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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sokyo at The Star sushi omakase, Pyrmont

Sushi chef Takashi Sano at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont

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 at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
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 at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
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.

Housemade pickled ginger at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
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.

Snapper, sand whiting, alfonso kinmedai and aged yellow fin tuna nigiri sushi at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
[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 .

Sushi chef Takashi Sano making nigiri sushi at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
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.

Ootoro tuna belly, aburi scampi, ocean trout and kingfish belly nigiri sushi at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
[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.

Sushi chef Takashi Sano garnishing Tasmanian uni sea urchin nigiri sushi at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
Sano-san garnishing the Tasmanian uni sea urchin

Tasmanian uni sea urchin, aburi scallop, marinated scallop abductor and raw cuttlefish sushi at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
[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.

Cream cheese with salted crumbed kombu inside seared scallops at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
Adding secret pockets of cream cheese with salted crumbed kombu to the seared scallop

Shimi saba mackerel with kombu nigiri sushi at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
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.

Sushi chef Takashi Sano making nigiri sushi at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
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.

Chef Takashi Sano blowtorching scamp, aburi scampi, aburi salmon belly and kani miso crab brain sushi at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
[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.

Chef Takashi Sano adding uni sea urchin roe to gunkan maki battleship sushi at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
Sano-san adding uni sea urchin roe to gunkan maki battleship sushi

Salmon roe, uni sea urchin roe and raw cuttlefish gunkan maki battleship sushi at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
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.

Sushi chef Takashi Sano slicing ootoro tuna belly at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
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 nigiri sushi at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont
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.

Tamago at Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont

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 at The Star, Pyrmont
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 at The Star, Pyrmont
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!

Sokyo on Urbanspoon

Sokyo Japanese Restaurant
Level G, The Darling at The Star
80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9657 9161

Opening hours:
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
20 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 11/20/2014 12:27:00 am


  • At 11/20/2014 7:30 am, Anonymous john | heneedsfood said…

    I feel cleansed just looking at all of that deliciousness. What a wonderful meal!

  • At 11/20/2014 7:55 am, Blogger MAB vs Food said…

    Sushi omakase by Sano san is quite an experience isn't it? I couldn't speak highly enough of it myself. I was absolutely mindblown by all the sea urchin, tuna and scampi when I went :D

  • At 11/20/2014 9:10 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Big happy birthday (in advance!) I love sushi (specifically raw fish) and it's something I'm missing a lot these days. I'd definitely go back for the tuna belly twice too & the Tamago!!!

  • At 11/20/2014 9:53 am, Anonymous Martine @ Chompchomp said…

    Happy birthday beautiful! Looks like you kicked off the celebrations in style, everything looked top quality. Enjoy the rest of your birthday foodie events xxxxx

  • At 11/20/2014 9:59 am, Anonymous Rachel @ Reality Chick said…

    I love that place. Been quite a few times for special occasions; my only complaint is the food is too good and the serves are too small hehe :)

    Must get there again soon... Mmmm!!! Hope all's well with you and Happy b'day X

  • At 11/20/2014 10:21 am, Blogger OohLookBel said…

    Happy birthday, and what a brilliant meal! I love Sokyo and will definitely try the omakase at the sushi bar next time.

  • At 11/20/2014 10:35 am, Anonymous Isaac (@iFat23) said…

    Happy belated, Helen!

    Sokyo is just awesome. You have the regular menu, breakfast and omakase. Just a myriad of reasons as to why people should visit.

  • At 11/20/2014 10:45 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Best seats in the house! That tamago looks and sounds wondrously strange - I thought it was a sponge petit four at first glance!

  • At 11/20/2014 11:36 am, Blogger Jacq said…

    I've been waiting for your post about this! Everything looks so good but I'm seriously salivating over that ootoro...

  • At 11/20/2014 4:22 pm, Blogger Choc Chip Uru @ Go Bake Yourself said…

    Happy Belated Birthday! You certainly know how to spend it in style :D
    Sokyo, I have read and heard so much about it! Wonderful choice, your photos are mouthwatering :D

    Choc Chip Uru

  • At 11/20/2014 11:02 pm, Anonymous Gourmet Getaways said…

    18 pieces of sushi, OMG!!! But I think with sushi plated so well and looking that good, I guess I'll finish it with you. Awesome shots!

    Julie & Alesah
    Gourmet Getaways xx

  • At 11/21/2014 9:27 am, Anonymous naleśniki said…

    Lovely! Can’t wait for the updated crust recipe.

  • At 11/21/2014 10:31 am, Anonymous ChopinandMysaucepan said…

    Dear Helen,

    Happy birthday and best wishes to you!

    The sushi looks absolutely brilliant though I have not been on a double date on my birthday before.

  • At 11/21/2014 12:00 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…


  • At 11/21/2014 9:48 pm, Anonymous Hotly Spiced said…

    It really is excellent, isn't it. I loved my night at Sokyo. It's a fantastic 'special occasion' restaurant and I can't wait to dine there again. Like you, I also enjoy watching the show - something that's not possible in very many restaurants at all xx

  • At 11/22/2014 2:41 am, Anonymous Sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    Oh wow, what an amazing meal at Sokyo. I had no idea this was possible. I think I salivated right through that whole post!

  • At 11/22/2014 9:06 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Happy Birthday Helen!

    Those pieces of sushi look delish. That's seriously one awesome dinner.

  • At 11/22/2014 10:19 pm, Anonymous Amanda@ChewTown said…

    You know you are sort of famous in food writing circles... I believe they even study your work sometimes ;) With lines like "an intriguing tangle of toothsome but tender morsels" I don't blame them. In other news I adore tamago, and it sounds like this is one I need to try.

  • At 11/23/2014 12:08 am, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    Part of the appeal has got to be not knowing what you'll be getting, though knowing it will be the freshest chef's selection of the day.

    Happy birthday!

  • At 11/28/2014 6:01 pm, Anonymous Amanda @ Gourmanda said…

    I'd love to eat 'omakase' style at Sokyo - leave it to the experts to feed you I say!


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