I’ve finished my Christmas shopping! It’s a relief as I hate fighting the silly season shopping crowds. Believe me, I’m rarely this organised. Despite the yearly plan to send Christmas cards, somehow I never manage it. This year I haven’t even bothered to pretend that it’ll happen.
This dinner was kind of a follow up to the one with my friend Dan at Orto Trading Co. We’d noticed the Japanese restaurant two doors down and resolved to return another time to try out Izakaya Fujiyama. Chef/owner Kenji Maenaka used to work in the Bodega kitchen looking after the dessert station but struck out with his own place in 2011. His time spent in the kitchens of The Four in Hand, Atelier and Marque have given him a practical view of Australian public’s taste and he’s designed the menu accordingly. Reflecting the relaxed vibe and izakaya-style, bookings aren’t taken so just show up when you feel like a drink and a nibble.
After my day of Christmas shopping, it’s 6.30pm when Dan and I meet outside and there’s only a couple of customers inside. By 9pm when we leave, the place is buzzing and full. I tentatively ask if it’s okay if I take some photos and am directed to Kenji himself who is behind the bar. He graciously gives permission, but seems a little camera-shy.
It’s an izakaya so in the spirit of things (pun intended) we order some drinks and edamame to start. Dan selects a beer while I agonise on which sake to pick. All I know is I like them dry and not too sweet. While I ask one of the waiters for suggestions, one of the other waiters appears holding a chilled bottle of sake which he says is fragrant like rockmelon. Sounds intriguing so I give it a go. The 57 Chikusen Hiyaoroshi Junmai turns out to be lovely but seems like many sakes I’ve tried before.
I know Dan likes kingfish so suggest ordering the lime and miso marinated fish. It’s served tartare style with fried tortilla chips with a crown of chopped chives. It’s fun to eat but I find the miso overwhelms everything else. Really, it could have been any fish. We also try the agedashi tofu which several reviews have noted is unusually paired with okra and daubed with grated daikon. My verdict? I love it! It’s different and makes for a substantial dish.
Alongside the printed menu, we’ve given a handwritten list of daily specials, one for food and one for drink. We choose a daily special of black pepper glazed spring chicken and then the waiter mentions that we haven’t ordered much. Go hungry? The idea is unfathomable so we also plump for the prawn and chicken wontons in ponzu dressing. Which turns out to be mistake because for two people, it’s actually a lot of food.
Sitting at the bar, Dan and I get the opportunity to watch chef Kenji Maenaka work his magic and our conversation falters as we get distracted with trying to work out which dishes he’s plating up. In the meantime, the black pepper glazed chicken shows up and turns out to be enormous. There must be almost half a chicken there! The prawn and chicken wontons are good with the light ponzu dressing but ends up being extremely filling. In hindsight, it was the perfect amount of food for three people to share.
The plateware at Izakaya Fujiyama makes all the dishes look picture perfect. Throughout dinner we’d watched the beautiful plates being pushed out onto the pass. At one point, I clasp my hands around the rough hewn cup that held the edamame and wish for a tiny moment that I could live with being a thief. Looks like I should plan another trip to Japan to fulfill my ceramic dreams.
After all that food, neither Dan and I can fit in a sweet course. Which given the chef’s background is a shame as they’re meant to be one of the highlights of the menu! I do see Kenji plate up the Fujiyama Snickers dessert with peanut butter cake, chocolate custard, housemade salted caramel ice cream and caramelised peanuts. Wow.
Do you think ‘eating is cheating’ when it comes to drinking? To my mind, a night sipping and grazing at an izakaya is better than ending up rambling wide eyed, with an empty stomach in the early hours at a kebab shop. I’ll be back to Izakaya Fujiyama again to try out more sake, Japanese beers and the grilled fish jaw which is exactly what it sounds like. What else? The grilled octopus, Kenji’s fried chicken (KFC), three bean salad, sashimi, teriyaki beef, tofu salad…err, looks like I’m going to have to come back quite a few times to satisfy my curiosity!
Maybe next time you can join me (the more people there, the more things we can order!) and maybe, just maybe we’ll even have room for some dessert.
G09/52 Waterloo Street Surry Hills NSW 2010
Open Monday-Saturday 6pm until late
Phone: (02) 9698 2797