“I always try to develop very strong relationships with my seafood suppliers to build trust and goodwill.”
- Terry Nishiura, owner of Jurin & HaNa-JuRin Japanese restaurants, Crows Nest
Sydney is blessed with some of the finest Japanese restaurants in the world, boasting ocean fresh seafood from daily hauls from the Sydney Fish Markets in Pyrmont. Being a Sydney diner for many years, I believe we have never had it this good as far as good quality Japanese restaurants are concerned.
New sushi outlets, casual ramen and Japanese noodle bars seem to be popping up at every major dining precinct in Sydney and gone are the days when Aussie kids think of sushi as rice wrapped with carbon paper. Not only are sushi and sashimi healthy, the abundance of fresh seafood in Sydney has meant that we should take freshness for granted at Japanese restaurants. Indeed, the high standard of Japanese food in Sydney is reflective of how competitive restaurants have become in offering quality and value.
This week, I go behind the scenes and talk to one of Sydney’s leading Japanese restaurateurs to find out what makes a good Japanese restaurant great.
Interview with Terry Nishiura, owner of Jurin and HaNa-JuRin
Chopinand: You are the owner of two Japanese restaurants, Jurin and HaNa-JuRin. How did you get started in the food business?
TN: My parents were operating a small ramen restaurant in Kobe. Therefore, I took a keen interest in food even from an early age. Although I was involved in an advertising and marketing role in my early working life, I knew that the food business would be my eventual calling.
Chopinand: Notwithstanding so many issues to consider when operating a food business, many people aspire to own a café or restaurant.
Can you share with our readers a few of your biggest challenges in running a food business?
TN: One of our biggest challenges in operating a food business remains customer satisfaction.
We try to ensure that what we are offering on the menu meets what our customers are looking for.
We spend a lot of effort on training our existing staff and hiring the right people to do the right jobs.
Chopinand: Apart from your own restaurants, do you have a favourite Japanese restaurant in Sydney?
TN: One of my favourite casual Japanese restaurant in Sydney is Gumshara Ramen at the Eating World food court in Chinatown.
This is because the ramen stock is flavoursome without any added flavouring or MSG. The owner prides his soup to be tonkotsu ramen or pork bone soup that has been simmered for hours to break down the bone marrow and tendons. This process gives the broth a hearty pork flavour and a thicker consistency.
Chopinand: Sydneysiders are lucky when it comes to fresh seafood in such abundance. We almost take for granted the freshness of seafood at Japanese restaurants in Sydney.
How do you ensure the freshness of the seafood that you serve at your restaurants?
TN: Firstly, I ensure that I cultivate a very strong business relationship with all my seafood suppliers. It is only when a strong relationship is established that trust can follow.
I place a lot of trust on my suppliers to deliver the freshest seafood because I don’t attend seafood auctions at Sydney’s fish markets. It is too early for me to wake up and go bidding! (He laughs out loud).
Chopinand: Sydney has never had so many good Japanese restaurants as there are now.
What do you see as your main competitive edge and challenges for your restaurants?
TN: We place a lot of reliance on fresh ingredients delivering naturally fresh tastes and flavours, especially seafood.
We do not add any MSG to our food and I believe this to be our strong competitive edge.
Chopinand: Both your restaurants in the suburb of Crows Nest are literally 50 metres from each other along Pacific Highway.
Is there a compelling reason for opening two very similar Japanese restaurants so close together in the same suburb?
(He thinks for a while and gives me a smile and a chuckle). Crows Nest is a very competitive suburb for restaurateurs because there are many good restaurants here. My older restaurant Jurin is a more casual sushi bar with daily specials on the menu board. This caters to more casual diners looking for simple Japanese food.
HaNa-JuRin on the other hand, is a little bit more upmarket where I offer items like wagyu beef and other favourite Japanese delicacies.
This newer restaurant caters to another segment of the market where diners are looking for a little bit more sophistication.
Chopinand: Your menu has a selection of sushi, sashimi, teppanyaki and grilled items.
What are the most popular dishes among the customers at your restaurants?
TN: Sashimi and sushi are always popular because it is traditional Japanese food.
