Osaka Bar, Potts Point

Sunday, June 19, 2016

While Tokyo may be the most famous Japanese city among tourists, Osaka is just as popular when it comes to Japanese food. Named by some as the culinary capital of Japan - and perhaps even the world – it is home to unique, eye-catching, mouth-watering fare that arguably rivals that of any other Japanese city.
Osaka Bar is located in picturesque Llankelly Place on the outskirts of Potts Point. There is a cute, homely feel about the small restaurant, decorated in a colourful, mismatched way that mimics the warmth of the small bars dotted among the streets of Osaka. As the name suggests, there are many varieties of sake and Japanese drinks served, with a menu that features lots of share plates and bar-style snack food to match.

The menu branches off the beaten path of conventional Japanese food and has a special section dedicated to authentic Osakan specialties. These include popular dishes like takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (savoury pancake), as well as lesser-known items like tonpei-yaki (pork omelette) and dote-kushi (slow cooked beef tendon).

The majority of the dining space is positioned outdoors, with a few longer tables that are great for groups. These larger tables are propped with a wooden bench that acts as a kind of food stand, upon which dishes for sharing can be placed. In the cooler weather, plush blankets are brought out and the gas heaters turned on.

Owner chef Kazu runs the restaurant along with co-owner Mari, who brings out a selection of Sake for us to try. She tells us that there are two main types of sake: junmai and daijingo. While the former is fermented using 20-30% milled rice, the latter is made with rice which is up to 60% milled. Junmai has a sharper, stronger flavour, while Daijingo has a softer but more complex taste.

Left to right: Sawanoi Daikarakuchi JunmaiJyouzen Mizunogotoshi Junmai Ginjo, Katsuyama Tokubetsu Junmai, and Dassai Junmai Daijingo sake

The wide variety and sheer number of different sake Osaka bar serves is astounding. Sawanoi Daikarakuchi Junmai is sweet but is also the driest out of the four we sample. In contrast, the Jyouzen Mizunogotoshi Junmai Ginjo sake is noticeably smoother with fruity undertones – similar to white wine and perfect for sake novices like us. The third one we try is from Japan’s Sendai Prefecture, a Katsuyama Tokubetsu Junmai. Although this too is junmai, the flavour is so different to that of the other two and demonstrates just how unique each variety of sake is. The final tasting is a Dassai Junmai Daijingo sake.

Sampling each variety of sake lets us appreciate the craft involved so much more and opens our eyes as to why the Japanese love this fermented, rice-based alcohol so much. It is a whole new world of drink that we have only brushed the surface of.  

Umeshu soda ($11.50)
Also on the drinks menu are three types of umeshu (plum wine) on the menu. The first, called Nakano, is a standard traditional plum wine which we try mixed with soda water. It is a sweet and delicious drink that quickly becomes one of my favourites. The other two varieties are Choya Kokuto and Aragosi, which are thicker and also suitable for cooking. All come in beautifully decorated bottles. 

Suntory Kaku Highball ($12)
The Suntory Highball is an Osaka Bar specialty: Suntory whisky served on the rocks with lots of ice and soda water. It’s an iconic Japanese drink that is very enjoyable and addictive, as it’s much lighter than straight whiskey.

Dote-kushi ($5.50)
Pieces of soft, unctuous tendon meat are threaded onto sticks and slow-cooked in a sweet, miso-based broth. I absolutely adore tendon, especially when it’s cooked to a deliciously gelatinous texture like this is. It’s the perfect winter warmer to go with a drink, and I could happily eat these all day.

Tonpei-yaki ($9.50)
This is an Osaka-style omelette filled with pork and vegetables. The omelette is ultra-thin and cooked to perfection, flavoured with a squiggle of mayo, a sweet and slightly sour dark sauce and filled with pieces of tasty pork. It is a homey, down-to earth dish that is well worth a try, as it’s not something you’d normally find on the menu of most Japanese restaurants in Sydney.

Takoyaki ($9)
Takoyaki is probably the most recognisable Osakan street food - a savoury, pancake-like ball filled with octopus. The balls are cooked in a special takoyaki grill, which creates that iconic, circular shape. The takoyaki are steaming hot, with a soft, gooey interior that reveals a surprise of springy, purple octopus inside.

Kushi-katsu: Croquette ($2.50), Beef mince cutlet ($2.50) + Zucchini ($2.50)
There is a whole section of the menu dedicated to these fried goodies, which are another Osakan specialty. While katsu is that well-known dish of deep fried, crumbed meat, kushi refers the skewers that these bites are threaded onto. The result of a kind of hybrid katsu-yakitori that makes for the perfect bar snack.

