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Table of food at Fujisaki Barangaroo
Photograph: Anna Kucera

The 20 best Japanese restaurants in Sydney

These are the top Japanese culinary experiences in the city

Written by
Elizabeth McDonald
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Japanese food fits into the Sydney climate like soybeans fit into their little pods. Subtle, delicate, and fitting for every season, it's little wonder that Japanese restaurants are as easy to come by in Sydney as an ibis in Hyde Park. 

And so it’s good that, thanks to all of the incredible Japanese chefs gracing our shores, we know how to do it right. From the sushi roll lunch-run to the full sashimi-laden dego, here’s where to do Japanese in Sydney.

Want more? Check out Sydney's best ramen

The best Japanese restaurants in Sydney

  • Restaurants
  • Surry Hills

At Izakaya Fujiyama, pristine sashimi and sushi is made from many more of the fishes that swim in the sea; the familiar standards supplemented by the less-usual likes of sardines and the special of gurnard, the angriest-looking fish you’re likely to come across. Fujiyama on Waterloo Street is a simple fit out with an open kitchen, long bar, crimson paint and a wall of sake in a hard-surfaced high-ceilinged box of a room. 

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Sydney

The beauty of an omakase (roughly translated to "I'll leave it up to you" in Japenese) is each place has their thing. The intimate chef-to-diner eateries may focus on the absolute best yakitori, like at Chaco Bar, or a total focus on tuna in all its crimson forms à la Bay Nine Omakase. Or, in the case of Haco, a tiny 12-seater in a concrete cube, it's tempura. Crisp blonde batter of rice flour, ice cubes and soda water creates a lighter than air shell that coats an unending selection of vegetables, seafood and even foie gras. 

The chef's selection set menu of 20 courses may sound like a gastronomic misstep, particularly given that every course is deep-fried, however you'll do well to overcome this mental hurdle and trust in head chef Kensuke Yada's process. Variety is the key to success for any omakase, but particularly when frying is involved. A delicate balance of around 10 battered courses is followed by five tempura dishes, and finally five kushi-age (crumbed then fried) courses. This variation on technique is the secret to endurance.

Start with a salty fried lotus root with hand picked crab and dashi jelly, served within the crab shell before an art-meets-food portion of fried soft-yolked quails egg with pops of caviar and you'll see just how diverse a menu of almost entirely deep-fried food can be.

Part cookery, part showmanship, the chefs at Haco blend their crafts to put on a very special spectacle for the lucky diners who manage to score a seat at the coveted bar. At a cool $210 per person, the marathon dining experience takes close to three hours and is time to reflect and appreciate the incredible and intricate art of omakase. 

 

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Darlinghurst

You want heart pipes? Liver? Gizzards? Gristle? They’ve got 'em, along with plenty more protein that isn’t quite so gutsy. The meats are grilled over white charcoal and served over piles of roughly chopped raw white cabbage. By the time you’re done with your juicy, salty chicken thigh or crisp folds of strangely sweet chicken skin, that cabbage will have turned into a well-seasoned side of its own. On Monday evenings and lunch times you'll big bowls of ramen and also make sure you ourder the sizzling gyoza. 

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Dawes Point

An intimate 10-seat counter omakase (chef's choice) eatery has come to The Rocks’ Campbell’s Stores waterfront dining precinct. Bay Nine Omakase was launched by the capable hands of chef Tomohiro Marshall Oguro (ex-Sushi-E), who creates a new menu every day for those lucky enough to nab a counter spot. A set menu is served to diners in a separate 30-seat area, with some dishes from the omakase alongside a handful of others.

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  • Restaurants
  • Newtown

Where can you go to fix up your motorbike, grab an excellent coffee and eat kickass Japanese food in between? Rising Sun Workshop in Newotwn. Order the Prison Bento – it's more delicate than its name suggests. On the day we go in there’s a pile of sticky rice with sour, salty pickled umeboshi plum, silken tofu with shoyu, a selection of crunchy pickles (radish, cucumber, daikon and carrot), tamagoyaki (dashi rolled egg omelette) which is light and not as sweet as that which you get in Japan, yogurt sprinkled with nigella seeds that the waiter tells us he ate in Tokyo and a piece of just-cooked Ulladulla albacore tuna ($5 extra).

