“There is little choice but to close my eyes
and savour each sinful piece of pork belly as it slowly melts away in my mouth”
Born and raised in San Francisco, Chase Kojima is the Executive Chef and founder of Sokyo, one of a select few signature restaurants at The Star in Sydney.
Leading a team of chefs in creating a contemporary Japanese menu, Chef Kojima is passionate about experimenting with new cooking techniques to showcase the finest of fresh Australian produce.
Before opening Sokyo in November 2011, he led the kitchens of the iconic Nobu restaurant group. After four years in Las Vegas working under Nobu Matsuhisa, he circled the Nobu restaurant sphere in Dubai, London and Los Angeles before settling as Executive Chef at Nobu Bahamas.
His passion for food started at a young age under the tutelage of his father, Sachio Kojima, a talented chef and owner of the renowned Kabuto Sushi Restaurant in San Francisco. He learnt the craft of traditional Japanese cuisine and has an extensive knowledge of seafood where the strong connection with the sea came from his grandfather, a fisherman from Hokkaido in Japan.
It is perhaps his DNA that has led him to Sydney, one of the most beautiful harbour cities in the world so similar to his mother city of San Francisco.
And in true spirit of his new Aussie homeland, he has created the hero dish of Moreton Bay bug sashimi with Vegemite croutons, burnt butter mayo and passionfruit jelly.
Music with nouveau Japanese cuisine
Wave performed by Tadao Hayashi (1939 – 2001)
Japanese harpist Tadao Hayashi was most notable for his Fingertrip albums in the 1970′s where his arrangements created a fresh new approach to iconic jazz standards at the time.
Wave is an iconic song composed by legendary Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim who’s most famous works include The Girl from Ipanema, one of the most recorded bossa nova standards of all time. Composed in 1967, Wave was featured by Hayashi in his Fingertrip II album released in 1979.
Hayashi’s arrangement is breezy and after 35 years, I find it is still fresh and vibrant as the nouveau Japanese sushi at Sokyo, The Star in Sydney.
(Listening tip: Use a set of good headphones)
So put on a set of good headphones, click on the video above and let me take you into the nouveau Japanese culinary world of Sydney’s Chase Kojima.
Sokyo Lounge, The Star, Sydney
One of a few signature restaurants at The Star casino, Sokyo Lounge is a stylish and elegant haunt for happy hour or pre-dinner drinks.
You can choose to mingle by the long bar or chill out at the lounge outside the restaurant.
Cocktails take on fresh seasonal ingredients and are mix with unique Japanese twists. Flavours are subtle preludes to the dishes of the restaurant.
Sokyo, The Star, Sydney
Fish scale, hanging ropes along the walls and windows are predominant motifs of a modernist decor in the main dining room of Sokyo.
Upon arrival at the restaurant, we are ushered into a stylish yet intimate private dining room by Jean-Baptiste Robert, General Manager of Sokyo at The Star.
JB, as he is affectionately known to regular clientele is our host for lunch today.
Mysaucepan and I are seated with the Head of Public Relations at The Star, an Access PR senior executive and esteemed fellow food bloggers ~ Not Quite Nigella, Wholesome Cook, Grab Your Fork and Chocolatesuze.
JB starts us off with a glass of NV “R” de Ruinart Champagne.
‘Non vintage’ or NV for champagne and sparkling wines means it is a combination of a few of the best vintages of a particular vineyard. This champagne is toasty, nutty and dry with all the hallmarks of a good glass of bubbly and a delightful prelude to our lunch.
Nouveau Japanese cuisine of Chase Kojima
Sokyo is the confluence of the casual lifestyle of Sydney and the vibrant buzz of Tokyo. The menu marries traditional Japanese cooking techniques with the vibrant flavours of fresh Australian produce.
This lunch is hosted by Chase Kojima to showcase his innovative style and flavour.
Sokyo is awarded One Chef’s Hat in Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide 2014.
Kingfish miso ceviche
Working with legendary chef Nobu Matsuhisa may be Chef Kojima‘s inspiration for our first course.
Nobu’s trademark of pairing green chilli with raw fish is showcased by a kingfish miso ceviche arriving in mortar-like stone bowls.
