Our dining patterns this year have changed considerably, with our discovery that some coupon deals aren’t as shonky as we’d previously thought. So whilst in previous years, dining out mostly meant visiting the same handful of cheap Asian eateries (where most Asians tend to flock), we’ve now added almost monthly ‘coupon outings’ to new restaurants all over Sydney.
The latest coupon has taken us to Sushi Samurai in Neutral Bay, a 1.5 hour drive away from home, for an all you can eat sushi deal ($65 for four, from Groupon). We were quite excited with this particular deal, as we’d had a memorable dinner at Sushi Samurai a year ago and had been meaning to go back.
The all-you-can-eat menu is a lot more organised than at our previous coupon experience at Wasabi Bistro, as it is an option that is normally available, but at a higher price, of course. When we arrive, the waiter explains the format of the buffet to us. Each person must start of with a starter, of a sushi platter, of which there are two choices, before being able to order the sushi and other dishes from the all-you-can-eat menu. We went with two of each of the platters (to share) to try a bit of everything.
We hadn't read the menu properly at the time of ordering, so we were surprised when miso soup came, swiftly followed by adegashi tofu (it turns out that they're included as part of the starter 'platter'). The adegashi tofu was surprisingly delicious with its smooth texture, crispy exterior and incredibly tasty tentsuyu broth. And best of all, it was steaming hot on the insides! Even my mum, who isn't usually fond of adegashi tofu, loved it.
Because we were in a relatively early timeslot (6:00pm- a result of the limited availability of groupon seatings per night), the sushi platters arrived quite quickly after. They were beautiful, and were well worth $17 in their own right, though we would have much rather chosen our own selection of sushi, as there were quite a few pieces of sushi that we weren't too fond of. We ended up eating everything anyway, but noticed that many other groupon diners left behind quite a bit of uneaten sushi, which was a bit of a waste!
Option A consisted mostly of nigiri, with salmon, tuna, prawn, kingfish, squid (though the menu stated scallop instead) and egg omlette varieties on offer. We're not usually really fond of (raw) scallop/squid sushi because of its texture, and unfortunately, this was no exception. The salmon, tuna and kingfish fare much better, though we though the rice was rather dry for our liking.
We are quick to pass the salmon roe gunkan to dad, as it's one of his favourites. The rest of us however, cannot stand the taste of sea water bursting out of the little eggs with every bite! The sea urchin gunkan however, is left untouched until the end as we're not really fond of the mushy texture of sea urchin either.
Salmon And Avocado Rolls
Option B offered more exciting choices of salmon aburi nigiri (grilled salmon sushi) as well as salmon/avocado and tuna rolls. Again, we found the rice rather dry, and perhaps it was this reason that the rolls weren't rolled up as nicely as those we usually find in other Japanese restaurants.
We easily identify our favourite component of the platter to be the karrage chicken. It's a shame that we can't order it separately by itself, as there is only enough for one small piece of chicken each- it's incredibly delicious.
Apart from the sushi, the all-you-can eat menu also offers a few other options. The menu states that each person an only order one dish at a time, which must be finished before ordering another, but we found that the waiters didn't really mind if we ordered a little extra.
The fried oysters arrive first topped with a bit of warm egg salad. There was a lot more batter than oyster, and we didn't think there was much of an oyster taste, but I still enjoyed it.We were a bit disappointed at the presentation of the non-sushi dishes in small white bowls which clearly distinguished the normal diners from the buffet ones, as the presentation of most of the normal mains was quite beautiful.
Interestingly, the gyoza is also deep-fried, almost resembling the deep-fried prawn dumplings you get at yum cha restaurants. Although I usually love deep fried foods, I actually prefer my gyoza pan fried, with less of a crunch- it does make an interesting change though.
I'm not a huge fan of takoyaki, but I can't help but feel excited when I notice takoyaki on the limited menu. It turns out that I'm the only one on the table who actually enjoys eating them, so I have most it to myself. Though it's tasty, I couldn't help feeling that it was almost all batter and very little octupus- I definitely prefer the ones at Wasabi Bistro over these, even if they weren't authentic.
By the time we finish the food and get around to ordering a second time, the restaurant is quite packed and service has slowed down quite considerably, with the wait time for our second lot of food being more than 20 minutes, as we see food slowly trickling out of the kitchen. We're glad when the seaweed salad finally arrives, a small bowl of lettuce leaves, chunks of tofu and a bit of seaweed topped with a carrot garnish. We find seaweed salad is a little dry and bland for our tastes, as there is very little dressing (and the dressing itself is quite light) though that may be because we're used to our japanese salads drenched in strong sauces.
We notice that most other groupon diners didn't bother much with the other options, and stuck with the sushi- a wise choice, as the other menu items weren't all that spectacular. Plus, the sushi came out a tad bit faster than the cooked options too!
There's quite a few choices for sushi, though they're mostly the same ones that were on the platter. I'm not usually much of a fan of salmon aburi (grilled salmon) sushi, but order it anyway as it turns out that we're not really interested in many of the sushi options available. I'm pleasantly surprised to find that this version is quite tasty, as it's only lightly torched and it's not overly smoky, whilst creating the interesting smooth texture you get with the transition between cooked and raw fish.
Grilled Kingfish Head
I take a while choosing between the grilled kingfish or salmon head, but end up deciding on the Kingfish for as it sounds a little more interesting. The head is grilled beautifully, creating a tasty crispy skin, but we find it much too salty (even for us!) which is a bit of a problem as we find it much less meatier than salmon heads, with pretty much only skin to eat.
Salmon and Avocado Sushi
There's a 90 minute limit on the all-you-can eat, and as there was quite a queue forming outside, we decided to leave before having to be asked to. Although our last order was placed well over 30 minutes before time was up, many of the dishes we'd ordered never ended up coming, leaving us a little disappointed (I was really looking forward to the lotus root chips!!).