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Barangaroo

Renowned sushi master, Ryuichi Yoshii heads up Yoshii’s Omakase at Nobu, one of the swathe of upscale restaurants at Crown Sydney. With only 10 seats at the omakase table, this is an intimate dining experience that characterises the omakase experience.

Yoshii has worked on his craft for almost four decades, honing the deceptively simple art of rice and fish into a truly moving affair. It is this 38 years of obsession that mean diners can trust that the chef-to-diner experience will be exceptional, both in the theatre of watching a master at work as well as the elegant beauty of the very best seafood and freshest local and seasonal ingredients. 

You'll see bite-sized courses prepared right before your eyes that are not only delicious and inventive, but also exquisite to look at, blurring the lines between art and sustenance. Sake is poured in traditional square cups, the subtly flavoured drink as intentional as the delicate dishes it washes down, though at Yoshii's you'll also find some very Australian accents. You can pair your meal with sparkling, Champagne and moscato, as well as white, red, orange, rosé and dessert wines by the bottle and glass.

Now that we've got your appetite going, here comes the tricky part. Reservations for all omakases can be hard to come by, but Yoshii's takes it to another level. Bookings are released online on the first of every month and you’ll have to get in fast to secure one because there are only two seatings each night, at a cool $350 per person. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Circular Quay

In a microcosm where finesse is everything (with a price tag to match) Joel Best starts each day with a visit to the fish market to make sure every element is, well, the best it can be. At Besuto, the former Bondi’s Best’s new omakase-style venture, fish with finesse is the name of the game. Best, alongside the gregarious chef Hiro Fujita, are trying their hand at the “leave it to you” style of dining that has taken Sydney by storm in recent months. The 14-seater is one of the fleet of newly opened eateries at the CBD’s Quay Quarter, alongside neighbours like underground bar Apollonia and mega venue Hinchcliff House

The service at Besuto is up there with any fine diner in town, attentive and personable, guests are encouraged to chat loudly and have some fun as chef Fujita regales them with tales of fish, his life as a young man, and drinking. 

Things kick off with enormous deep-shelled Pacific oysters, topped with a yuzu jelly - the first of 20 courses. A cleansing stretch before the marathon begins. Next on the counter, a seafood combination of raw Japanese scallops, John Dory, and New Caledonian prawns on a wakame salad dressed in yuzu. It’s another clean course, with another appearance by the sharp citrus. Next up, a trio of sashimi; boar fish, a slice of perfectly tender Western Australian octopus, and bass groper with a bowl of house-made soy simmered with kombu. It’s delicate, textural and promising.

Each dish is enthusiastically explained by chef Fujita, whose warm energy is palpable and fills the otherwise stark and minimal room. Outside of a few dozen sake bottles and a secret meditation garden, all eyes are on the open kitchen, the stage for a dinner made before your very eyes. 

Onto the sushi courses, arguably the test of a good omakase. Small handfuls of seasoned rice are plucked from a bamboo steamer, then deftly shaped into nigiri before being topped with slices Mount Cook alpine salmon, raw New Caledonian prawns, rich and fatty bonito, gelatinous and sticky sea eel (anago) and in a truly extra move, bumps of N25 caviar – harvested in high altitude waters in China then aged in Germany. In a city that so often champions local produce and makes efforts to reduce carbon footprints, this total globetrot is practically taboo. As is customary, a miso soup made of the offcuts of the sushi courses comes and goes.

Blue lipped abalone is served with a sauce of its own liver, a verdant green that could use a little more body to match the meatiness of the shellfish, but beautiful in its flavours regardless. Up next, offerings of torched tuna belly are hidden under a cress salad dressed, once more, in yuzu – an alarmingly generous portion considering we’re only half way through. Things however, reach a crescendo with one of the ocean's finest treasures, miso marinated Glacier 51 toothfish. The buttery flesh flakes away and leaves umami hits on the palate. It's a dish so exquisite in flavour and so perfectly cooked it’s a sin to leave any behind. Utilize the cucumber – pickled in, you guessed it, yuzu – and forge ahead. 

