The Ootoro has sold out, we've been told.
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After hearing Richard raving about the fatty tuna ootoro at Masuya Japanese Seafood Restaurant, it is the only one dish that I am really looking forward to experience. To my dismay, we are informed by the waitress that it has been sold out for this evening, sadness. But like an old Chinese saying, "there are still plenty more fish in the ocean" - indeed, the extensive list of fresh seafood on the menu can easily keep us happy and our little disappointment on missing out of the Ootoro are soon forgotten.
Masuya is the top end Japanese sushi and seafood restaurant of the Masuya Group, claims to offer the freshest catch of the day straight from the Fish Market. It is only a few doors down from Bavarian Bier Cafe on O'Connell Street, can be easily missed if not paying attention. This establishment caught my attention the very first time when I was walking past it many moons ago and saw a few Japanese salarymen emerged from a dimly lit room underground, my initial impression was that it must be a dodgy gentlemen's club.
Tonight, I am joining the girls for dinner, who are regulars to Masuya, especially Ellie who claims to visit this restaurant at least once a week. Here's the proof. I follow them through the striking vermilion red door and down a fleet of stairs, the gentlemen's club is no where to be found, but instead a brightly lit dining room which is absolutely bustling with customers. I've been told usually is not this noisy, but tonight I almost feels like I am having a Yum Cha at a Chinese restaurant in Haymarket. Chefs in white uniforms are masterfully slicing sashimi behind the sushi counter bar at the far left corner, while we are assigned to the table right next to it which has its own pros and cons. Pro is the waiter will bring out Today's Specials to our table and we get to choose first, but con is the traffic of waitress going past from kitchen to dining area constantly throughout the night can be distracting.
While Ellie stick with the humble hot green tea, Linda and I both ordered some pretty looking mocktails to accompany our meal. Linda's Shanghai Berry is a fruity blend of Earl Grey with mixed berries cordial of strawberry, raspberry and blueberry. The Masuya Mojito is deliciously refreshing of fresh mint and lime, sweeten by the apple juice and ginger ale mix, perfect summer drink for the non-alcoholic drinker.
The experience at Masuya is indeed a little bit like at yum cha with waiter brings out a tray of Today's Specials to our table to let us choose. We know it will be a big feast tonight, so we reluctantly picked up the crumbly looking deep-fried seafood dumplings. The little morsel of golden snitch is flaky and soft with seafood mince filling. A dollop of sweet sauce brings out the delicate flavour of the sea.
I love unagi. When I saw it on Today's chef special, I know I have to have it. The special simmered eel sushmi comes in generous portion at $6.00 per piece, the eel is simmered then grilled to a smoky and sweet kabayaki sauce glaze, served with a mouthful of sumeshi. The glistening slice of unagi is incredibly soft and tender, with an earthy undertone flavour through the delicate meat. One piece just ain't enough.
I am very impressed by the daily print out menu with a great selection of sashimi and sushi on offer for the day. The menu is subject to change on daily basis depends on what seafood they can lay their hands on from the Fish Market. It even list out all the locations where the seafood originally come from. After missing out on the Ootoro, we decided to settle on the scallop aburi and salmon belly aburi. The scallops are imported from Japan, they are plump and bounce off the teeth tender, while the Huon River Tasmanian salmon belly is generously thick and simply melt in the mouth, both lightly seared to a subtle smokiness.
At this point, it is a full house in the restaurant, and the noise level instantly cranked up a bar higher, and I found myself had to raise my voice to chat with the person next to me. We are presented with two in-house special blend of soy sauces, with the darker saltier one is for sushi, whereas a lighter version is for sashimi, so it is not overpowering for the subtle flavour of fresh seafood. The sashimi platter special is definitely the way to go to share among the three of us.
I feel like singing "Under The Sea" looking at the school of fresh sashimi nicely plated on a big stoneware plate. The scampi takes the center podium, joining an orchestra of salmon, tuna and kingfish, then a flower of scallop petals and salmon egg roes, and the fan-shaped hokki surf clams both presented beautifully as the background vocals. Every mouthful is true bliss, soft, tender, warm flesh, I particularly like tuna and the hokki meat, simply divine. Our tastebuds are truly tantalised by a symphony of the sea.
Ellie insisted that I must try the Katsutama pork loin here, she swears by it. A huge piece of tonkatsu pork loin are deep fried to a golden crunch, served on a quick steamed (or microwaved) webbing egg onion sauce, and a sprinkle of chopped shallots on top. The pork loin is succulent and fatty which gives it the best texture you could've asked for. I prefer my tonkatsu nice and crunchy, hence by seeing the bottom half of the crunchy batter already soaked up the sauce and gone soggy irritates me. The katsutama pork loin comes with a hefty price tag but a tasty dish nevertheless. I think I will go for the Tonkatsu Kurobuta pork loin that served with a in-house blended tonkatsu sauce on the side next time.
Another Masuya's specialty I've been told is the kingfish wing nitsuke. The wing tip is the part of meat between the gill cover and the pectoral fin, with a strong bone structure to shield all the inner organs. The kingfish wing is cooked with a classic Japanese flavour of mirin and soy with a hint of ginger, served with brown soft tofu. Not familiar with this part of the meat on a fish, but I found them a little tacky on the teeth. Maybe it supposed to have that texture to pair with the soft tofu.
The seafood at Masuya is fresh but highly priced, we spent over $60 each for the dinner tonight. It was a great meal with great company, but unfortunately I am still not wow by the whole experience. Perhaps a more tranquil Japanese setting with water flow from a bamboo sculpture to zen me out and imagining myself in Japan while another slice of sashimi just slipped through my tongue and let that moment last forever.
Masuya Japanese Seafood Restaurant Basement Level, 12-14 O'Connell Street
Sydney NSW 2000
P: (02) 9235 2717