15.5/20

Cho Cho San

73 Macleay Street, Potts Point, New South Wales

All Details
Go-to dish: Petuna ocean trout with mirin and wasabi.
Go-to dish: Petuna ocean trout with mirin and wasabi. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Terry Durack

Let's see, what have we here? A gun young chef seemingly incapable of a wrong move; a seasoned restaurateur with a proven track record; a hot Sydney architect at the top of his game; a prime Potts Point location … and fried chicken? Clearly, this isn't going to work.

This is so going to work. Cho Cho San, named for the tragic heroine of Puccini's Madame Butterfly, is a new-day Japanese izakaya from the team behind Potts Point's modern Greek taverna, the Apollo, just up Macleay Street. Restaurateur Sam Christie, chef Jonathan Barthelmess, and architect George Livissianis have taken a long, skinny space that has variously been Shogun, Osteria Moana, and Paramount, and turned it into a long skinny space with an equally long, skinny, stool-lined concrete bar and a slightly unfinished air.

With its massive brass sliding door, birch ply tables, and luminous back-lit Barrisol screen ceilings, it's like a whitewashed monastic canteen in a Cistercian convent as seen by British architect John Pawson. Until the food comes, that is.

Udon noodles with pork and chilli.
Udon noodles with pork and chilli. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Barthelmess and talented young head chef Nic Wong, formerly of Bodega, Billy Kwong and Ester, pay their respects to Japanese cuisine while simultaneously taking it to the street as small-dish, cocktail-friendly bar food. So eggplant and miso might sound conventional, but here, it's like Tokyo-pop baba ghanoush, with big, bubbly rice crackers for dipping ($10).

There's a steamed bun (of course) filled with rolled, smoked duck, hoisin and pickled cucumber ($9) that has real character, and a cute little milk bun, split and stuffed with buttery spanner crab and chives ($12), that's messy but fun.

The redevelopment of the Overseas Passenger Terminal has freed up highly skilled sushi chef, Yukio Moriyama, of the Ocean Room, and the raw bar dishes are glorious, the fish consistently served at its most favourable temperature for eating. A curved white bowl - the ceramics are lovely - holds precision-sliced Petuna ocean trout ($20) in an oceanic wave, dressed with a mix of soy, mirin, black pepper and wasabi. Sensational.

Sam Christie, Nic Wong and Jonathan Barthelmess.
Sam Christie, Nic Wong and Jonathan Barthelmess. Photo: James Brickwood

Meaty cubes of yellowfin tuna ($22) team with avocado and pickled eggplant in a slippery dip of a dish, dressed with tamari, rice vinegar and sesame.

The kitchen's rendition of miso cod ($38) is better than the feted Nobu version, the Alaskan black cod (sable fish) so delicately cooked, the flesh cleaves away like an iceberg sliding into the sea; a light crunch coming from finely shaved radish. Crusty, soy-glazed angus flank cooked over charcoal ($28) comes with Japanese mustard, wasabi and togarashi chilli sprinkles. Fried Chicken Alert: the small nuggets ($14) are super-tender inside, super-crisp outside. Two more surprise hits: crisp tempura batter turns okra ($12) into something even okra-haters will like, and a side dish of fat, worm-like udon noodles ($15) in a crumbly-rough pork and chilli ragu is Jap Spag Bol. A bowl of firm, almost-crunchy fried brown rice with mushrooms and fried egg ($12) divides opinion; our bar neighbours call it weird.

Along with a mostly experienced team headed by Aidan Eriwata, long-serving Sydney somm Charles Leong is on the floor, ready to suggest a glass of dry, tangy Kaishun Chokarakuchi Junmai sake ($11 a glass), or a bottle of the crisp, floral 2012 Grace Gris de Koshu from Yamanashi ($72).

Intelligent, easy, drinking food from a crack team, with high-detail simplicity, bookings taken (a miracle), and green tea soft-serve ice-cream in a waffle cone ($6) for dessert? If this doesn't work, nothing will.

tdurack@fairfaxmedia.com.au

THE LOW-DOWN
Best bit: Japanese izakaya taken to a new level.
Worst bit: They don't do sushi.
Go-to dish: Petuna ocean trout with mirin and wasabi $20.

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.

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73 Macleay Street, Potts Point, New South Wales

  • Cuisine - Japanese
  • Prices - About $115.
  • Features - Accepts bookings, Licensed
  • Chef(s) - Jonathan Barthelmess, Nic Wong
  • Owners - Sam Christie, Jonathan Barthelmess, George Livissianis
  • Opening Hours - Mon-Thurs 6pm-10.30pm; Fri and Sat noon-11pm; Sun noon-10pm.
  • Author - Terry Durack
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5 comments so far

  • Why would you order sushi in an izakaya? Is it April 1st?

    Commenter
    what?
    Location
    Date and time
    June 24, 2014, 8:37AM
  • @what? You'd order sushi at an izakaya if Yukio Moriyama was making it for you. The guy is incredible. Was amazing at Ocean Room, so glad that he's found a new place to ply his trade. I can't wait to eat it again. Australia's own Jiro.

    Commenter
    Shutthefrontdoor
    Location
    Date and time
    June 24, 2014, 11:00AM
  • Shutthefrontdoor - Thanks but I will stick with the Japanese version.

    Commenter
    what?
    Location
    Date and time
    June 24, 2014, 2:32PM
  • You know cho cho is South American slang for "woman's lady parts"? Imagine my disappointment to find this article was referring to a Japanese restaurant.

    Commenter
    Rhys
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    June 24, 2014, 9:46PM
    • There may be some Japanese ingredients in some of those dishes but it is going too far to call it a Japanese restaurant. The food is way too far removed. If a tuck shop sells a curried egg sandwich it doesn't become an Indian restaurant.

      Commenter
      jeremy
      Location
      Date and time
      June 27, 2014, 2:23PM

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