Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Darlinghurst: Food: Sushi Yachiyo

Sushi Yachiyo is not one of my usual Darlinghurst haunts, in fact, I went there for the first time about two weeks ago on my first Saturday night home from overseas. The tiny Japanese restaurant at 13 Kirketon Road is tucked away beneath the Art Wall building, whose rusty-looking facade fronts William Street.
I don't really like Japanese food and I especially loathe nori because it smells so disgusting. I hate sushi, but I do love sashimi. And no, I do not like endamame, even if it is complimentary.
I have also never been a fan of the Art Wall, which is essentially a plain office building with a lace-like, oxidised-metal rectangle mounted on its street-facing side. It used to have a billboard-sized Aboriginal artwork perched across the top of the lace-work, but at the moment it just has a blank space with the words, ''Buy this space for art-advertising'', or some such wank. Anyway I don't like it because it looks, well, rusty, and dirty, even when it was freshly unwrapped in 2004. Here is a picture of the Art Wall, with Harry Seidler's Horizon in the background, which I took today:

Nevertheless I was with two female friends, Ruby Molteno and Nina Ricci who is pregnant, and I was happy for them to decide on our dinner location. Sushi Yachiyo opened last year and despite its remote location and small space, is very popular with the Sydney sushi-set. On the night we visited, we called first to book a table, but after arriving we then had to wait about 10-minutes for the previous diners to vacate theirs. It wasn't a big deal and once inside I was rather happy with the cosy and darkly lit space.
There is an open kitchen along one wall, so that if you sit at the bar you can watch chef and owner Mitsuhiro Yashio slicing up the sashimi. The waiters, especially the older mama, were friendly and attentive and we had drinks - lychee juice in a can for me - within minutes. We ordered three dishes to share between the three of us, and the first to arrive was this yumbo grilled salmon dish, which didn't really taste very Japanese at all:

We ate it all up, while struggling to keep our bowls, plates, glassware and chopsticks from falling from our tiny, round table. Soon after, our plate of tempura arrived, causing more traffic problems at the table, but it was eaten quickly too:

The tempura included prawns, fish and vegetable pieces, as well as an oyster, which I didn't dare go near! I prefer my oysters raw. We had decided upon the next dish while standing outside the door waiting for our table. There was a Sydney Morning Herald food-review taped to the window in which Helen Greenwood raved about the ''kami-nabe'':

''A pale clay brazier with a low blue flame is placed on a small wooden plinth and has a fretwork metal, pleated bowl lined with pleated paper called washi on top. We watch as slices of salmon and kingfish, resting on enoki mushrooms, chopped chinese cabbage and a few shiitake mushrooms, cook slowly. The textures of the fish, mushrooms and cabbage are mesmerising."

Tempted by the idea that food could be mesmerising, we ordered it:

Yes, it looks rather odd doesn't it, but my bad flash-photography does not really do it any favours. Sitting inside that paper-fan bowl was a blandish Japanese broth along with mysterious and not-all-that mesmerising mushrooms with pieces of fish.

It was all a bit too much like a lucky-dip for my liking and it was just my lucky-dip-luck that when I dived in with my chopsticks I came out with something white, with the texture of scallop, but curiously flavourless. Good god, what was it? I wasn't sure if it was mushroom or flesh from the sea. I had a few more goes with the chopsticks but realised I am not so brave with food after all. Ruby proved more adventurous and knocked back a broth-soaked oyster, but later, with a bad taste on her tongue, wished she hadn't.

I was more concerned about Nina as I'm told there's a long list of what expectant mothers can't eat, including soft-cheeses, nuts and raw fish. Because of the brazier-style cooking of the kami-nabe, none of the pieces in the broth were evenly cooked, so that food at the bottom of the paper-fan bowl was well-cooked, while the fish and mushrooms sitting near the top were only cooked in parts. I pointed this out to Nina but she wasn't too worried and just poked her chopsticks in to the broth and fished out some more salmon.

Both Ruby and Nina ordered desserts: one looked like a flying saucer and was comprised of a chocolatey-bean paste sandwiched between two crispy round discs that tasted like dried rice-paper. The other was like a vanilla agar-agar and deliciously refreshing.

When we left the restaurant I noticed these wise, slightly unintelligible, but strangly appropriate words chalked up on the rusty-facade outside Sushi Yachiyo's door:

Whatever you do/Whoever you are
It don't make a difference too much/Whan make any difference
Sushi Yachiyo
1/13 Kirketon Road
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
02 9331 8107

No comments: