Back in Sydney and with babysitters on tap I was keen to have a rare night out and catch up with my girlfriend (and guest GB blogger) Jacqueline. So on a balmy summer eve we drove into The Rocks, parked just before the Harbor Bridge and hiked it past the revelers at Lowenbrau Beer Café and The Argyle.
One look at the 2 braless yet perky hostesses as you enter the restaurant and you get the impression that this is where the beautiful chic people come to mingle. We arrive early and take a seat in the bar area, where a lovely young bartender comes over, introduces himself and gives us tips on the cocktails. A definite must try is the Shibuya Tiger (Tanqueray Gin, Grand Marnier, caramel, cinnamon, kaffir lime and passionfruit).
We were soon shown to our seats at the bar around the great open kitchen, with a nice view of all the chefs in action including the good-looking taco sashimi chef Jure who seemed to be a favourite with the waitresses (cant imagine why!). Highly recommend reserving these seats, we got to watch each and every dish prepared, all checked thoroughly by the head chef as he barked a generic ‘bella/bello’ at his bevy of chefs wearing matching karate kid headgear.
With so many options for a-la-carte we opted for the most expensive ‘chef’s selection’ banquet menu, which at $110 pp isn’t bad value. So here’s a look at our menu pictorially:
1. Sashimi of salmon, tuna and kingfish
2. Tuna tasting plate – a mix of tuna sushi maki, tuna tataki & tuna tacos, served with chilled Kozaemon Junmai sake shots
3. Butterfish lettuce cups – grilled miso-marinated butterfish pieces topped with crunchy kataifi & served in lettuce cups
4. Octopus carpaccio – tender slices of steamed QLD octopus served with jalapeno dressing
5. Popcorn shrimp – bite-sized prawn tempura pieces tossed with creamy spicy sauce
6. Scampi tempura – crunchy tempura scampi tails with sweet ponzu, coriander & jalapeño slices
7. Wagyu teriyaki – marble score 7 wagyu beef sirloin, cooked medium-rare & served on sautéed shiitake & buckwheat with yakiniku sauce
8. Chocolate fondant – warm chocolate pudding with white sesame ice-cream & black sesame tuile Highlights included the popcorn shrimp signature dish.
A typical Nobu throwback, tender pieces of prawn in a crunchy tempura batter coated in a salty, lemony, chilli mayonnaise had me picking the crumbs out of the bowl with my chopsticks (though my dinner companion thinks the batter was too thick).
Sashimi was the best I have had outside of Japan, the salmon and tuna like eating a rare tender steak, though the kingfish was average. The tuna tasting plate was also a masterpiece, with the tuna tacos (diced sashimi filled hard corn shells) a real triumph of fusion food. It had our neighbours leaning over for a closer look, admitting to us that they had a serious case of food envy! Not so successful was the butterfish, although nice and meaty with an interesting Kataifi (middle Eastern sweet) topping, the miso marinade was a massive let down – more a wet sauce than the unciious caramalised intensity that is the Nobu signature miso cod. Another minor gripe was the octopus carpaccio, which we received 5 pieces of, poor form for a shared banquet for 2 people.
Another area that was a little disappointing was the wait staff. They didn’t seem to have a good grasp of the menu, just rattling of each course exactly as described on the menu, even when pressed for further information. A couple of the dishes were also out of sequence. The dessert was truly worth saving room for and a great end to the meal. The chocolate fondant was absolutely divine, and the gooey red bean centre gave a nice Japanese twist. Heavenly! The next day I rang my hubby back in Melbourne to tell him about the great find. The response? “Oh yeah Sake, I used to take my clients there, they get a kick out of the two hostesses at the door”. Hmmm.
- The one hatted Sake has been around since 2009, taking over the previous event space of The Argyle in a beautiful heritage sandstone building.
- Head chef Presland graduated from a business degree in QLD before spending 2 years in a small Japanese town Yamagata to immerse himself in the culture and food, working in the kitchen of a 350 year old traditional riyokan (Japanese inn) where he had to stay hidden in the kitchen because he was a ‘geijin’ (white man). Later in 2000 he was invited by hotelier Justin Hemmes to open the now famous Sushi e in his new Establishment hotel complex where he worked for 5 years.
- Presland (a Junior Masterchef Guest Chef) has also previously worked for Nobu Atlantis, and the Nobuesque modern Japanese flavour definitely shines through on the menu, with favourites like Popcorn shrimp and miso fish