On top of this, our wagyu steak and okonomiyaki are equally popular with customers.
Chopinand: Do you have a favourite cuisine apart from Japanese food?
TN: I like Chinese, Italian and French cuisine.
I love the Hainanese chicken rice at Ginger & Spice restaurant in Neutral Bay. I also love the pasta served by my Japanese friend who has opened Restaurant 16 just a few doors away in Neutral Bay.
Chopinand: Do you cook at home and if so, what is your favourite food to cook?
(He laughs out loud at my question). I don’t cook because I like to relax at home and spend time with family and friends. I get my wife to cook and I love Japanese curry udon.
~~~End of Interview~~~
First anniversary party and sushi demonstration
We were recently at Hana-JuRin for its first anniversary celebration party. It was a Monday evening and the restaurant is closed to cater for this private function.
A 50kg bluefin tuna greets us upon arrival for a sushi and sashimi demonstration for the evening.
What is normally the restaurant’s teppanyaki cooktop has been transformed into giant prep table where a giant bluefin tuna costing upwards of $1,500 is laying on a massive chopping board at the mercy of sushi chefs wielding razor sharp knives of all different shapes and dimensions.
On the word “go”, they meticulously sliced off the gills and collar of the fish, removing the entire head of the fish in one swift slice of a long and thin knife which more resembles the razor sharp sword of a samurai warrior.
The sushi chefs at Hana-JuRin look young, savvy and skillful at what they do. Invited guests were eager to take a closer look of how a giant tuna would be transformed into delicate slices of sushi and sashimi within minutes right before their eyes.
We marvel at the skills of these chefs where their deft skills are slicing off the giant tuna faster than we can figure out the anatomy of the fish as they toss and turn the carcass around.
The severed head of the bluefin tuna is massive and is displayed with its collar and pectoral fins on a massive plate to the amusement of the guests.
Each segment of the 50kg fish is being sliced off in a systematic manner, revealing the blood red flesh of the fish.
Invited guests were quick to whip out their cameras, happily snapping away as the skillful chefs carved out the entire fish within twenty minutes.
Each piece of this fresh bluefin tuna is deep red with a shiny gloss that illuminates its freshness and is beckoning us to sample its succulent and tender flavours.
Christening of a drum of sake
The sushi demonstration was never short of its theatrics but Terry is the epitome of a hospitable restaurateur where he officiates the free flow of chilled sake with a stroke of Japanese wooden mallet on a giant sake drum.
I am told this ritual of offering sake signifies good health and fortune to guests as well as a sign of respect to Japanese forefathers.
I like chilled sake with sushi and sashimi because it is refreshing especially in summer.
The chilled sake is served in square lacquered drinking cups where drinking from the corners is probably a wise and only option if you don’t want to spill sake all over your shirt unless you prefer sipping sake with a straw.
Japanese beers such as Kirin and Asahi are dry and I find this style of beer to be perfect with seafood.
In contrast to the square sake cups, we are also offered one of the most tricky soft-drinks in the Ramune carbonated soft drink where a straw is needed unless you want to wear this soft drink on your clothes.
A selection of red, white and sparkling wines are on offer to complement a beautiful spread of Japanese canapes, finger food, sushi and sashimi prepared by the chefs.
We sample an assortment of sushi, sashimi, deep fried dumplings, prawn fritters and spring rolls.
The chefs and kitchen brigade at Hana-JuRin are friendly and jovial just like their leader. They obviouosly take a lot of pride in their work and what I have sampled tonight is testimony to their deft skills and dedication.
There is no better way to finish a Japanese meal with either some hot Japanese green tea or refreshing Japanese green tea ice-cream.
This ice-cream is always subtle and creamy with delicate flavours of green tea. I am not a fan but this ice-cream is nice and cool finish to what is otherwise a great evening hosted by one of the most hospitable restaurateurs in Sydney.
So dear readers, do you have a favourite Japanese restaurant in your city or in Sydney?
Note: ChopinandMysaucepan dined as guests of Hana-JuRin
Shop 1, 300 Pacific Highway
Crows Nest 2065
New South Wales
(02) 9966 5833
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