What are the similarities between Italian and Japanese cooking?
In many ways, we can draw parallels between these two great cuisines of the world. The Italian ravioli has the equivalent of a wonton or the huge variety of Chinese dumplings such as gow gee, wor tip and the like. Spaghetti or linguine are similar to hokkien and rice noodles or Japanese udon or soba.
But what do you get when you have a Japanese chef, who has worked in the kitchen of an iconic Sydney Italian like Buon Ricordo headed by non other than Armando Percuoco?
Restaurant 16 is a combination of head chef Toru Ryu‘s Japanese background with fresh and innovative Italian style cooking and his experience working along side chef Percuoco.
Situated in the heart of the dining strip along Military road in Neutral Bay, this smallish space is compactly designed where some of its wines are displayed at the window while an L-shaped dining room makes this place a cosy nook for a date night in the North Shore.
However, I suspect diners that come here every evening are not heavy on the romance but more to sample what’s on the menu.
We are here with a party of six friends and I have been recommended by restaurateur Terry Nishiura, owner of Jurin and HaNa-Jurin restaurants in Crows Nest this is one of his favourite Italian restaurant in Sydney.
There is something about a Japanese chef cooking French or Italian in Sydney. The precision, creativity and passion tells me that we are on to something decent tonight.
A scallop with balsamic and pesto arrives like a piece of art by Jackson Pollock. Black strips of balsamic is juxtaposed against bright green dollops of pesto.
I always marvel at restaurants that manage to cook scallops perfectly – golden brown and crusty on the outside and gently rare and succulent inside. The tangy balsamic, pesto and tomato reduction are elegant, subtle and complemented the tender scallops beautifully.
One of the signatures of Restaurant 16 is the cured trout with konbu seaweed, lemon, lime, orange zest and extra virgin olive oil.
This dish arrives with six finely sliced piece of fish sprinkled with finely grated zest and a couple of crispy croutons.
It is difficult to go far wrong with citrusy flavours against the soft and gentle flavours of the fish and this course is one delicious mouthful.
We brought three bottles of wine to accompany the food and a 2000 Petaluma riesling from my cellar comes out in a golden coloured honey that tasted sweet and rounded from years of cellaring.
A Chateau Rollan de By 2005 is elegant with beautiful flavours of ripened berries and layers of subtle complexity.
A linguine with scallops and borttarga reeks of home cooking with the added salty complexity of the fish roe. The scallops are soft and succulent while the pasta is al dente. The sauce makes this special because it has all the flavours of an aromatic seafood dish.
A pappardelle with beef ragu looks hearty with a generous sprinkle of parmesan on the top. This is a beautiful winter dish because it is warming where flavoursome and tender pieces of beef go so well with broad pasta ribbons.
A spatchcock arrives golden brown and a little crispy from the oven. We pry it open to see some stuffed creamy risotto. The savoury sauce is full of flavour from the meat and it becomes a wonderful accompaniment for the meat and rice.
Although I prefer my steaks and their sauce separated, the balsamic sauce on the medallion of fillet beef gives the meat a subtle tang that works well with the tender and succulent fillets.
Desserts are a treat and a chocolate mousse with berries sauce is soft, fluffy with all the devilish decadence of good chocolate without being overly heavy.
Chef Toru Ryu comes out to chat with us after our meal to greet us and tell us about the menu where freshness and innovative cooking is the cornerstones of his food philosophy.
This is a beautiful meal and I can’t help but think the creativity of Sydney’s chefs and the similarities between Asian and Italian cuisines will sprout more cutting edge dishes that combine traditional flavours with fresh innovative cooking.
So dear readers, which is your favourite Japanese restaurant in Sydney?
236 Military road, Neutral Bay
Tel: + 61 2 9909 0160
Monday – Saturday 6pm – 10.30pm (last order 9.30pm)
Sundays & Public Holidays closed