A little while ago I decided to start to learn about sake. While I grew up eating Japanese food, as a child sake was just not on the agenda. And so, it was only as an adult that I realised that there are various types of sakes, and nuances for the nose and palate to appreciate, just like in other wine. When I stepped out to start my sake education recently, I got so much more than I expected at the new Sydney ‘hot spot’ TOKO restaurant.
Sake Sommelier Yoshiko Takakura attentively guided me through a sake selection from Kuroushi (Junmai) Toko Bijin (Junmai Ginjo) through to a new discovery of aperitif or dessert lemon sake Yuzu (Junmai). I even learnt to add oak by drinking sake from a box.
But the surprise of the night, had to be the incredible food from the kitchen of Head Chef Regan Porteous. In just a few months since arriving from London, the Gordon Ramsay trained Kiwi chef, has established an incredible repertoire and a tight kitchen brigade.
Izakaya is a traditional Japanese place to eat while you ‘sit with sake’ and offers more substantial food than at a Japanese bar. Not only was the food substantially delicious but Porteous’ modern take on Japanese was well crafted as well as innovative.
I started the evening with sake in another form: The Hakka Martini. Sitting at the bar, in front of the cold food preparation area, I watched the focused staff, pin bone fish by hand, and deftly cut raw fish for sashimi and sushi. My choices? I started with the Seared Beef . I’d go back for this again and again. Moist, tender and blue the meat was enhanced by a dressing of soy, sake, ginger, garlic and braised onion. If I had to choose one dish to work with the cocktail, that would be it. Delicious!
Another winner was the Tuna Tartar with eggplant chips. Eat each on their own, or, scoop the tartar with a chip. Bar food – yes! But so much more… the tartar condiments barley miso created a sweet and salty balance with the fish.
I’m quite a fan of salt and pepper squid. I do declare the Porteous version, Tempura Squid, by far the best I’ve eaten! He shared the secret: chilli and Maldon sea salt in tempura. Though with this simplicity of ingredients, I’m sure the lightness, crispness and flavour has as much to do with touch and timing as ingredients. Served, with a dipping sauce, sour chilli soy, vinegar mirin and dashi (lightly thickened with potato starch).
Two plates of Sushi, wagyu maki then prawns and tuna, accented with the most delicious natural pickled ginger (and of course wasabi). A favourite dish of the night? Hard to pick, perhaps the next dish, demonstrating the Porteous creativity. Global food more than Japanese. Japanese influence and Shishiko inspired. Scallops with Jalapeno, pickled apples, garlic mayo, tenkasa and baby coriander.
If I enjoyed that scallop dish, the next dish also hit the right spot. Rich, thick, caramelised and fulfilling – Black Cod – marinated for three days in Saikyo Miso (mirin, sake, sugar) bbq and lime.
The photo doesn’t do the Pork Belly justice. Pork from Byron Bay, twice cooked for four hours, using soy, sake, mirin and honey. A delightful and tasty skewer. By now I’d learnt there would be a Porteous’ surprise and there was on the side …
Wonderful Mushrooms, another skewer from the grill. The grill also on show as an open kitchen. More delicious treats.
Finally, before a cleansing Spicy Ebi Miso, a surprise from the grill on a predominantly Japanese menu of Lamb Cutlets. While lamb is more Australian (or Kiwi) than Japanese, here Porteous again marries the influences to create his version of global cuisine, using a chilli (saikyo, kojichan, barley) miso marinade for 24 hours. While pickled eggplant on the side provided contrast and colour, I’m told the accompaniment was as an aid to digestion.
The menu at TOKO Restaurant is extensive, and there is so much more I haven’t tried… perhaps another time, or two, or three…
TOKO Restaurant & Bar
490 Crown Street, Sydney NSW Australia
+61 2 9357 6100