In Food + Drink

Chef’s Night Out: Chase Kojima’s Guide To Sydney Nightlife

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Chase Kojima is your go-to guy for Japanese food. It’s literally in his DNA – his father is a master sushi chef in California, and his grandfather was a fisherman in Hokkaido – and Kojima’s CV speaks to his skill set. He’s worked internationally for the Nobu restaurant group and is executive chef at Sokyo (and its more casual burger spin-off, Gojima) at The Star complex in Sydney.

At Sokyo, he’s known for his exceptional sushi – he uses not one but three types of sushi rice, matches Tasmanian wasabi to Western Australian kingfish, pairs seared salmon belly with spiced daikon that’s been aged for a month and teams snapper sushi with a house-made shio-kombu sauce on a crisp piece of nori resembling a taco.

No wonder award-winning chef Dan Hong names Sokyo as his favourite Japanese restaurant in Sydney – he especially recommends getting that front-row seat at the sushi counter and letting the chefs decide for you, omakase-style.

So given Kojima’s extensive cred when it comes to Japanese food, he’s pretty much the perfect candidate for a night out trying the city’s best examples.

5pm: Yakitori Jin, Haberfield

Our first stop is Yakitori Jin in Haberfield – a surprising starting point, as the suburb is most famous for its Italian food (in fact, it’s home to Kojima’s favourite pizzeria). And while the inner city has Chaco Bar and Tokyo Bird, Kojima likes getting further into the suburbs to enter a place that directly “feels like Japan”, he says.

From the noren curtains that greet you at the front to the smoky smell of the grill that evokes yakitori joints in Tokyo alleyways, this restaurant instantly transports you.

Yakitori Jin is small and to-the-point – and for Kojima, it’s always about “getting some chicken and getting out of there”.

There are six kinds of char-grilled chicken skewers on the menu and Kojima favours the chicken skin (kawa) especially. He’s also drawn here by the tare – which is the restaurant’s soy-based dipping sauce for the yakitori.

“It’s brought down by generations – it’s like a master stock, it keeps forever. You dunk your chicken, you put it in your fridge and then you boil it and it keeps going. It has really good flavour.”

6.30pm: Kisuke, Willoughby

Kisuke, Willoughby Photo: Kisuke

A quick cab ride takes us across the city to Kisuke, a small place designed in the style of a suburban Japanese restaurant, with timber furniture clustered close together and a hand-written menu scrawled at the front.

“Kisuke is one of my favourite Japanese restaurants and they’ve got a nice drink line-up,” says Kojima. He counts chef/owner Yusuke Morita [owner/chef] as “the best Japanese chef in Sydney”.

“He usually goes to the market and he has a really good fish line-up,” he says. ”It’s not cheap, so I usually don’t go crazy, but if you’re looking for quality, they have a nice tuna of the day.”

“One thing I really love … is they do a prawn cake. It’s so delicate, it’s like a prawn mousse that they batter very lightly and deep-fry and serve with green tea salt. It’s super subtle and super delicious,” he says.

Kojima’s drink of choice here is shoju (“like a Japanese vodka”, he explains), so he picks out a sweet potato version and name-checks the tuna sashimi and sea urchin as worth trying. Even a simple yuzu sorbet earns high marks here.

8pm: HaNa-JuRin, Crows Nest

Nigiri Photo: HaNa-JuRin

Just a suburb or two over is HaNa-JuRin, the sushi and teppanyaki restaurant run by Tomoyuki Matsuya. “It’s the place where I love to go and bring my own friends,” says Kojima.

The restaurant’s stark blue colours are countered by bright graphic art and of course, the sushi counter and teppanyaki. Kojima usually starts out with octopus sashimi, a sampler of fish and teppanyaki section, but it’s not uncommon for him to smash out some okonomiyaki and ramen, too.

“It’s usually a messed-up way of eating, but I like it,” he says. “Most of the time you want to go out and you want to churn through as much as possible.”

But given the amount of venues he’s hitting tonight, Kojima applies some (some) restraint. “I’ll be eating sushi and then I’ll have a small okonomiyaki,” he says.

10pm: Cho Cho San, Potts Point

chase kojima sydney nightlife restaurants We zip over Harbour Bridge to Potts Point. And even though Cho Cho San is moodily lit, it’s clear that its Scandi-Japanese design is very sleek, modern and elegant. The long lines of concrete, timber perforated panels echo the minimalism of the cutlery and drinkware, too.

“I like their tumblers,” says Kojima. “I like something simple – not heavy – it’s like a water glass, but it just looks nice. When you’re drinking whisky, these things really matter.”

Given that he usually goes to Cho Cho San for its whisky and snacks, it seems apt to order that as a drink and some eggplant miso skewers. And maybe something else? “I love their prawns over the grill with kombu butter. That’s their signature, it’s so delicious.”

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11.30pm: Sokyo, Pyrmont

chase kojima sydney nightlife restaurants If Oh Matcha! By Cha Noma at Regent Place was still open, Kojima would grab a green tea and adzuki soft serve in a charcoal-style cone. We find it closed so head back to Sokyo instead, for an after-hours snack.

Mocha ice-cream with frozen strawberry milkshake and the caramelised white chocolate and black sesame tribute to Sesame Street called Goma Street are favourites, but Kojima is keen to showcase a new dessert.

A sweet potato version of crème brûlée, with blood orange granita, diced up oranges and sweet potato, a praline disc, and more sweet potato and orange zest on top.

“It eats like a crème brulee, but it has a subtle sweetness,” he says. “It tastes almost Korean.”

We wash it down with a light glass of yuzu sake on the rocks before heading to our last spot for the night.

12.30am: Lantern by Wagaya, Sydney

chase kojima sydney nightlife restaurants

Lantern by Wagaya Photo: Facebook

It’s an eternal battle to find somewhere open after midnight in Sydney,but luckily Lantern by Wagaya is in operation until 2am. Tucked away in an unassuming corporate-looking building, the restaurant is also home to private karaoke rooms.

We score one with giant pink speakers protruding out of the walls. No one is really too discerning about what’s being consumed at this point.

“At this point, it’s pretty messy,” Kojima confesses.

Despite the ticking hour, he’s still a confident playlist-selector, though. “I’ll throw in some of my old dad songs, like Backstreet Boys songs,” he says.

“If we’re a bit tired and want to party, we [can] keep the vocal on, so we don’t have to sing, it just sings on its own.”

But when he gets into the mood again, he actually goes for J-pop songs from his adolescence (boy group, solo, power ballad, it’s a free-for-all) and also the theme and outro songs from his favourite anime shows from when he was a kid. It seems apt, at this hour, to throw back to an early morning ritual, after all.

Published 29 January, 2018