There was a time, before I paid my own bills, when I would look down on Japanese cuisine cooked by non-Japanese people. What I’ve found, as I’ve become progressively poorer and progressively more well-eaten, is that our Korean colleagues can essentially do most Japanese food just as well, often for a cheaper price. Hukuya, a small Eastwood sushi bar with a wide catchment of clientele, is no exception to this.
Hukuya’s eponymous Hukuya Set ($36) was originally recommended to me by my esteemed intensive care colleague YK back in June 2020. It took nine months and a move of house back into Western Sydney for me to finally go, and let me tell you – the anticipation was worth it. The Hukuya set is a set of Hukuya’s most top-end delights – salmon belly, eel, sea urchin, salmon roe, and scampi. As both my girlfriend and myself are genetically inferior and mildly allergic to raw scampi we asked for the scampi (probably one of the higher cost pieces of the meal) to be substituted – a request that the chef readily granted. The salmon belly pieces were absolutely huge. Though most sushi is normally served in thin slices, the thickness of these salmon belly pieces were special in and of themselves. Each piece had to be eaten in several bites, and the thickness of the cuts necessitated a bit of chewing – normally this would be problematic, but this actually increased mouth transit time, allowing time for the fats to fully melt and be appreciated. The unagi nigiri was similarly excellent. The pieces of eel were again very thick and juicy, cooked just right so that all the oils and fats were on display. This is simply some of the best eel I’ve had ever – either here in Australia or in Japan.
We supplemented our Hukuya Set with the regular sushi and sashimi combination ($24). A strong plate in and of itself, this combination set offers seafood classics with the addition of a small piece of chicken katsu roll. In a stunning turn of events each piece of nigiri had a little dot of wasabi in between the fish and the rice – a rare and pleasant find in Sydney.
The school prawn chips ($8) I thought were only OK. They felt a bit dry, and in my opinion would’ve been better with a bit of dipping sauce.
The tempura set ($21) was wholly adequate, consisting of several pieces of prawn as well as a variety of vegetables. We enjoyed this more than our other recent tempura experience in the area at Hiroba, as the variety of fried things meant that it wasn’t just root vegetable after root vegetable after root vegetable. (Though root vegetable still played a prominent part).
VERDICT Hukuya is some of the best sushi in all of Sydney, at a very reasonable and affordable price. The value on the Hukuya Set is absolutely extraodinary, and I would recommend even Eastern Suburbs dwellers to make the Journey to the West. (Do not get the drink cans, they are $5 each).
It takes good planning, a childhood spent spamming clicks into party quests in MapleStory, and a generous helping of luck to secure a spot at Kuon Omakase, one of Sydney’s newest and at $200, most expensive omakase restaurants. With only two seatings of eight per night, it is an experience so exclusive that multiple senior medical colleagues expressed their dismay at not being to secure a visit for themselves in the weeks leading up to our visit. One of these colleagues even offered to pay a 40% premium to buy one of our seats. Essentially it is Japanese Dorsia.
Executive Chef Hideaki Fukada started the night by introducing us to his lobster friend, who would soon be taken into the back room and slaughtered to produce our first dish of the night: Ise Ebi Sashimi (live lobster) with toro and caviar. Premedicated with loratadine and with adrenaline in pocket, I dug into the sweet, fresh flesh of the lobster, the delicious fatty umami of the tuna belly, and the actually pretty-soft saltiness of the osetra caviar. This was, overall, a good dish to start – even if I was extremely nervous about having an allergic reaction with the first bite of a $240 meal.
Second on the menu were Aomori Hotate, sauteed scallops with butter garlic soy sauce from the Aomori region, on the northernmost part of Honshu. These were lightly flavoured, slightly tougher than I expected, and really didn’t do anything special for me. In fact, they got me a bit worried about the meal to come.
The Traditional Chawanmushi, an egg custard with fish cake, chicken, scallop, prawn, and gingko nut was next – a warm bowl of subtly flavoured goodness. The egg custard was soft and silky, and I felt like I could eat bowls and bowls of it on its own. As for the embedded proteins, the prawn was large and sweet, but unfortunately there is nothing much more to say about the chicken, scallop, or fish cake.
