Omakase. In Japanese it means "I leave it to you". It's also one of the best ways to spend your night at Sokyo with sushi chef Takashi Sano. Forget about the menu. Just park yourself at the sushi counter and let the Sano show begin.
Sushi chef Takashi Sano
Chef Sano-san is widely acclaimed as one of the country's best sushi chefs, with a CV that includes stints at Tetsuya and Koi. There's a quiet seriousness about him as he works. A seat at the sushi bar gives you a free ticket to watch his knife work and skill, but don't expect a running commentary with your meal. He's happy to answer questions though, and will accommodate any requests or exclusions you might have for your meal. We are here for an early birthday celebration of mine, and ask that Sano-san focuses exclusively on sushi with no hot dishes included.
Snapper skin and snapper muscle
[rear] Cooked tuna
A duo of appetisers kicks off our meal. What's simply described as "snapper skin and snapper muscle" is an intriguing tangle of toothsome but tender morsels, served with a ponzu soy sauce brightened with yuzu. I alternate between mouthfuls of this and the cooked tuna on the left, plump and soft in a drizzle of sweet soy dressing.
Pickled ginger - housemade ginger slices plus Sano-san's own pickled ginger spears
The sushi stage of our meal is signified by the arrival of pickled ginger. They pickle their own ginger slices at Sokyo but Sano-san makes his own pickled ginger spears too. The chunky batons pack more gingery heat, with a satisfying juicy crunch that comes with each bite.
[Clockwise from top left]: Snapper; sand whiting; alfonso kinmedai; and aged yellow fin tuna
Our sushi journey begins with bright and fresh piece of snapper before moving onto delicate sand whiting, a luscious curl of Australian yellow fin tuna - aged for ten days so the fibres meld and soften - and sweet alfonso kinmedai .
Chef Sano San making nigiri sushi
There's a bottle of soy sauce on the counter but you shouldn't need it. Each piece of nigiri sushi is meticulously seasoned, brushed with the barest shimmer of soy sauce or judicious drops of dressing so they don't overwhelm or distract from the subtle flavour of each fish.
[Clockwise from top left]: Japanese ootoro tuna belly; aburi scampi; ocean trout; and kingfish belly
There's a moment of silence when we're served the Japanese ootoro tuna belly. Its blushing shade of pink is exceeded only by its melting fattiness. Sano-san scores almost every piece of fish, the small and precise cuts decreasing your need to chew while amplifying the melt-in-the-mouth sensation.
The blowtorch comes out for aburi or seared scampi, the flames licking hungrily at the shimmering flesh. We move onto the yielding softness of kingfish belly, glazed with mustard and sprinkled with black pepper, and then a gleaming slice of ocean trout perked up with fresh lime zest and soy.
Sano-san garnishing the Tasmanian uni sea urchin
[Clockwise from top left]: Tasmanian uni sea uchin in crisp nori; aburi scallop in crispy nori; marinated scallop abductor; and raw cuttlefish
We're barely halfway through. Over the course of the night, we'll eat 18 pieces of sushi. Our next two mouthfuls (and sushi should always be eaten in one bite) involve jackets of deep fried nori. The seasoned nori tastes just like those snack packets of Korean seaweed, adding a salty crunch to a buttery tongue of Tasmanian uni sea urchin and then an aburi seared scallop. Sandwiched inside the seared scallop is a surprise dab of cream cheese mixed with salted crumbed kombu. It works terrifically well.
Raw cuttlefish is scored multiple times and then sprinkled liberally with kombu, sesame seeds and drops of lemon oil. And while we're all familiar with the prized scallop, too often the scallop abductor gets left behind. Here Sano-san celebrates this hardworking muscle, tenderised and then piled into a gunkanmaki battleship sushi.
Adding secret pockets of cream cheese with salted crumbed kombu to the seared scallop
Shimi saba mackerel with kombu
The presentation of the shimi saba mackerel is worth admiring for a moment or two. Draped across the top is a clear blanket of kombu seaweed, adding a minerality to the sweet oiliness of mackerel.
Sano-san's delicate mastery of nigiri sushi
Watching Sano-san make each piece of nigiri sushi is mesmerising. There's such a sense of fluidity as he gently shapes each piece of fish around the rice. The sushi rice is worth mentioning too, a masterful balance of stickiness and seasoning so the rice is not too sweet, too soggy or too vinegary. It clumps just enough so it doesn't fall apart, but the grains still maintain an element of separateness.
[Clockwise from top left]: Sano-san blowtorching scampi; aburi scampi; aburi salmon belly; and kani miso crab brains
The spectacle of fire gets me a little snap happy much to Sano-san's bemusement. A second round of blowtorched scampi is cooked for much longer this time, imparting a deep smokiness to the flesh.
The blowtorch is skittered across the surface of chunks of crab, packed into a battleship sushi stocked with kani miso or crab brains (more actually the internal organs of a crab including the liver, pancreas and intestines).
There are more bursts of flame held over slices of salmon belly. It's seasoned with salty kombu crumbs and crowned with a dollop of aged grated daikon.
Sano-san adding uni sea urchin roe to gunkan maki battleship sushi
Salmon roe, uni sea urchin and raw cuttlefish gunkan maki battleship sushi
The big guns come into play with a special gunkanmaki battleship sushi. Salmon roe, uni sea urchin and raw cuttlefish are three of my favourite things in one mouthful. They all work in harmony, the sticky slipperiness of raw cuttlefish played off beautifully against the creamy sea urchin with briny pops of salmon roe in between.
Sano-san slicing ootoro tuna belly
At this point we're nearing satiating and Sano-san asks if we'd like anything else in particular or a repeat of anything we've had so far. I succumb to another serve of the ootoro tuna belly.
Ootoro tuna belly
The ootoro feels like a guilty sin, a concentration of rich buttery fat that melts on the tongue as you let out a sigh of happiness.
You can finish with a plated dessert but we find the tamago suffices as a sweet end to our meal. It's unlike any tamago you would have eaten, its airy springiness more like an eggy sponge cake. This isn't an omelette cooked in a tamago pan but more of a custard that's baked in a tray in the oven. The secret ingredients? Sano-san confesses that snapper paste and prawn paste are slowly incorporated into the egg mixture, not that you can taste any fishiness in each golden cube.
We're so enamoured by this delight that Sano-san gives us some of the edge off-cuts. "That's my favourite part," he says with a smile.
Diners at Sokyo
Our omakase bill came to $130 per head, a price I'd happily pay again for the freshness of seafood and the quality of sushi served. You can undertake the omakase option at the sushi bar or at the dining room tables. If you wish to specifically be served by Chef Takashi Sano, it is essential you make a booking in advance.
Gin and tonic at Sokyo Lounge
And if you're still looking to prolong your night out, you can kick back with drinks at Sokyo Lounge in the lobby. We did drinks before and after dinner, and slept very well that night!
Level G, The Darling at The Star
80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9657 9161
Breakfast daily 7am-10.30am
Lunch Thursday to Saturday 12pm-2.30pm
Dinner 7 nights 5.30pm-9.30pm (til 10.30pm Thursday to Saturday)
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
The Star - Sokyo (September 2014)
The Star - BLACK by ezard
The Star - Momofuku Seiobo
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11/20/2014 12:27:00 am