Having lived in and around Surry Hills for most of my time in Sydney (since 1999), the Dolphin Hotel is a local. While the latest incarnation is a bit hectic for me to have a quiet drink, I think they’ve done a stylish job on it. They serve great cocktails (with variations of spritzes and negronis, which I like) and have a friendly, young and energetic staff (many who seem to have French accents).
Their wine bar has gotten some pretty great reviews and on Sundays, they host guest chefs and wineries. This one caused a lot of excitement.
As described on the Facebook page: ‘Internationally acclaimed Chef Hiroyuki Sato of はっこく Hakkoku restaurant, Tokyo joins us for a once in a lifetime Aperitivo.
Having opened his new restaurant in February in the sushi Mecca of Ginza, Hakkoku, like its predecessor has seen a meteoric rise amongst the famously tough Japanese food public and media with his aim to push sushi to the next level. Closing his previous restaurant, Sushi Tokami towards the end of 2017, a mere five years after opening its doors, the legendary basement level Sushiya earnt three Michelin stars in its short five years, and equally for Sato – much praise for pushing the standard sushi envelope both domestically and abroad.
The restaurant’s name, Hakkoku, is a play on the words ‘black’ and ‘white’, a reminder of how all contrasting forces exist to complement one another. Whether it be sushi and rice or customer and chef, the opposite relationships create harmony, balance and unity.
We’re VERY lucky to have Hiroyuki gracing our Wine Room kitchen for 2 full hours of powerful Ōsentikku Japanese cuisine. Come taste what makes his sushi techniques differ from the rest. This is not to be missed!’
I wasn’t sure what to expect nor how to get in! I stopped by mid-jog at about 2:30pm and asked about it; a lovely staff member advised me to get there by 4pm. But when I arrived at 4pm, they were taking names on a waiting list. Apparently, people had been arriving since noon and hanging out at the bar! I was very lucky to be a solo diner, so could sit at the bar, and the hostess fit me in, not long after 5pm with the request that I only be there for an hour.
Basically, what was on offer as specialties were three dishes: the sushi was made my chef Hiroyuki, while the Dolphin offered two other dishes; there was a selection of sake to choose from and… I assume Kirin beer, as they were the sponsors.
Hypnotised by the idea of sushi that earned three Michelin stars, and not wanting to wasted a single bit (and at $7 a piece, none of it should have been wasted), I savoured it. I closed my eyes and tried to experience it fully. Encouraged to eat with our hands, I started with the kingfish (deciding to go from lightest to heaviest). The fish tasted as fresh as can be with a whisper of wasabi. I thought that the rice was brown instead of white, but by the last piece had figured out that it had been doused in soy sauce, and was a bit firmer than I’m used to. It surprised me. The salmon had a slippery texture (in a good way) like cooked egg white; the tuna had the most texture and heft. I loved the dish.
And yet, the dishes from the Dolphin’s chefs were also impressive. Wagyu tartare with a thin slice of toast; what a good contrast to my last experience of tartare at a Michelin-starred restaurant where the meat was chunky and the flavour odd. These rich little pieces of raw protein slid down the throat not unlike a meat candy with a decadent sort of mayonnaise.
Finally, a perfect rendition of a steamed bun with some fiery chili sauce, and inside, tender falling apart veal.
I started with the ‘mystery sake’, only $5 a glass, a steal. It was quite strange, a fair bit of body, and a savoury tone. I liked it though. The second glass of sake, at $10, was from Osaka. It had a much cleaner flavour, while still dry and savoury, it reminded me a little of vodka at first and then I thought not at all: there were so many flavours: caramel, toffee, shitake mushroom. Very nice and terrific with the food.
I’m certainly sold on the idea (and it was a really fun vibe). I’ll know next time to drop by earlier in the day and put my name on the waiting list… and should be able to be more organised and bring some friends too. It was rather Sydney to lay down $50 for some snacks and drinks (for one person) and still be hungry enough to fix myself an omelette when I got home but those are the perils of fine dining!