I love Japanese food and I love Newtown, and while decent Japanese places in Newtown do exist (Hikaru, Asakusa) there was definitely a gap in the market for an upmarket Japanese restaurant with accompanying sake and imported beer. Enter Iiza! When friends told me about this place when it first opened, they reported excellent sushi and some interesting Japanese fusion dishes such as “sashimi tacos”. Having taken over the site of Sense of Spice (which just wasn’t up to the standard of other local Indian places such as Delhi O’ Delhi and Kammadhenu) we hoped they’d be around long enough for us to try it. The fact they are still going strong and often booked out speaks for itself.
It is BYO despite serving a vast array of alcoholic beverages as izakayas do. Sake, beer, wine, spirits, ume-shyu, shochu – there’s enough to tempt everyone. We shared a bottle of Crowded House sauvingnon blanc ($28) which was really lovely and perfectly complemented our tapas dishes. I’ll look out for this in the bottle-o next time. And Mr Black got a lovely cold Sapporo.
The four of us began with an assortment of Japanese ‘tapas': nasu dengaku ($8.80), pork gyoza ($8.50) and wagyu beef tataki ($10.80). These are three of my favourite dishes and Iiza didn’t disappoint! The nasu dengaku was moreish, the inside soft and squidgy with a slightly caramelised, salty-miso paste and toasted sesame seeds. It had a sweet edge from the mirin but happily was not as syrupy as some restaurants make it.
The pork gyoza were clearly handmade (as they should be!) with a half-crisp half-silky wrapping and delicate gingery filling. Delicious! Next time I’d love to try the vegetable gyoza too.
My favourite ‘tapa’ was the wagyu beef tataki. I first fell in love with this dish at Kintaro in Neutral Bay but Iiza have taken it to the next step. As well as incredibly tender, delicate slices of wagyu beef and the light yet deliciously fragrant ponzu sauce, the extra element of little jelly cubes were added. What was that flavour? It didn’t seem to be just ponzu, but it was slightly dry which suggested some kind of wine, or sour plum, or lemon rind, or something… I’ll just have to go back and try it again.
In addition to these favourites, the tempura camembert ($14.50) just had to be ordered! Mr Black was keen to try it and I was interested to see what it was like too. In the end it was just too rich for any of us, and didn’t really sit well with the rest of our Japanese meal – it was the only dish we didn’t completely finish. The sauce was also ridiculously rich and didn’t really do anything to enhance the camembert. But it was worth it just to try!
We then shared a deluxe sushi and sushimi platter, which was of fantastic quality and fair value at $34 for 18 pieces.
As we were having trouble deciding between a pork and beef dish, we went for both. The kakuni pork belly ($20) was incredible! At first we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to manipulate the huge chunks with our chopsticks, but it was so tender it just split apart when prodded. The meat and fat were wobbly and gelatinous and every millimetre was infused with the rich flavours of soy, mirin, dashi and sake – lighter than teriyaki dishes and so much more subtle and balanced, with the added depth of slow-cooked porkiness. Oh yes.
The yakiniku wagyu beef ($25) arrived on a sizzling cast-iron hotplate, which looked impressive but a little difficult to photograph! Again, the beef was excellent quality, juicy and flavoursome. The onions were sizzled enough to be sweet yet still have some texture. The yakiniku sauce was lovely as well and not too sweet – in fact a bit saltier and meatier than I expected, but in a good way :)
Oh my! Luckily we’d only ordered a simple green salad ($9) as a side, which helped to balance the richness of our mains. It was a generous serve of greens, sweet ripe tomatoes, onions and shallots with a typically delicious and light Japanese dressing.
We were hoping to have space left to try some more tapas, or dessert, or tempura. But we couldn’t fit it all in, just another reason to go back!
The bill came to $175 for four of us, which included the bottle of wine ($28) and a Sapporo ($7). Considering that it is BYO – which is a huge drawcard for me! – I’d say it ends up being about $35 each, which is not bad at all considering the quality of the food. Welcome, Iiza, I hope you stay around for a long long time!
(02) 8095 9260
184 King Street
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