19-21 Pirrama Rd Pyrmont, NSW 2009
|Opening hours||Lunch Tue-Sun noon-3pm; dinner Tue-Sat; bar Tue-Sun from noon|
|Phone||02 9657 9882|
If you want to know what Chuuka is all about, don't go looking for answers on the website. "Chuuka is marching to the beat of your own drum. Chuuka is a world of contrasts that defies categorisation. Chuuka is Chuuka."
Thanks, guys, that explains everything.
Chuuka is actually a play on Chuka, an early fusion cuisine created when chefs in Japan started interpreting popular Chinese dishes for the Japanese palate. We've seen it before, when Hamish Ingham flirted with it at Bar H in 2014, but this new incarnation will take a bit of getting used to.
Here, The Star has combined the talents of Chase Kojima of Sokyo in Sydney, and Victor Liong of Lee Ho Fook in Melbourne in the fabulous site that was the old Flying Fish at the harbour end of Jones Bay Wharf. The double-decked dining room has been spruced up with inked walls by tattoo artist Deepak Munsami, but essentially the charm of the heavy, dark timber beams against the sparkle of the water is the perfect harbourside dining scenario.
With no sushi coming from the raw bar, Chuuka presents instead a "caviar service" of three different roe options. Choose from Yarra Valley trout roe ($38), Tasmanian sea urchin ($48) and Oscietra caviar ($115), teamed with a lush cashew cream, soft-centred Chinese tea eggs, and potato rice crisps. Order all three and they'll throw in the dry-ice theatrics. The combination of trout roe and cashew cream sounds counter-intuitive, but is both rich and refreshing.
Furls of freshly sliced raw salmon are dressed with a spicy chilli bean, sweet bean and ume plum sauce with a funky little salad of tomato, celery, coriander and crunchy bits of fried Chinese bread ($19). Not sure where it's coming from, but it's enjoyable enough.
The most coherent dish is a bowl of silky set custard enriched with foie gras and topped with a slurry of blue swimmer crab in a carrot and ginger shellfish sauce ($13 a head). Gentle, rich and comforting, it hovers somewhere between chawan mushi and China's savoury tofu custard "dou hua". This style of clear, thickened sauce is something of a feature of Chuka cuisine, with a similarly eggy scramble of fresh scallops and blue swimmer crab pooling over the tenshindon fried rice ($35).
The big crowd-pleaser is tempura yuzu chicken ($24), a sort of sweet-and-sour chicken nuggets for grown-ups that will press all your lemon chicken buttons. But I'm tiring, by now, of all the mash-ups, and yearn for something with a single focus.
Miso-glazed Glacier 51 toothfish ($59) almost does it, the four medallions of this amazingly rich fish given a similarly sweet umami profile to Nobu's famous miso black cod (Kojima once headed up Nobu kitchens in Dubai, London, LA and the Bahamas).
The origami-style dessert menu lists a gentle jasmine tea-infused mousse ($14), with purple yam ice-cream and sweet potato tuile (more of those glutinous tapioca balls, please, they're fun).
It's an intriguing dining experience, fuelled by cocktails, a pricey wine list, and keen young staff in the kitchen and on the floor, but I'm just not convinced by the concept.
For Australian diners who know how good both Japanese and Chinese cuisines can be as singular entities, combining them seems like a compromise of both. But hey, Chuuka is Chuuka, right?
Vegetarian: Two medium dishes, one main course, three sides
Drinks: Bespoke cocktails, six sakes, 19 champagnes and a solid NZ/Oz/Italian wine list, strong on riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir
Go-to dish: Trout roe with cashew cream, tea egg and potato and rice crackers, $38
Pro tip: Daily specials of lobster, mud crab, whole fish and Peking duck aren't listed on the menu, so ask.