I feel like I'm in Japan. All around me, the dining room is filled with Japanese businessmen, murmuring softly. Cheesey muzak is being piped through the speakers and behind me the sushi bar is a chaotic assault of souvenir trinkets, Hanshin Tigers baseball flags and towers of lacquered bowls and sushi platters.
Except I'm not in hustle-bustle Tokyo or foodaholic Osaka, but in the basement of Macquarie Street, Sydney in the International Nippon Australia and New Zealand Club.
I'd once spotted two Japanese businessmen emerging onto the street from the staircase down below. Curiously I did peer down the stairs, but presumed it was a club for Japanese ex-pats only. It's not. A registered club, it offers the usual bar and pokies but more importantly, it has an inhouse bistro.
We sign in as temporary members and are waved through the noren curtain to the dining room. The Cheeseman had already done a reconnaissance mission and now we're a hungry group of nine keen to sample the wares, a menu that proudly offers Japanese and Australia cuisine.
Sapporo beer (on tap)
Sapporo beer on tap is a rare thing in Sydney. We order a round, enjoying this crisp light-tasting beer that is clean on the palate.
The menu is long and comprehensive. We order a mix of entrees and mains that arrive in no apparent order around the table. The kitchen seems to be staffed by a sole Japanese chef and we're happy to chat so don't mind the staggered arrival.
Nasu dengaku $11.00
Deep-fried eggplant topped with sweet miso paste
Nasu dengaku is a thick slice of eggplant deep-fried to glorious perfection. I love the way Japanese cook their eggplant, the smoky crisp skin contrasting with the sweet mush of flesh, its surface seared to a salty caramelised sweetness from the basting of miso paste.
Tender pork $12.50
Oven-roasted tender pork with black pepper, soy and ginger sauce
Tender pork is true to its word. It literally falls apart with the prod of a chopstick. It's generous with fat too, thick strips of it languishing alongside the melt-in-the-mouth pork.
Beef tataki $14.00
Seared tenderloin beef slices with Japanese yuzu pepper sauce
Next time I'm going, I'm ordering this. The beef tataki is deliriously good. Thin strips of barely seared beef tenderloin have such magnificent marbling they barely require chewing. The yuzu pepper sauce is fresh and zingy too.
Eel tempura $10.50
Lightly fried eel fillet with sansho pepper and salt
I've ordered the eel tempura, a rich combination that really does work. The crisp shell of batter hides the luscious decadence of fatty eel within. It's the usual unagi, eel fillets cooked in a sweet soy sauce til it turns a dark toffee colour.
Fermented soy beans
There's an order of the infamous natto, the fermented soy beans that Japanese hold so close to their heart. Much like Vegemite, it's a love-it-or-hate-it kinda thing. I've tried hard to love it, but I still can't get past the mealy texture, musty smell and those crazy strands of goo that appear when you mix it with chopsticks.
Salmon and avocado small sushi roll $6.00
Sushi rolls are fresh and made to order.
Tuna and avocado small sushi roll $6.00
Mentaiko spaghetti $16.00
Chef's style mentaiko (cod fish roe)
and cream sauce spaghetti, soy flavoured
For mains I have the mentaiko spaghetti, allured by the promise of cod fish roe. The roe is mixed through a light cream sauce. It's not as rich as I'd expected, more like a pasta with an evaporated milk-style sauce that's occasionally fishy.
Rice set $4.00
Rice, miso soup, pickles and side dish
I also have the rice set, figuring that an outlay of four dollars is more than worthwhile for a sample of tofu and their inhouse pickles.
Tuna salad $8.50
Cooked tuna meat and fresh vegetable
The rest of our mains receive thumbs up for the most part. The food is fairly reasonably priced but it's the atmosphere I love best. It's a cheap trip to "Japan" - even the dated wedding reception-style chairs only add to the ambience!
Curry omelet rice $15.00
Chicken flavoured rice wrapped with fried egg and Chef's special sauce
Pork katsu curry and rice $15.50
Unadon $22.00 whole fillet/ $12 half fillet
Grilled eel fillet on rice bowl with special sauce
Teriyaki chicken (250g) $19.50
Grilled chicken with special teriyaki sauce
Basil lamb $24.50
Grilled rack lamb with black citrus sauce, basil flavoured
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International Nippon Australia and New Zealand Club
229-231 Macquarie Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9232 2688
This has been included as an Intrepid Eat on Grab Your Fork's Top 10 Sydney Eats for Tourists. Read the entire list here.
Lunch Monday to Friday 12.00pm-2.30pm
Dinner Monday to Friday 6.00pm-9.00pm
Club open Monday to Friday 11.00am-11.00pm
Normal club rules apply. Temporary guests must live more than 5km away or be signed in by a member. Otherwise annual membership costs $10.
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Community Clubs - Polish Club, Ashfield
Community Clubs - Portugal Club, Marrickville
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12/07/2008 11:04:00 pm