Monday, June 16, 2014

Cho Cho San emerges from her cocoon

In one of the hottest restaurant openings of the year so far, Cho Cho San in Potts Point has been met by a blaze of publicity while the paint on the walls is still fresh.

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
In the prime Macleay Street venue that was formerly Shogun Japanese restaurant, Cho Cho San's interior is a study of restraint with expanses of quite plain white allowing the long bar/communal table to feature through the narrow restaurant front, while more relaxed small tables and booth seats fill the back near the open, secondary cold kitchen.

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 not-particularly-photogenic eggplant and miso dip is a new take on nasu dengaku miso grilled eggplant; dressed up with microherbs, shallots and wonderfully crisp, thin rice crackers that handled the warm, mushy eggplant surprisingly well.

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
The individual serves of silken tofu seemed a bold yet very traditional Japanese addition on the menu.

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.

Fried chicken
The order of fried chicken was a no-brainer for us, served up karaage style with a crunchy batter fragrant with sesame. The juicy chicken within was perfectly seasoned so that the creamy and quite spicy chilli mayonnaise became optional.

Hokkaido scallops, corn & house-cured smoked bonito
The 'raw' menu reads excitingly of untraditional sashimi accompaniments such as the creamy corn puree with the raw, sliced Hokkaido scallops.

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
But there was no chance the scallops could compete with the dish of the night anyway, featuring ribbons of thinly shaved raw beef short rib, richly marbled and edged with fat.

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
I hadn't expected a chicken steak for the yakitori but there it was, a sliced thigh fillet with beautifully rendered and crisp chicken skin under liberal shakes of togarashi chilli spice mix that had some serious, serious kick to it.

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
A trio of large hibachi grilled prawns arrived dramatically in a huge white bowl, with heads on and half the bodies peeled, drizzled with a delectable, umami-rich kombu seaweed 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
Probably one main dish too many between two at dinner, the Angus beef steak arrived sliced revealing innards closer to medium than medium-rare, though requests weren't taken.

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
The sides options comprise two carbohydrate choices and three vegetable ones; the latter of which didn't particularly catch my interest.

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 couldn't bear the thought of dessert after all the food, so instead opted for the 'banana lollies' in the Tamagawa nama unpasteurised sake from Kyoto. It was completely appropriate as a dessert sake as it's actually quite sweet with the aroma and faint taste of, yes, banana lollies.

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.

Cho Cho San on Urbanspoon


Jacq said...

oh wow that raw beef short rib looks amazing! and I don't think I could say no to scallops and corn puree

Cindy (a foodie's joy) said...

I bookmarked this once I heard of its opening! Cool that you got to check it out so early. The food looks good!

Olivia @ mademoiselle in Sydney said...

Jeez!! I walked pass this restaurant today and snapped a pic of their menu! I wouldn't have gone for the raw beef short rib as my hubby likes his meat well done, but now that I've seen your review, I sense that I'll have this plate of deliciousness on my own :)

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

Whoah the beef short rib looks incredible!

Tina said...

Hi Jacq - The beef short rib was the best!

Hi Cindy - Hope you enjoy your visit; all the reviews are pretty positive.

Hi Olivia - He could have the soy braised Angus steak while you have the short rib!

Hi Helen - Best dish I've had for ages :)


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