Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Sake Restaurant & Bar, The Rocks

Sake Restaurant & Bar, a modern Japanese restaurant, is lauded by many for its fusion style and trendy atmosphere - not to mention its impressive collection of premium sakes (but I'll leave the analysis of the sake list to the alcohol connoisseurs). My own experience, however, has left me wondering what all the fuss is about.

I came to Sake a bit earlier than my booking for drinks in the bar/ foyer area. Waitstaff was friendly, but when when it was time for us to be seated, we had to follow up on it ourselves. No big deal. We were led into the restaurant and were greeted with a loud chorus of "irasshaimase!"

Dimmed lighting and a multitude of wooden furniture were the usual ingredients for a charming setting, but this romance was quickly negated by the relatively high noise level. We were only a group of 4, yet we had to lean forward to listen to each other.

Such sleekness.


We all had cocktails. The ladies went for the pink blossom, a fruity mixture of choya umeshu (Japanese plum liqueur), passionfruit, chopped strawberries, and cranberry juice. Pretty delish, though the alcohol content was pretty low.

Pink blossom ($18.50)

The Boy tried something more manly - the hattori hanzo. Named after a famous samurai/ ninja, this was a concoction of gin, yuzu sake, jalapeno and salt. I found it to be strangely addictive, but the Boy preferred the pink blossom.

Hattori Hanzo ($18.00)

We were told that the menu is for sharing, so we initially had our hearts set on 5 dishes - 1 entree and 4 mains. I was tempted to order rice for everyone, but decided against it because of the sushi rolls. The waitress advised that we order an additional entree. It still wasn't enough food, which proved my initial gut feeling right in thinking that bowls of rice would have been appropriate.

Dishes are served in batches. The starters come first, followed by the dishes classified as mains on the menu, and then sushi rolls (which are normally the size of a main at similar restaurants). I'm not a fan of this system, because it means that if you come across a sauce you want to save for another dish, it'll either become cold before the other dish arrives, or the waiter will swoop it up before you manage to get a word in.

Steamed wagyu dumplings were the first to arrive, along with the accompanying sour dipping sauce. The menu said it was to be spicy as well, but it was pretty mild. The wagyu filling was simple and would have been too beefy if the ginger hadn't been included. Shell, with her German/ Polish descent, was reminded of her roots and mentioned that they taste like Polish dumplings, or pierogi.

Steamed wagyu dumplings ($19.00)

The tonkatsu cups were 4 crunchy medallions of panko-crumbed pork belly, each about the size of a 50 cent coin. The waitress suggested we pick them up in their lettuce cups and eat them in one bite. Loved the crunchiness, but you can't really tell that it's pork belly (it felt like there was more breadcrumb than meat), and there was way too little food for an $18 sharing plate.

Tonkatsu cups ($18.00)

The first main arrived - miso-cream scallops. All 6 scallops were cooked well, tasted great as expected with mushrooms and the cream sauce, but no way is this a main. There are instances where I'd rather trade in "art" for a decent meal, and that was such a time.

Miso-cream scallops ($32.00)

The scampi tempura is more reasonably portioned. There's a lightness when you bite into the batter, and the sweet ponzu sauce is highly enjoyable, contrasting nicely with the bitter sharpness of those little red seeds sprinkled on top - does anyone know what they are? They certainly aren't jalapeno peppers.

Scampi tempura ($36.00)

Alaskan king crab maki was a let down for me. You can barely feel the meat, let alone taste anything - overpowered by the rice. The roll was a decent length, but the diameter/ height was actually quite little - around 4cm. At least it was a stomach filler. With all of Shaun Presland's qualifications, I don't think this roll represented him very well :/

Alaskan king crab maki ($20.00)

The spider maki was a lot tastier - the soft shell crab was crunchy and juicy. I had a more satisfying spider roll the other week at Tatsuya in Artarmon though...

Spider maki ($19.00)

We were about 3/4 full and lined up another couple of mains, which I reckon were actually priced reasonably and what we should have ordered in the first place.

Popcorn shrimp was good - moist, crunchy, tasty. Lots of prawn. The menu says it's spicy but it lies.

Popcorn shrimp ($29.00)

Buta no kakuni - 12 hour braised pork belly with a 64 degree hen's egg that releases liquid gold. Generous amount of radish. Radish was a bit too crisp for my liking- I prefer mine boiled through until soft. A good winter warmer.

Buta no kakuni ($30.00)
We were really really full by then and so we vacated our seats. When I made my online reservation, there was a message warning me that each seating is limited to a maximum of 2 hours. I thought, "Fair enough", and we left with half an hour to spare. Seeing the impressive queue at the entrance for those without a booking, I can now see why they need them.


Granted, nothing particularly adverse happened that night. We weren't on the receiving end of isolated incidents of rude service, nor was anything inedible. Quite simply, it didn't feel like value for money (even taking into account the fine dining premium ). On a per head basis, the damage wasn't so bad ($75pp, including cocktails and 3 bottles of $9 water). The pricing of each individual dish is what draws most of my ire, particularly given the miserly portions and disappointing sushi rolls.

Saké Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon


  1. Great line! Made me chuckle a bit. "There are instances where I'd rather trade in "art" for a decent meal, and that was such a time"

    As for the red flecks, could it be so simple as chilli flakes? But from the pic (without a closeup) they look like ladybugs...and what???? 9$ Bottles of water????? WHY?

    1. Hm... I don't think they were chilli flakes though! They burst a little bit when I chewed on them. And they're more sour than spicy. Unless there's a special variety of chilli around?