Sweet and savoury miso is matched with tender, spicy notes of green chilli while a filigree of crispy deep-fried potato provides textural contrast with the kingfish.
Whether precise knife skills or an innovative Japanese kitchen invention for wispy thin slivers of potato crisps, this dish is clever from different angles. Let alone textural contrast, the subtle taste of potato is in harmony with the delicate flavour of seafood.
Seared Maguro tuna tataki
Slices of Maguro tuna tataki preciously red and raw in the middle are garlanded with colourful edible flowers, pickled mushrooms, asparagus, smoked ponzu and translucent molecules of ginger gel.
What brings this dish together is the gentle tang from a pool of carbonized leek aioli beneath the slices of fish.
JB explains that an Ama no To Junmai Daijingo 35 is subtle and restrained in flavour.
The number ’35′ on the label means the rice grains used for making this premium Japanese sake is no more that 35% of its original size, meaning at least 65% of the rice grain has been milled away. For comparison, regular table sake has a range of up to 74, meaning its rice grains are no more than 74% of its original size.
Slightly fragrant, this sake has a gentle sweetness though it is crisp, refined and does not overpower the delicate sushi flavours.
The World of Truffles
Throughout August, each of The Star’s signature restaurants will showcase black truffles sourced from a distinct region in Australia.
Black truffles form under the soil of hazelnut and oak trees in a symbiotic relationship with the tree roots. More extensively cultivated in Australia, New Zealand and North America, truffles require a cold climate and dry, free-draining soil.
And today, we are here to sample, among other dishes, Sokyo’s Truffle Menu that tantalizingly pairs seafood, Iberico jamon and Wagyu with the precious ‘black gold’.
Chase Toro Toro
Chase Toro Toro is bluefin tuna belly, white sea urchin sushi wrapped with black nori and topped with generous shavings of black truffle.
One of the best compliments you can give a sushi master is to pick up and eat his creations with your fingers. Only sashimi demands the etiquette of chopsticks. But with this creation, I could imagine a potentially messy affair with chopsticks although I humbly rate my own handling skills to be above average. A piece has already tipped over from the uneven curl of the nori sheets even though they are served on a concave-shaped platter.
So I pick up a piece of Chase Toro Toro with my fingers and pop the whole thing into my mouth. Immediately, the delicately crisp nori begins to crumble around the salty sweet taste of sea urchin. The toro did not seem as fat as it should be but delicate for earthy truffle aromas to come through.
Chef Kojima comes into the room to introduce each dish despite JB and another dedicated head waiter doing an excellent job navigating us through the intricacies of his culinary creations.
He tells us about his hunting trip for black truffle with local producers north of Launceston in Tasmania, famed for producing some of the finest ‘black gold’ in Australia.
Snapper and spanner crab spicy soy
Slivers of snapper sashimi and spanner crab are peeking from beneath thin petals of radish shavings and micro herbs.
Chef Kojima is speaking the language of contemporary Japanese with these radish discs that add a gentle bite to the delicate texture of snapper and crab.
“You don’t need soy sauce for this sushi” JB politely offers.
For me, these morsels looks too precious for a dipping sauce anyway. The spicy soy, if any, is very subtle and what I taste more is the tang from vinaigrette and baby capers. Small rings of deep fried shallots add a crisp, bittersweet dimension.
Sauvignon blanc from Australia and New Zealand have been doing it tough in recent years.
Whether it’s the grassy, asparagus style of Western Australia’s Margaret River or a more fruit-driven one from Central Otago in New Zealand that might be heading out the wine fashion window, I know Sydneysiders are thumbing their noses up on this varietal. Myself included.
But I detect honey and fresh ripened melons on the nose in a 2011 Te Koko Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Coupled with strong hints of butterscotch and oak, you might even mistake this drop for a pseudo chardonnay. Paired with Sokyo’s seafood and fresh flavours, JB‘s choice is spot on because it’s a marriage that is unlikely to end in a divorce.
It’s an expensive sauvignon blanc but if it’s good sauvignon blanc you are looking for in a restaurant, I’d recommend this one.
Tempura Moreton Bay bug
Any Japanese restaurant worth its salt has an extensive tempura menu.
