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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Umi Kaiten-Zushi, Haymarket Chinatown

Karaage fried chicken at Umi Kaiten-Zushi

So it's no secret. Fried chicken is my weakness. Southern fried chicken, Korean fried chicken, Japanese karaage... if it's deep fried poultry then I want a piece of it. Maybe three.

What makes good fried chicken? Surely crunchy batter is a must. The kind that makes a splintering noise like you've eating a handful of potato crisps. An armour of crunch protecting a core of juicy tender chicken. And seasoning. Whether it's in the marinade or the batter, you need that hit of salt as the glory of deep fried chicken skin hits your tastebuds.

Sushi train at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Sushi train

And yet who would expect to find good karaage at a sushi restaurant? It's lunchtime at Umi Kaiten-Zushi - you know it, the one with super long fish tank opposite the Capitol Theatre - and the brightly lit dining room is packed with hungry patrons. Getting on the chairs is quite the ceremony, with staff having to physically push your high stool into place at the snaking sushi train.

Sushi lunch set menu at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Sushi lunch set specials

It's easy to miss the sushi lunch set menu, but it's there behind the soy sauce bottle, shoved into a perspex stand. There are eleven dishes to choose from, accompanied with your choice of two plates from the sushi train and either udon soup, soba soup or rice, miso and salad.

Unagi eel sushi at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Unagi eel and tamago egg sushi $5.50

Flag down a passing staff member and while you're waiting for your mains, it's free rein at the sushi train, a mind-boggling assortment of seafood happily trundling past for your eating pleasure.

Raw ebi prawn nigiri sushi at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Raw ebi prawn nigiri sushi $4.50

The unagi eel is buttery soft, glazed with a sticky soy and mirin marinade, but I always end up veering towards the raw seafood, like raw ebi prawns that are fragrantly sweet. Staring at the blue veins is always mesmerising too.

Raw scallop nigiri sushi at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Hotate scallop nigiri sushi $4.50

Giant hotate, or raw scallops are butterflied over pillows of rice, their melting delicacy best savoured slowly.

Teriyaki chicken at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Teriyaki chicken sushi lunch set $14 
- includes any two plates from sushi train (surcharge for silver) and udon/soba/rice

The teriyaki chicken set is a large thigh fillet generously doused with sauce, helped by a side serving of shredded red and white raw cabbage.

Udon noodles at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Udon noodles

The side of udon noodles comes in a large bowl, garnished with two slices of fish cake and a sprinkle of seaweed and tempura crumbs.

Karaage fried chicken at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Karaage chicken sushi lunch set $14 
- includes any two plates from sushi train (surcharge for silver) and udon/soba/rice

And then there's the karaage. It only takes one earth-shattering bite for my dining companion to whirl around and say "was that you?!"

This is possibly the crunchiest karaage I've ever had, and not at the expense of moist chicken. It's not overly oily, and perhaps there's almost an even ratio of batter to chicken, but in my books this isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially when there's tentsuyu dipping sauce on the side, a mix of dashi, mirin and soy.

Soba noodles at Umi Kaiten-Zushi

I had the soba noodles, a huddle of green tea noodles in a clear broth that helps clear the palate between mouthfuls of deep fried chicken gluttony.

Sushi train at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Sushi chefs at Umi Kaiten-Zushi

If you can't make it to Umi Kaiten-Zushi for lunch, Monday and Tuesday nights are perfect for those on a budget, when all sushi plates are $3.50. It's a sea of pink plates, with a couple of blue $4.50 plates for those with cash to burn.

 Sushi train at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Sushi train at Umi Kaiten-Zushi

Sushi train at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Rolling salmon and avocado around sushi rice

Sitting near the prep station gives you a birds eye view of all the sushi action, as the chefs work quietly and efficiently.

Seared scallop sushi at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Seared scallops with black tobiko flying fish roe $3.50

We work our way through a smorgasboard of offerings, steadily stacking our empty plates into a teetering tower throughout the night.

