Tokonoma, a lounge bar that prides themselves on their sochu, I believe it is the first in Sydney.
Minh, Simon and I were on vacation in Malaysia and missed out on the initial event organised by Mark Comms but they were kindly enough to set an extra outing just for the three of us. A little surprise like this really does help to ease our post-holiday blues.
The new-ish Tokonoma is the third venue from the same team behind the two previous Toko establishments, with one located right next door which is always buzzing with crowds. The interior inside is modern with a great moody ambiance, if not a little intimidating and always makes one self conscious whether I am under-dressed for this sophisticated space.
I arrive at Tokonoma to find the girls are already clinking glasses in the sochu bar. Tokonoma is famous for its extensive range of sochu. Patrons can now savour the intricate taste and complexity of the sochu served with a single ball of ice in the glass, which has been carefully cleaved from a big block of ice.
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We are here this evening to try their Tasting Menu at $70 per head. It is a great introduction to modern Japanese cuisine with chef Regan Porteous showcases a few of his signature dishes ideal for sharing. We move from the sochu bar to the circular banquette lounge booth for our meal. I do find the booths cosy and intimate, they are great when you need a bit of privacy especially when trying to hold a conversation and filter out some of the ambient noise.
We start off with some edamame and order another round of drinks before the dishes arrive. I am a chilli man, and the garlic and chilli edamame never fail to please, especially on a chilly winter night in Sydney.
I've been reminiscing their Lychee Mojito since I first tried it during the launch of Tokonoma. It is a tall glass of summer, refreshing concoction of white rum, citrusy lime and a distinctive hint of lychee sweetness.
The dishes come swiftly one after another. The square plate of gyu niki no tataki is probably one of the best beef tataki I've had in Sydney. The light seared beef slices are still alive, the rare juicy flesh simply melts in the mouth. A light soy dressing brings out the sweetness of the tataki, while pickled onion and garlic chips add texture.
The tuna tartar is beautifully presented in a cone made of bamboo leaf, gingerly balanced in a box of crushed ice to keep the tuna fresh and chilled. The soft tuna tartar with baby shiso leaves on a light barley miso dressing is amazingly fresh. But I absolutely adore the accompanied sweet potato crisps that is earth shattering crunchy.
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My heart skipped a beat when they bring out the soft shell crabs because these babies are huge! Each of us get half of a soft shell crab, lightly battered then deep fried with a crispy shell. Best eaten when is still crunchy and warm, dunk inside a pot of creamy wasabi mayonnaise for that extra subtle spicy kick.
When some of the empty dishes have been cleared away, new dishes arrive and fill all the space on the table once again. A long thin tray house a row of spicy fried tofu cubes that is still warm on the inside with a crispy skin, topped with avocado salsa, barley miso but the tendrils of chilli floss just make the simple tofu a tad more special.
The omakase zushi is an assortment of Chef's selection of sushi rolls and nigiri. The simplicity of the sushi is the key to bring out the freshest natural flavour of the seafood. Can't confirm whether is Chutoro or Ootoro, but the vibrant pink Tuna nigiri is velvety smooth, simply slip through my lips and down to my happy stomach, the kingfish sashimi is firm with a delicate flavour. The maki rolls really demonstrates the chef's amazing knife skills. The thin layer of shaved daikon sheet wrapped around the outside of a spider roll never stop to amaze me. It reminds the one I've had at iiza in newtown.
Then we have robata grilled scallops. The scallops are plump and succulent, grilled to perfection over hot charcoals for that extra smoky flavour, topped with jalapeno and garlic sauce which in my opinion is a little overpowering when pairing with the delicate flavour of the scallops.
The last meat dish is also one that's worth raving about. The scotch fillet steak is cooked to medium rare, served with a vinaigrette wafu salad dressing to cut through the fat. The scotch fillet is incredibly tender and I thought I was eating wagyu beef the whole time until I read the menu later and realised what I am eating. The grilled zucchini skewer is a nice complement to the scotch fillet steak, a little green in my system won't hurt. And finally we conclude the savoury meal with a bowl of shiro miso soup.
Save the best for last I say. The chef's selection of desserts is truly a feast for the eyes and also the stomach. A collective of petite desserts are spread out 360 degrees on a large platter of shaved ice. Fruit-filled spring rolls is what a spring roll should be, hot soft innards filled with raisins and apple with a crunchy skin on the outside, dip into a sake creme anglaise for that boozy Japanese twist. I never say no to creme brulee. Let the girls do the honor to crack open the toffee layer and soon find ourselves spoon-fighting for a perfect scoop of rich creamy custard.
The chocolate fondant is seriously rich and decadent with a hot molten chocolate core. It's pure indulgence to have a spoonful of the fondant follow by a spoonful of the ice cream with three flavours to choose from - green tea, star fruit and passionfruit. For those who don't have a sweet tooth, there are assorted fruit aplenty on the platter to wind down a hearty meal.
Tokonoma is more than just a sochu bar. If you can't get into TOKO next door, Tokonoma is your next best bet. The Tasting Menu is best value for money, with freshest seafood you could have asked for in a Japanese restaurant. The ambience, design and service are here to impress and to please. Looking for an intimate venue for a romantic night out? Tokonoma may have the answer for you.
[ATFT dined as a guest Tokonoma]
Tokonoma shochu bar & lounge 490 Crown St
Surry Hills, 2010
Ph : 02 9357 6100
Opening hours: Tues – Sat, 5:30pm to 12:00am
Tasting menu is $70/per person, minimum of 2 people.