The kusakari tsubodai tatsuta age, fried armorhead served with a slice of okra and a slice of lemon, was really also just fine – though it doesn’t look like armorhead is a commonly eaten fish. The subtle layer of batter helped to seal in the fish’s moisture and sweetness, though at the end of the day this dish didn’t feel much more elevated than any other battered and deep fried fish that I’ve had in my life.
The uni tempura wrapped in shisho leaf was a $20 supplement and one of the best morsels of the night. The Hokkaido sea urchin was plump and creamy, with not even a hint of bitterness. The warmth added to the sea urchin through the tempura process helped make an already melty snack creamier than I could have even imagined. A must get add-on.
This giant abalone was flashed before our eyes five minutes before our next course. This is apparently the amount of time it takes to slice, dice, steam, sauce, and plate abalone.
The steamed abalone in Saikyo miso sauce was generally poorly receieved among our party. Though we appreciated the theatre of seeing the entire abalone, the complex, slightly bitter sauce was certainly very divisive. While I didn’t hate the sauce, I also didn’t really feel like this was anything above and beyond what you’d get in a standard Chinese seafood restaurant.
The Wagyu dish, a full blood MB9+ wagyu strip loin with optional foie gras ($20 supplement), was divine. The juicy meltiness of the beef paired perfectly with the rich umami of the foie gras and the semi-sweet berry sauce. Each bite of this was treasured, though I think it would’ve been just as good without the foie gras.
A fresh yuzu sorbet was offered as our meal transitioned into the nigiri zone.
Executive Chef and Owner Hideaki Fukada, caught in a non-photogenic moment, displaying his box of treasures.
The ten-piece nigiri omakase was overall an excellent journey through the Sydney Fish Markets’ best buys of the day. While it makes for a very poor food blog reading and writing experience for me to not know what exactly each piece was, our friendly chefs also did not make a huge effort to tell us. One tiny bone I have to pick is that the chef made a point to tell us that particular bites cost him $200/kg from the supply side. As a group each paying $240 for much less than a kilogram of fish, it felt like these pricings almost cheapend the experience.
Our selection was essentially an assortment of cuttlefish, o-toro, chu-toro, cuttlefish, calamari, prawn, marinated akami, imperator, tamago, and this most fabulous piece of rich and umami fatty tuna neck that I’ve chosen as the highlight photo. Each bite was a delight, but this piece really took the cake as something special to remember.
Back to our regular programming, this lobster miso soup was delicious and warming. Unfortunately no tools were supplied with which to eat the our lobster friend’s meat, and while I can infer from this that it wasn’t meant to be eaten, this didn’t stop us from trying.
The star of the night and Chef Fukada’s specialty is this amazing temaki of uni, toro, and ikura. Essentially my three favourite sea products into one, each bite of this hand roll was bursting with oceanic umami flavours. Absoutely amazing.
A hot cup of matcha green tea signified the end of our main course, and the beginning of dessert.
Our dessert was a matcha white chocolate mousse, topped with boba with a side of sliced strawberry. Small and delicate, like the rest of our meal.
VERDICT Kuon, by virtue of its exclusivity and unparalleled price-tier, is difficult to consider objectively. Most of the food, especially the bits that involved sea urchin or tuna belly, was certainly very good, however there were still some misses, not just for me, but also for the rest of our group. Comparing it to other Sydney fine dining establishments in this top-tier price range, I’d definitely consider Kuon ($240) to shoot above Quay ($290), and probably also Tetsuya’s ($250). Comparing it to other omakase experiences I’ve had in Sydney, however, I’m not sure that I can definitely say that our meal was worth three times that of our also-excellent omakase experience at Yachiyo ($80). That said, it’s probably the uni-toro-ikura hand roll, and the fact that my partner missed out (dutifully doing a locum in Victoria), that means I’ll probably be back at Kuon in due time.
Kuon Omakase Shop 20/2-58 Little Hay St, Sydney NSW 2000 0488 688 252
PROLOGUE Picture this. It’s my 26th birthday, just about to cap off two years of living and working in Western Sydney. One of the shining highlights of the Deep West has been Kumiho, a small and casual Korean-Japanese restaurant that I had only eaten at once but at which I had savoured each bite. It might not be my girlfriend’s favourite Japanese restaurant in the area (that prize would go to Touka), but it is mien. I ask my girlfriend if we can go. She says no. We order some pizza instead.
It was twelve months later, after a year in the Eastern Suburbs tasting everything that the Inner West and CBD had to offer, that we found ourselves back in Parramatta, looking at apartments and planning our move back to the West. My partner, after some incessant nagging, finally agreed to let me go back to Kumiho and let me tell you – even after all of the Japanese food I’ve had this year, Kumiho is still among the best I’ve ever had.
GENERAL COMMENTS Kumiho is a mixed Korean and Japanese restaurant, providing authentic East Asian cuisine in a relaxed bar and restaurant setting. While it is part of the same group of restaurants as Sushi Hotaru, Wagaya, and Lantern, each venue offers a distinct dining experience – Kumiho being my favourite. Ordering is via tablet located at each table, a signature trait of these restaurants and helpful for those times when you just don’t want to interact with anyone. Service is fast, though it seems that the restaurant only has two jugs of water to share between all of its patrons, and as such you may be waiting for a long time for your water to be refilled. (No doubt at least in part to encourage you to buy drinks).
DISH BY DISH DIVE
The Tuna Tataki ($15) is brilliant. The outside edges are perfectly seared, with the inside retaining its sashimi quality. The tuna is fresh, high quality maguro, and the sauces complimented the flavour of the fish without overpowering it. Much better than the mess of failures in the seared tuna at COOH in Alexandria – a meal I’m still salty about.
The Unagi (Eel) Tempura ($9.20) was freshly fried, light and crispy. Each bite was filled with delicious umami flavours, and though it was smothered mayonnaise and tempura sauce I didn’t find it to be too overflavoured.
The Wagyu Bulgogi Hot Pot ($17) was quite good, and well priced for the size. My one complaint is that while I’m sure it was wagyu as advertised, I don’t think the fact that it was wagyu really added anything to the dish – the meat was not marbled at all.
The white fish with Korean miso handroll ($3.20) was a handroll of mystery fish and sesame leaf. The size was good for the price, but I don’t think either of us really enjoyed the unnamed white fish. Despite this, the rice and seaweed were of good quality. It’s a shame, though, and I think I’d still like to try some of their other handrolls.
The salmon belly nigiri ($2.50 per piece) was only slightly more expensive than the vanilla salmon nigiri, and well worth the upgrade. The salmon belly, complete with invisible flavour cuts, had a great texture and rich flavour. The kingfish belly nigiri ($3 per piece) was good, but unfortunately overshadowed by the salmon belly which provided a more special mouthfeel at a cheaper price (though it’s always good to have variety).
The Chicken Paitan Cloudy Ramen ($16.80) is an unfortunately weak temporary addition to Kumiho’s menu. Offered as part of a trial promotion, the ramen didn’t have much flavour other than salt and pepper. The pieces of chicken, whilst immersed in fluid, were paradoxically dry, and I hope this doesn’t become a permanent fixture on Kumiho’s otherwise good menu.
The Seafood Bowl with Miso Soup ($17) is an excellent chirashi don style deal with an assortment of sashimi (salmon, kingfish, and tuna) atop a bed of sushi rice and topped with some soy and chopped shallots. The pieces of fish were very generous in size and the ratio of fish to rice was on point. The miso soup was a warming and wholesome bonus to an already great bowl. A strong recommendation from me.
Both the Wagyu Skewer ($6) and Pork Belly Skewers ($4) were quite good and much better priced than most other restaurants. The beef was thick cut, not tiny peasant pieces at exorbitant rates as seen at places like Fugetsu and, oddly enough, Kumiho’s sister restaurant Lantern. The pork was thick and juicy, and the supplied white miso dipping sauce added a nice touch of umami. Both were good buys, though the pork was a bit better.
I quite liked the vegetable tempura ($11). Unlike most tempura dishes I’ve had in recent times, Kumiho’s tempura doesn’t take the easy way out by frying a bunch of root vegetables. Instead, Kumiho’s vegetable tempura features 2 pieces each of red capsicum, green capsicum, shittake mushroom, and carrot – a refreshing change, and a great selection of less-starchy vegetables.
