Izakaya Fujiyama has only been open for a short time but it's certainly caught the attention of Japanese food lovers and I'd heard great reviews about the place. I'd also heard it gets very crowded so Miss Chicken, Mr Shawn and I agree to meet up for an early dinner and beat the crowds.
When I rock up at 5.50pm on a Thursday night the place is empty...I was SURE I'd encounter Mamak like queues of people all waiting for the 6pm opening time. Nope. We have our pick of tables in the restaurant and have the sole attention of the wait staff until things get busier about an hour into the night.
In Japan an Izakaya is a small bar where you go to drink beer and sake...the food is just meant to serve as stomach liner until you leave the Izakaya for the night and go in search of a more substantial meal. In Australia the Izakaya is more restaurant like - go along, have a few drinks and share plates of food with friends - dinner and drinks so to speak. This is fine with me as I like to be as full as a goog with a leave a restaurant - I'm not that into 2nd dinners really.
Miss Chicken and Mr Shawn order some Japanese beers and I just stick with water until we order some sake to share later in the evening. I didn't get a shot of the sake as The Sake Man was quicker than lightning in pour the drinks and choofing off with the nifty little cup the sake came in.
Once drinks are sorted out we consult the menu and also the cute hand-written specials menu and decide on about 6 dishes to share between us.
We start with a light and refreshing dish of Pickled Cucumber ($5.00). This is a simple dish with hefty chunks on cucumber marinated in sweet ginger soy sauce. I love this dish, but Mr Nikon seems to be having "issues" with green coloured food on this particular night - groan!
Next up is Miso Cured Tofu ($6.50). This is another simple dish that is packed with flavour -pieces of hard tofu topped with an almost beer-like tasting miso paste.
As soon as I see the Kenji Fried Chicken ($13.50) on the menu I know we have to give it a try and oh my it is GOOD! Kenji is the name of the owner/chef of Izakaya Fujiyama and what's the point of owning a restaurant if you can't name at least one dish after yourself. The chicken is amazing - good crunch on the batter and tender chook on the inside. The homemade Kewpie mayonnaise is pretty dang good too.
Agedashi Tofu ($13.50) is something I always like to order when I'm eating Japanese and I really like the twist on the traditional version that they serve here. You still receive your standard deep-fried tofu pieces in a light bonito broth, but the addition of fresh pieces of Okra and slivers of mushroom is stellar. The additon of these two ingredients gives the dish a wonderful textural balance that I love...soft tofu + soft mushroom + crunchy okra = win win. I actually thought that okra would be something I wouldn't like - for some reason I thought it was really bitter tasting, but it's actually not at all (or this version at least is not).
Pork Belly with Miso ($18.50) is another winner - really the dishes here just get better and better. We're all impressed by the freshness of flavour and just how good the food is. Mr Shawn and Miss Chicken - my Japan-o-phile friends - happily tell me the food here is as good as any they've had in their many trips to Japan. I take their word for it and am glad they are in a happy place.
The next dish is the one we've all been waiting for, and the one we've been told to order by friends. The Tuna Jaw ($28.00) is a sight to be behold - the jaw is HUGE and looks mouthwateringly good. It's hard to get a good photo of the Tuna Jaw as it is so large and we all get a chuckle when one of the waitresses comes over and asks to look at my photos and then suggests taking the photo from a different angle - now THAT my friends is service.
Once the photo shoot comes to an end we flip the jaw over and start picking at the meat on the bone - the meat is flavoursome, quite fatty in places and has a nice char to it. The jaw comes with a zesty ponzu dipping sauce that is a nice counterbalance to the fatty parts of the meat. If you come to Izkaya Fujiyama I'd say this is one dish worth trying - for novelty's sake perhaps, but also because it's so beautiful to eat.
After the richness of the fatty Tuna Jaw we order one last dish - something light and refreshing is what we are after and the Three Bean Salad is just the ticket. Thankfully it is not the standard Three Bean Salad ($10.00) we've all had at Aussie BBQs (Three Beans from a tin = blah), but a mixture of fresh green beans, snow peas and peas in their pod. Although a last minute order we all agree this dish is a winner (but not Mr Nikon who won't take infocus shots of GREEN food - sigh)!
Izakaya Fujiyama is at Shop G09, 52 Waterloo Street, Surry Hills.