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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Iiza, Newtown



I can't help it.

One look at the spider roll, the nori slices sheathed in a gossamer-thin scroll of daikon, and my mind immediately wanders to comparisons with prophylactics. The phallic-shaped mound of wasabi doesn't help either.

"It's like safe sex sushi," I whisper to Billy, whose eyes widen in alarm.

"Don't say that!" he protests, trying to preserve a sense of innocence during his meal, but I can tell - it's already too late.

Yet that's half the fun of Iiza, one of the latest crop of restaurants to burst onto the Newtown dining scene, a welcome addition to a strip still entrapped by a Thai restaurant stronghold. Modelled as a modern izakaya, or Japanese tavern-style eatery, the menu offers a whirlwind of choices that go beyond the predictable sushi, tempura and teriyaki chicken template.


Soy sauce vessel

Iiza, on the site of the former Lucky's Pizzeria, is decked out in stylish Japanese minimalism. A parade of paper lanterns hang over timber tables, the bar is lined with sake bottles and a striking banner of Japanese calligraphy dominates one wall.


Sauce bowls and individual plates

Little touches like tea pot-shaped soy sauce vessels and striking blue square plates on every table are all appreciated. The waitstaff are dressed immaculately in kimonos, wrapped and tied at the back with colourful obi sashes. Their shuffling footsteps may transport you momentarily back to Japan until you look down and realise they're not wearing geta but hot pink thongs, because yes, that's right, you really are in Sydney.


Aburi sashimi salmon $14
Eight pieces of flame-seared sashimi
topped with saikyo miso dressing and dried garlic miso

A selection of photographs in the menu provide some visual clues to a comprehensive menu which includes both Japanese translations and a detailed English description. The photos are what lead us to crave the renkon hasami age, an impressive-looking entree made from tempura lotus roots sandwiched around chicken mince and green tea soba noodles.

Alas it's not meant to be. They've sold out of the dish even though it's barely 7pm on a weeknight. We make do with aburi sashimi salmon instead, thin and sweet slices of fillet that are topped with a salty crumble of dried garlic miso. A dressing of saikyo or white miso adds a refreshing zing and we both end up half-eating the accompanying lemon slices too.

Our only quibble? The chopsticks are a little too thick in width and their clumsy handling of the food intrudes on the delicacy of our dishes.


Camembert tempura $14.50
Camembert cheese fingers served with teriyaki sauce

Camembert tempura arrives encircled around a tea cup of teriyaki sauce, dusted with flecks of ground seaweed. The tempura batter is a little heavier than I'd expected, but that's easily countered by the strong flavour of the camembert cheese, gooey but not quite molten.


Spider roll $14.50
Six pieces of crispy soft shell crab sushi rolls
wrapped with finely sliced seasoned daikon radish

Prophylactic jokes aside, the spider roll is a winner. Whilst the sheath is a little hard to bite through neatly, its silky coolness against the vinegared rice and the crunch of soft shell crab does another element of texture to this dish. There's not a lot of soft shell crab but there's sweetness in the fine julienne of cucumbers, carrot and Spanish onion.


Japanese gyu-suji nikomi $18
Tender wagyu beef tendon
braised overnight in miso stew served in clay hot pot

We conclude our mains with gyu-suji nikomi, a rich wagyu beef tendon stew that's presented in a cute terracotta pot over a tea light burner.


Beans and wagyu beef stew


Nikomi

The wagyu beef is ribboned with fat and cooked overnight to a heady tongue-coating unctuous decadence. The beef is incredibly soft and falls apart easily. It's the kind of winter stew best eaten with huge bowls of rice, although here it seems incongruously paired with two fat slices of toasted garlic bread. We relish the blanched stalks of bean, squeaky green and crunchy.


Kokutou brulee $7
Creme brulee infused with Japanese brown sugar

The dessert menu includes a chocolate fondnat, green tea ice cream and annin tofu (an almond dessert) but we order what we consider the two most intriguing items: the kokutou brulee and the kinako cheesecake.

We crack through the rink of toffee on top to find a smooth custard that has a distinct taste of Japanese brown sugar.


Kinako cheesecake $7
Cheesecake baked with toasted soybean powder

Kinako cheesecake is more of an acquired taste - the ground toasted soybean can catch in the throat if you're not careful but I like the nutty sweetness of this tantalisingly cool powder.



A soup spoon of macerated fruits balance the sweetness of both desserts and we can find no fault in the plating, simple and elegant with a sprig of leaves for colour.

Lucky's Pizza may be gone but its replacement Iiza good indeed.




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Iiza
184 King Street, Newtown Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8095 9260

Opening hours:
Monday to Sunday 6pm-11pm

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Japanese - Kasumi Izakaya, Haymarket
Japanese - Nakashima, The Rocks
Japanese - Nippon Club, Sydney CBD
Japanese - Toriciya, Cammeray
Japanese - Wakana Yakiniku, Artarmon

Newtown - Bank Hotel and Sumalee Thai
Newtown - Carlisle Castle
Newtown - Corelli's Cafe
Newtown - Gourmet Viking
Newtown - Guzman y Gomez
Newtown - Oscillate Wildly (Feb 06), (Oct 05) and (Jan 05)
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Newtown - Wedgetail Pizza


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16 comments - Add some comment love

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/17/2010 02:31:00 am


16 Comments:

  • At 3/17/2010 2:39 am, Blogger the fashionate traveller said…

    I was wanting to try it before I came away. Is it wrong, being in Japan, and wishing I had the meal described here? The sushi train in Shinjuku was nowhere near as good as the meal you describe :/

     
  • At 3/17/2010 6:28 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh my, that's exactly what I thought seeing that photo too! Oh my. But apart from that, I'm struggling here, because kinako is my favourite Japanese dessert flavouring and I adore cheesecake... but I've eaten 30 mini macarons here in Paris in the past three days, and I'm pretty darn happy about it :P

     
  • At 3/17/2010 7:01 am, Anonymous Mark @ Cafe Campana said…

    Everything looks so good. This is my biggest problem with Japanese restaurants, I never know what to order. I'm hopeless at making a decision.

