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Monday, March 14, 2016

Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest

Chutoro tuna at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest

There's currently a two-month wait to get a table at Sashimi Shinsengumi. Why? For $60 you score an 18-course omakase, a Japanese dining style that translates to "I leave it to you". It's a demonstration of trust in the chef, allowing them to decide what will be served. At Sashimi Shinsengumi, this means an appetiser, fifteen pieces of sushi, soup and dessert.

Group dining at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Front row seats

The biggest surprise about Sashimi Shinsengumi is its location, a narrow shopfront inside Crows Nest Plaza. By day it's a sashimi shop, by night it's converted to a makeshift restaurant.

A row of stools line a series of stainless steel benches (on Monday nights, the venue is used for cooking classes for Cooking for Blokes). Water is provided but you are encouraged to bring your own drinks - alcoholic or non-alcoholic - with no corkage fee.

The single chopping board is where owner and chef Shinji Matsui takes centre stage. Half the fun of the evening is having front row seats to a sushi show, chatting to Matsui-san as he prepares each course. It's taken us two months to get a booking for our group of ten tonight, but it means we have the entire place to ourselves, like a private dinner party with a personal chef.

Oyster, garfish and fried prawn appetiser at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Oyster, garfish and fried prawn appetiser

We kick off with an appetiser plate, a trio of raw oyster, garfish and a pile of crunchy fried prawns. Little touches, like a garnish of crisp asparagus and a carrot slice shaped like a flower, show an impressive level of attention to detail.

Chef Shinji Matsui slicing bass grouper sashimi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Owner and Head Chef Shinji Matsui slicing the bass grouper

Watching Matsui-san slice each fish adds a terrific element of theatre to our meal. It's an ongoing spectacle of precise knifework, hungry flames licking at raw seafood and the delicate finger waltz of nigiri shaping by hand.

Bass grouper sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Bass grouper sushi

Chef Shinji Matsui blowtorching anago eel sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Blowtorching anago eel

Blowtorched anago eel sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Blowtorched anago eel wrapped around rice

Samson sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Samson sushi

Chef Shinji Matsui adding cooked snapper roe to kampachi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Matsui san adding cooked snapper roe to kampachi

Most of our nigiri is served without a soy glaze. We dip our own in saucers of soy sauce, making sure to flip the sushi upside down so the fish - not the rice - is baptised. Wet rice is guaranteed to fall apart and create a mess. The seasoning of the rice varies throughout our meal too as Matusi-san moves from one rice bucket to the next. One round of rice is noticeably cold and soggy but the next round exhibits a better stickiness, albeit still cool rather than warm in temperature.

Some of our sushi is served plain but others come garnished with complementary or contrasting flavours. The clean firmness of kampachi is accented by the salty burst of cooked snapper roe.

Kampachi sushi with cooked snapper roe at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Kampachi sushi with cooked snapper roe

Uni sea urchin roe at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Uni sea urchin roe

Uni sea urchin roe sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Uni sea urchin roe sushi

Uni sea urchin roe sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Uni sea urchin roe sushi

Miso soup at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Miso soup

The miso soup is one of the surprising highlights, filled with fatty slices of of cooked salmon.

Shimaji striped mackerel sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Shimaji striped mackerel sushi

Chef Shinji Matsui blowtorching salmon belly at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Blowtorching salmon belly

Aburi salmon belly sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Aburi salmon belly sushi

There's a lushness of fat in the salmon belly, rendered into liquid by the blow torch so it floods your mouth at first bite.

Ama ebi raw prawn sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Ama ebi raw prawn sushi

Adding sweet soy to blowtorched scallops at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Adding sweet soy to blowtorched scallops

Scallops are blowtorched and drizzled with a sweet soy glaze.

Adding sweet soy to blowtorched scallops at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Aburi scallop sushi

John Dory liver at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
John Dory liver

Eating John Dory liver is a new one for most of us.

