“Digging in with your fingers and sucking the crap out of these prawns is not an option.
It is mandatory in my books.”
Spanish tapas, Middle-eastern tapas, Italian tapas, Greek tapas, dumping bar, wine bar, oyster bar, Japanese sushi bar, pizza bar or noodle bar, the idea of sharing small plates while having drinks has tornado-ed through Sydney the last couple of years.
Be warned, Sydney restaurants are determined to make you to share your food with all your friends.
Apparently it’s one of a dozen or so ‘hot new restaurants’ that has sprouted up around the city according to Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide.
Founder of the highly successful Longrain in trendy Surry Hills, Sam Christie together with chef Jonathan Barthelmess have opened a contemporary Japanese izakaya in trendy Potts Point. Sommelier extraordinaire Charles Leong is the wine architect who will navigate diners around an extensive wine, sake and sochu list.
Throw in young head chef Nic Wong, whose previous gigs include Bodega, Billy Kwong and Ester plus sushi maestro Yukio Moriyama of Ocean Room, there is a who’s who in the kitchen of
C h o C h o S a n
He seems to have lost his senses, abandoning a fondness for red wine whilst developing an obsessive fixation for good whites instead. And in particular, expensive chardonnays.
“She likes a good chardonnay, does she?” I ask the Monk. “What’s her name?” I tease him.
“Huh, what da *&^%+ ?” he mumbles.
“Charmaine, Cherie or a sexy Charlotte … perhaps it’s a sultry Chanel?” I say. “All those names go with chardonnay, don’t you think?”
It’s nice to munch on roasted peanuts and duck fat chips because it goes so well with an icy cold beer but I dread it fills me up by the time ‘real food’ arrives.
Pickled cucumber sprinkled with some roasted white sesame seeds, on the other hand, is appetizing and is making Monk and I more hungry.
I did not expect Potts Point trendites to be gnawing fried chicken on the bone and I was right.
Bite-size fillets of dark and white meat are lightly seasoned. The batter is not the crispiest and the meat is a little dry and bland though passable on the whole. Wasabi mayo gives each piece a creamy zing.
Designed by architect George Livissianis, a long communal table of polished concrete runs the length of the main dining room, morphing into bar dining with its mega line-up of wine, sake, sochu, Japanese whisky and spirits.
With so much solid surface, I’m told the design has a function of absorbing noise through all the holes in the walls and overhead beams.
I have come to really enjoy bar dining recently if there’s just two diners, which is the case today.
The casual vibe and tunnel view of what everyone else is eating adds to the dining experience and there’s a certain feeling of camaraderie sitting next to each other.
Petuna ocean trout with black pepper & wasabi
Petuna ocean trout sashimi is ocean fresh in its deep vibrant orange.
Sprinkled with black pepper, it’s a little different from traditional sashimi when wasabi soy is tinged with a dose of Cho Cho San’s own brand of honey sweetness.
Calamari with lime ponzu
Garnished with chives, bold calamari rings and tentacles are waddling in a shallow pool of lime ponzu sauce.
At first glance, this dish might even pass the check point into an Italian restaurant, masking as grilled calamari with balsamic and olive oil dressing.
But smoky aromas of this calamari signals the first of our Hibachi grill dishes. Call it Japanese if you will. With a sprinkle of spicy shichimi, this calamari with its tangy lime ponzu might even get into a Thai restaurant.
King prawns with kombu butter
Three large king prawns (cover image above) are shelled on one side and grilled to smoky high heavens.
I want to squeeze lime juice onto these little bad boys because the prawn heads are a flavour bomb, having soaked up the savoury kombu butter sauce.
Digging in with your fingers and sucking the crap out of these prawns is not an option, it is mandatory in my books.
See that plate in the background above? The Monk and I were pining some crusty bread to mop up all that delicious butter sauce.
The calamari and king prawns from the Hibachi grill is proving a lethal taste sensation thus far.
Then, two majestic kingfish collars arrive charred on the outside with flaring pectoral fins grilled to a crisp.
A wedge of lime is beckoning me to squeeze its tangy juice onto the fish still steaming hot from the grill.
The succulent and juicy flesh comes apart with a gentle nudge of my chopsticks. I wiggle some fresh wasabi onto the fish, giving the sweet teriyaki a spicy sensation.
Judging by the size of these fish collars, this is a good value dish among the other grill dishes.
Hokkaido scallops with corn & house-cured katsuobushi
Slabs of raw Hokkaido scallops sitting on a pool of mashed corn is the promise of sweetness while finely shaven house-cured katsuobushi and rings of nori puree ensure the balance of umami.
The sweet complexity of corn and scallops is clever though sea salt flakes brought this dish a tad salty.
Soy glazed Angus beef
Soy glazed Angus beef is charred and caramelized with a mouth-watering blush of pink in the middle accompanied by dollops of mustard, wasabi and togarashi.
Aromas of this Angus beef are smoky from the Hibachi grill and each chunky slice is bursting with succulent beefy flavours.
Try adding EITHER a squigle of wasabi OR mustard with a sprinkle of togarashi to your meat. Spicy notes and the savoury sauce tinged with teriyaki sweetness will start to plays beautiful tricks on your taste buds.
It’s a little ironic I had a horror steak at a restaurant just a few blocks away from here just a few evenings ago. As I savour each slice of Angus, it is slowly restoring my faith in Potts Point chefs who enjoy cutting up beef into slices.
Cho Cho Snow
The Monk‘s Cho Cho Snow dessert is a pile of apple custard snowed under by thinly shaven ice and drizzled with sweet ginger syrup.
Cho Cho Sun’s menu brings together small appetizers and raw bar items that include Hiramasa kingfish, tuna, Hokkaido scallops and ocean trout sashimi with an obligatory red meat of beef tataki.
There is a 10-course degustation for $65 but I believe the appeal of this izakaya is obvious. The Hibachi grill is the centre of attention. Our four grilled dishes are vibrant with subtle twists of sweetness and tang on traditional flavour combinations.
Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide’s chief reviewer Terry Durack laments the worst bit about Cho Cho San is they don’t serve sushi.
Well, who cares, when izakaya joints in Japan don’t serve sushi either?
I prefer to say you’re really here to suck the crap out of those grilled king prawns.
So dear readers, would you crave and order sushi in a Japanese izakaya give a choice?
Cho Cho San
73 Macleay street, Potts Point
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9331 6601
Opening hours: Lunch Friday to Sunday from 12pm Dinner Monday to Sunday 6pm – 11pm