The truffle kingfish sashimi ($15) is an experimental dish similar in vein to the tuna tartare, with diced sashimi kingfish, diced avocado, fried garnish, crispy seaweed, and truffled sauce in a large bowl. Whilst my partner liked the truffle flavours and thought that this was the rare dish in which truffle wasn’t just for added for show, I didn’t really like this as much as I did the tuna tartare reviewed above. It just felt a bit plain.
The aburi salmon nigiri (5 pieces for $11) features large, slightly thicker pieces of salmon with minimal sauce. They were great, especially considering that many restaurants make the mistake of drowning their aburi salmon in mayonnaise and tare.
The Korean pork bossam ($15) is a well priced and portioned plate, featuring pieces of fatty and lean pork, kimchi, cabbage, and shiso leaf for wrapping. The salad elements were fresh, and the meat generally well cooked, with the exception of some of the smaller morsels of pork which were a bit dry and overcooked. It is, however, overall a passing dish.
EPILOGUE Kumiho provides great tasting Japanese and Korean food at a great price, with quality comparable to or exceeding its competitors in the Parramatta region. Keep your eyes peeled on this page as it gets updated throughout the year. I’m going to be living 3 kilometres away for the next twelve months. I’ll be sure to go back again and again.
Yachiyo seems to be a true hidden gem of Japanese dining in Sydney. It’s one of, if not the only place where you can get a full 20 – piece omakase without basically any notice. My partner and I were able to book at around noon for a same-day Friday evening omakase dinner. Be careful though – If you try and book too late in the day you won’t be able to – but you normally will be able to book the following day.
Yachiyo has three grades of omakase – we chose the middle grade, “OMAKASE MIX”, which featured a bit of yakitori and tempura as well as the usual yakitori. Here’s what we got for $80 per person (it was quite impressive.)
The first nigiri offered was a piece of tuna belly (toro) of Japanese origin. It was very oily and fatty, as tuna belly should be. My partner really enjoyed this first piece, but I felt like mine unfortunately had a bit of connective tissue to it which decreased the quality of the fish. Overall quite good, but I didn’t like it as much as course 2.
The second piece was nigiri with Australian bluefin tuna, aged for twelve days. This morsel may have been my favourite little morsel of the meal. While not imported from a far away land, I found that the fish in this piece had a perfect texture with no distracting components. It was fatty but not overpoweringly fatty, and the aging really enhanced its umami tuna flavours.
The third serving of the night was an aburi salmon belly nigiri. The fatty salmon belly with the lightly caramelised surface with rendered fats was delicious. The chef Mitsuhiro Yashio told us that each salmon only had enough belly to produce six pieces of this nigiri. Poor salmons.
The aburi kingfish belly nigiri was the fourth piece of the meal, and the first piece that I didn’t feel was very special. Chef talked it up a bit as another rare piece of fish, but despite the slightly higher fattiness of it I found the taste and texture not too different from the commodity aburi kingfish nigiri that you would get at a normal sushi restaurant (for example Sushi Rio or Sushi Hotaru). Still yummy.
Piece 5 was the bluefin tuna temaki (hand roll). I wasn’t sure if there was some natto inside – I thought that’s what I saw and is pictured on the left side of the photo, but I couldn’t really taste it and my partner doubts me. Keeping in the theme of the delicious bluefin tuna, this hand roll was also one of my favourites. I loved the tender fatty tuna, as well as the really high quality seaweed. Delicious.
Our sixth dish was bluefin tuna sashimi in ponzu dressing. For some reason I didn’t like this as much. I think I was more a fan of their fish with rice, as rice generally can provide a bit of a contrast to fatty fish.
The seventh course was royal red prawn nigiri. Unfortunately I made a mistake, and the chef paid the price. I had advised the restaurant that I was allergic to scampi, but that prawns and other crustaceans were OK. Unfortunately the prawn that they served me was the exact same prawn (royal red) that I had at the debacle at MOXHE. While I don’t know if it was the prawn or another piece of mystery seafood that set off my gastrointestinal tract, I didn’t want to leave it to chance. Had it been literally any other prawn I probably would’ve gone for it. My partner ended up having both of the royal red prawn – she said that the texture was similar to MOXHE’s but the taste wasn’t as sweet and not as good – and the chef prepared me a consolation prize at no additional cost. Thank you.
