New places pop up on King Street more often than a person with an average job can afford to eat out. A few months ago a new (not new anymore) Japanese place opened on “the other side” of King St and since then I’ve been keen on reading every review I could about it to decide if it was worth visiting.
The restaurant’s name is Iiza (short for izakaya), and yes, it’s meant to be an izakaya instead of a restaurant. According to Wikipedia, an izakaya “is a type of Japanese drinking establishment which also serves food to accompany the drinks. The food is usually more substantial than that offered in other types of drinking establishments in Japan such as bars or snack bars.” But as several people have pointed out, it works more as a restaurant that also offers drinks. Which is not bad at all.
Alvaro and I walked all King St, from South to North, looking for a place to dine while building up our appetites after a day of too much eating. We both needed something not too heavy or spiced and Japanese felt like the right choice.
The decoration in Iiza is beautiful. The walls hold painted canvasses with pictures like the fish above and Japanese characters. Up on a shelf, many bottles of sake and shochu make you wanna try them all.
The service is great, even when you get different waitresses coming to your table and some of them may need to ask somebody else to answer your questions. I asked about the difference between the two shochus in the menu (a drink distilled from barley, sweet potato or rice that is higher in alcohol than sake) and I decided to try the Enma ($9), made from barley. Alvaro had green tea.
The menu is divided in tapas (why call them that way if they could simply use the word appetizers?), sashimi, salad, sushi, hand rolls, sushi rolls, grilled, lightly battered, slow cooked, sides and dessert. Besides the word tapas, other Westernisations that catch your eye are the sashimi tacos and the Camembert tempura.
Alvaro wanted a soup or stew so he chose something from the slow-cooked section of the menu: the Japanese Gyu-suji Nikomi (tender Wagyu beef tendon braised over night in miso stew served in a clay hot pot, $21), plus rice ($3). As we hadn’t have our dose of veggies for the day, I ordered the Seaweed Salad (seasoned seaweed & fresh tofu with Japanese vinaigrette, $13), plus the Tasmanian Roll (6 pcs of Tasmanian salmon & avocado sushi rolls topped with crunchy tempura pieces, $13.50). As usual, we shared all.
The salad was genius. The Western touch were two wedges of sundried tomato and some sunflower seeds on top, which I found unnecesary but not entirely cacophonic. The flavour of the seaweeds plus the dressing just clicked perfectly and the texture and clean taste of the silken tofu complimented it perfectly.
In general, I don’t like sushi in Sydney. I haven’t been to Japan so I have no moral authority to compare it to the real thing but I just think that seafood in my country tastes much better and that leads naturally to better sushi. The Tasmanian roll was good, though, much better than other sushi I’ve eaten here.
The Gyu-suji Nikome came as advertise in a clay hot pot, with two pieces of garlic bread on the side. Yes, garlic bread. Hello, cacophony. Besides from that, the stew was delicious, it reminded me of the stews my Japanese aunties used to prepare, simple, tasty and healthy. Apart from the beef (it was pretty fatty but I couldn’t tell if it was real Wagyu… it wouldn’t make sense to use the real deal in a slow-cooked stew, would it?) it had green beans, carrots, turnips and baby corn. The gravy was thick and full of flavour. We ended up eating the garlic bread because we finished all the rice and there was still more gravy in the pot.
We didn’t have any dessert and walked briskly when we passed by Gelatomassi and Gelato Blue in order to avoid spoiling that wonderful feeling you just get after eating something nourishing and healthy. We have found a favourite spot in town.
184 King St
Newtown NSW 2042
(02) 8095 9260