A jug of beer, a leg of ham, and thou beside me, whistling in the darkness.
Published July 16th 2011
When my two delightful dining companions and I manage to meet for a meal (a distressingly less frequent occurrence these days), we inevitably choose Japanese. Why Japanese? It is a variety of cuisine that is both eminently available and still refreshingly different. Of course the fact that over the years we have garnered a taste for their food and drinks may also have something to do with the choice. Traditionally we have our little soirées in Fujiya just off the corner of Goulbourn and George in the city. However the glamour of that little spot has paled over the years and we felt something new was in order. Mizuya, in a prime position on George St, just opposite the Cinemas was proposed as an alternative.
I was admittedly a little leery at first. It is after all in the middle of George St, new and flashy. I expected it to be tacky and expensive. I was pleasantly surprised. Far from being garish I found the décor and lighting to be rather tasteful. The booths have a rather intimate feel without being claustrophobic. Mizuya, named after a tradition of Japanese tea houses, is perhaps misleadingly named as it is really in the style of the ever popular Izakaya restaurant. An increasingly popular style of restaurant in Sydney, this style has been popular in Japan for longer than anyone would care to admit. Elegant, yet simple. Intimate, yet public. It is a semi-formal setting for drinks and a meal. I have always enjoyed the chance for a well made teriyaki and some hot sake. Perhaps beyond the simple pleasure of exotic food and drinks however is the ability to share. It is a casual environment where the meals are easily shared and enjoyed.
On this particular occasion we went rather overboard, happily so. We ordered a medley of little kushiyaki (fried and skewered meat). Starting with Friend Beef Skewers and Ox Tongue, the flavours were pleasantly smoky and salty. The texture of the tongue was slightly chewy, a little odd but really quite nice. The Duck Breast Skewers were excellent. At around $5.80 for two skewers of lovingly prepared meat, these were prices we were willing to accept. We had more than a few. Not long afterwards we availed ourselves of the BBQ Lamb Spare Ribs. At $12.80 it was about the most expensive thing that we ordered. Damn was it worth it. Tender meat, rich sauce, we were certainly happy with it.
Then of course there were the drinks. To start, coke for my one companion, who was not indulging in the alcoholic beverages of the night, was at a fairly standard restaurant price. My other friend, a rabid lover of Chuhai (a popular Japanese mixed alcoholic drink), got the Passionfruit flavour. Myself, as is customary had a large serving of hot sake. Hot rice wine is a favourite of mine. A magical transmogrification takes place when the sake is hot. On this occasion, perhaps my only gripe of the night was that the sake was barely lukewarm. Surprisingly they had a large number of cunningly arranged non-alcoholic fruit drinks, which became a favourite of my companions.
Perhaps the highlight of the night however was the service. It was swift, polite, and completely unobtrusive. This was made possible by the exceptionally clever medium of an electronic touch pad menu. This is one place where the Japanese are leagues ahead of us. The menu is easy to navigate; you don't need to go to the trouble of waiting for the staff to appear and then the inevitable dramatics of miscommunication. It is quick, easy, and your orders are delivered to your table post haste. Then when your meal is complete, you check out on screen and almost seconds later, the bill has arrived. No fuss, no misunderstandings. It is a clean and enjoyable process. I would not advocate this style for every restaurant, as for some it is the experience of the staff that is its highlight. For this style of eating however, it is most definitely a positive leap towards a bright future of Japanese cuisine in Sydney. And the butcher's bill? For an extravagant meal for three people? Just under $100 dollars. Not unreasonable at all. This really is a lot of fun with a group of friends. Next time I might just try their karaoke as well.