My consolation prize for not being able to really eat the royal red prawn was this piece of salmon sushi. I can’t find any words to describe this form of sushi, but it was basically a piece of fish and some rice sandwiched within a folded piece of seaweed. Almost like a mini, single bite temaki. It was actually quite good, and very thoughtful and nice of the chef to fix what was ultimately my own doing.
Items eight, nine, and ten were assorted yakitori. I will describe them in the order I ate them in.
Item eight, the chicken thigh yakitori, was juicy and flavourful. It was delicious, and exactly how I remember all of the good yakitori that I had in Japan. It is much better than some of the yakitori I’ve had here in Sydney, for example at Lantern by Wagaya.
Item nine, the salmon belly yakitori, was super fatty and delicious. It basically melted in my mouth as soon as I bit into it, and I loved that there was some crispy skin to mix up the texture. My partner didn’t like this that much but she’s wrong – she’s not a big fan of seafood in general (but seems to love sushi!).
Item ten, the skewered pork and ginger meatballs, were less exciting. The chicken and salmon belly yakitori were just so special, but I felt like the meatballs were just meatballs, and perhaps a bit too strongly flavoured for my liking.
Food number eleven was a cuttlefish nigiri with shiso-salt. As I usually eat nigiri with fish-to-tongue, I was quite shocked to receive a strong flavour hit as the shiso-salt coated my tongue with saltiness. Evidently that is not the way to go with this particular piece of sushi. Once I got over the intense saltiness of the salt I started to enjoy the rich, creamy cuttlefish texture and flavours. I don’t normally think of cuttlefish as creamy, but a combination of this particular cuttlefish’s intrinsic qualities, the normally chewy texture of cuttlefish ing eneral, as well as the flavour micro-cuts gave it an extremely creamy flavour that actually lasted a long time in my mouth.
I thought that morsel twelve – hokkaido scallop nigiri with yuzu dressing, was a bit of a letdown. While I’m used to raw scallop being sweet I actually thought this nigiri had a bit of a bitter taste to it.
Dish thirteen was bar cod nigiri. This is the first time I have had bar cod, but to be honest it didn’t leave a lasting impression. It tasted very similar to most other white fish out there.
Number fourteen was tempura zucchini with a prawn-meat filling. Chef warned me about the prawn as I wasn’t keen to eat the earlier prawn sashimi, but I thought I would be ok with this prawn and I was right. I wonder if the potential allergen is something that is denatured by cooking. I enjoyed the tempura – it came fresh from the deep fryer, and the distance from the fryer to us seated at the bar was very limited. This was my first time having tempura zucchini, and I enjoyed it. I’m not sure how common zucchini is as a vegetable to tempura. The prawn meat inside was tasty, but not quite prawn – more like cooked surimi type stuff. Not bad.
Bite fifteen saw the return of the as yet unnamed temaki-but-not-curled, gunkan-but-not-a-boat, now with oyster filling. I enjoyed this oyster – it was not seasoned, unlike the oysters I’ve been having with dressings at Western restaurants, which helped accentuate the mild ocean flavour. My partner, who is not very keen on oysters at all even tried it.
Nibble number sixteen was cooked abalone with rice, sandwiched within a folded nori sheet. Abalone is quite an upscale seafood, but I was sad not to have it raw (not that I’m sure if it’s even possible). If I’m being honest I couldn’t really taste the taste of the abalone, which must have been subtle. Most of the flavour was from the sauced up rice and the nori.
Mouthful seventeen was finally something I could identify – ikura gunkan. This particular gunkan had absolutely massive bulbous salmon roes, larger than any I’ve had in recent memory. Unfortunately though I found these particular roe to too marinated for my personal taste. They had a strong sweet and salty taste that didn’t really leave much of the fresh roe flavour. My partner also criticised it for not being as creamy as she would have liked.
The eighteenth and final fish piece of the meal was a deliciously fatty cooked black cod sushi. It had a flaky, melt in your mouth texture, with strong patagonian toothfish energy. Yum.
Our nineteenth and final morsel was a crunchy matcha dessert, which tasted of white chocolate and rice puffs. A nice, light, but not very showy end to a nice meal.
Overall we had a really good time at Yachiyo. The food was delicious, the price was excellent, and even the table water was filtered. I can highly recommend, and indeed have already recommended Yachiyo to two separate groups of colleagues on the same night that I’ve eaten there. Yum.