It was difficult over the last couple of months to go onto social media without seeing at least one post about Restaurant Sasaki by an excited food blogger. Yu Sasaki is the creator behind the existing Cafe Cre Asion, another hole-in-the-wall establishment renown as one of the best Japanese cafes in Sydney – with an artistry with matcha products that few in Sydney have seen.
Yu Sasaki went on to create Restaurant Sasaki; a restaurant that would encapsulate the essence of his background – the Shimane prefecture in Japan. All wares – crockery, cutlery and the fitout at the restaurant comes from the region, and effectively transports you out of the urban concrete jungle of the back streets of Surry Hills. It’s incredibly homely and warm, and simplistic in its beauty. It’s the attention in the detail – the surgically-precise chopsticks, the handmade hashioki (chopstick rests), the beautiful feel and earthen colours of the crockery. I suddenly miss Japan all the more, and Night Owl and I express to each other how excited we are to return in May next year.
Night Owl selects our beverage, a lightly fermented sake that is quite viscous and slightly grainy in texture, while creamy and lightly perfumed on the palate. We have this served cold. I do adore the ceremony of sake: the beautiful ceramic cups, and how you can never pour your own sake – you can only pour your guest’s.
Scanning the menu, we are intrigued by the good value of the Omakase menu at $80, but enquire as to whether it may be possible to accommodate Night Owl’s crustacean allergy. Their response is an enthusiastic yes, and so we start off our meal with the Oysters and Yuzu – a Pacific oyster each with yuzu, ponzu and shallot oil. It’s deliciously fresh and still full of brine, the yuzu providing a gentle acidity.
The Prawns, Apple & Coriander is a cute little dish of Fremantle sweet prawn ceviche. The natural sweetness of the raw prawns is emphasised by the subtle perfume of the apple. It’s simple and fresh. Night Owl is brought over her replacement dish, being a lightly dressed snapper ceviche. Again, beautifully presented and the toasted white sesame seeds providing a subtle nutty aromatic.
I’m very excited for the next course, the Egg and Crab, being steamed blue swimmer crab egg custard (“Chawanmushi”). It’s silky, sweet and incredibly homely – warming like sunshine on a winter’s morning. I scrape the little cup clean without an ounce of embarrassment.
Night Owl is treated to an unexpectedly satisfying and moreish dish of lightly blanched and buttered white beans with toasted sesame oil and flaked almonds. She’s not a fan of beans usually (I struggle to make her eat them), but devours this down.
The Asparagus, Matcha and Lime is a dish of tempura asparagus, matcha green tea salt and lime. In Japanese cuisine, vegetables are often served with either a dipping sauce or a flavoured salt. I remember in Hakone we had an entire boat of lightly blanched fresh vegetables with a variety of flavoured salts to dip them it – it’s a delicious concept, and unlike a dipping sauce, you retain the full texture of the light tempura crunch.
The Salmon, Fennel & Caraway Seeds is a tartare-style dish of salmon namero, pomelo, fennel and toasted caraway seeds. There’s a nutty slickness to the dish which binds all of the elements together, and both of us would be quite happy having this with a salad to eat every day.
We move onto the gamier, more strongly flavoured dishes at this point. Neither of us can hide our excitement at the Duck, Soy, Leek and Sansho dish of roast duck breast, yam bean duck sausage and grilled leek. It smells absolutely divine, and the duck breast is ridiculously pink and juicy, ringed with a layer of fragrant fat. The sausage is by no means left behind, flavoursome with the caramelised flavour of the leek and beautifully soft. This was my favourite standout dish of the evening.
We watch as one of the waiters carefully mixes together the pot of rice to serve Today’s rice, dotted with segments of pork belly and shiitake mushroom. It reminds of the Chinese-style claypot rice.
We are fit to burst by this point, and groan with a mixture of enthusiasm and regret when the last course arrives: Beef, Red Wine, Miso and Potato – braised beef cheek and potato mash, if you will. It melts apart exactly as a heavenly slow-cooked meat should, full of the strong flavours that the miso and red wine have coaxed out of the gelatinous flesh. Have a spoonful of this with the most buttery, elastic mashed potato you’ve ever had and you’ve well and truly died and gone to heaven.
To our intense regret we were not able to finish all of this dish, as we were also preoccupied with Today’s Soup, a chunky white miso soup filled with dried bean curd, vegetables, and konnyaku – a type of jelly made from a kind of potato/yam similar to taro. It’s a moreish and delicious soup and reminds me of the soup made in the opening credits of Netflix’s Midnight Diner – gosh I can’t wait to go back to Japan!
It rolls around to dessert time, and we are invited to select an item each from the menu. Night Owl selects the Red Miso Chocolate Mousse, which is an intensely-flavoured, dense quenelle made to be savoured slowly. I order the Caramel and Nuts after hearing all about it everywhere. It’s a cherry blossom mould of a rice wafer enclosing a soy caramel, praline nuts and chilled caramel mousse – gone in one satisfying bite.
We are regretful that we weren’t able to finish our incredible meal, but as we get ready to leave we are reassured by our waiter that the lighter spring menu is to come out soon, so hopefully next time we will be able to finish all of our food! We laugh as we don our coats and head out of the alley, re-emerging back onto the hubbub of the Sydney CBD evening. Sasaki is a world away from home, and I have little doubt we will return for another taste of Shimane.
102/21 Alberta Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 8068 9774