A skip away from terrace houses on Waterloo Street in Surry Hills and nestled in the impressive complex also featuring Orto Trading Co and El Capo is Izakaya Fujiyama, where you can sit in the dining room or at the bar, order a Japanese-style pub meal, share small dishes with your mates and enjoy Japanese beer or sake.
You can’t miss the Japanese elegance, styled in vibrant red and striking black, wood and steel, and the simple, exquisite presentation of dishes – but (largely thanks to the great staff who looked after us) it feels relaxed and welcoming.
The sake menu may overwhelm with all its choices – there are 85 different types of sake on offer – but the staff are happy to offer suggestions and spend a bit of time talking about sake with you.
The bar itself is a glorious sight, even for a non-drinker like me.
We’re here for dinner with one of my blogging idols, Helen of Grab Your Fork. I’ve been eager to catch up with her ever since the amazing Tetsuya masterclass and degustation we both attended back in March 2010.
Izakaya Fujiyama does not take bookings, so we agree to meet up early (5.45/6pm-ish) to beat the dinner crowd.
Helen asks us what we’ve got up to since arriving in Sydney and we all crack up at Juji’s, Jay’s and my inability to name anything that doesn’t involve food.
We’re all hungry (surprise!) and ready for a big feed. Everything sounds so good. We order a number of dishes to share, including the famous tuna jaw we’ve all heard about. Jay and Helen order sake.
We begin our meal with asazuke (AU$4.50), a small dish of pickled cabbage, cucumber and carrot. The vegetables are crisp, sweet and sour with a hint of heat from ginger and chilli.
We order the omakase (“the chef’s choice”) sashimi plate (AU$24.50). It is beautifully presented with freshly sliced raw salmon, mackerel, kingfish tuna, garnished finely grated daikon, fresh radish, lemon and wasabi.
At Izakaya Fujiyama, KFC stands for Kenji’s Fried Chicken (“Kenji” being chef-owner Kenji Maenaka) – succulent crunchy boneless chicken pieces served popping fresh from the deep-fryer, almost too hot to eat. We recklessly dive in with chopsticks and fingers anyway – it’s totally worth it. The moreishly seasoned batter is wonderfully knobbly and crunchy. A squeeze of lemon juice, a generous dip into the housemade Kewpie mayonnaise and we are all in heaven. It’s almost a pity I have to share!
We are all pork belly lovers and don’t hesitate to order the crispy pork belly with yuzu pepper (AU$24.50). Each chunky slice of pork is juicy and tender, mostly meat with a band of soft melting fat, topped with crispy crackling.
The teriyaki beef kalbi (AU$28.50) or beef rib, is served on the bone Flintstones style, with a sticky sweet teriyaki stained exterior and a juicy tender pink interior. Someone will have the pleasure of sucking the rib bone – is that usually you?
If you’re up for a bit of adventurous eating, don’t miss the tuna jaw if it’s available on the specials menu. Served on a wooden chopping board, it’s imposingly three-dimensional, poking out in various directions, looking terrifyingly inedible. But as you forage around the bones, fin and cartilage you’ll find lots of tasty surprises. It’s eating that feels like mining… in craggy prehistoric caverns. And when you’re done, your hands and face covered in tuna juice, what you leave behind looks even more hideous!
We work industriously with fork, spoon and chopsticks to extract every last bit of meat from this behemoth. Some of the meat is light, some dark, some lean, some fatty, but it’s all full of flavour. It’s messy work and you need determination and patience. This must’ve been a mighty big fish.
The jaw is served simply with sliced lemon, grated daikon and bowls of soy sauce. Helen discovers to her delight that you can snap the tips off the fins and eat them like chips. There are meaty bits and mysterious gelatinous bits. Between us, we devour it all.
Good on you, Izakaya Fujiyama, for creating a wonderful eating experience from a part of the fish usually destined for the stock pot or rubbish bin.
Eventually we lean back in our seats, satisfied there is no more meat to be found in the jaw. Like a band of intrepid adventurers, we’re grimy after our travels. It’s time to clean ourselves up with the moist towelettes provided.
By the end of the meal we’re struggling to finish the last pieces of beef, but our sweet stomachs have room for a shared dessert of Fujiyama jaffa, featuring frozen chocolate cake, yoghurt ice cream and chocolate “Yogo“, served with gleaming blobs of cumquat sauce and scattered with popcorn. It’s a dish of contrasting and enjoyable textures and tastes.
It’s been a fantastic meal. Long after the meal is over, I still think about the tuna jaw. What about you – would you take on the tuna jaw? (Even better – if you’ve tried it, I’d love to know what you thought of it!)
Who knows… maybe next time, the tuna head!
Open Monday to Saturday for dinner 6.00pm until late
Bookings are not taken at Izakaya Fujiyama.
I went to Sydney with my sister Juji and her fiancé Jay in November 2011. See the list of posts so far, in reading order. There’s still more to come.
See the others’ posts on Izakaya Fujiyama: