Pint-sized Japanese restaurants Besuto and Bay Nine Omakase lead Sydney's reopening wave

From left: Besuto's Lenny Ng, Tomi Bjorck, Joel Best and Hirofumi Fujita.
From left: Besuto's Lenny Ng, Tomi Bjorck, Joel Best and Hirofumi Fujita. Photo: Rebecca Veksler

Looking for the latest Sydney restaurant trend? Well, small seater restaurants are big again as the city seemingly turns Japanese. 

Besuto, a 12-seat omakase, will open next month, sliding into Loftus Lane at Circular Quay. And Bay Nine Omakase will open in November at Campbell's Stores in The Rocks.

Forecasters predicted diminutive, expensive restaurants would be the first victims of the pandemic. Yet a rash of pint-sized Japanese eateries have opened in the past year, Haco, Kuon Omakase and its spin-off sibling Kuon Tempura among them.

Besuto co-owner Joel Best first eyed the Circular Quay site two years ago with the idea of a tiny omakase, and argues "everything that has happened since has shown it to be a good business model".

Sydneysiders have increasingly mature palates for Japanese food and are attracted by the intimacy of an omakase, where they sit front row as the chef works with their chosen produce.

The omakase restaurant model also side-steps the staffing supply issue confronting restaurants. While Best and his fellow investor, the Sydney-based Finnish celebrity chef Tomi Bjorck, will sit mostly on the sidelines, Besuto is small enough to be operated day-to-day by its other partners, "sushi-master" Hirofumi Fujita and manager Lenny Ng.

On the western side of Circular Quay, Bay Nine Omakase will be run by chef Tomohiro Marshall Oguro. He has worked everywhere from Sushi-e to the sashimi section at Stephen Hodges' Fish Face. He is also a believer in the interactive relationship of chef and customer face-to-face at the bar. "But some Sydney people in Sydney don't want to sit at the bar, so we'll have tables as well," he says.

Oguro is already fine-tuning dishes. His opening menu will include a fatty fish marinated in soy and citrus, grilled and served with a pickle, and an agar-based jelly noodle. Besuto, which plans to include some dry-aged fish from Josh Niland's Fish Butchery, will serve as many as 20 courses. 

"When the office crowd get back to the city it'll open for lunch as well, eight to 10 courses, in and out in 90 minutes," Best says.