I Cho Cho San You

Hello lovely humans. Welcome to my space of the interwebs I’m too lazy to post regularly on. That’s the one sentence I feel that all bloggers – no matter how many followers, posts per week or motivation to write on a constant basis – should let their readers know. Of course, there’s also overdoing it. Which is what me and 99% of my blogger friends tend to do.

We are constantly reminding our readers that yes, we are still here but no, we have not been posting as often as we promised our 13 year old selves when we first started out, or something along those lines.

I guess for me, I write when it comes naturally and this now means once every few months or so. I experience bouts of writer’s block, but not because I don’t want to write, more so because there is nothing in the world pushing me to keep this space filled with thoughts other than my own free will. And it’s flying out the door. To work, to socialising with friends, to do a workout, to cook, to zone out to trashy TV we love to hate (I can never hate you The Bachelor/ette!).

Honestly, the thought of living on a farm with chickens, and horses, and trees, and beautiful Kinfolk-inspired houses is so tempting at times. Even that idea is too hipster right now. It’s all too much, this modern life. Too busy. Too frantic. Too full. Of everything and nothing all at once. But now we are getting too deep, so let’s jump back into what you’re really here for: to read about and drool over delicious food.

Every year, one of my best friends and I go on a spending spree on each of our birthdays. On my birthday, she takes me somewhere special we’ve both been eyeing for a while. On her birthday, I do the same. It’s not a cheap habit but you know you’ve found a true friend when someone that is not your mother is willing to spend upwards of $100 on you for a nice dinner out!

This year, we were both dying to visit Cho Cho San, with its photogenic calls of green tea soft serve luring us in like fan girls. Also, we are both hardcore Japanophiles. What makes us hardcore?

Well, for one, we’re both utterly obsessed with Studio Ghibli, our eyes glazing over like children every time we reminisce over one of Miyazaki’s gloriously hand-sketched films.

Secondly, I’ve always wanted a tattoo of those beautiful paper spirit birds from one of my favourite films of all time, Spirited Away.

Whilst she has taught herself the innately difficult yet alluring language of the Japanese us Westerners can only dream of trying to conquer. Luckily for her, she’s from Hong Kong, so closer to that goal than I’ll ever be by birth. Digression, sorry, old habits.

We booked for the Sunday of the week I turned 23. I know, so young still, but much like you, I have an age complex too (OMG WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I TURN 30?!).
When we arrived, I was in awe of the place: all slick with smooth concrete tables and touches of pale wood, dripping candles, glowing lamps and hints of shiny copper throughout. My idea of heaven. I couldn’t get over the details that were put into every element of the ambiance either. For instance, the bathroom had rose-scented hand cream next to the soap. Gah, perfection.

The service was sharp and professional albeit a little clinical at times, this crew are definitely not the smiley ‘welcome to nonna’s place’ type. We didn’t mind too much; the food more than made up for the lack of buzz from waitstaff.We started with a few drinks, after all, the drinks menu is spectacularly large. Drinks range from traditional brands of sake to Japanese-inspired cocktail/mocktail concoctions, whisky, wines, champagne, beers and ciders. Literally everything on this menu has been selected for a purpose, to please every palate.I don’t know nearly enough about sake to make an informed decision so I asked the waiter for something fruity and sweet, he recommended the TsuruUme Yuzushu Heiwa Shuzo ($18 for a 90ml glass – can this be my ninja name? Pliz?) which is no longer on the menu. It was exactly what it should be, served over ice with a citrusy kick and almost too easy to drink. My friend selected the Ryeuchi ($18) cocktail with Bulleit Rye whisky, yuzu liqueur, luxardo, lemon, sour cherry nectar, ginger beer. Whoo, what a mouthful. The flavours pared well however the yuzu and cherry notes weren’t as noticeable as you would expect, zingy with lemon instead.For starters we received a free dish, Edamame Dip (regularly $8) which was actually the cutest thing, a vivid green blend of edamame beans with deep-fried corn chips. I can’t eat beans (that IBS life) but I devoured the chips in all but thirty seconds.Miso Eggplant on a Stick ($3 each) has got to be the most endearingly titled menu item. This was dish of the night for my foodie fiend companion and she ordered another round soon after. The eggplant was tender, a lonesome cylindrical piece on a skewer coated in the lightest tempura batter and drizzled with an addictive umami glaze. Need more of this in my life.
Next up we ordered the Hiramasa Kingfish, Pickled Ginger, Cucumber ($23) to offset the richness of the starters. I’m a sucker for pretty things and this was plated up so delicately, I was in love all over again of Cho Cho San’s simple elegance. Curls of kingfish sat amongst a tangy ginger oil with thin slices of translucent cucumber – you can’t imagine a more perfect balance of texture and fresh flavour. This was definitely something I’ll remember for quite some time and my pick of the night’s dishes.You can’t compete with a good rendition of Chicken Karaage ($16), so this was next on our radar. What I really appreciated was that each dish was brought out ten to fifteen minutes after the one before, giving you just enough time to familiarise yourself with its world before jumping to the next thing. The karaage alluring upon arrival, its puffy golden battered exterior standing tall beside a pool of Kewpie mayo to its side (also known as my secret weapon which I douse liberally over anything from cheese toast to tuna salad to fried rice) with a wedge of lime. I wasn’t crazy for this upon taking a bite, although the batter was crisp and lacked greasiness of any sort. For me, it needed much more lime juice to cut through the unseasoned richness of it all. The chicken beneath was nice and juicy though, its one saving grace (or two, including my bestay dat Kewpie mayo life).

I sometimes experience the delusional interlude between courses where I think I can keep eating until the cows come home but who am I kidding? I was already stuffed at this halfway point. But food beckoned so I couldn’t give up now!
Grilled King Prawns, Kombu Butter ($25) was the theatre one craves when forking out good monies for fine dining. Each sizeable orange-hued crustacean was sliced exactly in half, charred slightly and coated in the most lush burnt butter I’ve ever had. The prawns were juicy and plump, and the sauce was #flawless (one for you queen Bey). Nutty and as delicious as what I’d imagine a warm edible hug to be, my brain dazed off into a zone of happy gluttony. If I died right there and then, I would have drifted into the nethers of the earth as a content woman. Wow that was dramatic. Seriously, this was the equivalent of the praising hands emoji on my iPhone.When our Charcoal Chicken, Yuzu Koshu ($27) made its entrance, its yuzu whack in the mouth seemed too abrasive and unbalanced in comparison to the prawns. Luckily, our liquid gold was still pooled on the plate so I went a bit crazy coating the smokey flame-licked chicken in the kombu butter. No regrets, the chicken needed something more mellow to counterbalance the acid factor and this worked a treat.Being Japan-obsessed means we’ve had our fair share of matcha-flavoured errythang so we decided to instead put our trust into the waiter’s recommendation: Black Sesame Ice Cream Mochi ($6) for dessert. This came out quite quickly and I wanted to squeal like an overexcited puppy at how much happiness it brought me. Two stumpy blocks of cubed ice cream with a thin sheet of chewy, powdery mochi carved over each was mysterious yet attractive. The black sesame hit was at once sweet but subtle, lingering on the palate with the velvety melt-in-your-mouth mochi layer. Yum yum yum yum yum. Uncountable times yum.

Cho Cho San, you took my Japanese addiction to a whole new level and showed me that all life’s really about is simple, well-balanced food and sharing it with those you love best. ‘Til next year, expensive restaurant habit!

Cho Cho San, 73 Macleay Street, Potts Point NSW 2011, (02) 9331 6601, find them on Facebook and Instagram

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