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Cho Cho San is the second restaurant to come out of the dynamic pairing of Jonathan Barthelmess and Sam Christie. After opening the successful Greek restaurant Apollo together, it was somewhat of a surprise that their next venture was Japanese. But they did it as a challenge, and it seriously paid off – their lack of formal training in Japanese cuisine has led to one of the most exciting menus of the year. The restaurant takes its inspiration from Japan's drinking culture and izakayas – bars with food. The minimal, all-cream room is half filled by a long dining bar and the food is designed to share. The wines by the glass aren't many but do something different and try one of the many sakes.
The food is Japanese in tone but borrows Korean, Chinese and even European ingredients. The two buns are an excellent place to start – one is a pillow-soft steamed bun filled with duck marinated in jasmine tea with cucumber. The flavour of the duck is slightly sweet but also has the depth of the earthy tea, and is perfectly tender. The lightly toasted bread roll filled with spanner crab and topped with a sprinkling of matchstick chips is equally good. From the raw section, the scallops are accompanied by a seaweed puree, corn and house-smoked bonito and are slip-through-your-chopsticks delicate. Next, try the hibachi grilled prawns, fat and juicy with kombu butter or if you dare, the whole mud crab with Japanese curry. The meat section is simple and done well – chicken yakitori with pickled lime, or grilled pork fillets with mustard greens.
Whatever you do – save room for dessert. The ginger custard is the real show stopper; not overly sweet, intensely creamy and delicate in that Japanese way that few other cuisines can replicate. This is an exciting new restaurant from two of Sydney's hottest young chefs who are pushing the envelope in the best way possible.