Open to the public just last week Cho Cho San, named after Madama Butterfly's main character, has emerged from The Apollo's Sam Christie (also of Longrain) and Jonathan Barthelmess. It's a Sydney-fied - and indeed very Potts Point - take on a Tokyo izakaya under the modern direction of head chef Nic Wong (ex Ester, The Apollo, Bodega, Billy Kwong).
|Cocktails and pickled cucumber at Cho Cho San, Macleay Street, Potts Point|
Industry-beloved wine guy Charles Leong joins Christie on the floor of the buzzy but not overly loud venue. However, I'm in for the cocktails and sake; the latter of which fills a page with easy-to-comprehend tasting notes like "cooked white rice" and "banana lollies".
We started on a Melbourne Gin Company martini, aptly named Trouble; served garnish-less with vermouth and a seasonal infusion of mandarin. Meanwhile, the negroni-like Nippy Rock Shop of Tanqueray gin, sake, Campari and orange made for easy drinking alongside the vinegary pickled cucumbers.
|Eggplant and miso dip|
The sweetness and umami of the miso on one of my favourite vegetables was completely addictive and it didn't take long for the sail-like crackers to scoop up every bit of eggplant.
|Tofu cooked in tomato water|
Served with plenty of tenkasu fried tempura batter bits and shallots in a clear pool of tomato water that was both tart and sweet with ripeness, the pure flavours of the earthy tofu came through beautifully, albeit a bit overpowered by the big, pungent slices of raw shallots.
|Hokkaido scallops, corn & house-cured smoked bonito|
The sweet corn is paired patriotically with an eye-opening nori seaweed puree while the soft, delicate scallops came with chives and a shower of grated house-made katsuobushi cured and smoked bonito. As much as I adore raw scallops and their silky texture, the mollusc's natural sweetness seemed lost in this interpretation.
|Raw beef short rib, crispy wild rice & citrus dressing|
Just about the most amazing raw beef I've ever had, the fatty short rib was velvety soft, like the most luxurious of prosciutto - except plainly raw and beef. The citrus dressing on the somewhat crisp wild rice and diced cucumber beneath the raw meat made for a perfect balance in cutting through the short rib's richness.
|Chicken yakitori & pickled lime|
A puree of pickled lime was served with the chicken, giving it an interesting lift with its zesty preserved citrus funkiness which was rather nice with the chilli.
|Hibachi grilled prawns with kombu butter|
It's hard to go wrong with prawns and butter, especially with the clean-tasting, floral Amanoto 'Junkara' junmai ginjo sake from the Akita prefecture alongside.
The prawn shells were quite edible with great char flavour from the hibachi grill but the best part was undoubtedly sucking out the prawn heads for all the creamy, flavour-packed innards.
|Soy glazed Angus beef|
Tender and juicy in a sweet soy glaze, the beef was served with a trio of spicy condiments: togarashi, hot English mustard and wasabi - all adding a different type of heat kick to the beef for the indecisive spicy condiment eater.
|Mushroom & egg brown rice|
We went with the mushroom, egg and brown rice which was more like a nasi goreng than anything Japanese. With a sunny side up egg atop fried brown rice and shiitakemushrooms, it was served with plenty of togarashi again so the chilli-averse will need to order it without.
|Steamed yuzu pudding|
I did manage a mouthful or two of the steamed yuzu pudding though, which again wasn't the most photogenic. Served with a dollop of sour cream, the warm, airy pudding was comforting for the cool weather with a big marmaladey hit.
Cho Cho San is clearly the hotspot for the moment, with both media and industry clamouring over it in its first few days. While the menu tends to flit like a butterfly across the izakaya concept, there's a strong sense of modern cuisine techniques with several high notes - the raw beef short rib, fried chicken and sake list in particular.
The emergence of Cho Cho San from its Potts Point cocoon signals a new maturity and style of Japanese cuisine that's created locally for the locals - and I wouldn't trade it for an American any day.
Disclosure: Food, Booze & Shoes is acquainted with staff at Cho Cho San.