Take your pick from traditional chicken thigh or pork loin, or if you’re feeling a little more adventurous go for the scallop, sausage, salmon belly, lotus root or camembert cheese kushi-katsu! The panko crumbs provide the perfect crispy, breaded coating - dip each piece into the thick, tangy dipping sauce and relish the crunch that erupts when you bite into one. We try the croquette, which is creamy and gooey on the inside, as well as the beef mince, which comes in the form of cute, tasty balls.

Chicken thigh ($2.50) + Squid ($3.00)
The magical thing about Osaka bar’s kushi-katsu is that they’re cooked perfectly so that the outer crust is golden and crispy while retaining a moist, tender inside. Case in point is the chicken thigh kushi-katsu. The squid variety is also delicious.

Today’s fish market sashimi ($22)
The five varieties of sashimi on today’s plate are salmon, tuna, kingfish, octopus and scallop. Everything is so utterly fresh that each piece tastes as if it has just been fished out of the ocean. The salmon is creamy and melts in the mouth, while the tuna is gloriously meaty. The super sweet scallop is divine, and the octopus has a lovely bouncy, tender texture.

Seared Bluefin tuna + kumato salad ($15.50)
Pieces of seared tuna are topped with a piece of hearty kumato tomato, grated white radish and micro herbs, dressed in a ponzu sauce. The dressing marries everything together really well, and the hero of the dish is the fresh, meaty seared tuna. This was an Autumn special dish that is definitely a must-order.

Namba pork bun ($7)
An Osakan take on the traditional Chinese pork bun, this is hand made with a flavoursome pork filling. The bun arrives steaming hot and is plump and very generously sized; it's big enough to divide among the five of us so that we all get a taste.

Grilled duck confit ($18.50)
Chef Kazu’s signature dish, this is a play on sweet and savoury with a hint of French influence. 65 degree confit duck is seared and grilled, then sliced artfully and topped with honey mustard and a blueberry miso sauce. Blueberry miso? You heard right. It’s a surprising interplay of flavours that work well together - the sweetness of the dark blueberry sauce complements the rich duck perfectly. The duck is uber-tender and has that all-important crispy skin.

Beef tataki ($11.50)
The play on sweet and savoury continues with this beef tataki, which is dressed in a wasabi soy sauce and topped with small pops of strawberry and blueberry. The sweetness of the berries cuts through the heat of the dressing, and the seared wagyu just melts in the mouth.

Agedashi tofu ($6.50)
This agedashi tofu is cooked using a firmer tofu rather than the traditional silken variety. The batter is not one of those ones that clumps and forms a stretchy mess when cut into, but rather only lightly coats the tofu. This results in a delightfully robust mouthful that takes on the strong flavours of the sweet dashi and soy sauce.

Karaage chicken drumstick ($8)
We’d envisioned this as a whole fried chicken drumstick when ordering, but are instead presented with fried drumettes. The light, bubbly batter coats each drumette and seals in the moisture so that they are still tender and succulent on the inside, despite their small size.

Spicy soft shell crab tempura ($12)         
A whole small soft shell crab is deep fried and served with a spicy mayo. There isn’t a lot to this dish, but the crab is finger-lickingly crunchy.

Pork miso kakuni ($10.50)
There is nothing more comforting on a chilly night than tucking into a big piece of soft, marbled pork belly. The meat is braised in the most devine miso broth, and its fattiness is balanced by the addition of a dollop of Dijon mustard. It falls apart easily with a little nudge, and a bowl of rice on the side would be perfect to savour all of that delicious sweet sauce.

Kitsune udon ($7.50)
This may be one of the best udons we’ve ever had. The sheet of deep-fried tofu (aburaage) lends sweetness to the perfectly balanced broth. The noodles are a thinner variety, which is a nice change from the usual and perfect for slurping.

Green tea crème brulee ($7)
Green tea is synonymous with Japanese cuisine. The trademark bitterness of the tea is balanced perfectly by the shatteringly crisp, caramelised top in this crème brulee. Poached pears are an extra bonus serve on the side for a little palate cleanser.

Bonsoy Pannacotta ($7)
Made purely from bonsoy soy milk, the taste and texture of this pannacotta is not unlike that of daufu fa – that silky smooth tofu yum cha dessert. It has that beautiful soy flavour, with the wobble of a good pannacotta and the extra addition of a layer of sweet berry jelly on top. 

There are a lot of Japanese restaurants in Sydney, but not as many casual, authentic bar-style dining spaces like Osaka Bar. Kazu and Mari serve delicious Osakan soul food at its best. 

I was lucky enough to dine on my first visit as a guest of Osaka Bar and Washoku Lovers, however subsequent visits were independently paid for and all opinions are my own. 


Osaka Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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