Tapas-style Japanese offers a non-traditional dining experience that's sure to please the palate
Izakaya Fujiyama was recommended to me as "The best Japanese in Sydney," which is not a claim one can easily ignore. Hidden near the south end of Waterloo Street in Surry Hills, this tapas-style restaurant emits a warm, welcoming glow on a dreary Tuesday evening in February.
It's busy but no, we don't have a reservation and we're offered seats at the end of a long communal table. The blurb on the first page of the menu explains that we're not in for a traditional Japanese dining experience. Sharing is encouraged and we're advised that two to three dishes per person should suffice. We examine the list of daily specials over a bowl of salty edamame and a bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.
The service is friendly and efficient and once we place our order it isn't long before plates start appearing on the table.
The Agedashi Tofu with braised shitake mushrooms and okra is as good as I've had. It's slightly sticky, perfectly silken and topped with huge pieces of what appear to be green chillies chopped in half length-wise. With trepidation, I nibble the end of one to find it's just the okra, thus no heat, and it provides a lovely contrast in texture to the softness of the tofu.
Tempura zucchini flowers stuffed with cheesy, olive-y tofu are delightfully different, seared snapper with chilli and herbs is fresh and full of flavour, and the richness of the yellowtail tataki is complemented by ginger and shallot.
The pork belly with miso is good but not great - there's not enough acidity in the sauce to overcome the fattiness of the meat and the baked eggplant it's served with is hard to find at the bottom of the plate. The grilled octopus with crispy potato and grapefruit is tasty but the octopus is chewy and we wish we'd ordered just one dish less.
Nevertheless, there's always room for dessert and the Fujiyama Snickers (Peanut butter cake, chocolate custard, salted caramel ice cream and peanuts) doesn't disappoint.
Overall, the food is good, the service is attentive, the experience is atypical but authentic, and the dark decor is accented by walls of shelves lined with hundreds of bottle of sake. Best Japanese in Sydney? Perhaps not, but maybe you should decide for yourself.