iiza, Newtown

July 6, 2010 § 2 Comments

My friend DM hosts THE best dinner parties – they are stylish, laid back delicious affairs with an abundance of candles, strategically placed cheese platters, fabulous conversation and, if you’re lucky, even a costume change by the host! The most recent soiree was centered around a giant pot of Persian chicken with Israeli couscous, a recipe he was given by one of the customers at his cafe. It was here, while sipping a glass of riesling, that I made friends with a fellow Nippon-addict. The following is an excerpt from #58 in Stuff White People Like – Japan

If you find yourself in an awkward silence with white people, just mention how you want to go to Japan.  They will immediately begin talking about how their trip to Japan, or their favorite stuff from Japan, but it will be entirely about them.  This is useful as you no longer have to talk, and they will like you for letting them talk about themselves.

I’m sorry Christian Lander but I have fallen into the trap. I love Japan, I love eating Japanese food and ever since I spent time visiting Japan I have found it necessary to make comments like: “This is good but I was spoilt by the food I experienced in Japan.”

I. Like. White. People. Stuff.

But I’m glad the conversation turned to Asia as not only did I make a new friend and fellow foodie, but we organised a date to iiza, a relatively new Japanese restaurant on King St, Newtown.

Deeply rooted in the Japanese culture, izakaya’s are one of the most traditional and popular eating establishments in Japan. Evolved from the rustic, lively eateries of old they offer a casual, vibrant and friendly atmosphere for locals to eat, drink, chat and relax at the end of the day. To the Japanese, they are much more than just a place to eat and drink. They are part of their culture and lifestyle.

We arrived just after 7:30 on a very cold Tuesday night, lucking upon a nearby car space and shuffling our way into the eatery. You are immediately hit with a sense of pared back authenticity and a lack of kitsch that often adorns the walls of many Thai, Indian and Japanese restaurants. We were seated at the back of the smallish space, near the kitchen where it was toasty warm, and watched as the room quickly filled with diners. One of our party had brought a bottle of wine so we were glad to see BYO was available, with $2 corkage pp (pretty reasonable considering the extensive list of sake, wines and beers that iiza offer).

Apart from AB and myself, the rest of our party had eaten here before and suggested we order a selection to graze and share, and we can order more as we go if necessary. Meltingly soft Agedashi Tofu 揚げ出し豆腐 ($7.50), Yakitori Skewers 焼き鳥 ($6.80) and Grilled Scallops 焼き帆立 ($9.50) had apparently hit the spot the first time round and were considered for re-selection. The menu isn’t enormous but long enough – and delicious enough – to cause hesitation, so we had finished our first bottle of white with still no decisions made. It was time to stop dallying and get to business. What we ordered for starters:

  • The Tofu
  • Wagyu Beef Tataki 牛のタタキ ($9.80)
  • Nasu Dengaku   なす田楽 (Sliced eggplant topped with Japanese Dengaku miso) ($8)

What we loved:

  • The Tofu
  • Wagyu Beef Tataki 牛のタタキ ($9.80)
  • Nasu Dengaku  なす田楽 (Sliced eggplant topped with Japanese Dengaku miso) ($8)

This food tastes, I’m going to say it, just like what I ate in Japan. Sadly there was only enough for the five of us to have one piece of everything …I could have devoured the lot!

The tofu was gooey on the outside, like toffee that had been left too long in the sun, nestling the white whey of bean curd within it’s sticky grasp. It was cooked perfectly, the sensation was warm and soft, and the accompanying dashi sauce perfectly complemented the delicate tofu.

Next up was beef tataki, sweet and sour hits with melt in your mouth wagyu slices. It received a thumbs up from AB, who isn’t a major meat eater. The miso sauce on the eggplant was also a star, favourably strong against the absorbing vegetable, and the dish was soon gone.

A strange arrival was the Tuna Sashimi Taco サシミタコス ($15 for 5 pieces), diced tuna sashimi in fried wonton cups with tomato salsa. I’m still umming about this one – I don’t know if I like my raw fish on fried crackers – but the others thought it went down a treat. I wanted to try Aburi Sashimi  炙り刺身 – flame seared sashimi topped with Saikyo miso dressing & dried garlic miso. Next time.

Another glass of plum wine and we are on to mains, conversation circling about the best places to eat and suburb snobbery.

I had read John Bek describe eating the crispy soft shell crab as a “truly zen moment” and new I had to have it – somewhere, anywhere, during the dinner. We decided on a Spider Roll   スパイダーロール ($14.50) – with soft shell crab and seasoned daikon radish and this was amazing, although it almost seems wasteful to hide the crab in the rice. I wished we had ordered another!

Next came a Karage Chicken から揚げ ($15), apparently a must have, and I’m glad that we did have. Somehow we got on to the topic of KFC and the fact that I had never tried their popcorn chicken. The verdict? If I loved the light crisp outside and meaty breast filling of this karage, then best steer clear of the Colonel for ever!

Last time the others had tried the Kakuni Pork Belly   豚角煮 ($19) and highly recommended it, but we thought we should venture into unmapped territory, such as the Gyu-suji Nikomi  牛スジ煮込み ($19) – a wagyu miso hot-pot. The flavours are rich, the meat is stewy and the whole warming concotion was the perfect order for that cold winter night…although I still marvel at the three slices of garlic bread on the side.

We finished with Teriyaki Salmon  照焼きサーモン ($22) with rice and ummed and ahhed about ordering more (later that night when I was in my kitchen eating cereal I wish that we had!) But it’s nice to save some surprises for next time, gyoza shaped surprises, green-tea soba noodle salad shaped surprises and a ribbon of pork belly! Oh how I love the anticipation of eating!


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§ 2 Responses to iiza, Newtown

  • Meals says:

    It was extremely delicious! Wish we ate more!

  • ducky says:

    Sounds like a terrific restaurant! The crispy soft shelled crab would be perfect for me to try tonight but unfortunately I live 5 hours drive from Sydney so I suppose I will have to rustle up a more modest dinner at home tonight!

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