At Sokyo, tempura covers a range of seafood and vegetable that loves swimming in the deep-fryer ~ red snapper, barramundi, cuttlefish, Moreton Bay bug, asparagus, oyster mushroom and pumpkin. Tempura onion will be equated with run-of-the mill Japanese and fast food chains and probably omitted because we are in high-end Japanese territory.
Traditional Japanese restaurants would dictate a mixture of dashi stock, mirin and soy as dipping sauce. Chef Kojima offers creative options of apple aioli, chilli vinegar, ponzu and even a Latin-inspired poblano sauce.
The tempura Moreton Bay bug is the most popular tempura dish at Sokyo. Its sweet flesh coated with a feathery light batter contrasts well with the pickled green papaya and pomelo salad with the sambal mayo and black pepper amazu dipping sauces. I prefer the spicy mayo as a change from the traditional.
“The secret to a light batter is the higher water content in the batter, which evaporates when cooked” JB explains. ”It’s great on the lips but a pain for the tempura chef as it splatters when dropped into hot oil” he adds.
Tempura jamon is actually small florets of tempura cauliflower wrapped with premium Iberico jamon, yuzu hollandaise and black truffle shavings.
The little cauliflower florets are crisp and I love jamon for its bold salty, fatty, melt-in-your mouth goodness. Together, they work quite well since the tempura is subtle. But when you invite a tangy yuzu hollandaise and truffle shavings to this party, there is tension in the house.
As connoisseurs will attest, the black truffle likes to shine when others around him are subtle. And today, it is his party too. So when a bold and handsome character like Spanish jamon and a young Pan-Asian lass like yuzu hollandaise are also jostling for attention at this party, the black truffle is upset. He becomes more submissive because these two live wires have crashed his party.
A 2013 Pierre-Marie Chermette Les Griottes Beaujolais is floral with hints of cherries and black pepper.
Characterized by its gamay varietal, this wine is light and easy drinking, a halfway point to complement our sushi, jamon and our next course.
Kurobuta pork belly
Kurobuta pork belly lollipops have been twice cooked to bring succulence to a melt-in-your-mouth level.
Perhaps sous vide for a few hours then gently charred with a sweet sauce, the smoky aromas are distinct and addictive.
Sansho flavours and mustard aioli are elegant and restrained.
The little wooden skewer slides out from the meat like a hot knife cutting into a knob of cold butter. There is little choice but to close my eyes and savour each sinful piece of pork belly as it slowly melts away in my mouth.
You may mistake translucent pieces in this skewer to be pork belly fat but those logs of daikon will offer some welcome relief to your arteries.
Caramelized miso toothfish, Japanese salsa, cucumber salad
Nobu’s miso cod must be one of the most famous creations in contemporary Japanese cuisine.
Here, the cod is replaced with Alaskan toothfish, perhaps the only worthy alternative since its white and milky flesh is another melt-in-the-mouth number.
One look at the deep golden brown glaze on the fish is enough for me to decide eating the Japanese salsa and cucumber salad on their own first and leave the best to the last. The sweetness of miso complements this soft textured fish like a marriage made in heaven.
Wagyu oyster blade with a marble beef score of 5+ is medium rare and sliced teppanyaki style served with garlic chips, fresh salad leaves and black truffle champagne vinaigrette.
Chef Kojima comes into the room to introduce this dish and personally adds black truffle shavings onto the beef.
The meat is succulent with bold beefy flavours and the garlic chips make a traditional teppanyaki classic. Personally, more garlic chips instead of the prized shavings would have been good since truffle aromas are being overwhelmed by the beef.
Black truffle gets along with fat such as butter, cream and cheese like a house on fire. Given a choice, I would prefer a decadent knob of truffle butter melting on this Wagyu beef over fresh shavings.
Sokyo’s black truffle menu ~ Our Verdict
The black truffle is king in a dish and other ingredients should always bow to him.
For me, those earthy truffle aromas are best against a relatively bland and neutral platform, which is why it is so good when shaved onto humble scrambled eggs or tossed with a simple pasta and olive oil.
