Sushi – a Japanese art form in itself – has recently been associated with affordable, quality food that is neither going to break your bank nor your stomach. A favourite with busy office workers and uni students, the sushi train is the epitome of express lunches, where your food gets served to you literally on a conveyor belt.
But because of the popularity of the sushi train, a restaurant’s a la carte menu can be the neglected cousin, dismissed as sides that you order while waiting for your favourite plate of sushi to come around the belt again. And after eating at Sushizilla, let me be the first to say that I will always take a second look at that a la carte menu.
Sushizilla has two locations within the brand spanking new Central Park Shopping Centre in the city – the express counter downstairs that sells takeaway sushi and sushi rolls, and a full restaurant upstairs where the food court is. The restaurant features a huge range of sushi – both of the roll variety and the conveyor belt variety ($2 a plate after 5pm) – and other hot food options traditional to the Japanese culture as well.
Of the more creative sushi, the Broadway Roll (pictured above), is an inside-out roll of Ebi Fry – fresh prawn coated in panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) and deep-fried to a crisp – jalapeño mayo, blow-torched salmon, and fresh slices of strawberry. It may seem odd, but the strawberries aren’t there in a fruity function – in fact, I could really taste strawberries at all – but are there to provide a slight tartness and sweetness that pair with the super crispy prawn filling. First invented at their Coogee location where chefs are encouraged to create new dishes for weekly specials, this roll is definitely a unique entry on the sushi roll landscape.
Of the side dishes, this Spinach and Sesame Salad, $4.80 is a surprise favourite. Black and white sesame is crushed into a paste and seasoned with a bit of sugar, soy and mirin. It’s light, sweet and smoky in a way that black sesame seeds are, and this simple dish is a delicious way to get in your 5-a-day.
Paying homage to the Chinese culture — which has historically influenced Japanese culture greatly — these Prawn Siu Mais are made in the style of the familiar dim sums you see going around a steamer cart at yum cha, but features only black tiger prawns, cooked, minced and lovingly hand wrapped in the restaurant. I am told that this is a labour of love, and although it takes a long time, they’ve kept it on the menu because they believe in serving up quality items that are slightly different from the usual offerings.
If a solid lunch pack is what you’re after, they also have bento boxes ($16.80 for a deluxe) on their menu. These boxes are a traditional Japanese way of packing a lunch – the food is separated in a sturdy box so you don’t end up with a big mush at the end, and ensures that you get a decent variety and all the components that a lunch should have, like rice, meat, salad, etc. Here, I tried the Kakuni Pork Belly Bento, which included deliciously fatty pork belly cooked to tenderness in a soy based sweet broth. Pro tip? Do yourself a favour and order the deluxe bento which comes with a portion of chawanmushi on the side (bottom right).
Chawanmushi is a delicate bowl of steamed savoury egg custard, filled with all sorts of delicious ingredients like crab meat, chicken, mushroom, and gingko nuts (which are reputed to be brain food). The name comes from the bowl that it’s steamed in – “chawan” literally translates to “tea bowl” which is the perfect size as an accompaniment to a meal. The chawanmushi here is incredibly generous – I’ve never had one that was filled with quite so many toppings – and the soft eggy custard incredible delicate and light, with the texture of silken tofu. The custard is also made with dashi – a Japanese broth – packing it full of umami goodness and making it one of my favourites of the afternoon.
Speaking of favourites, the Grilled Cod came as a complete surprise. Black cod, or butterfish, is quite typical in Japanese cuisine but rare to find in restaurants here due to the high cost and difficulty to cook right. A firm white fish, this cod is quite luxuriously unctuous, punctuated only by a rich savoury miso sauce that forms a glaze when its grilled. I would highly recommend eating this with rice – the fish on its own can be on the salty side, but really, in the words of Iron Chef Morimoto, “a Japanese meal begins with a bowl of rice”, and so should this one.
Also in the “eat with rice” category: Grilled Miso Scallops. Fresh scallops on the half shell are topped with a miso sauce and grilled, before being topped with chilli strands. Yes, you heard me. Strands. Chilli is finely sliced and fried to a crisp, all in the name of garnish. Such is the Japanese attention to detail. The thick concentrated miso sauce is absolutely delicious when mixed into steamed white rice – the round Japanese grains clumping slightly, allowing you to scoop it up delicately with a pair of chopsticks.
If noodles and soup is more your thing, I would recommend their selection of hot pots. I had a Seafood Nabeyaki for one, ($13.80): fresh seafood and vegetables in a soy based broth came out in a cast iron pot, complete with udon noodles on the side and a butane cooker below. The idea is that the soup is brought to the boil at the table, and it cooks the seafood, which in turn leeches out a gorgeous flavour and body to the soup, which the noodles then soak up.
What can I say, it’s the circle of life.
I am told that this restaurant makes no profit on this dish because they use the good stuff – Alaskan King Crab, Sashimi grade salmon and kingfish, and king prawns are some of what make up this pot of goodness. So why have it on the menu then? Well, it seems that it comes from a desire to showcase their skills in the hot food department, and offer up items that will balance the other dishes that come out of their kitchen.
And finally, the piece de resistance. Believe it or not, Sushizilla also keeps live lobsters in the restaurant. And while I thought it was all for show, these elaborate pet lobsters are actually to ensure that they can offer the freshest lobster sashimi. And I mean fresh. Part of the two course Lobster, ($149), the lobster meat is so sweet and firm, which is a feat considering that lobster sashimi, which is notorious for degrading at an alarming rate once you kill it, is usually watery and lacklustre at most other establishments I’ve eaten at. This was delicate and required no other dipping sauce, which is – to me – well worth the price tag, especially if you’re sharing this treat with friends.
And once you’re done with the sashimi, the lobster head is removed to make a special miso soup. Ginger, and chilli and miso, flavour a broth that includes all the flavourful goodness from the head, and this soup is portioned depending on how many people are sharing the platter.
The overwhelming feeling I got when dining at Sushizilla was that they just want you to enjoy great Japanese food. Whether it’s about fresh seafood or traditional cooking methods, the team at Sushizilla provide a varied menu with sophisticatedly executed food.
28 Broadway Chippendale, NSW
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Sushizilla