You don't need to go through or even around the casino to get to Sokyo, which is set in The Star's new five-star hotel, The Darling, accessed via Union and Pyrmont Streets. Opened just over a week ago, the restaurant entrance features an expansive bar that faces the hotel lobby, greeting both diners and hotel stayers with an inviting Asian-styled space for tippling.
|Dining area inside Sokyo, The Star / The Darling, Pyrmont|
Although the restaurant is on street level, it's disguised well with rope designs obscuring views in or out, while my view is of the bright, staff filled kitchen where diners line one side in sushi bar style. The crowd itself is a mix of stylish young groups on a night out, post work corporates and somewhat older (probably) hotel patrons.
|Dining areas in Sokyo|
High touch, attentive service started from the very beginning with the menu explained in fair detail. Sokyo's dishes are for sharing and to be followed in the order of the menu; that is, starting with sashimi, then tempura, grilled goodies from the robata section, mains, soup and salad, and finally nigiri and sushi rolls.
I'm fairly sure at every other Japanese restaurant I've ever been to, one starts with sashimi and sushi as the raw, cold start and then moves onto the more substantial cooked food, so I was keen to see how the meal would develop and progress.
We munched on a bowl of firm edamame sprinkled with salt flakes as we deliberated over the extensive menu, with several choices to be made at the turn of every page.
Thankfully we'd chosen sake first, a big flavoured, sweet and floral Ibaragi "Pride of the Village" Sudo no Honke, served cold, and which seemed to partner well with every dish we had. Serving size was a choice between a carafe and a full 1.8 litre bottle - I can't wait to order the latter one day.
|Moreton Bay bug sashimi|
With a velvety mouthfeel just like scampi sashimi, the flavour of the Moreton Bay bug is cleaner and less cloying, even with the mayonnaise which is dusted with shichimi chilli spice powder.
The finishing flourish of Vegemite croutons is much fun: the tiniest, crunchiest croutons you'll ever see; that taste heavily of butter and lightly of Vegemite, just the way I like my Vegemite toast.
|Seared salmon sashimi|
There was a refreshing tartness to the dressing, and I probably should have tried the salmon together with the green Japanese mountain peach, which was as cute as it was sweet and furry.
|Baby capsicum relleno tempura|
In the one mouthful, the yuzu hits first followed by the creamy dice of tuna and then through the tempura batter and sweet capsicum, the crab flesh slowly reveals itself in its full glory. The complex melange of flavours and textures in the baby capsicum relleno really works for it; if only I didn't have to share.
|Grilled baby corn|
The spears of baby corn may have been subtle, but drenched and grilled in butter and soy, they were probably the most luxurious serving of corn ever. The sweet corn puree was almost unnecessary while the shichimi lifted the corn out of potential butter coma zone.
|Grilled king prawn|
I adored the salty, thin and crispy pancetta that was tightly wrapped around the prawn, which in turn encased a gathering of enoki mushrooms; all slightly infused with a char flavour from the binchotan Japanese white charcoal fired grill.
|Lamb chop maple miso|
The lamb cutlets ended up being a good sharing choice with one cutlet each and soft, cooked baby eggplants beneath the meat. The tender lamb was cooked well although the sauce didn't quite live up to its maple miso name.
We spent a good few minutes intrigued in what was wrapped around the cutlet bone - it looked like a bandage or at least fabric, but were advised that it was Japanese gourd - edible but probably not enjoyably.
|Bonito tataki nigiri|
The bonito nigiri was a slice of the fish on rice with shallots and some grated ginger, with sticks of pickled young ginger served alongside. Popped into my mouth in one go, the ginger and shallots were familiar flavours that worked in a new setting, but I confess I would have liked a drop or two of soy sauce however fresh the fish.
|Ocean trout nigiri|
|Spicy tuna roll|
Sushi at the end of the meal means more of the subtle, lesser impact flavours at the finish when you're close to being satiated. As a lead on to dessert I think it makes some sense, but without dessert I think it means a plateauing end.
|Green tea ice cream|
The blueberry compote contributed the big flavours while the tuile was a fruity work of wonder. I suppose the Calpis granita adds to the overall Calpis theme, though perhaps a heavier ice cream would work well given the cheesecake's lightness.
The dessert worked best with a bit of everything on the spoon, including the striking black paint stroke of sesame paste, for a mouthful of varying textures and harmonious flavours. The citrusy tones of the Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling (the only sticky by the glass) managed to cut through the dessert's sweetness rather well.
Sitting back chatting a while after dessert, we'd seen at least a couple of sittings in the restaurant over the duration of dinner but never felt rushed nor uncomfortable sitting there for a good few hours. The carafe of sake served 2.5 drinkers well after cocktails in the bar and though we easily could have gone another, it was nice to let the food really feature.
I really like that The Star is changing the dining game to have it feature almost as much as the gambling den. I like that Sokyo essentially has no physical connection to the casino and I like what Kojima is bringing through his take on Japanese. After all, a new perspective is as good as a holiday.
Disclosure: Food, booze and shoes is acquainted with staff at Sokyo.