the outside, bite open to reveal a wobbly, velvety centre. The silky inside of the neutral tofu balances the spicy, salty crust, with a chilli strand and spring onion garnish adding an essential zing.

Steamed Prawn Dumplings ($19)

Steamed prawn dumplings are an innovative spin on a Chinese favourite. Gyoza wrappers are sliced in millimetre thin strips and tangled into delicate messes that enclose a prawn filling, served alongside spicy ponzu. This dish is one of our favourites and is simple yet so delicious.

Chicken ($10 for two) and Eggplant ($7 for two) Kushiyaki

Chicken kushiyaki is tender and has a tasty charred flavour, dipped in a salty, sweet teriyaki sauce. We also order eggplant kushiyaki - rounds of baby aubergine take on a smoky char that come with a spicy version of the sauce. The eggplant is a not quite soft with a little bit of bite; the skin resists slightly that makes it hard to bite so you have to eat each piece in one mouthful.

Wagyu Teriyaki ($39)

The Wagyu Teriyaki is a main consisting of slices of tender wagyu beef cooked medium rare on a bed of buckwheat, shitake and edamame and yakiniku sauce. The beef is mouth-meltingly tender and cooked perfectly and I love the saucy grains of buckwheat.

Pan Seared Ocean Baramundi ($31)

Two small fillets of pan-seared Cone Bay Ocean Baramundi are fried to a crunchy, golden crisp, topped with butter soy on a sweeter, ponzu-flavoured buckwheat and accompanied by a tomato salsa. The fish is sweet and the crispy skin is my favourite part; it is buttery and tasty and pure fishy deliciousness. The bed of buckwheat is lighter than the Wagyu buckwheat, fresher with the addition of tomatoes and a creamy, buttery golden sauce.

Assorted Tempura ($29)

The final main is assorted tempura. This is a mixture of prawn, fish, sweet potato, shitake, asparagus and (surprise!) avocado battered and fried to a light crunch. The quintessential tempura dipping sauce comes on the side. The tempura is delicate, light and perfect dipped in the sauce. We also order sides of steamed rice to go with out mains that fill us up well.

With more than enough of our share for lunch we took a peek at the dessert menu before deciding that we just couldn't fit it in. But oh boy it was extremely tempting. After a such a wonderful birthday lunch I subsequently decided that this is now one of my favourite restaurants, although only for the more special occasions (all the more to look forward to!).


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