When one thinks winter dining, images of heavy cuisine that leaves no room for enjoying anything post-meal are often cited; big, hearty meals designed to help you insulate against the cold. This isn’t necessarily the case for Niji Restaurant & Bar (which means “rainbow” in Japanese), Double Bay’s answer to Japanese fare. They’ve developed a winter menu that’s not just warming (the signature flaming maki roll is literally set on fire at your table to caramelise the salmon), but also still very much in keeping with the restaurant’s stylish, simple and inventive “traditional meets modern” cuisine.
When it opened 2 years ago, Niji Restaurant & Bar became a benchmark for the area’s contemporary Japanese dining scene, with an emphasis on traditional Japanese flavours and exceptional Australian produce. Its name denotes a focus on traditional izakaya cuisine, a Japanese version of casual dining, but fused with a high quality of service and a dedication to innovative meals. The space has also been shortlisted in the Sydney Design Awards for its interior design, which features strong geometric lines, long sweeping curves, natural timber finishes, and symbolic patterns.
For a Japanese restaurant that fuses styles so well, expect to find gems like the Hokkaido Scallops with caramelised miso butter, white truffle oil and avocado puree; the popcorn prawns or the Quail Karage, a bonito flake coated quail marinated in soy and ginger served with Japanese pumpkin puree.
Head Chef Shekhar Aryal, formerly from Surry Hills’ Toko, takes the essence of izakaya and combines this with tapas style share plates so that it works well with the sashimi, nigiri, tempura and cold plates on offer. Meanwhile, Taiji Mita of Flying Fish fame heads the sushi and nigiri bar.
The winter menu’s starters include Tuna Tartare with crispy lotus root used imaginatively as chips, sprinkled with soy truffle dressing, and Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, thinly sliced pieces of spicy beef served with soy honey and fried quinoa. Both are excellent examples of the style clash found here.
For something a little special, try their Signature Nigiri dish, which incorporates European elements of scampi foie gras, but also includes shiso salt and orange honey jelly – the best element is the king fish with wagyu caramelised miso butter, on my visit making everyone at the table clear their plates of all traces of it.
If you’re into drama over dinner, try the Flaming Salmon Maki. Presented to your table, they then light it up in front of you to caramelise the sauce. Eat as is, or use the lime wedge served with the dish to lessen the sweetness (but that would be ridiculous). It’s served with seared salmon, prawns, avocado, amadare and mayonnaise, which makes this a hearty and entertaining meal.
Favourites include the Quail Karage, marinated in soy and ginger for a bit of a kick and coated in bonito flakes, served with Japanese pumpkin puree. It’s the kind of dish you keep wanting more of, which is exactly what you’d expect from a winter meal. Another personal favourite, and just as appetising, was the wagyu Beef Cheeks, softened and braised for 3 hours, they were served with a soy dashi glaze, fermented vegetables and fried okra. It might not be typical for a Japanese establishment, but it shows off Aryal’s skills to a tee.
Winter dining is incomplete without the dessert to end, and the excellent Miso Cream Crunch is a smart choice. It’s made from an oven-baked miso rolled in a brandy snap, with a side of crème fraîche ice cream, a superb finish to what Niji are currently offering.
As well as the food, Niji also offers an array of beverages, including playful signature cocktails like the Hubba Bubba, made with their own in-house syrup, or the Guoyakeyama, which means faith can move mountains, made with house gin shaken, classic umeshu, orange juice and rhubarb syrup, served straight.
Niji Restaurant & Bar
Address: 21 Bay Street, Double Bay 2028
Phone: (02) 8095 9508
Opening Hours: Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner.
Headline image supplied and used with permission.