So, I think Chef Kojima might be doing a little too much with his truffle menu. Flavours are good with seafood but when paired with stronger flavoured meats such as cured jamon and Wagyu beef, truffle aromas are not only lost, they are wasted.
I am surprised Chef Kojima is not using these shavings over cold soba noodles topped with ikura. Perhaps a warm chawan mushi platter adorned with the freshest variety of mushrooms from the winter season would make the perfect blank canvass for his truffle artistry.
It may not be as commercially lucrative with jamon and Wagyu but from a taste and pairing perspective, I can think of many beautiful truffle creations arising from a slow-steamed Japanese egg custard.
Chef selection of traditional nigiri
A selection of traditional nigiri arrives with the smooth and gentle taste of a Otokoyama Man’s Mountain sake.
The finest Australian seafood is on display in this platter. Bluefin and kingfish sushi from South Australia cannot be any fresher.
Flavours are clean and works beautifully with each sip of sake.
Salmon belly is smoky from being blow-torched while scampi brushed with light teriyaki sauce is sweet and succulent.
Mysaucepan‘s favourite is the spicy tuna with crispy rice.
Nigiri sushi that I have not seen in other Japanese restaurant, a slice of raw tuna sits on a block of rice browned from being toasted with a dollop of spicy mayo on top.
Special strawberry meringue (Off-menu special)
Chef Kojima presents three desserts to showcase the sweet artistry of his pastry chefs.
Marinated strawberries in balsamic with a sheep’s milk sorbet are refreshing while strawberry meringue is light and crumbly around toasted milk powder. Salad burnet, pineapple sage and baby shiso lift the flavours of this dessert.
A 2006 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Ice Wine is a deep rusty red after eight long years in its bottle.
It is releasing sweet strawberry and raspberry aromas as it swirls in my glass. Again, this sticky is a wonderful companion for our strawberry dessert and one of the most elegant stickies I have tasted.
Mysaucepan has been to the Inniskillin winery at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada and observed how these parcels of fruit are harvested and reminisces on their priceless drops. Ice wines are made from grapes harvested when they are frozen on the vine in wintry Canadian conditions. The sugars are highly concentrated, resulting in a smooth and richly sweet elixir.
Sokyo Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc is a French dessert of puréed, sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream, resembling a snow-capped mountain hence its name.
Sokyo Mont Blanc is chestnut and chocolate puree sandwiched by two generous walls of shaved black truffle. Earthy truffle flavours complement the nuttiness of the chestnuts and the dark richness of chocolate. Black truffle ice cream and chestnut crumbs offers textural contrast to the chocolate mousse.
Mysaucepan’s favourite is a Goma street - chocolate and black sesame ice cream with a swoop of black sesame paste akin to Japanese calligraphy announcing its key ingredient.
A tower of dark chocolate discs are interspersed with sesame mousse and crystallized black sesame pops while a scoop of smooth black sesame ice cream nestles around crumbly bits of sesame caramel.
Chef Kojima‘s menu has given our fair city a contemporary and cutting-edge Japanese that pays respect to Australia’s seafood and finest produce.
Service is personal, attentive and knowledgeable with a sense of fun, thanks to the leadership of JB and his team at Front-of-House.
What may be a loss to the Nobu food empire is a delicious gain to Sydney’s culinary movement.
ChopinandMysaucepan dined as guests of Chase Kojima, Jean-Baptiste Robert and Sokyo courtesy of Access PR. Prices indicated are regular menu prices for readers’ information only. All opinions are our own.
Sokyo, The Star
Level G, The Darling
80 Pyrmont street
Pyrmont, New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9657 9161
Opening hours: Lunch Friday 12pm to 2pm Dinner Monday - Wednesday 5.30 to 9.30pm, Thursday to Saturday 5.30pm to 10.30pm. Closed on Sundays.
Sokyo Bar & Lounge
Opening hours: Monday – Wednesday 4pm to 11pm, Thursday – Saturday 4pm to 12 midnight, Friday 12pm to 12 midnight. Closed on Sundays.
A surcharge of 2% apply to all credit card transactions including when selecting the “credit” option for a debit card.
Groups reservations for 8 diners or more attract a surcharge of $10 per person. This surcharge does not apply to private events and functions.