Relief comes in bitter-sweet waves, as a petite bowl of lime and sake sorbet (churned just down the lane by neighbour Zini Gelato). The energy in the room has significantly relaxed while waistbands are adjusted. Despite a couple of stumbling blocks, there’s a lot to be excited about here, gorgeous flavours, truly decadent ingredients, and far from stuffy service. 

Can't get enough omakase in your life? Check out our ultimate guide to Sydney's best.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Darlinghurst
  • price 2 of 4

You’ll need to book, and any more than four diners is going to present a problem for Gaku Robata Grill, which is a tiny slice of a Japanese restaurant on Darlinghurst Road. But these are the entry requirements for getting your hands on one of the best hand rolls we’ve eaten in a very long time.

What’s their secret? Here they arrive unwrapped so you can see the filling proudly presented on one of those delicious, salty, fried seaweed sheets. Roll it up so that the crunchy chip adds a textural shell to a seasoned ball of rice topped with tempura sea eel, pitting its saline savouriness against a sweet balsamic glaze and mayo. A length of miso-glazed eggplant adds luxurious softness to another two-bite roll funked up with generous shavings of bonito. You could eat your way through this one, ten-item segment of the menu and have a great time.

But then you’d miss the robata. The grill is a new addition to the kitchen and is a fiery flavour bed for oysters cooked in their shells, spiked with a yuzu miso cream that’s sharp and rich. At the meatier end, slices of wagyu come in an intensely peppery sauce that puts the pub dinner to shame. Veggos don’t miss out: corn, mushrooms, zucchini, cos lettuce and rice balls all get their time by the coals.

If you always thought that jewels look like candy, you’ll be pleased to know that here you are encouraged to eat a treasure bowl; a bed of rice capped with the riches of the sea in the form of raw tuna, uni and roe in all the colours of the sunset.

Plan ahead and order the sweet potato. It’s not trying to be a healthy dessert, but it genuinely is a whole, sweet, starchy tuber baked so that the centre is soft and sticky. It arrives topped with vanilla ice cream, a miso caramel and candied walnuts to create a fancied up version of what camping dinner dreams are made of.

We really weren’t kidding about the size of this place – maybe you could get four people on one of the scant larger tables, but it’s best for pairs looking for a little casual fancy Japanese and a riff on a Bellini that dries out the tropical fruitiness of peach with yuzu and sake. Just want a tall frosty beer? They have Asahi on tap.

Gaku Robata Grill is many rungs above your lunchtime sushi place (at lunch they only serve ramen, and there's only 40 bowls to go around). It's also a few more above a neighbourhood izakaya that rings with “irasshaimase” greetings. But it’s keeping things more casual than the ascetic kaiseki dining temples with omakase menus and service that borders on the reverential. It’s casual fancy done right, which makes it perfect for date night.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Darling Harbour

When ​this glitzy, casino-based Japanese restaurant first opened, we dismissed it as rich kid disco sushi – big flavours and easy​-​to​-​understand hand rolls that still taste good after a sweaty session with Redfoo at Marquee. But if it was once true, now it ain’t necessarily so. There’s more going on here than first meets the chopstick. Chefs Chase Kojima commands the most impressive sushi counter in Sydney. The only challenge is landing a seat. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Potts Point

Jonathan Barthelmess and Sam Christie's Potts Point mainstay is a playful take on the izakaya trope, brought to life as much by George Livissianis's cream-on-white pared-back interiors as it is by exciting plates like crab fried rice with XO sauce and kastuobushi. The drinks list impresses as much as the food (sake flights FTW) and, of course, so does the epic green tea soft serve that inevitably marks the end to every repeat visit.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Redfern
  • price 1 of 4

The delicious is in the detail at Juan, the compact Japanese diner in Redfern where there are only four main meals to choose from. Go with a friend and you’ve tried 50 per cent of the menu – a stat that allows little chance for food envy to kick in. Each bowl is an elaborately constructed meal for one, with more flavour layers than a lasagne, accompanied by the kind of meticulous presentation normally reserved for minor dignitaries. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Surry Hills
  • price 1 of 4

Gogyo comes from the same people who brought Japanese ramen juggernaut Ippudo to Australia. They specialise in a kogashi (which means ‘charred’ in Japanese) ramen, which sees a pan heated to a smoking-hot temperature before a dollop of miso paste is added and then it's deglazed with chicken broth. The resulting ramen is underpinned by a distinct smokiness that’s intense in flavour and appearance. 

