"You can eat the food by itself but it is more delicious with sake." Our Japanese waitress bobs her head as she says the word "more". It's hard not to be won over. It's the clincher in a charm assault that starts before you've even stepped foot inside Nom. Housed in a converted terrace, there's a small sense of victory when you find it in the backstreets of Darlinghurst, its charcoal facade brightened by red signage. As you duck your head to enter through the curtained doorway, your eyes will barely have time to adjust to the dim light before a beaming Japanese face pops out out from the kitchen and says "Hello! Welcome! Do you have a booking?"
Asahigiku junmaishu sake $7 per 120ml glass
The dining room is humble in that endearing Japanese way. Wooden tables, cushions placed neatly along the wooden bench seating, disposable chopsticks on every table, and a few framed prints hanging on the wall. The menu is photocopied and presented in plastic sleeves, littered with amendments using liquid paper and neatly handwritten additions. The specials of the day are on a small square of paper sticky-taped to the inside of the plastic sleeve.
Plum sake $9 per 120ml glass
1999 Taketsuru junmaishu sake $20 per 120ml glass
The most expensive item on the food menu is $20 for tuna sashimi, but three-quarters of items hover between $8.50 and $11. The alcohol isn't overly expensive either. Sakes start at $7 for a 120ml glass and top out at $20 for the 1999 Taketsuru junmaishu sake. Lex's aged sake has an incredible shade - the colour of pale honey - with a notably elegant finish on the palate.
Staff will happily help you choose a sake based on your food orders and sake preferences too. My sake match turns out to be the Asahigiku junmaishu sake at $7. It's reassuring that they don't necessarily push the expensive stuff on you either.
Suze's plum sake is a revelation too, not as sickly sweet as some umeshu plum wines you find, but gently fruity.
Mentai potato salad $7.50
Vinegared mackerel sashimi $8.50
Our lighter dishes are served first, including mackerel sashimi, marinated in vinegar so its oiliness is subdued. It almost reminds me of white anchovies. The tang of vinegar whets our appetites for more.
Salmon sashimi $15.50
We delve into a plate of salmon sashimi, thick and plump with a melting sweetness in the mouth.
Ox tongue $10
Ox tongue is in the hands of experts here. Thin slices are chargrilled until just cooked but still juicy. A squeeze of fresh lemon highlights its smoky undertones.
Okura tempura $9
Okra often gets a bad rap for being unpleasantly slimy and sticky. Deep-fried in a brittle armour of batter, okra tempura will convert every skeptic. There's a gentle crunch and then a squeak as your teeth hits the sweet green okra within. I loved this dish but okay I lied. Suze still wasn't convinced.
Grilled mackerel $12
Grilled mackerel allows us to appreciate the oils released in the fish when cooked. It's grilled so the skin takes on a caramelised char and we take our time to pick our way through the generous portion.
Conger eel $8.50
Conger eel isn't something you often find in Sydney. The anago conger eel lives in saltwater, as opposed to the more common freshwater unagi eel. There's no thick and sweet soy marinade across the top. The delicate fillet is simply grilled allowing you to appreciate the taste of the flesh on its own. It's not as rich nor oily as unagi but there's a subtle and rewarding sweetness that comes through.
Onigiri rice ball $5
Sure you can order a bowl of rice on the side, but I'm happier with onigiri, a triangular shaped rice-ball clutched tightly within a sheet of nori seaweed. There's nothing embedded in this one - just a sprinkle of sesame seeds across the top - but I relish the little pause between mouthfuls of dishes, savouring the combination of umami seaweed and sticky rice.
Homemade dumpling gyoza $10
Homemade dumpling gyoza come hot from the frypan, their thin skins tinted all shades of brown. The filling is packed with pork and cabbage, best dunked in a light soy sauce for maximum enjoyment.
Soft bones $8
Soft bones is a celebration of cartilage, specifically the little ridge you find at the top of the chicken breast. These are battered and deep-fried until golden. They'd make the ideal beer snack with their sturdy crunch. They're satisfyingly good.
Karaage fried chicken $11
Of course there was fried chicken too. The karaage uses chicken thigh, hot and succulent beneath their batter coating.
We take our time to enjoy our dinner, watching as the dining room steadily fills with locals. There's a cosy sense of comfort about the place.
And yep, she was right. The food did taste better with sake.
Nom Japanese Restaurant
166 Riley Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9332 1156
Monday to Saturday 6pm-9pm
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12/06/2014 11:12:00 pm