John Dory sushi with its liver at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
John Dory sushi with its liver

Eating the John Dory alongside a slice of its own liver adds an almost pate-like richness.

Chef Shinji Matsui slicing the tuna at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Slicing the tuna fillet

Akami tuna sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Akami tuna sushi

The deep red intensity of akami tuna merits several seconds of admiration before it's eaten.

Chutoro tuna at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Chutoro tuna 

Chutoro tuna sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Chutoro tuna sushi

And we all thoughtfully appreciate the intense fattiness of chutoro, allowing it to literally melt into a puddle on the tongue.

Chef Shinji Matsui making cuts into the ika raw squid at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Making incisions in the ika raw squid

Chef Shinji Matsui slicing cod roe at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Slicing cod roe

Ika raw squid sushi with mentaiko cod roe at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Ika raw squid sushi with mentaiko cod roe

Ika, or raw squid, has always been one of my favourites. Here Matsui-san pairs its crunchy stickiness with the salty fishiness of mentaiko cod roe.

Hobo red gurnard cured wih sake and salt at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Hobo or red gurnard cured with sake and salt for a day in kombu seaweed

The hobo, or red gurnard, is unwrapped like a Christmas present from tightly wrapped kombu seaweed. Matsui-san has cured it for a day in a mix of sake and salt, making the flesh firmer and delicately fragranced.

Hobo red gurnard sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Hobo or red gurrnard sushi

Peeling the skin off shima aji yellowtail sashimi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Peeling the skins off shima aji yellowtail mackerel

Shima aji yellowtail sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Shima aji yellowtail mackerel sushi ready to be served

Shima aji yellowtail sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Shima aji yellowtail mackerel sushi 

The shima aji, or yellowtail mackerel, is visually striking, sliced across the top in a grid and then glazed with ginger and garnished with chives.

Chef Shinji Matsui making Kansai-style pressed sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Matsui-san making Kansai-syle pressed sushi

We also get to watch Matsui-san make bou sushi, a style of pressed sushi common in the Kansai region of Japan. The sushi rice is gently placed into a box, covered in nori seaweed and then saba mackerel, and pressed down lightly using the lid.

Chef Shinji Matsui slicing the saba mackerel bou-sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Slicing the saba mackerel bou-sushi

Saba mackerel bou-sushi at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Saba mackerel bou-sushi or pressed sushi

Tamagoyaki omelette block at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Tamagoyaki omelette block

Matsui-san disappears into the rear kitchen for several minutes before re-emerging with a huge block of freshly made tamagoyaki, a rolled omelette made with dashi.

Tamagoyaki omelette square at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Tamagoyaki omelette square

The tamagoyaki is steaming hot with a sweetness that almost tips it into the dessert category.

Fresh mochi rolled in kinako roasted soybean powder at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest
Fresh mochi rolled in kinako roasted soybean powder

But relax. There's a proper dessert too. We each finish with a trio of fresh mochi, warm balls of pounded rice rolled in a nutty snowstorm of roasted soybean powder.

This isn't a high end sushi experience like Sokyo but neither are the prices. What you can count on is a fun night out with friends, especially since you can BYO.

Sashimi Shinsengumi is currently booked out until the end of May but bookings for June (minimum 5 people) should open on April 1. Keep an eye on their Facebook page and note that bookings for May were exhausted in four days.

Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest


Sashimi Shinsengumi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sashimi Shinsengumi [Facebook page]
Shop 10, Crows Nest Plaza
103 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest

Opening hours:
Wednesday to Saturday 11am-7pm
Sunday 12pm-7pm

The omakase chef's choice is currently $60 per person and includes an appetiser, 15 pieces of sushi, miso soup and dessert.