Raw scallops at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Raw scallops with salmon roe and green tobiko flying fish roe $4.50

There are scallops served raw or seared, and an abundance of tobiko flying fish roe are like champagne bubbles of brine.

Salmon at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Salmon and black tobiko flying fish roe $3.50

Surf clam sushi at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Surf clam $3.50

Surf clam is always a little chewy but it's such a pretty morsel, the white flesh graduating to a deep corally-red colour.

Spider roll soft shell crab at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Spider roll soft shell crab and avocado $3.50

It's easy to see how the spider roll got its name. The tangle of soft shell crab legs looks a little menacing from afar, but a dab of wasabi will show that crab who's boss!

Blow torching salmon at Umi Kaiten-Zushi

I have this exact blowtorch but I always forget to use it to make aburi sushi at home. The lick of flames on fresh raw seafood gives a smoky char that can only make things better.

Aburi salmon inside out roll at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Aburi salmon inside out roll with raw salmon, avocado and cream cheese $3.50

The fattiness of salmon always stands up well against a naked flame, the oil glistening on the surface and the flesh melting in the mouth.

Natto hand roll at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Natto fermented soy bean hand roll $3.50

If you've yet to experience the joy of natto, or fermented soy beans, then a hand roll is one of your best introductions. Rice and seaweed provide some distraction from the funky fermentation that is natto, a slimy mass that is as precious to Japanese as Vegemite is to Australians. Outsiders rarely get it, but those that persist will become fervent fans.

Teriyaki chicken with lotus root chips at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Teriyaki chicken with lotus root chips $3.50

You can order specific sushi dishes off the a la carte menu too. The main attraction for the teriyaki chicken roll was the promise of lotus root chips that sandwiches it. It's like eating a crazy sushi hamburger but it's more a win for novelty than anything else.

Raw scampi sushi at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Raw scampi sushi $4.50

It's the raw seafood that's really the star though. Raw scampi is one of life's treasures, sweeter than prawn and softer than a newborn's cheek.

Raw squid with salmon roe at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Raw squid with salmon and salmon roe $4.50

And raw squid has a silky smoothness that provides tactile satisfaction. The scoring of the squid makes this easy to chew. Popping the salmon roe one by one so the brine bursts on the tongue never grows old either.

Aquarium at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Fish tank and sushi train

The backdrop of the giant fish tank is both calming and entertaining, especially when you start to recognise and track individual fish throughout the duration of your meal. There's a huge assortment of fish in the tank and sure it's a little weird eating sashimi as you watch its distant cousin swimming past but hey, that's when you tuck into the karaage, right?

Aquarium at Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Hello fish

Umi Kaiten-Zushi Haymarket Chinatown

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Umi Kaiten-Zushi
Shop 1, Lower Ground Floor, Sydney Central

477 Pitt Street, Haymarket Chinatown, Sydney
(corner Hay Street, opposite Harry's Pies cart at the Capitol Theatre)
Tel: +61 (02) 9281 2006
Opening hours:

Monday to Friday 11.30am-2.30pm and 5.30pm-10pm
Saturday and Sunday 12pm-3pm and 5.30pm-10pm

The $3.50 sushi special applies on Monday and Tuesday nights and everyday 2.30pm-5.30pm (correct as at July 7, 2012 - call the restaurant direct to double check the latest).

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Japanese - Busshari, Potts Point
Japanese - Iiza, Newtown
22 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/07/2012 01:53:00 am


  • At 6/07/2012 2:06 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    HAHA hello fishy! *eats fishy* *stares guiltily at fishy* hello karaage!

  • At 6/07/2012 8:10 am, Blogger Ibyang said…

    the fried chicken looks mouthwatering. will check this out when i pass by capitol square area.

  • At 6/07/2012 8:12 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    Lol, you and your fried chicken! I also don't mind a bit of fried chicken goodness but right now I'm a little more keen on those seared scallops. Just look at them glistening!

  • At 6/07/2012 9:24 am, Anonymous tania@mykitchenstories said…

    Oh yes would have to agree with John those scallops look fantastic

  • At 6/07/2012 11:18 am, Blogger Lilia said…

    Have you try chicken karaage which was marinated using mirin then deep fried? Tasted the salty deep fried batter then hit the sweet moist chicken? Yumm...

