Monday, July 25, 2011

A mountain of sake at Izakaya Fujiyama

Giving Surry Hills' Crown Street a very good run for its money is what one might call Surry Hills west, between Central Station and Crown Street where a mass of restaurants have opened recently. The latest is Izakaya Fuijiyama, featuring no bookings Japanese eats, lots of sake and Japanese beers.

Sake on display at Izakaya Fuijiyama, Waterloo Street, Surry Hills
Alongside the new El Capo and fairly new Orto Trading Co., and one street up from Muum Maam, Cotton Duck and Vini, (and not to forget District Dining closer to Central Station), this part of Surry Hills is turning seriously food-centric despite pubs on every corner.

Sake - served at room temperature
From a full menu page of sake, listed from mildest to strongest, I randomly pick something middling in strength and price (prices go up to $20 or so for some 90ml pours). This one (name forgotten) turns out to be quite mild with a floral hint.

We're informed that the sake here are only served at room temperature, and that warmed sake was usually something reserved for lower grades of the rice wine where the heat masks the inferior flavours.

Umeshu - plum wine
There are also a few options for plum wine, or umeshu - most of which I've never seen before. And with prices starting at $9.50 for a 90ml glass, it's no surprise that this is far superior to the almost sickly sweet umeshu I'm accustomed to having in your average, casual Japanese eatery.

Instead, this has a clarity of flavour without the overpowering saccharine hit, and also lacks that sometimes preserved flavour that's apparent in cheaper umeshu.

Yellowtail tataki
Traditionally, in a Japanese meal one would eat the cold courses first, including sushi and sashimi, followed by the hot dishes and rice. Dashing in from last week's torrential rain, I couldn't quite stick to that tradition, except for a daily special of yellowtail tataki.

More commonly seen in its beef form, this tataki features thick-ish, raw slivers of yellowtail - a pink-fleshed fish with quite a soft texture - tossed with shallots and fresh, ground ginger on a string bed of daikon strips. Served with soy sauce, the combination of seasonings took on a Cantonese flavour; albeit light and fresh with natural sweetness of the fish.

Satsuma age - housemade fish cake (two serves)
I'm generally a fan a fish cakes and these golden square halves were no exception. Light and a tad floury in a good way, they had peeled edamame beans to be found inside their golden skins. Dipped into a vinegary sauce, they were comforting and definitely a good drinking snack.

Kenji Fried Chicken
Named after chef and owner Kenji Maenaka (ex Porteño, Bodega, Forty One Restaurant, Four in Hand, among others), the KFC is a more substantially sized dish of karage chicken.

Battered hunks of succulent chicken were served with lemon and a creamy mayonnaise, and showed no indication whatsoever that the chef hadn't cooked Japanese food professionally for eight years.

Japanese fried potato
Looking a lot like Italian arancini or indeed, turtle eggs; these perfectly round balls of creamily starchy taro were firm but velvety in the way that only taro is. It lacked the spice flavours as advertised on the menu (and potato?), but went rather nicely with wasabi and soy sauce.

Grilled mackerel with grated daikon
The grilled mackerel was served with flaked pieces along with grated and seasoned daikon - the flavours, including sesame oil, were subtle, clean and quite special. This felt like a healthy, salad-type dish, but also went very well with the sake.

Next sake
Thoroughly warmed following our first round of mostly hot dishes, it was time for another (also unknown name) sake further down the list in strength. This definitely hit the palate harder with that almost-savoury flavour typical of rice wine coming to the fore.

Potato salad
Somehow, we'd managed to turn traditional eating style back to front by following up with a number of cold dishes. Traditional Japanese mashed potato sounded intriguing, and scattered with onions and paper thin pickled cucumber slices, it certainly was.

The tartness of the pickles was just the thing to complement the creamy, mashed and chunky bits of potato in this carb-olicious salad.

Miso tofu
We see the delightfully firm tofu being sliced and then dressed in a white miso sauce. The latter is more sweet than salty, but provided an unexpected depth to the clean, earthy flavours of the cold tofu.

Kingfish nuta with fried tortilla
The most playful dish of the night had to be the kingfish nuta (though I have no idea what 'nuta' is). Served a bit like a ceviche with deep fried tortilla triangles, this was so flavour-packed I was using the tortilla chips to get every last bit of sauce out of the bowl.

Marinated with lots of lime and miso for creaminess, this fine dice of kingfish topped with shallots simply blew me away with its gigantic flavours - sweet, salty, creamy and a little spicy. Eaten cracker style on the crisp, golden tortilla chips, this is one hell of a Japanese nachos.

Grilled mackerel with teriyaki sauce
Despite the fabulousness of the nuta, it was outdone (just) by the daily special of grilled mackerel. Having seen it cook on the grill and go out to another table, we quickly added the fish special to our order - thankfully, in hindsight, as it was my favourite dish of the night by far.

