Is omakase the new black? I vote YES. In a world plagued with choice and decisions, telling a sushi chef “I leave it to you” or “omakase” is almost a luxury in, and of, itself. Sit back and let incredible food come to you. Win.
But omakase is more than just a suspension of menu responsibility. Inherent in every omakase is an exchange of trust in the chef’s judgement and expertise, a transfer that is always taken on with deep-seated sincerity and wholehearted earnestness. No Japanese chef would do otherwise.
Which is how we find ourselves at Osaka Bar, one of the latest restaurants in Sydney to jump on board the omakase
train shinkansen. Once a 40-seat a la carte restaurant – with a penchant for Osaka-style kushikatsu deep fried skewers – Osaka Bar packed up and moved across Llankelly Place laneway into a much smaller site. Now there are just five seats around the sushi counter. FIVE.
Bass grouper and saikou salmon sashimi
We strap ourselves in for the ride with sushi chef Kazu Nakatani and end up choosing the 12 piece nigiri sushi set for $80. Smaller sets ($55 for 5 pieces and $65 for 8 pieces) are available. In addition to nigiri, you’ll also receive:
- a sashimi plate
- a simmered or cooked dish
- your choice of a three piece grilled dish or chawanmushi egg custard
- miso soup of the day.
Our dinner kicks off with a plate of sashimi, thick slices of Indonesian bass grouper and saikou alpine salmon from New Zealand’s Mount Cook that we relish with wasabi and only the faintest slick of soy.
Duck with chestnuts and Jap pumpkin
Our cooked dish is a nod to autumn – duck with Blue Mountains chestnuts and a wedge of sweet Jap pumpkin. It’s not a tricked-up dish, but there’s a honesty to its assembly, from the tender slices of rendered duck breast to the lashings of dijon mustard sauce to the tumble of cooked adzuki beans trying to escape from their skins.
Chef Kazu Nakatani seasoning the pork fillet on the grill
I lied. There are a couple of decisions to make. There are three choices for the third course: grilled pork, grilled beef or chawanmushi. Between our group, we’re able to order and try every option. Phew.
The pork and beef cuts are cooked simply on an electric grill. Depending on your seat (and height) you should be able to watch Chef Kazu prepare everything before your eyes.
Pork and beef on the grill
Perfectly seared beef
The pork is good but the beef is better, cooked so a thin strip of pink flesh remains within. Season with fresh lemon and citrus pepper and chase each mouthful with a stray leaf or two of peppery watercress.
Chawanmushi in the steamer
My personal highlight is the chawanmushi, porcelain cups of egg custard cooked gently in the steamer.
Chawanmushi savoury egg custard with unagi eel
The chawanmushi theme changes regularly. Tonight it comes with unagi eel, hidden at the depths of the wobbly custard. It’s fatty richness only amplifies the silky purity of the egg custard, studded with tender slices of okra, mushroom and corn.
Bass grouper nigiri sushi
Dinner then segues into nigiri sushi. It’s a treat to watch Chef Kazu at work, first slicing each fish with precision and then shaping the sticky grains of sushi rice.
Chef Kazu slicing blue fin tuna
Blue fin tuna with katsuoboshi
The fish is served simply, garnished with waving tendrils of katsuoboshi smoked fish flakes here, a snowstorm of kinako soy bean powder there. Things get a little fancy when the gold leaf comes out, used to add bling to a shimmering slice of maguro zuke, deep red tuna marinated in soy.
Maguro zuke marinated tuna with gold leaf
Chef Kazu making nigiri sushi
I’m always mesmerised by the dance of sushi chefs, fingers and palm moving through the air with measured but modest grace. I can rarely get a shot in focus, as their hands fly at lightning speed. It’s almost sensuous, too, the way that sushi chefs seem to caress, support and shape the fish and rice into a harmonious union.
Yellowtail nigiri sushi with soy bean powder
As each nigiri sushi is made, it’s placed directly in front of each diner for immediate consumption. It’s a world away from the garish convenience of the sushi train. Omakase means the fish is still cool and the rice has retained its warmth from the rice cooker.
Green king prawn nigiri sushi with kimizu sauce and egg yolk
We plow our way through bass grouper, blue fin tuna, yellowtail and green king prawns. The prawns are firm and sweet, dressed with kimizu sauce made from egg yolks and rice vinegar. It’s like a Japanese version of mayonnaise, without the use of oil.
Chef Kazu seasoning the chutoro nigiri sushi
Chutoro nigiri sushi
Chutoro is a fatty treat, sourced from the tuna’s back and belly area. Silver leaf adds a decadent touch.
Iwashi sardine nigiri sushi with plum sauce and Japanese ginger
The counter seat set-up mean there’s a real sense of dining intimacy with Chef Kazu. He’s remarkably chatty too, telling us about the way he prepares each fish, life in Osaka versus Sydney and how his restaurant and cooking has evolved over time.o
By the time the sardine nigiri sushi arrives, Chef Kazu is playing up for the camera. I haven’t told him I have a food blog – I never volunteer this to restaurants – but he’s happy to ham it up for yet another #asiantakingphotosoffood.
The dragon mural on the wall at Osaka Bar
We also learn about the dragon mural on the wall directly facing us. Dragon are believed to be Gods of Water in Japan, we learn. Water is vital for farmers, for life and for humankind. Chef Kazu (himself born in the year of the Dragon) hopes the dragon brings good luck to all those who look upon it.
Chef Kazu adding yuzukosho, made by his friend’s mother and sent from Japan
On top of quivering petals of uni sea urchin, Chef Kazu adds delicate spoonfuls of yuzukosho, a fermented chilli and yuzu citrus paste. We’re taken aback when he tells us the yuzukosho was a homemade gift from his friend’s mother, sent over from Japan.
Longspine sea urchin with homemade yuzukosho
The yuzukosho adds a citrusy zing to the longspine sea urchin, plump and mouth-filling wonders of buttery briny bliss. Sigh.
Tasmanian pacific oyster nigiri sushi with homemade oyster sauce and finger lime
We move onto raw oysters. To marinated school prawns. To the pure luxury of lustrous salmon roe topped with black truffle sauce. Why would you stop at five nigiri sushi when you would miss out on all this?
Chef Kazu gently pressing school prawns onto sushi rice
Kombu marinated jimi school prawn nigiri sushi
Australian ikura salmon roe with black truffle sauce
Tamago rolled omelette
We’re onto our final nigiri, tamago rolled omelette, when Chef Kazu realises he’s forgotten to serve us ootoro, the fattiest part of the tuna belly that he promises will form part of every omakase.
Ootoro nigiri sushi
Fat-marbled ootoro tuna belly
Purists will argue that ootoro is over-rated (see also wagyu beef and truffle), but I’m still a sucker for the hedonistic pleasure of ridiculously marbled fatty tuna.
Saba mackerel nigiri sushi with kombu
And just for good measure, Chef Kazu offers another nigiri sushi for those of us that have room. Of course I do, especially for a precious slice of saba mackerel covered with a sheath of almost translucent kombu seaweed.
Aka red miso soup with giant grouper fish head
We finish with soup, made using aka or red miso paste. Red miso is fermented longer than white or yellow miso, resulting in a deeper, saltier and more pungent flavour. It’s a lucky draw as to which part of today’s fish (giant grouper on the night we dined) you’ll score in your bowl.
Osaka Bar’s omakase offers a uniquely casual but intimate experience with sushi chef Kazu Nakatani. There’s plenty of technique evident but no sense of stiff formality or heady excess. Chef Kazu’s a great conversationalist too. For maximum fun, grab four of your mates and settle in for one helluva oishii (delicious) private dinner party.
50 Llankelly Place, Potts Point, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9331 1367
Monday to Saturday 6pm-10pm