  • At 6/07/2012 11:44 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    I love fried chicken more than life itself! Will keep this place in mind when I see a show at the Capitol Theatre later in the year. :-)

  • At 6/07/2012 12:46 pm, Anonymous Maureen said…

    You got me at "a huddle of noodles". I love your writing and the photos make me so hungry.

    Congratulations on being listed in the top ten Australian Food Blogs by Sheknows.com.au!

  • At 6/07/2012 1:21 pm, Anonymous Eha said…

    What fantastic sushi - the place sure is on my bucket list when next in Sydney. Had a wonderful laugh looking at the raw acampi sushi!! 'Don't you dare eat me!' :) !

  • At 6/07/2012 1:42 pm, Anonymous Sara - Belly Rumbles said…

    The lunch time set is great value. Oh how I <3 karage, but everything looks really fantastic.

  • At 6/07/2012 1:48 pm, Blogger Mel said…

    I found it a bit...offputting too sitting eating Sushi whilst the siblings of aforementioned Sushi were watching me. Lotus Chip Sushi Sambo - seems like a genius idea!

  • At 6/07/2012 5:22 pm, Anonymous Ipomen Scarlet said…

    My policy is always - when given a choice - go with the fried option!

    That chicken looks amazing. There's a place in Melbourne I used to go to regularly - Silky Apple - that did an amazing salt-and-pepper style fried chicken. Don't know if they're still doing it though.

    It was the antithesis of hip, and must have put all its energy into making things delicious :)


  • At 6/07/2012 11:00 pm, Anonymous Anna @ The Littlest Anchovy said…

    Nice review! I have been craving Japanese at the moment and with such a glowing report on the karage, I am definitely going to have to try here soon.

  • At 6/08/2012 10:17 am, Anonymous Amelia said…

    These photos looked so good I actually went there last night - it was great! Loved the variety...so many more options than the average usual sushi train.

  • At 6/08/2012 11:33 am, Blogger the dainty baker said…

    Ive been past this place so many times and i have not had the chance to try it!! whats worse is im craving jap atm too.. this post is torture! i want! lol those fish are so cute!

  • At 6/08/2012 5:17 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    I think we may be food twins - I love, love, LOVE fried chicken and sushi and sashimi too! Looks fabulous.

    (Just quietly I have a big weakness for KFC too... mmm... greasy). :D

    xox Sarah

  • At 6/09/2012 8:30 am, Anonymous Chopinand @ ChopinandMysaucepan said…

    Dear Helen,

    All the $3.50 sushi looks so fresh and is a good incentive during their less busy times. Like you I love fried chicken too and the current KFC promo of $9.95 for 9 pieces on Tuesdays has been constantly in the back of my mind!

  • At 6/09/2012 8:44 pm, Anonymous gaby @ lateraleating said…

    I haven't seen natto in a sushi train... I have never had it but wouldn't mind trying it, and you're right: probably a sushi roll is the way to go the first time.

  • At 6/10/2012 2:12 pm, Anonymous Craig Hind said…

    LOL, the scampi made me laugh.

    The way it's holding its body looks like it's saying "Noooo, don't eat me...." :-)

  • At 6/11/2012 5:24 pm, Anonymous Vivian - vxdollface said…

    That's pretty good value for lunch! The boy and I used to come here a lot for uni lunch and we named one of the yellow fish, Mango :)

  • At 6/11/2012 9:39 pm, Anonymous gastronomous anonymous said…

    OMG!!!! that fried chicken... YUM! it is my weakness too!

  • At 6/13/2012 2:42 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Your photos are simply breathtaking, ridiculously beautiful! And your writing also, just looks amazing. You make something so simple seem so gorgeous!

  • At 6/13/2012 9:57 am, Anonymous Tina @ bitemeshowme said…

    them two fish look so funny in that photo! i must admit fried chicken is my weakness also. Well, it's the boys fault as he is the biggest fried chicken lover, ever!


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