Hikaru Japanese, Newtown

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a nice connection with Japan throughout my life. When I was but knee high to a grasshopper, a Japanese kindergarten (yes – weirdly niche) opened up across the road from where I lived, so naturally that’s where I went. Our family formed a close bond with the Japanese chap that ran the place and he taught all of us kids the wonders of how to do cartwheels, eat raw eggs, balance a chair on one finger and do handstands. Oh, I also learned a bit of Japanese too, and this cool girl came over from Japan and homestayed with us for a little while. In primary school, I learned a bit more Japanese too and then in high school I was fortunate enough to go over there for a few weeks on a school trip. Last year I was lucky enough to go over there again for brief week of snowboarding a Tokyo-ing. And what’s more, I’ve been lucky enough to grow up with a family that loves Japanese food as well. I still remember rolling little sushis as a kid, getting rice stuck on the sushi mat, not rolling tight enough so the filling fell out, and Dad just sighing… 🙂

Anyway, the point is I freakin’ love Japanese food. I love the korokke, I love the ramen, I love the curry, I love the sashimi, I love the freshness, I love the cuteness – everything.

I’d often walked past this little Japanese joint, walking along King Street in Newtown. It’s just off the main drag and doesn’t look like anything fancy. But having had some of my best dining experiences in underwhelming-looking joints, my dining friend and I decided to give Hikaru Japanese a try.

Although the restaurant was busy when we got there at about 8pm on a Friday night, the waitresses were super polite and quick to fit us on a (really) little table in the (really) little restaurant 🙂

We started off with a couple of Japanese beers – obviously – a Kirin and an Asahi (about $8 each). Food-wise, well, we went a little mental. I won’t lie about that. As I was looking through the menu, I was thinking, “wow, if the dishes are this cheap, they’re definitely going to be really small” – boy are my estimation skills out these days.

First off the mark was edamame. Despite being what is essentially a plate of boiled beans, I actually really like the slightly salty little morsels with a nice, cold beer. For a mere $5 or so, these soybeans were a steal.

Foggy picture, but you get the idea

Next up, gyoza. I really enjoy a good gyoza – juicy, flavourful filling, steamed to perfection on the top and fried to a crisp finish on the bottom. The filling of these gyoza was so-so – nothing to write home about. But the biggest killer was the fact that they were totally fried – as in, deep fried. I get that there are different interpretations of gyoza – so I think this was more of a personal preference thing as opposed to a “they got it wrong” thing. I also didn’t love the generous smear of of mayo on top – it was a little bit of overkill. At a mere $5 or so for 3, it was again, a steal.

Gyoza – the garden salad underneath was kind of weird

Korokke. Now, I appreciate that this is a grossly westernised distortion of what should be elegant, fresh Japanese cuisine. But there ain’t nothin’ like a good old hunk of has brown, whatever the culture. A korokke is essentially the hash brown of Japan, but better, including a few specks of grated veg and meat thrown into the mix. From my hazy, hazy memory, this was approximately $6. Flavour-wise, it was good. Texture-wise, I have to admit I’ve had better in terms of crunch – this one was a little crunchy, but mostly just warm.

Korokke! (as in, croquet) – again with the sort of garden salad.

It was around this point that my lack of estimation skills became vividly apparent. Two dishes in and I was feelin’ pretty full, and realised we were about a quarter of the way through my lengthy, lengthy order (why do people even let me keep ordering??). I failed to take a picture, but the next dish up was the entree-sized mixed tempura (I think it was about $9). As one of the larger sized entrees I’ve come across, we were presented with deliciously lightly battered (but appropriately tender) brocolli, pumpkin, sweet potato, prawn, fish and calamari – about one of each – along with the requisite tempura dipping sauce. It was actually pretty good! The batter was light and the oil didn’t taste strong/old and it wasn’t too greasy. All of the components were well cooked – the seafood was still plump and juicy. Pretty good!

We also ordered sushi – two of my favourites (and altogether a bastardisation of Japanese cooking, again) – chicken katsu and tempura prawn. Below is a picture of the tempura prawn, topped with slices of avocado. Both were so good – crispy, perfectly cooked, a good rice-to-filling ratio and reasonably priced at $9.80.

Tempura prawn roll

Just as I was undoing the top button of my jeans, I realised “oh shit” there’s another dish. Chicken yakisoba. The dish was reasonably tasty, despite me not being a huge fan (I can’t get past those insipid maggi-inspired noodles). But the chicken was tasty and the vegetables were well cooked and dispersed. Unfortunately I was in a huge food coma by this point, so I picked around a bit before giving up. A huge serving at about $12.

Chicken yakisoba

All in all, I was very impressed with it all. The meals came out quickly (too quickly – but that was really our own fault for the over-ordering). The service was super polite even though the restaurant was packed!

Hikaru Japanese Restaurant
134 King Street,
Newtown NSW 2042

Food: 8/10
Drinks: we just had a couple of beers really, although there were a handful of sake options
Atmosphere: 7/10 – cute and Japanese, but a little cramped (I think we were approximately 7cm from the next table)
Recommend it? Yes, for a cheap, cheerful, filling feed – bring a few friends, share a few plates and head down the street for a good night out.

Hikaru Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday night sushi

The end of a long week brought Friday. The end of a long Friday brought after work drinks. The end of after work drinks brought a ravenous form of hunger. You know the one. The hunger that can only be satiated with a doner kebab with garlic sauce. My plat du jour that fine eve was that served in a fine establishment, which brought with it rich wafts of cheese, tomato and garlic. With delicate overtones of lard and processed meat, I found myself at the one and only Pizza Hut. Somewhat satisfying at the time I realised the next morning that I had actually taken photos of these oily, triangular creations in some vague fantasy where I thought it would be food blog material. It wasn’t:

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The sheen on these things is inspiring

Onto the real post at hand: Saturday night sushi. An idea had been a-brewing in this old head of mine. One trip to Paddy’s market later and I had convinced DF1 (Dining Friend 1) and DF2 that we should try our hand at creating our own Japanese extravaganza. Having had to lure my dining friends with non-“scary” sushi, I took the Gringo approach, settling on teriyaki chicken, fried fish, cucumber and avocado, as well as gyoza, the Japanese dumplings.

Step 1: Get marinating (the Teriyaki Chicken, that is). None of this bottled teriyaki sauce garbage (would you like some flavour with your MSG?). Chop up a couple of cloves of garlic, a healthy thumb sized piece of ginger, a tablespoon of soy, a tablespoon of honey, a tablespoon of mirin and a couple of shakes of pepper. Roughly slice some chicken (I used thigh, sliced into inch-thick slices), roll it about in your marinade and let it hang out while you’re preparing your other sushi ingredients (I left mine for about an hour or two). Fry the chicken off in a pan with a little oil until done – careful, honey has a sneaky tendency to go from deliciously caramelly to seethingly burnt in seconds, so watch it!

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Hanging out in a bath of sweet, salty deliciousness

Step 2: gyoza. I like to think of Gyoza as heavenly parcels of deliciousness enveloped in a crunchy, chewy blanket of fantasticness. To make the filling, I chucked 200gm of pork mince in a bowl along with 4 chinese mushrooms (which I had soaked in warm water for about 30 minutes), a thumb-sized bit of ginger, grated, a chopped spring onion, a few chopped chives, about 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, one teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of pepper and a tablespoon of cornflour (so it all holds together). Don’t feel scared. The only way to truly mix this mix of heaven is to get in there with your hands and squelch it all together.

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Get in there, son

Once this is mixed, you’re ready to wrap. Hold your gyoza skin (you can get them from any Asian supermarket) in the palm of your hand and lump a good, heaped teaspoon of mixture in the middle (no one likes a gyoza of air!). Dip your finger in some water and “paint” around the edge of the wrapper, fold the side toward each other and press as hard as humanly possible so you end up with this:

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Wrapping like a bullet in a speed train

Now you’re ready to see these beautiful pillows of deliciousness to their full potential. Whack a frying pan on high. Heat some olive oil and when hot, add your gyoza to the pan. Fry the base until golden, then tip about a half centimetre of water in the pan, put a lid over the gyoza and once the water is gone, they’re done. Fry them for a little longer after the water has gone, to re-crisp and then feed them to the masses.

Well, at least we saved one gyoza to photograph

Step 3: the other but probably not less important sushi ingredients. For my fried fish, I used flake and cut this up into square-centimetre pieces, crumbed with the usual flour / egg / breadcrumbs routine and fried until golden. I also sliced some cucumber and avocado, and boiled about 3 cups of rice. In a brief moment of yuppie-ness I used special sushi rice but post-checkout was informed that it really makes no difference. Once the rice is done, mix around a couple of tablespoons of sushi vinegar (or you can make your own using half normal vinegar and half sugar) and let it cool a little.

Step 4: assembly. Much like primary school assemblies which involved lining up in neat rows and singing the national anthem the assembly of a sushi equally involves neatness and precision, though not necessarily singing. Get yourself a bamboo sushi mat, they’re only a few dollars and make the whole process a lot easier.

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Nori just wanting to be made into sushi

Lay a piece of nori down on your sushi mat and spoon rice – a half centimetre thick – leaving about an inch across at one end, positioning it so that the un-riced nori is farthest away. You can pretty much put whatever filling you want at this point – for the teriyaki chicken I lay strips of the deliciously caramelly meat in a line on top of the rice at the end closest to me (i.e. farthest from the non-rice end) as well as some cucmber and avo. The more you fill, the harder it is to close so filling the whole area of rice with filling would be an impressive challenge. It’s rolling time! Roll away from you, use the bamboo mat to help and essentially just keep rolling until you have a cylinder. Dab a line of water across the un-riced nori and this will help seal the sushi. Done!

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Deliciousness on a plate. Served with some pickled ginger, wasabi and a dish of soy, hiding to the right

Washed down with a few Asahis, Saturday night sushi was a bit of a success. Despite a little bit of prep work, it was actually a pretty fun night where everyone could participate in making their own fantastic / suspicious (depending on how you look at it) combinations.