Rice Workshop opened its doors to Sydney May 20th planting its first NSW flag in the Sydney Westfield CBD.
Only 18 months after the first Rice Workshop opened on Little Bourke Street in Melbourne, the restaurant has received rave reviews and developed a cult following for their traditional Japanese Donburi (rice bowl) cuisine. With six more restaurants added in Melbourne and the pioneer NSW store in Sydney Westfield CBD, the doors have been opened in Australia to the authentic tastes of Japan’s urban street cuisine; the only problem is getting the patrons out at night to shut them.
I first experienced authentic Japanese food when I was 17-years-old. I traveled to Kyoto and worked my way north to Sapporo where I lived with an exchange family for eight weeks and attended school with their son and daughter. I remember the best part of the day being breakfast. It was usually the same daily menu: salad with ginger dressing, raw egg and tofu, miso soup and steamed rice with hibachi chicken or beef leftover from dinner the night before. The parents slept on Tatami mats in the master suite off the kitchen and would wake early every day to prepare these delicacies for us. After homework and before dinner, their son, Tyga, and I would fight with Kendo swords in the driveway. I was always happy to be called in for dinner from outside; the food was fantastic and traditionally prepared, but more importantly, Tyga was an exceptional Kendo fighter and I couldn’t take any more beating.
I assimilated into the Japanese culture with ease, and with each passing day discovered something profoundly new and exciting about the place and the cuisine. My ability to speak Japanese doesn’t exceed teaching a parrot a few key phrases, but I did take from Japan an appreciation for the wonderful people I met with a timeless culture embedded in their veins and a true adoration for Japanese cuisine.
The senses tend to slip on the accuracy of a truly authentic experience over time. All of the original memories of colour, texture and smell tend to fade and mesh into one grand dining experience, neglecting the vital dishes and moments that shaped your perception as a whole. This had happened to me in regards to traditional Japanese cuisine. It was either close enough or my memory was creating mountains out of molehills. That is until I visited Rice Workshop in Sydney.
Chef Tomohiro Suzuki, from Nagoya, Japan, developed Rice Workshop in conjunction with food entrepreneur David Loh, the architect behind some of the most popular culinary brands in Melbourne; such as Dessert Story, Taiwan Café and Food Republik. The goal of the two men was to fill the demand for traditional Japanese street fare in Australia, a niche that had been lacking on the culinary scene. The restaurant is modeled after the inspiration and energy of the street fare of the famous Shibuya District in Tokyo, Japan. I decided to check out this new venture in Sydney that had made such an impression on the Melbourne food scene. I made my way to the restaurant with expectations of imitation, but those were quickly shattered after the first bite. I was instantly 17-years-old again and alone amongst the Westfield crowd in my own private Japan.
The first dish I tried was the Ontama Beef ($8.70). It was deliciously tender beef simmered in an onion and soya broth. The dish was complimented nicely by the spring onions and cooked julienne ginger. The coddled egg on top added a delicious dressing to the components below; the burst yolk coating even the bottom granules of rice leaving the dish bursting with flavor until the last bite. The dish is a crowd favourite and a signature of Rice Workshop.
Disbelieving of the beautiful recreation of Japanese ingredients and cooking styles that the first dish most certainly had, I was determined to see if the hype could live up to the standard of some of the other dishes. I tried the Teriyaki Chicken ($7.70). I had sampled many dishes like it during my time in Japan, and if ever there were a dish that my palate could re-create to pinpoint accuracy it would be this.
The Teriyaki Chicken was beautiful, the teriyaki sauce made to traditional standards with the soya and mirin balanced nicely with a hint of sweet to compliment the succulent char-grilled chicken. The dish was served with blanched corn, cherry tomatoes, roasted red capsicums and mesclun leaf. It was delicious and as good as Japanese street fare gets.
I was completely convinced of the authenticity of Rice Workshop by this point, and being a lover of sashimi, I knew that I had to order the Salmon ($9.50). It was raw salmon, perfectly filleted and portioned above a bed of nori seaweed and steamed rice. The salmon was very fresh and artistically presented. It is a great dish for a healthy alternative or light lunch.
Rice Workshop has solidified its reputation as a taste of authentic Japanese cuisine in Australia. The prices are very low (nothing on the menu over $11) considering the quality of ingredients and unbelievably fast service, with no dish taking longer than three minutes to prepare. I left Westfield feeling content that I had found a little slice of the memories I hold so dear of Japanese culture and cuisine right in my own Sydney backyard. It was nice to re-visit Japan, if only for the afternoon, and on the walk home I was certain I smelled the faint whiff of cherry blossoms.
Rice Workshop Sydney
Shop 5012, Food Court Level 5
Westfield Sydney Tower, Corner of Pitt St and Market St, Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 8236 9200
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Rice Workshop