  • Restaurants
  • Haymarket

Chef Dan Hong calls this ramen 'The Chronic' and after the first spoonful, you'll know what he means. You'll find the stall at the far end of the Eating World. There's no phone number, no menu except what's on the board. It takes seven days to make the pork stock for the tonkotsu ramen and three ingredients: water, miso and 120kg of pork bones. This incredibly collagen enriched noodle soup is so thick, rich and porky that one between two is enough. Yowza.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Chatswood

Ramen. Omakase. In 2022, it is difficult to think of two words more likely to accelerate the resting heart rate of a Sydneysider (although ‘free rent’ or ‘endless sunshine’ might come close). The city’s fixation with the ever popular noodle soup is nothing new. In recent years, however, a legion of splashy Japanese diners devoted to elaborate seasonal tasting menus ('omakase' loosely means 'I’ll leave it up to you') has emerged, reigniting a fervour for sushi, sashimi, kushiyaki and tempura, as well as the degustation dining format. 

  • Restaurants
  • The Rocks

In an area more known for its beer swilling than cocktail drinking, Saké stands out. And it should – there’s some excitement to be found in this Japanese restaurant and bar. Bar snacks are bite-sized and pack a tasty punch. Salty and often deep-fried, they are perfect accompaniments to the long and potent drink’s list. A hungry group should make a bee-line for the chicken karaage (crunchy crisp-fried pieces of chicken) or the renkon chips – lotus roots that have been lightly fried, sprinkled with coarse rock salt and served with edamame dip. If you’re rolling two deep, opt for the melt-in-your-mouth teriyaki burger balls.

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  • Restaurants
  • North Sydney

Ryo’s fans swear this is some of the best ramen you’ll find in all of Sydney. Duck your way past the traditional Japanese noren curtains hanging out the front and you’ll think you’ve been transported straight to a Tokyo noodle house. The lemon yellow walls are plastered with a dizzying number of banners in Japanese script. Everywhere you look it’s heads down, as diners hoe into steaming bowls of soup filled with crinkly ramen noodles. 

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • North Sydney
  • price 1 of 4

Are we in a back alley in Tokyo or a basement eatery in North Sydney? Put away your passport because, lucky for you, we’re talking Sydney. A small set of stairs from the street will lead you to Taruhachi, a cool little find that will make you feel you’ve been teleported to Japan. It’s not just the smiley Japanese staff peering out from the tiny kitchen, but the handwritten blackboard menu, the self-serve dispenser of hot and cold water, plus the humble neatness of a dining room decorated quirkily with all things Dr Seuss. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Sydney

“Once you order it cannot be cancelled." So says the Dymo label on the top of the iPad bolted in place on our table. You’ve got to wonder how many people get touch-screen fever and end up with a bunch more food than they bargained on. For maximum fun-per-second, you need to take a crew. It’s all about ordering a fistful of beers and a jug of frozen Margaritas and loosening your tie. On the flipside, it’s also a good place to take kids (there’s peach Fanta and white fizzy grape juice!), provided you’re happy with letting them take charge of the screen. 

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Surry Hills

This little sushi joint on the southern fringe of Surry Hills has the makings of a winner. Chef RK Tamang has traded his time among the Sydney sushi glitterati – Soyko, Flying Fish and Saké at the Rocks, where he was executive chef – for his own little shop with a pared-back, low-key feel that’s more suburban haunt than hatted resto. On a weeknight, Tamang is the sole chef in the open kitchen, calmly moving between the sushi bar and deep fryer, turning out elaborate maki rolls filled with fresh prawn tempura and tuna tartare.

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