Wollongong instituion for over thirty years and recommended by some guy on Reddit as the best Japanese food in Wollongong, Roppongi was the first restaurant we ever dined in at in Wollongong following the October 2021 COVID-19 repoening. It didn’t live up to the hype.
DECOR While Roppongi looks quite casual from the outside, its interior is well designed, with plenty of wood panelling and features that lend a more traditional Japanese vibe to the place. There are two separate dining rooms, and after our vaccination records were checked we were lead to a timber floored room where we were instructed to remove our shoes before entering the dining room where we had the option of sitting on the floor, or for the less flexible of us, dangling our legs under the table.
The combination sashimi ($18) was the most impressive dish of the night, with fresh tasting fish and what I think was likely freshly ground wasabi. The real deal.
The vegetable tempura ($14.80) was unexpected. Most of the time when we order vegetable tempura we are given discrete slices of vegetables that have been coated in tempura batter and deep fried. Roppongi’s version was served as clumps of shredded vegetables mashed together, giving it a quality reminiscent of those vague deep fried vegetable patties. Also strange to this dish was that roughly thirty minutes later we were served a bowl of udon soup to go with it, only to have the waiter return after a few more minutes, ask us if we’d touched it, and take it down to the next table. Keep in mind this was only a day after the state started lifting out of its COVID-19 restrictions.
The Vinegared Combination ($12) of vinegar-marinated cucumber and seafoods was quite nice, though I feel they could’ve cleaned the mussels more as I definitely had to spit some beard out of my mouth. On top of this, I felt that the choice to add seafood extender to an otherwise quite nice dish of sea animals was a strange one that kind of cheapened the vibe of the entire dish.
The featured component of the Teppanyaki Beef Rolls ($16.80) was quite nice, with tender juicy beef wrapped around garlic and spring onions. The side component, the stir fried vegetables, were pretty disappointing and reminiscent of something you’d get from a cheap Chinese takeaway, with plenty of low-cost bulk added through onion.
The Chicken Skewers ($8) with onion and capsicum were, as you an see here, a little burnt. The flavour of the soy saue on the chicken was good, but the burntness of the vegetables as well as the reappearance of onion in this dish let it down.
COMMENTS Ultimately I was disappointed. While the sashimi was truly good, the rest of our meal was quite off-kilter, and if this is the best Japanese food that Wollongong has to offer then Sydney is only 70km down the road.
Mikazuki, located at the base of the UWS building in Parramatta, has long suffered from a difficult walk from the train station and a lack of easily accessible nearby parking, both in the context of ongoing construction in the area. The recent completion of the Parramatta Square extension to the Parramatta train station has created a new thoroughfare, leading directly from Westfield (free parking), to the train station, and further on to Mikazuki. In short, it’s much, much easier to access now than it once was.
The small assorted sashimi ($19) was as expected – salmon, akami, kingfish, and I think probably snapper served on a bed of ice. The fish was fresh, however there was nothing particularly special in the cuts or arrangement. One thing that puzzled me was the addition of scallop shells as decoration in the absence of any actual scallop. Why?
The seaweed garlic butter wagyu beef don ($17.50) included a good mix of sweet, tangy, salty, and umami flavours in the one bowl. I was particularly a fan of the onsen egg as well as the bright tasting pickles that added a degree of tang to each bite.
The spicy sashimi tacos (2 for $9) were the reason I actually went to Mikazuki in the first place.. The shells were quite nice and crispy, and the fillings had a pleasant sourness to them. I think they could’ve done without the spicy mayo so as to allow the flavours of the kingfish and salmon to distinguish themselves more.
I thought the prawn and vegetable tempura ($19.50) was as good as any I’ve had in Sydney. I particularly liked the variety of vegetables on offer – although I realise I keep mentioning this about multiple different restaurants. Maybe Hiroba was just abnormally bad.
These Crispy Brussel Sprouts ($14) trick you into thinking that you’re eating something good for you, and it’s only when you bring them home in a takeaway container and look at them again the next day that you realise how drowned in oil they are.
COMMENTS Though I’ve been to Mikazuki six times now (twice in 2018, three times in 2019, and once in 2021) I think that’s more due to the general paucity of good Japanese food in the Parramatta area. It’s strengths are its broad and wide menu, but its weaknesses include its high prices, especially for things like sushi (not pictured) which are better had from nearby Kumiho.
What are the main attractions at Benzin Cafe? (2 marks) People go to Benzin in Dural for one of two reasons. The most important reason, at least for me, is Benzin’s innovative and creative Asian-fusion food menu, cooked with flavours drawn from the owners’ and operators’ East and South East Asian heritage. The second reason, completely separate from the food, is the cafe’s prominence in the local car scene. The cafe is decorated with car parts and racing memorabilia, and for the time being even features a borrowed vintage 911 project car. The cafe also hosts regular cars and coffee mornings, and while both of these fall within my interests I am probably too shy to go to one of these with my stock miata.
2. What did you eat at Benzin Cafe? Would you recommend it? (6 marks)
We had the Brekky Tacos ($18), with pulled beef brisket in gochujang sauce, avocado, small cubes of roast potato, and tomato salsa with a whole perfectly not-too-fried egg in each corn tortilla. These tacos were absolutely packed with flavour and filling, with all elements generous for tortilla size but commensurate with price. The meat was well cooked, not at all dry or stringy, and the flavours were strong but not too strong. The fresh avocado and tomato salsa did well to balance the meatiness, though I wasn’t a big fan of the kind of sad looking low-turgor potato bits, and I didn’t really think they added anything of value to the dish. Overall these were very good tacos – better than though also more expensive than those at Vecino.
The Mushroom Tempura Bowl ($21) was also qutie good. The bowl features tempura mushroom and asparagus atop a bed of quinoa, avocado, cherry tomatoes, kale, corn, cucumber, and sweet potatoes. We optioned this dish with a piece of chicken katsu for an additional $5, though this made the dish worse rather than better. The chicken katsu was a very large piece of chicken breast (great value), however not very well crumbed and a bit overcooked. The rest of the bowl, with its tasty and moist tempura mushrooms bursting with umami flavour was very good. I can recommend this.
The Knefeh French Toast ($20) was a sweet dish that was above and beyond what we should’ve had for two people. Its constituent fruits were lovingly arranged into two symmetrical sides, pre-empting any potential hostility between my girlfriend and me. My favourite part of this dish was the crumble, which was dusted around the dish. The raspberry sorbet was quite good, and the fruits were just fine, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the actual knefeh French toast itself.
Gabriel Coffee is served, befitting the first man to summit Everest.
The Rendang Nachos ($19) were legitimately solid, if a bit sweet. They were priced well, and made for a full and hearty meal on my second visit to Benzin.
3. Would you recommend Benzin to a friend or colleague? (1 mark) Yes. I can recommend Benzin to a friend or colleague. It is a leisurely 15 minute walk from the nearest MX-5 specialist mechanic.
Benzin Cafe 1/242 New Line Rd, Dural NSW 2158 (02) 9653 9370
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