October, 2012 (Updated Nov, 13 2012 see below)
Run by the amiable Atsushi Saito, At @! restaurant in Crows Nest (formerly Fuuki) is one of those casual, neighbouly eateries that you can frequent whenever you don't feel like cooking.
At, or @! (a play on the name Atsushi) opened in May, 2012, but A-chan as Kei calls him affectionately, has been around for many years in Sydney's Japanese restaurant circles. Kei originally met him when he was rolling sushi rolls mentored by Ta-chan at Gion in Neutural Bay (for those that remember the good ol' days), some 20 years ago. In those days, there were more Japanese corporate ex-pats in Sydney (with nice little expense accounts), and Japanese restaurants were of better quality generally, and more expensive.
Since then, Atsushi has honed his culinary skills in many places, including Yoshii, the Merivale Group and a stint at Nobu in the Bahamas. You can see some of these influences in his menu--jalapaneo peppers and yuzu and chilli accents (much like head chef at Sokyo, Chase Kojima, who was also at Bahamas Nobu.) He's put his solid Japanese culinary skills to good use, creating popular renditions that should appeal to Asian and Western palates.
Kei and I went on a Sunday night, and the place was almost full. We didn't eat his sushi as it was Sunday, but we liked his Wagyu Beef Skirt New Style with wasabi and olive oil, topped with crunchy pastry and fried sweet potato. The Cheese Gyoza was an unusual delight with a salty creaminess and garlic chives, fried golden crisp; a nice accompaniment to a little sake or wine. A-chan made us a ceviche salad with a delicate oily texture, served stylishly in a glass--very Nobu. We were impressed with the snapper with white soy served on a Mitsuo Shoji platter (see pic right).
The Chicken Nanban, a mixture of sweet, sour and creamy mayonnaise topping would be a favourite of most Aussies I reckon, and a big filling dish at $19.50. This Chicken Nanban is very popular in Japan we're told. In fact, prices are very reasonable, and order a variety to share, as is the way to eat in most Japanese eateries.
We were happy to see Grilled Mackerel on the menu, and next time we will be having mackerel sushi (sabazushi). Atsushi is a purist of sorts--goes to the fish market to source all his fish (most Japanese restaurants now order in, they don't bother checking out the markets themselves) and does all the prep himself. He has a partner in the kitchen that he's been with for a decade, and together, they create a nice little eatery.
The most unfortunate thing about @! is that it's in Crows Nest, which has a lot of average (that's a euphemism) eateries, and the atmosphere--the decor needs sprucing up and the service needs to be more upbeat. It's got that slightly dowdy feel inherited from its previous incarnation, Fuuki, and were @! restaurant situated in a groovier suburb and extensively renovated, this restaurant would be a hit, much like Ume in Surry Hills became an instant hit as soon as it opened. The food is good, in fact, some Japanese chefs we know encouraged us to go there.
Lunch is very busy all week, as the lunch specials are very cheap, and excellent value.
Weekends are busy, but try a weeknight for a satisfying feed, and you can probably park right out front.
417 Pacific Highway, S.E. Corner at Falcon Street, Crows Nest, 9437 5285
At @! Restaurant: Dinner Wed-Thurs 5:30-10:30 p.m; Sat: 5:00-10:30 p.m.; Sun: 5:00-10:00 p.m.
Lunch: Thurs-Sun 12 noon-3 p.m.
UPDATED NOV. 13: Since our first visit, we've been a few times, and had Atsushi's sushi, usually on a Wednesday night. His choice of fish is fresh, his sushi rice nicely sweet and vinegary, and well, prices are so reasonable for the quality. Tell Atsushi you know Kei and he may do something special for you...
At @! restaurant Facebook page and info
Penguin says feed me review-nice pics
by Masako Fukui, Kei's Kitchen
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