Sake Restaurant & Bar, Double Bay

Terry Durack
A winning classic: Poached peach with umeshu fruit liqueur and grapefruit granita.
A winning classic: Poached peach with umeshu fruit liqueur and grapefruit granita. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams

The InterContinental Hotel, 33 Cross Street Double Bay, New South Wales 2028

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Opening hours 11am-midnight daily
Features Accepts bookings, Bar, Business lunch, Degustation, Events, Family friendly, Gluten-free options, Groups, Late night, Licensed, Lunch specials, Long lunch, Private dining, Romance-first date, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Wayne Brown
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 8017 3104

When Sake opened in The Rocks five years ago, who knew it would grow to be such a crowd-pleaser, turning itself into a brand extending to Melbourne, Brisbane, and most recently, Double Bay. Who, except for Urban Purveyor Group's John Szangolies, perhaps. It's possible he had in mind a grand Nobu-inspired plan for world domination all along.

Key to the expansion is that the newbies are the same, but different. New to the repertoire for Double Bay, for instance, is the open robata grill, its high-grade binchotan charcoal costing almost as much as the king prawn sizzling on top. Mark up another win for food on sticks, already smokin' hot all over Sydney from Sepia in the city to Manly's Daniel San and Surry Hills' adorable little Chaco Bar.

But sushi and sashimi are, after all, the natural diet of the native mwah-mwah birds of this exclusive habitat. So raw fish still rules, under gifted young executive chef Min Kim (ex-Sokyo) and the group's culinary director, Martin Heierling.

The plush marble interior of Sake.
The plush marble interior of Sake. Photo: Christopher Pearce

A 16-piece sushi selection ($48) does more than its job description, with six little tuna belly nori rolls, and 10 slender fingers of nigiri topped with glistening sea-sweet scampi, a fat, fresh scallop, sweet, livery lobes of sea urchin, and a bright slash of hiramasa kingfish.

Total highlight, however, is a tuna tasting plate that lines up avocado-capped tuna, tuna tataki topped with the crunch of fried garlic, and crisp little tacos bursting with chopped raw yellowfin, culminating in shot glasses of Kozaemon Junmai sake. Small wonder it went from $25 on the opening menu to its current $30 for two.

What else is new? A 24-seat communal table right down the middle (not the first choice for those discussing private property portfolios), swathes of equally dramatic viola calacatta marble, and a wall that runs from kitchen to sushi bar to cocktail bar. Special Designation sakes come by bottle and glass, and the lively mix of New and Old World wines includes a peachy-keen 2011 Toolangi Estate chardonnay ($18/$87).

A tuna tasting plate with rolls, taco, tataki and sake.
A tuna tasting plate with rolls, taco, tataki and sake. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams

Sake's signature steamed prawn shumai ($19) are brilliant here; light-as-air and wrapped in a shag-pile of noodles. I can live without dynamite scallops, gratineed in the shell mornay-style with spicy mayo ($20), and quail karaage ($19) brought down by a gritty crust of seaweed and spice. Ebi ten sushi roll ($19) feels one-dimensional, a case of craftsmanship winning over the spontaneity and joy of crunchy, hot, tempura prawn encased in cool rice.

Of the 11 robata offerings, the master kobe wagyu ($20) basted with sesame-soy glaze is almost too rich, the grade 9+ marbling barely having time to melt. Brined pork belly threaded with braised daikon ($12) is a beauty; and skewers of baby beetroot served with feta yoghurt ($15) are sweetly creative.

There's plenty more creativity on the menu, from a "frosty kobe fried rice" with foie gras to the dragon egg chocolate surprise, the surprise being (spoiler alert) liquid nitrogen.

Braised pork belly robata skewers.
Braised pork belly robata skewers. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams

But the classic wins hands-down: a single poached peach, blushing pink with umeshu fruit liqueur ($16) and submerged in a crimson crush of grapefruit and pomegranate granita; every mouthful shimmery and summery.

Staff are still bedding down, but there's genuine effort and good craft here. From the discreet private rooms at the back to the wood-framed open-air terrace overlooking the driveway of the Hotel InterContinental, Sake looks like a Double Bay playpen waiting to happen.

THE LOW-DOWN
Best bit:
Anything raw
Worst bit: Nondescript entrance
Go-to dish:
Tuna tasting plate (nori, tacos, tataki, sake), $30.   

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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http://www.sakerestaurant.com.au/