One you exit the lift though, a surprisingly modern and funky looking restaurant awaits--whitewashed walls, thatchwork "paintings" and strong timber supports give an earthy modern feel. Cream lounges line one wall and dark rosewood-look tables and chairs are clustered in intimate groupings for 2 or 4 diners. Parallel lines of thick twisted rope hang overhead, and a bamboo divider and stone water urn complete the modern Japanese feel. Even more pleasingly, our arrival was met with a traditional Japanese Irrashaimase or "welcome".
We started off with the agedashi tofu, a highlight of our meal. Biting into the sticky gelatinous salty sweet coating revealed a delicate, smooth pillow of fragile and quivering silken tofu. Usually squares of fresh tofu are lightly dusted with potato starch or corn starch and then deep-fried until golden brown. A hot tentsuyu broth made from dashi, mirin and soy is then poured over the top. Paper-thin shavings of bonito and a sprinkling of finely chopped spring onions added extra taste and texture.
Agedashi tofu $4.50
Accompanying our meal was traditional green tea or ocha, and icy super-sweet but refreshing fortified plum wine.
We shared a selection of mains, starting with the kaisen yakisoba ramen, a huge serving of ramen on a bed of fried egg with assorted seafood scattered through it. This was the first time I had tried this dish--overall I found the noodles a little soggy and the sauce a little cloyingly sweet.
Kaisen yakisoba ramen (seafood stirfried noodle) $12.50
The chicken katsudon and the unagi or eel, both hit the mark though. The chicken was juicy and moist, and covered in a satisfyingly tasty sauce. The eel was a little on the sweet side, but softer, fattier and more delicate than normal. Both arrived atop a large bowl of fluffy white rice accompanied by a plate of finely shredded raw carrot and cabbage and a bowl of miso soup--providing welcome palate-cleansing relief from the sweet sauces.
Chicken katsudon $8.50
Unagi don (eel) $9.50
The crowd here was an eclectic mix of Japanese and Korean students, urban professionals and--inexplicably--a table of likely rugby-players. Service was friendly and courteous with Japanese-style efficiency and non-invasiveness. Sure the decor may be a bit uber-Japanese-chic, but we liked the refreshing attention to decor in downtrodden Chinatown and the feeling of smugness at discovering a Sydney dining secret.
The food feels authentic and with many meals at the same price as Sussex Centre Food Court, this is incredible value in much classier surrounds. Perhaps a secret no longer...
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Level 1, 90 Hay Street, Haymarket Chinatown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9211 6677
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11/09/2004 11:59:00 pm