     
  • At 3/17/2010 8:56 am, Anonymous The Extra said…

    "That's Liza with a ZEE, not Lisa with an ESS". I don't know if anyone will get that reference.
    Anyhoo - My. God. Other than the garlic bread, this looks amazing. I usually go to Teriyaki Boy in Balmain for my Japanese fix but I might have to venture to Newtown next.

     
  • At 3/17/2010 10:49 am, Anonymous Renita said…

    Haha! "safe sex sushi" - a very fitting comment! That
    Camembert tempura looks delicious...mmm I dream of cheese...

     
  • At 3/17/2010 10:55 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Safe sex sushi! bahaha that is hilarious! As tasty as it sounds, I don't think I could order it without giggling now :)

     
  • At 3/17/2010 10:58 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    I really love this place and look forward to another return :)

     
  • At 3/17/2010 11:32 am, Anonymous billy@atablefortwo said…

    oh dear...of course i raised an eyebrow when you even used the "C" word in a restaurant! The Aburi is probably my favourite... oh so crumbly bits..

     
  • At 3/17/2010 12:01 pm, Anonymous Chris said…

    lol I'm having trouble getting that image out of my mind now too! This sounds great, and I like the look of the salmon aburi - so pretty!

     
  • At 3/17/2010 12:15 pm, Anonymous food.4.two said…

    Oooh, this is the new place on King St. Last time I walked past it was still under construction...must try it now :)!

     
  • At 3/17/2010 1:33 pm, Blogger FFichiban said…

    HAHHAA get your mind out of the gutter Helen :P Looks like its worth trying tho yumm

     
  • At 3/17/2010 4:31 pm, Anonymous JT @ areyouhungary said…

    ooh the aburi looks gooood! I must say a big downside to Newtown for me is always getting stuck in traffic on King St but this might just be worth it!

     
  • At 3/17/2010 9:25 pm, Blogger mademoiselle délicieuse said…

    Kinako cheesecake would definitely be worth a try - I like them both separately and I can't think of anywhere else that offers this combination in Sydney at the moment.

     
  • At 3/17/2010 10:05 pm, Blogger Gourmet Chick said…

    Izakuyas seem to be super popular in Australia at the moment (including in Melbourne) - they don't seem to be such a big thing in London but maybe they are coming soon...

     
  • At 3/18/2010 2:15 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi The Fashionate Traveller - Oh you're in Japan? Lucky you! I did find the eats in Japan quite different to what we have here, but ahh I'm sure you are finding plenty of oishii eats.

    Hi Hannah - lol. Glad I'm not the only one. I love kinako too but 30 mini macarons in Paris? I am filled with envy at the thought!

    Hi Mark - Menu indecision plagues us all. I think that's why I love sharing dishes so much - always give you more things to try.

    Hi The Extra - Ha, yes, don't worry, I do :) If you do venture out, would be curious to see what you think :)

    Hi Renita - lol. I do worry about the impression I'm making online sometimes, but lol, glad everyone could see where I was coming from. And yes, cheese dreams are always good!

    Hi Stephcookie - Heh, I did feel a little guilty for instantly putting images into Billy's head. lol

    Hi John - I did notice your review. A lovely write-up :) I think I'll have to go back and try that lotus sandwich - the picture looks so good!

    Hi Billy - Haha, I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself. The aburi salmon was delicious - I'd be curious to see if one could recreate that dish at home?

    Hi Chris - Oh dear, I do apologise. lol. The aburi salmon was lovely, especially eaten with the lemon. Very light and refreshing.

    Hi food.4.two - It seems like quite a few new places have opened up on King Street. Good to see the strip thriving! Would be interested to hear your take on the place.

    Hi FFichiban - There's nothing dirty about safe sex. lol. But yes, give it a go. Everyone should :)

    Hi JT - King St can be a bit of a traffic nightmare but it moves quite well on weekdays as it's a clearway. Using the backstreets on the weekend is always recommended!

    Hi mademoiselle delicieuse - It's an interesting combo. The cheesecake is ideal for kinako lovers!

    Hi Gourmet Chick - I found a dearth of good Japanese in London but I think that's because we take our access to fresh seafood here for granted. Hopefully izakayas will take off in London though - here's hoping!

     
  • At 4/04/2010 10:35 pm, Anonymous Food Lover said…

    I passed by it today after dinner and decided to try the desserts on impulse cos the desserts looked sooo good. But guess what? The old lady that served us (I found out later that she was the owner), literally took the menu away and told us rudely that this was not a cafe and we cannot order just the desserts, so we should come again next time. O.o seriously?? so I asked her if we could just have appetizers instead. And she took the order (haughtily and disbelievingly) and just left. For 15 mins the little sashimi plate didnt come out. I almost thought she ignored the order. When it came out, I must say, it was good. So in terms of service, I'd give it a ZERO and food taste & presentation an 8.

     

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