Bookings (for minimum of 5 people) by phone or text to 0402 359 697 or 0434 108 526


Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Omakase - Sokyo at the Star, Pyrmont

17 comments - Add some comment love

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/14/2016 07:36:00 pm


17 Comments:

  • At 3/14/2016 8:16 pm, Anonymous Tania | My Kitchen Stories said…

    Thanks for letting us know Helen sounds fabulous

     
  • At 3/14/2016 10:35 pm, Blogger Jacq said…

    I've been trying to get a booking here for a couple of months now but no luck! I'm not surprised that it's booked out though considering how good value it is. I might have to try calling on the 1st of the month next time

     
  • At 3/14/2016 10:43 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    $60 is a pretty awesome value! That chutoro is calling to meeee

     
  • At 3/15/2016 4:44 am, Blogger 17th stitch said…

    Marvelous article, as always. I wish I didn't live halfway around the world from the wonderful restaurants you write about so lovingly...

     
  • At 3/15/2016 7:36 am, Anonymous John - heneedsfood said…

    Great value, indeed, and a pleasure to watch all of the action right in front of you. Hello sea urchin roe!

     
  • At 3/15/2016 9:23 am, Blogger Petra Becker said…

    I think I'll have to line up...

     
  • At 3/15/2016 10:01 am, Anonymous Monique@The Urban Mum said…

    This is such a superb post thank you Helen. I have been craving a Japanese food experience like the ones we enjoyed in Tokyo and Kyoto earlier this year. I will get my name on the waiting list! nix

     
  • At 3/15/2016 5:06 pm, Anonymous Lee Tran Lam said…

    So glad it was worth the two-month wait! Thanks for the insider view for people who might not get to go (or are not as organised/patient)!

     
  • At 3/15/2016 5:35 pm, Blogger Nicholas Jordan said…


    Great post Helen.

    Is 10 the maximum he can fit in? I wonder if it's just a hobby for Shinji because I can't imagine he makes any money on this unless he's using left over fish from the what he had in the store.

     
  • At 3/16/2016 11:52 am, Anonymous Bianca@forfoodssake said…

    What a fabulous meal, I have a new appreciation for sushi but I think i'd struggle with a lot of the more 'challenging' ingredients.

     
  • At 3/16/2016 4:31 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Nicholas - Not sure about the maximum but I would say 10-12. It's a very affordable meal that I can only presume has been costed accordingly. Given the number of portions required, and the amount of notice required to book, I am sure Matsui-San plans ahead for the amount of sushi needed for dinner. Everything was prepped and ready on trays when we dined.

     
  • At 3/16/2016 5:55 pm, Anonymous Sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    It all looks amazing, and what a bargain! No wonder there is a 2 month waiting list.

     
  • At 3/17/2016 10:13 am, Anonymous Gourmet Getaways said…

    What an interesting concept! I can understand why there is such a long waiting list it sounds and looks amazing.
    I would love to do one of their cooking classes!
    Thanks so much for sharing
    Julie
    Gourmet Getaways

     
  • At 3/18/2016 8:41 am, Blogger Sarah said…

    That looks like an amazing experience!!

    *Starts looking at flights to Sydney for June*...

     
  • At 3/18/2016 12:16 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It's nice to see a thorough honest and genuine review on a posh restaurant like Sokyo. Wondering if you'd have an appetite for home cooked meals takeaway, like on www.hotchamp.com, prepared by home cooking chefs.

     
  • At 3/20/2016 10:48 am, Anonymous Martine @ Chompchomp said…

    I love trusting the chef and letting them fed you! Omakase is one of my fav ways to enjoy Japanese (just dont speak to my waist line!). Each piece of fish looks so perfectly prepared. (PS sorry for my recent absence! xx)

     
  • At 3/22/2016 3:51 am, Anonymous Lesley Pittaway said…

    $60 is awesome value!! And I particularly love the fact it is BYO. Especially given the variety on offer. It all looks so fresh too. Suuuper jealous. The quality of Japanese in London doesn't come close to what we get in Sydney. You are making me homesick :( x

     

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