My husband has abandoned me. To go sailing at Airlie Beach to be precise. So what choice do I have but to fill my schedule with dinners and outings with friends so that I don't feel completely socially isolated. Tonight, I'm catching up with Queen Viv and Miss America at nearby Sushi Samurai in Neutral Bay where there are several Japanese restaurants located. It's a place that has been recommended to me several times, for the freshness of their sushi and sashimi, huge serves and reasonable prices. And like most places that are popular, you need to make a booking, which we are slightly late for.
There are tables outside in the cold as well as tables inside the warmly lit dark wood furnished room (thanks must go to Queen Viv for the photography assistance in the dark room!). It's packed to the brim with customers and tables feel quite tight and close together. It takes a while to get drinks and give our order as the staff fly furiously fast past the tables carrying all manner of enticing looking dishes.
The night starts with an odd note, deep fried uncooked wholemeal pasta spirals with seasoning comes with our drinks. It's like eating crunchy string and we leave this behind hoping that it's not a sign of things to come.
We choose mainly from the specials menu as they look the most unusual and enticing although Miss America baulks at the whole stuffed squid grilled sushi. I'm glad to see Tokyo favourites like Oden and Nankotsu appearing on the menu. It's all incredibly good value with a sashimi platter for 3-4 people at only $25 and the only thing we have difficulty with is narrowing down our choices. There are little Japanese touches on the menu like signs pointing to dishes that are "So Yummy!", "Good Value!" and "Our Best!".
Thankfully whilst the service lags, the kitchen is fast and before we know it our meals have arrived. Our sashimi arrives first. It's a fantastic looking platter with a wide range of sashimi including kingfish, tuna, salmon, scallop, squid and prawn sashimi. One bite into a juicy fresh scallop and I know that I will be coming back for more sashimi. It's the perfect temperature (I sometimes find sashimi too cold) and each piece is so velvety soft and fresh, we're all in raptures. I usually only like salmon sashimi but in this case I adore the kingfish and tuna too and every piece on this gorgeously fresh plate.
The Salt and pepper soft chicken bone arrives, the Nankotsu, one of those great Izakaya foods that tastes so great with beer. Ordinarily I'd ask for some Tabasco to sprinkle on top but the salt and pepper seasoning is a nice substitute. I love the soft crunch of the bones and the fluffy perfectly seasoned batter gives this bone crunch a delicious flavour.
Never one to say no to Wagyu, our Wagyu beef salad is heavenly. Sometimes I find that Thai Beef salads have beef that is too stringy or chewy. This doesn't, the beef perfectly tender and melting in the mouth. Miss America in particular loves this dish.
Our Okonomiyaki comes out on a cast iron hot plate, in an oval shape packed with bean sprouts and all manner of indiscernible vegetables and filling and steam rising from it. I'm not used to this much bean sprout in Okonomiyaki but it's nevertheless deliciously creamy inside although I do prefer the Okonomiyaki from Samurai in Balmain. It gets an enthusiastic response from both Queen Viv and Miss America who have not tried this before.
We wait a little while before the Dragon Roll comes out. Miss America is curious about Eel having not tried it before and granted we might be pushing it by ordering the eel combined with cream cheese but we were lured by the "Our Best!" claim on the menu. We needn't have worried, it's absolutely mouth watering. The cream cheese, often applied too liberally at other Japanese restaurants we've visited, is judiciously portioned in this, giving it a creaminess without screaming "Alert! Cream cheese! Weirdly alien sushi ingredient!!"
After a long respite and because the service is slow, it's about 45 minutes before we order dessert. I'm pleased to see Coffee Jelly, one of my favourite items to have in the sweltering Japanese summer and the Zenzai with ice cream so we order both of these, with three spoons. The coffee jelly which we've ordered with black sesame ice cream is strong and almost like the jelly that I've had in Tokyo although I don't know if the black sesame is quite a good match for it. I prefer it with just cream and the black sesame ice cream has too much smokiness for my taste.
The Zenzai isn't bad but to be honest I preferred the one at Ainoya although the mochi balls are very soft and chewy. The red bean is more soup like here than at Ainoya and the green tea ice cream strongly flavoured. Nevertheless it's still a refreshing end to a great meal. And Mr NQN, you're definitely missing out! ;)
Queen Viv pops off to the ladies room and comes back wide eyed saying "I don't usually say this but you MUST go to the bathroom. It's like the Japanese horror movie 'The Ring'!" and explains that it's dark as dark could be and playing haunting music. Curiousity peaked, I walk in and see that it is indeed very dark with jet black walls and very much "The Ring" looking although I hear jazz music. Miss America who visits after me hears no music. How very odd!
Shop 5/197 Military Road Neutral Bay 2089
Tel: +61 (02) 9953 4059
Open 7 days
12:00pm-3:00pm (last order) Close 3.30pm
5.30pm-10:00 (last order) Close 10:30pm
There is also a branch at Pyrmont:
Shop 1/16-30 Bunn Street Pyrmont
Tel +61 (02) 9518 8852