There are a small number of restaurants in the Rocks and Circular Quay that cater for pre-theatre diners. I was relatively unimpressed by the standard of other restaurants offering pre-theatre meals in the area, so my brother and I decided to have dinner at Sake on Argyle Street in The Rocks. Although Sake does not offer a separate pre-theatre menu, it opens early enough (at 5:30pm) to have a relaxed meal before seeing a show. The name of the restaurant tells that it serves Japanese cuisine, with a modern Australian twist on traditional dishes. There are also some classic Japanese dishes available, such as miso soup, tempura, and teriyaki chicken.
Miso Cream Scallops - the highlight of the night.
I arrived at the restaurant rather early, at 5:05pm on a Friday evening. I was greeted by a member of the staff at the door and told that the restaurant wasn't open yet, so I was shown to a seat in the bar area and began to peruse the drinks menu. As it was still relatively early in the evening, I was surprised at the noisiness of the bar, probably frequented by drinkers celebrating the festive season.
Cocktails with a Japanese influence
However, I was surprised that the restaurant contained such boisterous and rowdy drinkers so early on in the evening. All in all, I found the shrieks and yells of the other customers a displeasure to my ears, and eagerly anticipated being seated in the dining area. After some deliberation, I decided to order the Wakanai Mocktail ($12) which was almost immediately brought to my table after ordering.
The Wakanai Mocktail - a delectable blend that mixed sweet and spicy flavours.
It was a refreshing blend of pineapple juice, which had been blended into a froth at the top, with accents of lime, caramel and a hint of chilli. I enjoyed the contrasting flavours within the drink and finished it within a few gulps.
At promptly 5:30pm a hostess showed me to my table. There are a few people seated at this early time, and I notice that the restaurant fills up rather quickly in the following hour.
Booth seating for larger groups in Sake Restaurant
Instead of chairs, the table is situated in the midst of a block of wood, which is the seating area. It was slightly uncomfortable climbing over the flat surface, yet I enjoyed the originality and charm of it, as it was different to the seating in many other restaurants.
Traditional Japanese seating
My brother was late, so I was on my own for a good half an hour. Although a waiter arrived to ask if I wanted drinks shortly after I was seated; however after this time I was not approached by anyone else at all. This was a problem because I had wanted to order the food well in advance, in order not to be late for the show we had tickets to. It was also a problem trying to catch the attention of any waiters nearby, as I was seated at a table at the far end of the restaurant next to the wall. After about 20 minutes I was able to alert a waiter to the fact that I needed service, and placed my food orders.
Sake's fold-up menu
Although it had taken a long time to place my order, I was pleased that the majority of the dishes I had ordered came out very quickly after ordering. The Steamed Prawn Dumplings ($19) were among one of the first dishes to arrive. They were steaming hot, and the appearance of the dumplings were very different from any I've had before.
A twist on traditional dumplings
The prawns were contained in a stringy exterior of vermicelli rice noodles, and were accompanied by a clear, light brown dipping sauce with shallots. The vermicelli noodles were moist and soft, and provided a texture contrast to the interior of the prawn, which was springy and tender. The sauce combined with the dumpling gave it flavour, and added a mild, sweetness which was also slightly tangy. However, it tasted so much like tempura dipping sauce that I was suspicious that they had given me tempura dipping sauce. It tasted pleasant, but I thought it was unusual to pair that sauce with steamed dumplings.
Edamame, abundantly heaped with salt and chilli.
The Spicy Edamame ($10) comes out with the dumplings. Edamame is the name for unripened soybeans, generally served with salt. The spicy edamame offered at Sake is a variation of traditional edamame, and combines it with chilli for a spicy kick. The spicy edamame is heaped with a generous serving of rock salt and chilli. At first the spiciness of the edamame isn't apparent, yet the flavour builds up in your mouth after eating a few pieces consecutively, which results in a hot, burning sensation on my tongue. I would not recommend the spicy edamame for people who can't handle spicy foods, but it is a fiery starter for those with more tolerable palates.
Wagyu Tartare for Two - a much smaller entree than I had imagined.
The Wagyu Tartare for Two ($26) is an entree designed to share by two, however I planned to eat this as a main dish, thinking that it would be large enough to do so. I was very wrong about this. When I saw the dish, I noted that the serving was small enough to be eaten as an entree for one person, and in no way would I be full from eating this dish even with the others that I had ordered. Compared to the standard of all the other dishes, the wagyu tartare was a disappointment. I was disappointed with its tiny serving, and also by the taste of it. The presentation of the dish was very nice, but this was cancelled out by the lack of excellence in taste. The tartare was served at room temperature, which differed from other restaurants where I've eaten steak tartare cold. I also disliked that the egg yolk had been pre-mixed into the meat, as I prefer breaking the yolk myself and mixing it into the meat. The tartare was dry, and the meat tasted sub-standard. I actually wondered why the meat was so dry because the runny egg yolk gives the meat a thick and runny moist texture. I did note that the menu stated the tartare came with a “fried egg puree," however I assumed that they would leave the egg yolk runny.
Popcorn Shrimp - a concoction of shrimp and creamy sauce.
The Popcorn Shrimp ($29) took the longest to arrive. It was my brother's favourite dish, and the one he came back for after previously dining at Sake on another occasion. The popcorn shrimp consisted of small, bite-sized pieces of shrimp coated in a creamy orange sauce, and was garnished with finely cut shallots, on top of a few pieces of lettuce. I would say the popcorn shrimp was one of the better dishes of the evening. My brother enjoyed the shrimp for its creamy and delicious sauce, but after a few bites I had had enough of the popcorn shrimp. I found the sauce to be a bit heavy.
Due to the minuscule proportions of the Wagyu Tartare for Two, I realised that the pair of us would not be full and therefore ordered another main dish, the Miso Cream Scallops ($32).
The scallops were my favourite dish, and the highlight of the night. The scallops were arranged in a bowl with a creamy beige sauce, and accompanied by some greens, shiitake mushrooms, baby corn and asparagus. The sauce had a distinct flavour that was a result of fusing cream and miso. The scallops were large, soft and were slightly seared, contributing to the bouncy texture and delicate flavour. The scallops and sauce were a perfect combination with the asparagus, mushrooms and baby corn, and I found this dish faultless.
It should be noted that many of the dishes advertised as mains on the menu at Sake come in very small servings. Due to this, it's most likely impossible to have a cheap meal as customers will be concerned with ordering more dishes to fill their stomachs. I thought the service was polite but cool and impersonal. The ambience and décor in Sake was nice, but the bar setting was ruined by noisy customers, though it was no fault of the restaurant. The fullness of the restaurant at dinner time demonstrated its popularity amongst others, however it wasn't to my liking. Although I liked the Miso Cream Scallops a lot, the excellence of one dish amongst several mediocre ones, along with lack-lustre service does not equal a positive experience. For the price, there was nothing exceptional about my experience dining at Sake, and if it was my choice, I wouldn't return.
Where: 12 Argyle Street The Rocks NSW
Why: For the blend of traditional and modern Japanese cuisine.
Cost: Higher priced. Entrees range from $9-$30 and mains range from $20-$39. However diners should be aware that serving sizes are very small.
Lunch 12:00pm to 3:00pm 7 days, Dinner 5:30pm-11:30pm from Monday to Saturday, and Dinner on Sunday from 5:00pm - 10:00pm