Sydney’s Japanese food scene has always been alive and well, but right now it’s absolutely thriving.
Whether you’re salivating over sashimi, searching for saké or needing nigiri, Sydney’s inner-city suburbs are peppered with authentic, new world and fusion-style Japanese restaurants to satiate your taste buds. From Surry Hills to Potts Point and down the pebbled alleyways of the Rocks, here are ten of the best Japanese restaurants in Sydney.
Cho Cho San
Inspired by the lively drinking culture they witnessed while visiting Japan, owners Jonathan Barthelmess and Sam Christie sought to bring the izakaya style of dining to MacLeay St in Potts Point. At Cho Cho San, the colour palette is neutral and considered, with a long stone dining table beckoning you to take a seat. The menu is as intriguing as it is mouth-watering, and though everything is worth trying, you shouldn’t leave without sampling the wagyu sirloin with mustard and wasabi. Or the charcoal chicken with sansho pepper. Or the prawns with kombu butter. Or the now-iconic matcha soft serve. Actually, we could be here for a while.
Based on the yakitori restaurants in Fukuoka, Japan, Chaco Bar is home to some of Sydney’s best ramen. That might sound like a strong claim, but ask around, and the consensus is that this Darlinghurst den is serving up the best in the biz. As for what makes Chaco such a unique place to dine, director Keita Abe says it’s “because of the amount of thought and care we put into everything we do. From menu to décor— Chaco represents Japanese culture in a way that is true to itself and doesn’t try to be anything else.” Can’t argue with that.
Surry Hills, Barangaroo
When you think of Japanese food, burgers rarely come to mind. Yet here we are, lining up to get a table at Bar Ume, which features a menu full of Japanese meets American-style burgers. There’s the signature Ume Burger with wagyu mince sauce, the fish katsu burger with Japanese tartare sauce, and even a concoction with bacon. Wash it all down with an ice-cold Asahi and you’ve found yourself your new favourite neighbourhood burger joint.
According to co-owner Alan Wong, “Every element of Kuro is driven by innovation and precision, from the seemingly understated interiors layered with intricate detail and ambience through to the menu uniting familiar Japanese flavours with stellar Australian produce. It’s one of those venues that continues to surprise and delight with every dining experience”, and anyone who’s been would agree. In the morning, Kent Street’s Kuro offers house-roasted coffee and baked treats, before fusing
Australian ingredients and Japanese techniques for their delicious dinner service. It’s also impossible to not mention the incredible architecture and design of the space, with 56 illuminated oak beams framing the room from floor to ceiling. Pretty impressive stuff.
There are no two ways about it: Tetsuya’s is a Sydney institution. It’s been offering high-end Japanese food with a French twist to locals and tourists for thirty years, and it’ll likely continue to do so for another thirty. For the last 19 of those years, Tetsuya’s kitchen has sat in a refurbished heritage-listed site on Kent St, serving a unique degustation menu based around natural seasonal flavours for $240 per person. And once that famous confit of ocean trout hits your buds, you’ll understand why it’s worth every penny.
Don’t let its location inside The Star casino deter you, because once you enter this shiny-black-fish-scale-walled-Japanese-inspired-restaurant, (say that three times) the only thing you’re going to worry about is whether you ordered enough sashimi. Add some tempura and high-quality meats cooked over the robata grill, and you’ve got yourself a feast fit for Tokyo.
When we asked the good folks at Toko to explain their vibe, they said that “Toko is a feeling, a flavour, a family. Japanese dining and Izakaya-feeling. Food for your mood. A place you want to be.” And honestly? That is such a vibe. A curved wall and ceiling made entirely of wood sets the scene inside this Surry Hills eatery, where Australian seafood takes centre-stage and sharing is celebrated. Sushi aside, Toko also cooks up some of the best wagyu beef in town, with an impressive wine list to boot.
If you’re looking for a cool, calm and collected spot to snack on sushi and sake, head to Waterloo Street in Surry Hills. This hatted Japanese restaurant changed ownership earlier this year, with Kenji Maenaka selling it to Koji Shibata—but rest assured, it’s still in good hands. Dimly lit with sake-lined walls, Izakaya Fujiyama exudes an authentic Japanese Izakaya vibe while boasting a warm and inviting atmosphere. Menu must-haves include the wagyu cheek buns and tsukune skewers, and if sake isn’t your thing, ask to see the Japanese whiskey list.
Nikkei Bar And Restaurant
Nikkei Bar & Restaurant is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. It will be re-opening on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 2 July 2020 with bookings essential.
Without wanting to give too much away, Nikkei Bar and Restaurant is all about Nikkei food. Combining Japanese techniques and flavours with Peruvian produce,
Nikkei is the cuisine of the Japanese-Peruvians that dates back to the late 1890s. At this comfy and cosy spot on Commonwealth St, everything is made to be shared— which could be problematic once you taste the beef short rib with miso and garlic corn puree or the southern calamari with salsa criolla and roasted banana. Yep, you’re definitely going to want to keep those to yourself.
Saké Restaurant And Bar
The Rocks, Double Bay, Manly
Down the pebbled laneways of The Rocks, on the wharf at Manly and at Double Bay's impressive Intercontinental Hotel, you’ll find Saké Restaurant and Bar, a fine dining option known for its unique spin on traditional Japanese flavours. Loud, bustling and always busy, Saké offers incredible sushi and nigiri, made with seafood so fresh it’s almost flipping on the plate. But it's Saké’s spectacular desserts that really have people talking, most notably—a coconut cream "dragon egg" and miso caramel chocolate fondant that once tasted, can never be forgotten.
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Image credit: Daryl Kong, Cho Cho San, Bar Ume, Megann Evans, Toko, Daryl Kong, Nikkei, Saké