In Food + Drink

A Sydney Eatery Pairing Japanese And Peruvian Cuisines

The vibrant flavours of Peru seldom appear in Sydney’s vast, multicultural culinary scene, and when they do, the menus are far too generalised to offer any specific insights into what is a diverse and delicate cuisine.

Nikkei Bar & Restaurant is an exception.

The venue, which opened in Sydney’s Surry Hills in November 2019, highlights the often overlooked marriage of Japanese and Peruvian flavours – a pairing that dates back to the 19th Century.

‘Nikkei’, a word used to describe Japanese immigrants living in foreign countries, is widely accepted as the original name of this historic and unique cultural exchange. It’s only now beginning to catch on in the United States with restaurants like New York City’s upscale Sen Sakana. And with Nikkei Bar & Restaurant, that trend should be more than welcome on Sydney’s adventurous dining circuit.

Nikkei Bar & Restaurant is from the same highly regarded team behind drinking den Tokyo Bird, popular Tramsheds eatery Osaka Trading Co. and Chinatown’s Bancho Bar. Nikkei, however, is their most ambitious expansion yet. The restaurant will take over the original site of tapas bar Bodega with an elegant fit out and feature a dining space that’s centered around a long communal timber table cut from a single tree.

A big chunk of the Japanese diaspora that emigrated from the country in the late 1880s was lured to Peru with the promise of jobs in the mining, farming and railroad industries. Shortly after, this insular community began using Japanese cooking techniques to adapt the Peruvian ingredients immediately available to them, creating new dishes from produce such as aji peppers and native potatoes.

Thus began a culinary tradition that has grown and shaped across generations, driven by bountiful native ingredients from the harsh conditions of the Andean Highlands to the vast and productive Peruvian coastline.

Venue manager and highly experienced bartender Marco Oshiro Giron, who is of Peruvian-Japanese heritage himself, has been heavily involved in the entire conception of Nikkei Bar & Restaurant. From the food menu to the drinks list, his work with head chef Lucas Cerullo David (ex-Osaka Trading Co) and Justin Kim, as well as Group Sommelier Phil McElroy, has set the stage for a range of flavours that Giron describes as primarily Peruvian with Japanese flourishes.

“We are trying to go for Peruvian-Japanese flavours overall, although some of these dishes might skew a little more towards Peruvian, but that’s because good Japanese is much more common in Sydney,” says Giron.

That’s why you’ll find sweet potato and taro crisps with smoked aji panca mayonnaise, and Hokkaido scallops served with the very Latino combination of capsicum salsa, chilli, cilantro and lime alongside Japanese influences like edamame and wasabi.

Star dishes on the menu include a Swordfish Ceviche swimming in leche de tigre (tiger’s milk – a ceviche staple), sweet potato, avocado, mango, Spanish onion, chilli and cilantro. Importantly, the kitchen uses the Nikkei technique of curing the ceviche just a few minutes before serving. “You get it fresher,” says Giron, explaining that it’s different from the Peruvian method of curing the fish in citrus for hours, or even overnight. “There’s more of a sashimi feel.”

One of Giron’s favourite dishes, the Tuna Tartare Causa, is textured with avocado and leek but served on a sweet potato base with ume kosho. It’s perhaps one of the best examples of how these two cuisines interact, being a working class dish that used to be eaten by Peruvian soldiers due to it being easy to prepare and portion.

Another great example of this creative mash is the Papa Rellenas – Latin American croquettes stuffed with a creamy blend of potato, chicken, corn, olives, and aji amarillo, with Japanese curry sauce on the side.

“We’re using those familiar Japanese flavours to try and cushion people into trying Peruvian food,” says Giron.

Similar approaches can be found with the menu’s more substantial dishes, like the Beef Short Rib, flavoured with miso garlic corn puree, pickled red cabbage, onions and a anticucho jus, or the seasonal Blue Eye Sudado with blue eye trevella, roasted peppers, coconut, coriander, and pearl couscous.

The highly curated list of 8 signature cocktails, which sits alongside craft beers and a strong collection of coastal wines, was written by Giron to reflect just as much of this fusion as the food. Perch yourself at the attractive curved bar of laser-cut stone and work your way through a collection that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else in Sydney.

Nikkei Bar & Restaurant

“I wanted to highlight flavours more than anything else,” says Giron. “It’s almost like the spirit takes a bit of a backseat and the flavour really dominates your palate.”

Many of these are subversive when it comes to Sydney’s typical tastes. A Roku gin-based papaya cocktail would get its depth from a supporting cast of cherry blossoms, mango, lime and black walnut bitters. Whereas a drink with oregano tea draws on Suntory toki, rosemary, shichimi, and rice vinegar.

Giron has even overhauled the Sydney staple of an Espresso Martini (although classics are available upon request), and replaced it with what he describes as “an alcoholic cafe latte”. It’s a smooth blend of spiced rum, bourbon, coffee, carob, cinnamon and cumin-spiced quinoa milk.

(All images: Nikkei Bar & Restaurant / supplied) 

Published 10 January, 2020