The lunch crowd had started to make themselves comfortable at Sarong Bar & Restaurant when we took our seat. It’s a mid week lunch, but already the martini glasses were out, and the bartender was busy shaking and pouring all manner of cocktails for the alfresco crowd. The summer weather and atmosphere is in full swing on this busy Sawtell cafe strip. Sarong patrons were obviously enjoying the opportunity to soak up the suns rays, whilst admiring the streetscape, as all the outside tables were taken.
We were shown through to our table inside. Looking around the restaurant, it has a modern Japanese feel. The inside dining area reminded me very much of being in Tokyo at a dimly lit Izakaya. Izakaya were traditionally casual places where men drank sake, beer or shochu after work and enjoyed sharing plates of food.
When it came time to choose a wine hubby went with the suggested Wood Park Pinot Gris from Victoria, a crisp floral wine with a lovely young straw colour and green apple flavours.
I had noticed the “regulars” were drinking a Shochu Espresso Martini and thought it may be just the drink to give me a pick me up for the afternoon. The martini was presented with three coffee beans on top of a creamy cool espresso froth. The aroma was of the richest brewed coffee and it tasted slightly sweet and had a light syrup consistency. The cool, icy drink was surprisingly refreshing, and so easy to drink. I feel this is a much better way to enjoy a lunch time coffee.
Mr GG and I are visiting Sarong to experience the released of their authentic Japanese lunch menu. The kitchen has employed three Japanese chefs to cater for the lunch crowd so I know we are in for a treat.
Traditionally a Japanese meal of this style commences with a mild dish. Our first dish was Agedashi Tofu. Three large squares of silken tofu, lightly dusted with flour and then deep fried to give an impossibly thin, crispy shell. Inside, the tofu was so soft and just melted in my mouth. This particular version was served with a sticky, slightly salty sauce and fresh grated ginger.
Japanese food is always so visually appealing. Our next dish consisted of fresh salmon sashimi, rolled with a light, creamy avocado filling. So beautifully simple, and so tasty! Each salmon roll was topped with a sprinkling of black caviar which made them all the more special.
I am a little embarrassed to admit that I had never previously tried sashimi prawn. I was so excited to see it included on the sashimi platter with my other two favourites. So what would I think of sashimi prawn? It had a milky, sweet seafood flavour, and the most interesting slippery texture in my mouth. As I bit through the slightly firmer outer flesh I noted the inside was softer giving the illusion of popping through the prawn segments. It was another favourite, I have to wonder why we bother to cook seafood at all!
Quite often in Australia I find the miso soup served is a watery afterthought. Not so in Japan, the area we were in would dictate additional ingredints included. Here the miso was another stand out dish. It was full of flavour and elevated well beyond the ordinary with the inclusion of wakame and and thinly sliced pumpkin. YUM!
Bento boxes are the lunchtime house specialty and there are three varieties to choose from. Our bento of choice was the tempura box and this was the next dish to appear on the table.
I was thrilled with the selection of items included the bento. It’s not often I see sashimi scallop or mackerel so I am quick to sample the flavours of each. I started with the most delicate item, the scallop. My experience was of the sweetest saltwater flavours, with a slight hint of oyster, and the softest texture. Perfect!
Sashimi tuna is always delicious and these slices were so fresh and cut to the perfect thickness. The texture of the fish was more firm than the scallop with the finest grain. I had left the mackerel until last as I knew it would be the seafood with the strongest fish flavour and I didn’t want to over shadow the more delicate items. As expected there was a deeper fish flavour and more bite to the flesh. The sashimi items chosen provided an ideal combination of flavours and textures.
All the bento items were so beautifully presented and so authentic based on what we have experienced in our travels.
One of Mr GG’s favourite flavours in the bento was the fresh green beans presented in a nutty, soy sauce. They were such traditional flavours combining a sweet and salty taste with crisp fresh beans. Alongside the beans was another bento staple, the pickled wakame which was presented with sesame seed and oil for a big sour, nutty flavour.
Tempura is an item the Japanese do so well, combining the lightest crisp batter with thinly sliced, just cooked vegetables. Our bento included green beans which still had just the right amount of bite to the bean, a giant mushroom slice, thinly cut pumpkin, slices of taro and and a crispy tempura king prawn which was succulent and fresh.
All the food had been presented with an array of appropriate dipping sauces. Mr GG and I split the paper thin egg roll, and found the delicate casing was surrounding finely Julienne vegetables and was light and tasty.
Mr GG was pleased at the inclusion of the sweet soy eel nigiri. It is one of his favourites so I was lucky to be allowed a bite! Sashimi salmon is a favourite of mine, I just adore the butter like texture of the meat. Even the sushi was so much better than elsewhere fresh and moist, packed with true flavours.
Next we were offered a tasting tray of shochu. Sarong likes to showcase the shochu degustations style with a selection of three different varieties.
Shōchū is a distilled alcohol which is commonly made from rice, or barley. It should not be confused with sake. Whilst the two may look the same and may share rice as the common ingredient, sake is made from a brewed rice wine so the process and end product is very different.
The first sample on the tasting plate was a slightly sweet shochu. It was surprisingly smooth, clean and mellow and I quite liked the flavour. I am told the alcohol content is usually 25% for this product but can vary up to 35% for multiply distilled varieties. As we sampled the second and third we noted the flavour and aroma appeared stronger. I found the all of the Shochu preferable to the sake I have had in the past.
I don’t know if we really needed another dish but it had been so long since I had eaten a true flavoured Sukiyaki that I couldn’t resist. The broth is traditionally made with dashi, soy sauce, sake, sugar and mirin. When it is brought to the table it is placed on either a heat pad or flame which keeps the broth at a simmer. Guest then choose from a platter of thinly sliced meat, tofu, cabbage and noodles to cook in the broth. Once the items are cooked chopsticks are used to select items from the broth and dip into a raw egg.
Our Sukiyaki was brought to the table prepared and ready for devouring. All the expected ingredients could be seen in the perfectly presented dish and it included the traditional raw egg on the side. The broth was so rich and sweet, I would have been happy to just slurp away on the liquid. The flavours of the ingredients had already permeated the soup and there was a meaty, salty flavour from the braised beef. The tofu was so soft and tasted so health giving with the cooked vegetables.
When enjoying sukiyaki the noodles are usually added toward the end of the meal and eaten last, as a final “fill up” opportunity. Our noodles had benefited from the long soaking in the broth and the flavour, with this soft comfort food was amazing. Unfortunately I had to leave the majority of the noodes for Mr GG as I felt I had already eaten my body weight in food!
It was an absolute joy to experience the authentic flavours of Japan in our delicious meal. The food is far superior and the menu variety more comprehensive than anything else we’ve sampled locally. This authentic Japanese lunch menu is available from Monday to Friday.Gourmet Getaways would like to thank Marshmello Marketing and Sarong Bar & Restaurant for the opportunity to dine as guests. As always the opinions expressed in this story are honest and represent my experience of the establishment at the time of my meal.
Sarong Restaurant & Bar Sawtell
1/24 First Ave, Sawtell
Ph: 02 6658 5857