You know that time you were eating your sushi roll and thought “This would be better with French onion dip”? No, never? Yeah, us neither. But tell that to Sunset Sabi, Manly’s latest Japanese restaurant, opened up by the guys behind equally hip and awesome eatery Chica Bonita down the road. They don’t care what you think. They’re doing whatever the hell they want, and we can’t help but like their style.
The sushi in question is called ‘the French Roll’. Nori is filled with raw salmon, butter pickles and crushed-up chilli Kettle chips. On top is a slick of the aforementioned French onion dip. It’s a bit rock and roll, it’s a bit weird, and although, as we eat it, we keep saying, “It doesn’t really work”, we finish a plate of eight between two in no time. Confused? Join the club.
A less bewildering roll is the ‘kingfish in Mexico’, which sees the raw fish paired with crunchy cucumber, pineapple purée that tastes of yuzu, hot jalapeños, Kewpie mayo and a fanning of creamy avo. Texture comes from fried little morsels of tempura batter. It's tasy but there's no soy on the table for dipping, when it could do with a smidgen.
Sunset Sabi is massive; a Manhattan-loft style space with brick walls and tarnished wooden floors, neon signs and an extensive glass front where you can sit and people-watch open to the street beyond. And a word on its mammoth size: this place is still packed out by 6pm on a Thursday. Luckily they keep the highchairs at the bar and windows for walk-ins (try and get one at the sushi bar, where you can watch the chefs do their magic up close).
We can see why. The dishes are fun, adventurous and when they work, they work. Take the ‘la taco’ which sees two chewy little pancakes topped with tender, caramelised beef, gingery mayo, hot Sriracha sauce and a crisp lil’ twizzle of shredded daikon. It’s chewy, sweet, savoury and beautifully balanced, leaving a lasting heat on the tongue.
For dessert try the ‘sweet burger’ – two little doughnut rolls filled with thick matcha white chocolate, fresh strawberries and cream: weird, but again, we eat the lot.
The cocktails deserve your attention too – the Plumberry is a refreshing concoction of strawberries with gin, umeshi and mint, and the Whisky Kick lives up to its name, made with a hefty dose of cleansing wasabi, whiskey and fresh apple. Try an Asahi black beer – tastes like a pilsner, looks like a porter. And don’t miss the unfiltered, white as day Hakutsuru sayuri nigori sake – it’s starchy, balanced and very, very smooth.
Everything is a bit mental here, and not every dish works, but that’s sort of what makes it so fun. Manly needs more restaurants taking risks – even if that means putting French onion dip on our sushi.