You don’t need to top up your Opal for these trains. Kaiten-zushi (literal translation: rotation sushi, aka sushi trains) is a Japanese fast food trend that once looked to be just a blip on the Harajuku-obsessed radar of the 1990s. Instead, it grew roots in the Australian dining scene, as demand for fast, quality sushi continued to grow. And while there are some things that are ubiquitous across all track-based food delivery venues, there are also gems, if you know what to look for. All aboard!
The best sushi trains in Sydney
Best: All rounder
Sydney’s CBD might have the highest concentration of sushi trains in town, but quantity doesn’t equal quality. Choose wisely, starting with Haymarket’s OG Sushi Makoto. A recent facelift makes this place feel as fresh as its fish tastes (very). Ordering via tablet is a breeze, and drinks are delivered swiftly. The conveyor carries endless interesting options (sweet shrimp, surf clam (hokkigai) nigiri), absent from lesser sushi trains, alongside well prepared usual suspects like tobiko ships, salmon sashimi, tuna nigiri, and seaweed salad, prepped in the encircled kitchen area. You can expect a crammed counter during the lunch rush. Dishes range from $3 to $7.80, but most can be had for $5 or less, with special dishes (think abalone-salad ships) occupying pricier plates. Flavours are clean and options are plentiful and authentic on a conveyor belt stacked with fresh dishes, so a meal can be had in mere minutes for under $25.
Best: of the Inner West
A queue of hungry punters snaking along the wall is a very good sign, and there’s always a wait (albeit a brief one) at this bustling, sunny outpost of the nationwide chain. It could be the display case of fresh fish causing the wait, or the lightning-fast stream of sushi, sashimi and nigiri plates fed onto the conveyor belt from pristine prep stations. The bonito nigiri special is so fresh it’s still warm from being seared by the butane torch by the time we pluck it off the carriage. Chefs churn out artful dishes like sushi-making machines, and it’s not just salmon ten ways for the gaijin either. The conveyor is crowded with maki (dragon and sunset rolls), neat six packs of simple rolls, ships (order the brilliant tobiko), nigiri (aim for the mini prawn katsu and grilled duck breast), sashimi and tempura for just $3 to $5 per plate. You’ll leave with a full belly, or if you’re legging it to the station you can whack your fave rolls into a takeaway tray for a sushi lunch on your lap.
Best: Hidden gem
Another day, another Surry Hills sushi spot makes a best-of list. There’s good reason this neighbourhood’s Japanese joints are packed to the gills with people, especially on this food-starved stretch of construction-marred Chalmers Street across from Central Station. Things are simple, fresh, clean and minimal here, which isn’t to say sparse or boring. Plates are fresh as, with the chef constantly slicing new pieces of market-fresh fish – trevally, bonito and Tassie salmon – for the nigiri and sashimi that pepper the conveyor at a consistent clip. The miso eggplant scratches all the right umani itches as do freshly prepped aburi. It’s well crafted Japanese food in a no-frills atmosphere. The best bit? All plates are $3.20 during the lunch rush and the early bird gets the good rolls.
Best: Mall eats
Chatswood has a rep for top sushi trains and this branch of the Sushi Rio chain deserves a spot on the list. The space has a strikingly modern Japanese aesthetic you don’t notice from outside. Even more Japanese is the greeting in unison from staff as you sidle up to the narrow sushi train, inside of which is an impeccably clean prep kitchen with a Japanese chef expertly weidling a Japanese knife around a very fresh filet of salmon. The conveyor belt carries dumplings and grilled salmon still warm from the kitchen – the miso marinated salmon is a downright steal at $3.50 for three hearty pieces. Rolls are tasty and neatly done in a consistent bite size, and there’s not a hint of chewiness to the sashimi. Salmon is on heavy rotation here, so the bench might not be deep but the volume of plates is high – grab the takoyaki (octopus balls) as they sail by. Consistent freshness, rapid refill rate, a wallet-friendly $3.50 a plate (excluding sashimi) and a beautiful setting make this place a great all-arounder.
Kaiten zushi enthusiasts have a love-hate relationship with the kawaii Sydney outpost of Genki Sushi. The recent Japanese import takes the “train” in sushi train literally, serving dishes atop a mini monorail train direct to your table. Yeah, it’s gimmicky. Sure, it’s bright as an operating theatre. And what you’ll eat is the epitome of fast-food sushi. But the kitchen does a bang-up job at it. You don’t expect kobe beef at Hungry Jacks, so manage your sushi expectations accordingly here. Look forward to generally well made, paint-by-numbers sushi with fresh and pre-sliced toppings buttressed by nicely seasoned sushi rice. We rate flavourful salmon roe ships (a set for $6.30) and surprisingly nice tamago nigiri. Hand rolls are neat, well constructed cones – bright green avocado paired with salmon and soft-shell crab are both winners. Nigiri is priced as low as $2.80 and hand rolls are $3.80. Prices reach $8.80 (for a set of nicely briny uni ships) but hover between $3 and $5. Bonus: you don’t have to wait an age for the dishes you want and there’s zero risk of rocking up to a barren conveyor belt or – even worse – one laden with lukewarm, mayo-soaked rolls. Basement, . genkisushiaustralia.com. 02 9264 0984. .
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