Dylan and I both love Japanese food, especially sashimi, so we were thrilled to have been invited to a sushi and sashimi masterclass at Ocean Room. And what a stunning winters day in Sydney; with barely a cloud in sight it was a perfect day to head down to the waterfront. Ocean Room is located at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay West with views of the harbour and the Opera House – it’s a gorgeous spot.
The dining room is quite spectacular itself with an impressive piece of art designed by Yasumichi Morita featuring around 40,000 timber cylinders hanging from the ceiling! Then there are the high ceilings, warm wood tones and of course floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking the harbour.
Chef Raita Noda migrated to Australia in 1990 and has been cooking for 20 years. He’s been at Ocean Room since 2004, where he heads up the sushi and sashimi station with his sushi chef, Naoki Fukazawa (ex Yoshii). We also met their seafood supplier, Narito Ishii of Wellstone Seafoods who impressively supply seafood to over 95% of Japanese restaurants in Sydney!
Raita, Naoki and Narito all grew up in Tokyo – they live and breathe Japanese food. Raita and Narito chat to us about a variety of fish and seafood; it’s clear they’re both passionate about seasonality and sustainability.
Chef Noda has changed the Ocean Room menu this year, focusing more on ‘edomae zushi’. What is ‘edomae zushi’ you ask? It’s traditional sushi thought to have originated in the 1800′s. The sushi is designed to be one mouthful to enable you to taste everything in one go, with balance. Chef Noda also believes sushi shouldn’t be too big – he doesn’t want to see ladies opening their mouths too wide!
As much as Chef Noda makes traditional ‘edomae zushi’, he also explains it is important to be ‘iki’ – stylish, modern and chic. It is this balance of tradition and modernity that Chef Noda seeks at Ocean Room.
Most people take rice in sushi for granted, but Chef Noda explains that rice is just as important as the fish or seafood in achieving balance. He uses ‘koshihikari’ rice which is of the highest quality; he likes the texture and sweetness of this style of rice. The rice is soaked for half an hour before being cooked to remove excess starch. Once cooked the rice is placed in a ‘hangiri’ – a wooden rice tub – which helps draw excess moisture out. It is at this stage that they add red wine vinegar.
Chef Noda explains that sushi rice shouldn’t be too sticky and they ‘cut’ the rice to separate it. How much rice do they go through a week? Around 25kg – which of course yields around 50kg of cooked rice!
Chef Noda has two sashimi knives – a ‘takobiki’ from Tokyo that he’s had for 12 years and a ‘yama-hime’ from Osaka. The style of the knives varies slightly but both are made of Japanese steel and each is precious to Raita.
We were certainly in for a treat with a dozen varieties of fish and seafood up for tasting. So, what did we sample?
Imperador / Kingfish / Trevally / Sand Whiting / Blue Mackerel / Scallops / Swordfish Belly / Ocean Trout / John Dory.
To kick things off we were presented with 9 pieces of sashimi. Beautiful, bright and colourful, Chef Noda had plated each fish with its own accompaniments, varying from wasabi to ginger, lemon and micro herbs.
I started with the Imperador, a deep-water fish sourced from NZ with a medium flavour. Next up was a lovely piece of Kingfish, followed by a close relative Trevally, which is quite a mild tasting fish. With skin intact the Sand Whiting had a wonderful texture, contrasting against the Blue Mackerel that just broke apart at the touch and was quite rich in flavour. And then I got stuck into the Scallops, one of Dylan and my all-time favourite seafood – sweet and delicate, just perfect. Another standout was the fatty Swordfish Belly, while the tender Ocean Trout and slightly chewy John Dory didn’t quite win me over.
A variety of colours, textures and flavours. I was in sashimi heaven and it was wonderful to be able to taste the subtle differences between the fish as we progressed and to realise that each has its own unique flavour.
Bluefin Tuna – Otoro.
We watched with admiration as Chef Noda expertly sliced the gorgeous piece of Bluefin Tuna. As he worked he talked about the marbling in the tuna similar to what you see with Wagyu. It might also come as a surprise that fresh, straight out of the water, fish is not the best. Chef Noda explains they age their fish in a similar way to aged beef in order to develop the flavours of the fish.
The first to reach us was the light in colour Otoro, the fatty belly of the tuna. Glistening with a brush of soy, the Otoro was not as fatty as I was expecting, it had a strong flavour and simply melted in the mouth.
Bluefin Tuna – Chutoro.
Chutoro is much darker in colour than the Otoro and a much leaner section of the fish. It doesn’t quite have the melt in the mouth factor that the Otoro does, but it’s full of flavour and disappeared quickly.
Back to the Imperador which we’d sampled as sashimi earlier in the day. For the nigiri version, Chef Noda left the skin on and blow-torched it to make it easier to eat. Not having had Imperador sashimi before I was rather impressed with the delicate, buttery and melt in the mouth fish.
But we weren’t done just let. Next up was Cuttlefish nigiri, something I had definitely never had before. I appreciated the wasabi hit on this one and the slight bite to the fish.
Though pretty as a picture, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Latchet nigiri as I found it to have quite a strong sweet vinegar hit – and you all know I have issues with vinegar!
Bluefin Tuna – Akami.
Last but by no means least was the deep red Akami section of the Bluefin Tuna. Chef Noda had soaked the Akami in soy for a little while to enrich both flavour and colour. Ultra lean and quite meaty, the Akami nigiri had more chew to it than the other tuna and paired well with the tangy lemon zest.
Chef Noda happily answered our questions throughout the class. One such question was for tips or tricks when making sushi at home. Chef Noda suggested not making it at home, haha, or making hand rolls. He worked quickly as he spoke and made it look oh so easy as he made a hand roll in mere seconds.
It was nice to see such a strong relationship between chef and seafood supplier with Chef Noda’s order form reading along the lines of “2 x white fish, 2 x silver fish, 2 x something interesting”. I really enjoyed sampling a variety of fish I had not sampled before and watching Chef Noda at work. His passion translates to the food he plates up.
At this stage Ocean Room haven’t confirmed if any further masterclasses will be held, but Chef Noda’s sashimi selection is definitely worth a visit to Ocean Room.
A Food Story attended the sushi & sashimi masterclass courtesy of Ocean Room and Wasamedia.
Ground Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal
Circular Quay West
The Rocks NSW 2000
(02) 9252 9585
Ocean Room Website