In the past 20 years or so, Japanese food in Australia has moved from exotic to mainstream, with sushi bars in every food court turning out healthy fast food. But beyond sushi, there are also excellent restaurants offering the full range of Japanese cuisine – from casual izakaya-style (the Japanese equivalent of Aussie pubs), via well-executed classics and modern interpretations, to tiny spots where counter seating is the focus. These five are just the tip of the very exciting iceberg.
Yakitori Jin, Haberfield
Whatever part of the chook you fancy, from wing and breast to cartilage (via liver, heart and gizzard) it’s grilled on a stick over charcoal in this casual izakaya. Their gyozas are a cut above, as is the sake and syochu list. Grilled rice balls with jin soup is a refreshing finish.
Izakaya Fujiyama, Surry Hills
True to its name, this casual spot has full-flavoured food perfect alongside something from the wall of sake, Japanese beer or whisky, including gelatinous, flaky, primeval-looking grilled tuna jaw and outstanding sushi (love the aburi). Vintage rock & roll soundtrack and kitsch ‘art’ set the scene perfectly.
Jugemu & Shimbashi, Neutral Bay
There’s a lot to like in these twin restaurants. On the right, calm Shimbashi with a daily soba noodle making display; on the left, vibrant Jugemu with the rat-a-tat-tat of teppanyaki chefs cooking okonomi-yaki (savoury pancakes). Between them they cover all the classics then some – try the plum affogato dessert.
Ante Sake Bar, Newtown
Keen to wrap your head around the world of quality sake while enjoying some great Japanese-inspired eats care of chef Jemma Whiteman and listening to some cool vinyl? Pull up a stool at Ante’s long counter, tell sake guru Matt Young what sort of drinks you like and ask him to pour you a flight of sakes to get your journey of discovery started. And order the crispy rice with red pepper butter and bonito flakes!
Raita Noda, Surry Hills
This tiny 8-seat counter, where diners watch every dish being prepared, is a rare find outside Japan. Noda-san’s sashimi knife skills, clever smoking device and various pieces of kitchen wizardry make this as much about theatre as flavour … oh and the soft shell crab taco! Book well ahead and confirm thoroughly for one of the most unusual Japanese Restaurants in Sydney.
Updated 26 January 2024