Three thick slices of the most gorgeous-looking, raw, skin-on mackerel (purchased that morning at the Sydney Fish Markets, Maenaka tells us, like all his fish) were skewered and placed directly onto an open yakitori-like grill. It's turned from time to time, as well as dunked into a large pot of house-made teriyaki sauce and returned to the grill.

Chef Maenaka leans over to tell us that no-one else in the world would have his teriyaki sauce, since he dunks his fish and beef into it; the juices from both contributing to the flavours of the sauce, which is boiled out every day like a master stock.

It's pretty special and it shows with the appetisingly caramelised surface of the fresh-off-the-grill mackerel. Dunked and turned on the grill many a time, the firm flesh of the fish, along with the deeply sweet teriyaki sauce, make this dish simply divine, while the thin slices of pickled daikon cut through the rich sauce in just the right way.

Chocolate ice cream with bourbon
Watching desserts leave the kitchen seems to magically make way in my stuffed belly for dessert too. Something small to share, we went with the house-made chocolate ice cream with a sauce of orange and bourbon.

Not being a drinker of the latter booze, I left most the sauce in favour of unadulterated chocolate ice cream - silky smooth, luxuriously creamy and one of the best I've had in ages. There were also some chopped shortbread biscuits nesting at the bottom, reducing the richness as well as the slippery, sliding ice cream factor.

Washed down with a pot of Japanese green tea, we watched the rain continue to belt down and wash the roads, footpaths and pretty much anything/one not under cover. Completely stuffed and just warmed from the sake, I concluded that next time would have a much better attempt at conquering the Fujiyama mountain of sake on offer. Along with tasty eats, izakaya-style, of course.

Izakaya Fujiyama on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Nuta is a miso, sugar and vinegar sauce. Very good with salmon and tuna. Lovely dishes.

MissPiggy said...

I've seen a flurry of tweets about this place over the last week and am glad to have read your post. I love this style of eating, and the food looks amazing! I want to try everything!

Dumpling Girl said...

The food looks great. I could do with some of the karrage right now. Love that sake shelf. Will put this place on my eat here soon list :)

Keely aka The Richest Girl in Bondi said...

Yes this is definitely going on my list as well. I think it'll be difficult to try just a few dishes -- all I know is the grilled mackerel will be one of them!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

The menu looks quite different than your usual Japanese place which is good indeed.

gastronomous anonymous said...

Definitely keen to try this place!
thanks for the post - think u have convinced me to go! and sake... hmhmh love sake!

Jacq said...

Yum the food looks great here! I love the sound of the yellowtail tataki and the little clay cup that the fried potato balls are served in is so cute!

Ramen Raff said...

It's a Jap place + food that sounds and looks good = Raff will visit this place!

joey@FoodiePop said...

The kingfish nuta does look good even though its origin is a mystery ....

Tina said...

Hi lateraleating - Thanks :)

Hi MissPiggy - I missed the tweets, but totally love drinks and small eats too! It's quite a bit like Melbourne's Izakaya Den in terms of menu, I think.

Hi Dumpling Girl - Do soon; and remember, it's no bookings :)

Hi Keely - Definitely, if it's on the specials list. The kingfish nuta too!

Hi Lorraine - They also have sushi and sashimi, which we didn't try.

Hi gastronomous anonymous - Yup, the newest on the block. I'm totally loving sake at the moment.

Hi Jacq - I know, the cup felt like something Fred Flinstone might drink coffee from! The restaurant has an amazing array of plates and bowls :)

Hi Ramen Raff - I like your thought process :)

Hi joey - I'm not sure what you mean... is it inspired by another restaurant..?

Vivian - vxdollface said...

Oooh another kind of KFC :D i love the design of the mug holding the fried taro balls!

chopinandmysaucepan said...

Some of these deep fried Japanese dishes are really made for sake! Love the look of the mackerel in teriyaki sauce!

Tina said...

Hi Vivian - There aren't enough KFCs for us, are there? :D

Hi chopinandmysaucepan - The mackerel was a total surprise favourite :)

Anonymous said...

love that sake display! I've heard good and bad points of this place, still worth a try since I love izakaya sort of food :D

sugarpuffi said...

sake and tataki! they are too awesome together

Tina said...

Hi minibites - Totally, worth a try. I'm looking to return when they've had a bit more time to settle in :)

Hi sugarpuffi - I'm totally in a sake phase now :)

mademoiselle délicieuse said...

Wow, that is an impressive range of sake! I know nothing at all about it, but was wondering about the first photo where they look like jam jars?

aptronym said...

I was there on their third day, had quite different dishes to you (except the miso tofu) and, great host etc disregarding, the food was not as it could have been, let's say. It was a shame. Nice place, good people.

Tina said...

Hi mademoiselle délicieuse - I believe they are little jars of sake from Japan (sake comes in little 180ml jars as well as gigantic bottles) - but sadly these are display only :)

Hi aptronym - It is a nice place, and I agree that there was a feeling that it could be something more. However, I would highly recommend the kingfish nuta and grilled mackerel for your next visit :)

Two fit and fun gals said...

fantastic photos! yum, im hungry now (its only 11.50am!)


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