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.
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
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.
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
Blowtorching anago eel
Blowtorched anago eel wrapped around rice
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
Uni sea urchin roe
Uni sea urchin roe sushi
Uni sea urchin roe sushi
The miso soup is one of the surprising highlights, filled with fatty slices of of cooked salmon.
Shimaji striped mackerel sushi
Blowtorching salmon belly
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
Adding sweet soy to blowtorched scallops
Scallops are blowtorched and drizzled with a sweet soy glaze.
Aburi scallop sushi
John Dory liver
Eating John Dory liver is a new one for most of us.
John Dory sushi with its liver
Eating the John Dory alongside a slice of its own liver adds an almost pate-like richness.
Slicing the tuna fillet
Akami tuna sushi
The deep red intensity of akami tuna merits several seconds of admiration before it's eaten.
Chutoro tuna sushi
And we all thoughtfully appreciate the intense fattiness of chutoro, allowing it to literally melt into a puddle on the tongue.
Making incisions in the ika raw squid
Slicing cod roe
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 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 or red gurrnard sushi
Peeling the skins off shima aji yellowtail mackerel
Shima aji yellowtail mackerel sushi ready to be served
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.
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.
Slicing the saba mackerel bou-sushi
Saba mackerel bou-sushi or pressed sushi
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
The tamagoyaki is steaming hot with a sweetness that almost tips it into the dessert category.
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 [Facebook page]
Shop 10, Crows Nest Plaza
103 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest
Wednesday to Saturday 11am-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
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3/14/2016 07:36:00 pm