In Food + Drink

Sydney Curated: Yukino Ochiai, Déjà Vu Sake Company

Japanese-born Yukino Ochiai is Australia’s first female Sake Samurai - the highest distinction in the sake industry - and runs Deja Vu Sake in Sydney.

Japanese-born Yukino Ochiai is a veritable celebrity in Sydney’s sake world. In just five years, Ochiai and her husband’s company Deja Vu Sake has grown from casual sake importer to a well-known providore of the finest Japanese spirits, including premium whiskies and Shochu.

Through Deja Vu, Ochiai and her husband are achieving a simple goal: get more Australians familiar with and drinking sake. Now, thanks in part to the work of Ochiai and her husband, sake is now commonly spied on drink menus around the city – and not just in Japanese restaurants.

Yukino Ochiai Déjà Vu Sake sydney

A selection of Déjà Vu Sake’s range.

Just this year, Ochiai has received multiple awards and accolades, including being named a certified Japanese Sake Educator by the Wine and Spirit Education Trust in London, and Australia’s first female Sake Samurai – the highest distinction in the sake industry. Ochiai and Sydney are a good match, it seems.

“What I love about this city is the beautiful harbour view, the opera house, and that stunning coastline,” she says.

“Australians are very open to mixing and matching – they’re open minded, always looking for a new thing. It’s a great thing about Sydney.”

Read on for Ochiai’s top picks for the city. If you like eating Japanese food and drinking sake, this is the guide for you.

The best places to eat

Yukino Ochiai Déjà Vu Sake sydney

Teishoku (a Japanese set meal) from Yayoi Garden. Photo: Facebook

It may not come as a surprise to discover Ochiai is an expert on Japanese cuisine. Since arriving in Sydney 30 years ago with her parents, she’s made a point of exploring the best Japanese food Sydney has to offer – from world-renowned fine dining temple Tetsuya’s, to traditional Teishoku purveyor Yayoi Garden in the CBD.

“Tetsuya’s it’s amazing,” she says. “The food there is very complex, and the sake goes down very well. Zushi in Barangaroo is particularly good for sashimi and sushi. I had a Japanese customer here last month, so I took them to Sushi. They were very impressed, they told me it’s as good as the food you’d get in Japan.”

The hole-in-the-wall we’ve never heard of, but should know? “Raita Noda Chef’s Kitchen in Surry Hills. The quality is excellent.”

But it’s not just Japanese cuisine that excites Ochiai – Sydney’s best non-conforming mod Aus restaurants are just as worthy of her attention. “My family and I like modern Australian food inspired by Japanese or Asian influences. Places like Merivale’s Est. and Rockpool Bar and Grill.

The best places to drink Sake

Yukino Ochiai Déjà Vu Sake sydney

Goros in Surry Hills. Photo: Goros

It used to be that sake was only commonplace in sashimi bars and karaoke joints, but these days the “drink of the gods” made from fermented rice is going mainstream around the city. It’s dangerously easy on the palate, with or without a meal.

Sokyo is one of my favourite places to drink Sake in Sydney,” she says. “It’s always buzzing with atmosphere. If I feel like going to a casual pub, I’ll go to Goros in Surry Hills. It’s fun and inexpensive, and they do sake by the glass. The Oyster Bar at the David Jones Food Hall offers three Deja Vu sakes by the glass – Yoshinogawa, Houraisen and Dewazakura. These three sakes really compliment the varieties of oysters they have.”

The best places to drink everything else

Yukino Ochiai Déjà Vu Sake sydney

J&M Bar in the CBD. Photo: J&M

“Thirty years ago in Sydney not many people went out – weekends in the city were very deserted, it was a ghost town,” Ochiai says of the city when she first arrived. “In Japan, we go out all the time.”

Now, of course, things are a little different. Sydney’s drinking ‘hotspots’ (Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, Newtown and the CBD, just to name a few) are packed out most nights of the week, offering thirsty bar-hoppers tastes from all over the world.

On the odd occasion Ochiai doesn’t feel like drinking Sake, she’ll normally opt for whiskey – Japanese or otherwise. “I like J&M Bar in the CBD, and The Whisky Room inside the Clock Hotel in Surry Hills.”

The best cultural institutions

Yukino Ochiai Déjà Vu Sake sydney

Cranes, circa 1770-circa 1772, by Maruyama Ôkyo. From Art Gallery of NSW’s Japanese collection. Photo: AGNSW

For art and culture, Ochiai favours the Art Gallery of NSW, and not just because of the eclectic exhibitions from all over the world held there all year around. The connection, Ochiai explains, is personal. “My mother donated a few of our family antiques to this gallery,” she says. “They are Japanese, and they belonged to my mum’s family for a few generations.”

Published 19 September, 2017