The first thing you notice about Toriciya is the entrance. It's not the physical facade -- Spanish villa arches in a cafe latte brown--but the act of entering the door itself. A heavy glass-paneled sliding door utters a quiet shuuushhh as you slide it open. The low hanging noren curtain forces you to duck your head as you enter, an act of deference that imparts a sense of humility as you cross the threshold.
Toriciya is an izakaya-style restaurant, a place you go to for drinks and bar snacks, a little like a Japanese version of a tapas bar perhaps. It's been around for a while (since 1991) and proudly claims to be the first dedicated yakitori bar in Sydney.
Vintage Japanese advertisements on metal
The restaurant inside is crowded and narrow, tables and chairs clustered around the bar which dominates much of the room. The size of our Stomachs Eleven group relegates us to the outdoor patio at the front, a pretty area but for the fact it's sweltering hot and we're jealous of the air-conditioned patrons drinking happily inside.
Bamboo water feature
Nevertheless, the space--just to the left of the entrance so we can watch everyone enter and exit the building--has plenty of decorating touches. A bamboo water feature sits in one corner, a wooden bucket hangs from a thick twisted rope in another. Bamboo curtains give some privacy and on the walls are vintage metal advertisements by various Japanese companies. Our table is an old wooden door, a huge heavy slab that is studded with metal rivets.
Sake is the major drawcard for most patrons, and offers more value than the soft drinks, mineral water and tea which cost an eye-popping five dollars each. The sake menu runs longer than the snack menu, and all sake is sourced from small boutique breweries, not large commercial ones.
Mrs Pig Flyin is the resident sake expert among the group and she delights in the range of premium sake available. Junmai-shu, also known as pure sake, is made using rice only, and does not have any distilled alcohol added. Its quality depends purely on the rice used, and is appreciated for its distinct and unique flavour, much like a single malt scotch.
Also available is Junmai-ginjoshu, pure sake which is been fermented at a low temperature for an extended period of time, known for having a light and fruity flavour.
The sake is certainly strong but there's a smoothness to them once you get past the alchoholic haze. I confess my personal highlight was when we ordered a small jug of sake to share and our waitress arrived with a wooden tray of sake glasses so we could choose our own. The choices!
Responsible drinking must be accompanied by food. Of course.
Goma tofu with uni sea urchin roe $10.50
We start our long procession of snacks with goma tofu, a firm but silky tofu made with sesame seeds. The sesame flavour isn't as pronounced as I've experienced at other places (in Japan) but the sea urchin roe on top is blissfully creamy.
Kaki fry $13
Deep-fried oysters are huge - crumbed and deep-fried so they're crunchy on the outside, the oysters still raw and briney within.
Kanimiso crab brain $5.00
Kanimiso is divine. The crab brain doesn't look particularly attractive, a dollop of dark grey paste in a bowl, but the flavour is incredible - salty, creamy and rich, a bit like a brinier, fishier version of sea urchin roe.
Grilled eggplant with bonito flake and ginger $10.00
Grilled eggplant is an elegant dish, the tender grilled eggplant peeled from the skin and served with fluttering waves of bonito flakes, a sprinkle of shallots, and a ginger soy dressing.
Grilled miso paste with cream cheese $6.50
The G-man and I had both lit up at the mention of grilled miso paste with cream cheese on the menu. A wooden paddle, covered with a mound of miso, has been placed under a grill until the miso has caramelised. Thin wedges of plain cream cheese create an interesting pairing, although it's a little too salty for my taste.
Torikara deep-fried flavoured chicken thigh $11.00
Fried chicken is always a crowd favourite and we find the torikara crunchy and moist. The batter has also been seasoned with soy, a quick squeeze of lemon the only accompaniment required although a saucer of Japanese mayonnaise is also provided.
Ika okra $9.50
Calamari with okra and ginger
Ika okra is a dish I haven't tried before, arriving in an egg-cup sized dish on a simple wooden plate with a wooden spoon on the side.
The gelatinous stickiness of the okra is a surpise complement to the slippery strips of calamari. It's sweet and salty and somehow soothing too.
Ankimo angler fish liver $11.50
The bright orange colour of the ankimo angler fish liver is visually striking. The liver of the angler fish, or monkfish, has its veins removed, is rubbed with salt and often rinsed with sake. A bamboo mat is used to roll the liver into a plastic-wrapped sausage shape where it is then steamed. The richess of this dish was offset by garnishes of shallots and a mound of grated daikon seasoned with chilli. It's not surprising that ankimo is often referred to as Japanese fish foie gras.
Nikomi Japanese-style beef tendon stew $9.50
Beef tendon? Yes please. The small chunks of sinewy beef have been slow cooked to a melting tenderness.
Yakitori - chicken thigh, liver, meatball and skin $2.50 each
We move onto the house specialty next - yakitori, characterised by various parts of the chicken grilled on skewers. The yakitori is traditionally seasoned only with tare, a thick sweet soy sauce or salt. We feast on moist and tender chicken thighs, soft tsukune meatballs and buttery livers but delight most in the chicken skin, long strips of skin zigzagged onto a skewer and rendered until crisp.
Chicken wing skewers $3 each
Chicken wings have a delicious caramelised char, and chicken giblets have a satisfying bouncy crunch.
Chicken giblet skewers $2.50 each
Quail egg skewers $2.50 each
Quail eggs have only the faintest smokiness to them, although their insides are wonderfully creamy.
Shime saba $13.50
Oh our hunger knows no bounds... we continue with shime saba, thick slices of oily mackerel sashimi that are achingly fresh and firm.
Mentai potato salad with spicy cod roe $8.50
Mentai potato salad is a huddle of comfort food, soft cubes of potato mixed through with sweet mayonnaise, corn, shallots and orange flecks of salty cod roe.
Goma salad $9.50
The goma salad looks to be such a simple affair, a bowl of greens scattered liberally with toasted sesame seeds.
Tossing the salad
Tossed goma salad
But the flavour is incredible. There's something about the nuttiness and crunch of toasted sesame seeds that add so much a salad. Cabbage leaves, lettuec and rocket never tasted so good, helped along by the sweet zing of a yuzu citrus dressing.
Sake cha $11.00
Rice and grilled salmon in soup
Sake cha is a traditional way to end a Japanese meal, a clear soup with a layer of rice that absorbs the flavours of the soup. A small fillet of salmon has been grilled until just cooked, and daubed with wasabi. Despite the hot weather, we relish the soft rice, the tender flakes of salmon and the floating shreds of nori and sesame seeds.
Wonton with spicy sesame sauce $9.00
Our final dish is a small plate of wontons, silky sheets that encase a juicy pork filling. The soy sauce has a welcome chilli kick.
By the end of the night Toriciya isn't cheap, especially when they impose a minimum $50 charge per person. However we found plenty of delicious dishes to discover, and the range of sake will offer something to please even the fussiest of palates.
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18 Cammeray Road, Cammeray, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9904 2277
Open Mon-Sat 6pm-10pm
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1/18/2010 02:36:00 am