216-224 Commonwealth St Surry Hills, NSW 2010
|Opening hours||Lunch Fri noon-3pm, dinner Tue-Sat 5-10pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 8880 9942|
Fancy naming your new restaurant after the Japanese stock exchange index. That's crazy. You might as well call it Dow Jones, or NASDAQ, and peg your profit margins to the share prices. I'm half expecting an annual report instead of a menu.
Oh sorry, they don't mean that Nikkei. They mean the cuisine that came about when large numbers of Japanese moved to Peru in the late-nineteenth century.
The one that inspired Nobu Matsuhisa to put tiraditos and anticucho on the menu at Nobu, that uses an awful lot of sweet potato, and that goes with a pisco sour as well as it does with a sake.
The old Bodega site in Commonwealth Street scrubs up well, divided into a casual, wine-lined bar and attractive dining room by a screen of boxed shelves holding books, wine and glassware.
An open kitchen still takes pride of place, and the long, broad communal table has been fashioned from a single slab of camphor wood. Overhead floats a cloud-like installation composed of overlapping lotus leaves.
Nikkei is the new venue from the guys who gave us mod-Jap bar-diners Tokyo Bird, Osaka Trading Co. and Bancho Bar, headed by Peruvian/Japanese manager Marco Oshiro Giron.
Brazilian-born chef Lucas Cerullo David plays with Nikkei-inspired takes on traditional Peruvian dishes, such as a bright and citrussy swordfish ceviche ($22), chunky and moreish, and raw Hokkaido scallops in the shell ($16 for two) bathed in a punchy capsicum salsa that's zingy with wasabi leaf.
A classic pisco ($20) proves just the thing with a bowl of sweet-salty taro and sweet potato chips, and a pot of aji panca mayo ($7) that's all smoke and tang.
Like all fusion cuisines – and stock exchanges for that matter – Nikkei is a matter of give and take. I'll give you expertise with raw fish, rice and fermented soy products, and take your aji (chilli), corn and sweet potatoes.
Right in the middle is tuna tartare, a clever mash-up of purple sweet potato with lime and salt, topped with diced avocado and tuna tartare, zipped up with spicy ume plum, soy sauce and mirin ($19).
And of course, from the country that grows 4000 different types of potatoes, there's papa rellenas ($12), big balls of light and mooshy potato, chicken and corn with a Japanese curry sauce.
Beef short ribs ($23) are sauced with miso, garlic and corn puree, but there's a sausage, kale and cannellini bean dish ($23) that is calling my name.
The crisp-skinned snag from LP Quality Meats whispers garlic and paprika, and the whole thing comes across as a smoky Peruvian cassoulet, the only hint of Japan being a shreddy, fibrous daikon garnish.
A mellow, licorice-and-spice 2018 Pampas del Sur Malbec Riserva ($12/$67) likes it as much as I do.
Nikkei's dulce de leche ($15) is a firmish wedge of pudding, paired with tart, fruity guava jam and sweet sake kasu cream, and showered with toasted coconut. Pleasant, not essential.
With a heavier hand, this give-and-take exchange between Japan and Peru could go awry, but the kitchen works hard to get a good balance of brightness and umami.
There's balance, too in the textural wines and cocktails and casual/serious service.
For those wishing to know whether to invest their money, it looks like the Nikkei is going to end the year on a high.
Vegetarian: Two entrees, two main courses, two sides.
Drinks: South American cocktails; dedicated lists of pisco, sake, Japanese whisky, and an everything-goes wine list from sommelier Phil McElroy.
Go-to dish: Spiced pork sausage, kale, cannellini beans, $23.
Pro tip: Order the sweet-salty taro crisps ($7) and put them to work with the tuna tartare and tiradito.