For a couple of years now I've been hankering to get down to Kansai and eat myself silly for $28, especially when lately I've been taking lunch upstairs in the Hunter Connection Food Plaza and always walk past the Japanese man statue beckoning me to come in with his sad eyes. Mr K would be a wasted subject for Kansai all-you-can-eat as raw seafood, creamy mayonnaise or deep-fried anything tends to get a negative reaction so when Billy proposed we do a catch-up along with Helen, I almost started giggling like a Japanese school girl.
On arrival the restaurant was virtually empty. Admittedly I was 40 minutes early for our 7pm booking so I took a seat and ordered a bottle of wine to ease me into the end of the week while I waited for the others to arrive. Aaaahhh ... cheers and here's to a happy Friday night. It didn't take long for all the empty seats to fill and I'm sure it wasn't even five minutes after Helen and Billy arrived that the frantic ordering commenced.
In no particular order, the dishes fumbled our way and were snapped up in a chopstick frenzy. I quite liked the yakitori skewers doused in sweet sauce and the beef and tofu gyoza were light and tasty yet nothing worth jumping up and down for. As for the sashimi salad ... what can I say? Tender chunks of raw fish on avocado and shredded cabbage. Refreshing and tasty and it barely touched the sides.
I've attempted tempura at home once or twice and the outcome wasn't as wafer-light and crispy as many places I've had it so I found it comforting to see that I'm not the only one that hasn't mastered the batter. Yes the prawn was tasty and juicy but the batter didn't give me a hint of the tingles I was hoping for. Much the same with the nigiri sushi although how amazing can sushi really get?
I do like a good hand roll and perked up a tad when I saw the plate of them nestled amongst our spread. Somehow my selective temporary amnesia kicked in (must have been the Lindeman's Chardonnay) and made me forget I chose the scampi handroll when the others chose the soft shell crab version. Be it half a bottle of vino, amnesia or just the fact it was closer to me, I clutched one of the crab handrolls and was politely reminded (in a school teacher tone) that I grabbed the wrong thing. Woops! Sorry. I guess it was better than being wacked over the knuckles with a pair of chopsticks.
The flavour highlights of the evening for me came in the form of the dragon, the rainbow and the volcano rolls. The dragon roll with its avocado and deep-fried prawn filling topped with smoky eel, tobiko and kansai sauce is an all-time favourite ensemble. No matter how it's constructed, I'm sure I'd love it.
The rainbow rolls come with crab meat and avocado and are crowned with a variety of seafood such as prawn, tuna or salmon sashimi. Topped with a mini dollop of mayo and a few micro twigs of nori, it's something I could munch on all day.
The volcano roll creates the illusion of something that may blow your head off but the combination of crab, cucumber and avocado topped with baked salmon, tobiko, spicy sauce and mayo barely congest the sinuses. I still really like it and it's one less thing to give this old man a touch of heartburn.
I don't mind a bit of kimchi so when I saw it was stir-fried with pork and the usual garlic and chilli I just had to have a taste. The pieces of cabbage were smaller than the Korean ones I've had elsewhere but I enjoyed it regardless. A nice sharp bite and I'm sure a nice sharp breath afterwards.
Luurved the teriyaki eel. Anything with eel makes my chopsticks twitch and this simple dish satisfied all my omega 3 requirements + more. Soft and tender flakes of smoky eel, a little soy and pickled ginger, a dab of wasabi ... mmm hmm.
Sadly, disappointment came in the form of baby octopus. Visually it was almost as pretty as you-know-what but the texture was soft and rubbery and boiled to cardiac arrest. Poor little things, and to be honest ... not so little. These guys were teenagers! Shame they had to die to be plated up like this.
The bustle of this place indicates to me that they're doing something right. Quick and relatively good food in a basement space that gets rowdy yet seems to grasp a scant traditional thread. Dessert would be nice but there didn't seem to be anything sweet on the menu so this trio wandered downtown to Haymarket for a sugar fix. More on where we ended up coming soon ...Kansaib1/7-13 Hunter Street
Sydney 20009231 5544Mon-Fri 11am-10pmSat 5pm-10pmAll you can eat -$28/person excluding sashimi & hotpot$38/person including sashimi boat & hotpotkansai.com.au