Toko in Surry Hills is all about bringing informal Japanese dining or "izakaya" to Sydney. From my brief research, I gather that Izakaya is to Japan what Tapas might be to the Spanish (but please don't judge me if this is completely wrong, I only came for the food).
To execute its mission the website boasts a marriage of fresh produce and contemporary design - which seems to mean a philosophy that patrons should be really working hard to find it. While following my blue dot on Google maps I walked past the wooden sign with "Toko" subtly written in tiny writing twice before calling a friend who came to my rescue and directed me accordingly. The inside of the restaurant is dark and moody and in my humble opinion, does not have enough sound-absorbing textiles to make up for its degree of busyness on a Friday night.
Toko does not take reservations except for groups of 8 or more, and when I went, it was a packed and busy Friday evening. The noise level was such that I could barely hear the person next to me. On top is this, our party was what I would imagine a waitstaff nightmare and I sincerely apologise for this - we all came at different times (thanks a lot to Sydney rush hour) and we ordered in a continuous but staggered fashion over the span of two hours like a fussy baby who couldn't decide whether it was hungry or not (although inadvertently, this is apparently in keeping with the Izakaya dining style). I have to commend the waitresses working that night who were patient and friendly and even served up a respectable side of banter.
Now, about the food...
There were eight in our party for a post-work birthday dinner and due our staggered arrivals, the tasting menu was too difficult to manage. We made up for this disappointment by ordering a little bit of everything on the a la carte menu. In any large party dinner, there are usually a select few who are actively involved in the ordering component of the meal. On this occasion, I can happily say that I was not a member of this group, but definitely a happy and active participant in the eating component.
The food is designed to share and the two highlights of the meal for me was the sashimi platter (which we liked so much, we ordered a second one later in the meal) and the scampi nigiri with truffle oil which was soft, billowy and moreish. One of the most excellent things about living in Sydney city is the abundance of beautiful, fresh seafood and I never appreciate it more than when it is served so deliciously.
The other menu items included selections of tempura, sushi and grilled meats were also quite fine to munch on throughout the evening. My only criticism is that the teriyaki short ribs were cooked slightly under and although the flavours were lovely, it had a certain degree of chewiness which was disappointing for a $88 dish.
Now, while the dessert menu looked just grand, we couldn't resist the lure of Messina just down the road and so we bailed in favour of a getting a scoop.
Although perhaps not my first choice for an intimate heart-to-heart chat style dinner, Toko restaurant is a must try for delicious Japanese food (and if you happen to have a party of eight or more, you can book ahead and save yourself the lineup!)