A trip to Azuma Kushiyaki was certainly one of these excitable moments. Hello chicken skin skewer and of course, the tuna salad as featured on Food Safari. I'd seen the exterior of the restaurant but hadn’t expected the interior to be quite so casual and hence, chattery; although the booths looked nice and cosy.
Our menu request was met quickly with a table-filling laminated main menu, specials menu and drinks menu. Given the style of dining, with lots of shared bits and pieces to start, there’s a lot to choose from and we take our time with careful consideration. The decided must-haves include the chicken skin, grilled pork jowl, a grilled eggplant dish, scallop skewers (or kushiyaki) and the tuna salad – the first three choices of which are disappointingly unavailable this early Friday night. I’m momentarily speechless and order-less: no chicken skin; no pork jowl skewer; no yaki nasu.
Wild scallop with soy and home-made garlic oil from Azuma Kushiyaki, Regent Place, George Street, Sydney
We make alternative menu choices which end up going some way in appeasing prior disappointment. The scallops for starters are a surprise: squarely rectangular in shape, the wild scallops mustn’t conform to circular standards. Their unbridled freshness is managed well with the simple grilling with simple flavours of soy and garlic.
The prawns are stunning specimens – headless, grilled with salt adhered to their bright orange shells, and as such, so tasty that it’s impossible to resist a few chews and crunches of the shell. The skewers are so simple and fresh, and leave one wanting more – but there’s much else on the menu that beckon the palate and stomach.
The soft shell crab order is admittedly pedestrian, but the perfect comparative tool between restaurants – of all cuisines, it appears. While the actual crab here is quite large, it’s also smothered in an atypically thick coating of batter – somewhat unlike tempura traditionally. The sweet dipping sauce and lemon help to cut through the batter and sweeten the crab's already sweet flavour.
Those expecting anything remotely like the gigantic serve of seared tuna in the salad as seen on Food Safari will be left a little wanting with the harsh slap of reality. No, you dont get an entire rectangular block of a fillet, but rather a few slices beneath grated daikon, fried garlic slices, and raw Spanish and green onions. I find the garlic a little overpowering and think I would have preferred the sprightly ponzu vinaigrette and daikon garlic-free. Nonetheless, the tuna is firm and full of flavour, soaking in the dressing and the dish is cleaned up momentarily.
The pork jowl grilled on a skewer wasn't available, yet in karaage style it was. Odd, but we dig in anyway into the crisp coated bits of pork flesh from about the pig's cheeks. Perhaps the very different style to guanciale as I'm familiar with, the jowl itself is rather crunchy with tendons, cartilage and other meat-and-bone-joining bits. What it lacks it flavour, it makes up for double in texture.
The spatchcock platter takes awhile, but its arrival is well worth the wait. Served on a stone plate four ways, it was difficult to know where to start. My nose wanted the deep fried karaage mini drumstick; my mouth lusted the seriously caramelised grilled thigh skewer; my fingers wanted to pick and nibble at the tiny grilled wings; and the brain recommended the grilled breast fillet skewer to start.
Ultimately, the brain conquers all with its logical reasoning that the breast would have the most subtle flavour and hence, should be eaten first. It was surprisingly soft and delicate - in taste and texture, and subtle indeed - it definitely needed its mayonnaise partnering.
The thigh, on the other leg, needed nothing. The sweet and sticky marinade made the juicy and lucious meat even better, to the point that the few morsels on the skewer left us wanting more. A gastronomical lesson in contrast, I think.
The tiny wings were a little tricky to eat elegantly, especially trying to get the flesh between the mid-wing. But the charred flavour and crunchy skin made for just rewards for all the hard work.
There wasn't yaki nasu - grilled eggplant - but there was the miso eggplant dish. Probably better served with rice, this dish was unexpectedly and richly sweet. A range of green and yellow beans and my favourite sugar snaps were crunchy and bathing in the quite powerful white miso sauce. Eggplant and tofu provided the soft and silky textures for a dish that may well have been a vegetarian's delight - but a little slope for the end of our omnivorous appetites.
Desserts didn't even register with me - a combination of satiety and my gradual leaning away from my sweet tooth. The night hadn't exactly been as expected but it was solidly good. Now they've probably got me for a return visit so I can try that chicken skin skewer - I'm still excited.