Niji Restaurant sets their menu ablaze!
Ahh Double Bay, where many of Sydney’s rich and most famous reside. Wondering through this leafy neighbourhood, houses have lavish gardens, multiple stories and an air of exclusivity. Niji Restaurant and Bar fits the luxe mould effortlessly. Nestled between boutique clothing stores on Bent street, I tentatively cross Niji’s fairy light laden threshold. As far as first impressions go, i’m impressed.
Niji literally means ‘rainbow’ in Japanese, and is associated with the diverse colour and taste of Izakaya style dining. Head Chef Shekhar Aryal (ex Surry Hills’ Toko) offers a succinct explanation of his menu. For him, Niji’s represents a culinary fusion of Izakaya traditionalism and contemporary Australian cuisine.
We are greeted by a friendly waitress, before being ushered to our seats. The space feels cavernous in comparison to many whole-in-the-wall Japanese restaurants in Sydney, occupying two levels with a large open plan kitchen. The decorative elements of the interior feel clean cut and contemporary. Charcoal painted walls compliment natural timber finishes.
It doesn’t take long for a round of drinks to reach us. Unfortunately, the Rainbow Cocktail takes me straight back to my early drinking days of Vodka Cruisers. It’s sugary, bright pink and completely tasteless of alcohol. This combination has led me astray many times before so I opt for a warm sake instead.
Moving on to the food, we order the tuna tartare, served with soy truffle dressing and crispy lotus root ($18). The earthy smell of the truffle oil hits me immediately. The combination of raw fish, a punchy marinade and crunchy chips is popular amongst contemporary Asian restaurants. However, few are presented so thoughtfully. The tuna tartare is served in a small spherical glass, resting in a larger charcoal bowl of crushed ice. Lotus fronds protrude from the ice, offering an interesting dimensional component.
Similar to the tuna tartare the beef carpaccio ($18) is visually beautiful. Paper thin slices of wagyu are layered with spicy soy honey dressing and fried quinoa puffs.
The visual stimulation continues as our waitress presents the flaming salmon maki ($19). She pours a flammable liquid over the maki then takes to it with a blow torch before our eyes. There is an irrefutable novelty value to sushi being set on fire but on this occasion it comes at a price. Any flavour from the maki is sadly overpowered by sugar crystal remnants from the flaming theatrics. I can only just taste the avocado, prawn, and mayonnaise.
The beef cheeks ($28) however are a winning dish. Coated in a sticky soy glaze, the beef melts in my mouth instantly. The acidity of the fermented vegetables cuts through the rich texture. Slices of deep fried okra offer a welcomed crunchy element.
The wine list at Niji restaurant boasts a selection of grape varieties from all over the world. Diners can sample fragrant white wines from France, Italy and Spain. For the red drinkers, many of the drops at Niji’s are more locally sourced. Think Barossa Valley, Tasmania and New Zealand. You also have the choice of nine different premium sakes, served both hot and cold.
For dessert we have the miso cream crunch($16) – an oven baked miso brandy snap propped up by a scoop of créme fraiche ice-cream on a smear of black sesame paste. The salty, earthy and nutty tones of Niji’s menu resonates once again in this Asian style dessert. The ice-cream has a clean, yoghurt flavour.
With several hits and only a couple of small misses, Niji is a solid Japanese dining option in Double Bay. Their winter menu comes as both a visual and palliative feast, one worth enjoying over a long lunch.
Niji Restaurant and Bar
21 Bay St, Double Bay
Open Tues-Sun for lunch and dinner
For more information, hop onto the website at http://nijidoublebay.com
After your lavish meal, why not grab some after dinner drinks at The Sheaf, also in Double Bay?