Mr Ana stumbled across Iro Sushi and Sake Bar, a new Japanese restaurant in Brisbane. He has a few on his to try list, in the hope of finding a local Japanese restaurant that differs to the handful of expensive sushi restaurants, or mediocre imitations of Japanese cuisine in Brisbane (like one that I tried in Mount Gravatt that everyone seems to like – thanks, but chirashi sushi is not served with fresh lettuce. Ever).
It was such a beautiful day on Saturday, so we headed into Rosalie to check Iro out. We strolled towards the little restaurant and the first thing that hit me was the colour. It was out there – bright hues of pink, orange, green, and blue splashed literally everywhere in the restaurant. The wall above the sushi bar itself is filled with jars of nick naks. Coincidentally I recently saw something similar in Bali (and loved the design idea there too!).
The wall on the right is Iro’s art wall, with little comments and quirky hand painted pictures covering the entire space. The tables and chairs were deliberately mismatched in colour, but it all went well together. Mr Ana wasn’t sure what to make of it, however I felt that the little restaurant could fit into the hills behind Omotesando (where the rent is cheaper but quite a few cool indi bars and restos live).
I admired Iro’s handmade china ware. Everything, right down to the sake cups and soy sauce dishes, were clearly hand thrown and they were glazed in delicate pastel colours. I had a sense of deja vu, as I have similar little pieces in my home that I bought from a Brisbane pottery artist years ago. I asked one of the staff if they were made in Brisbane (which they were), so I’m pretty sure it’s by the same person.
We started with the jagaimo salad (potato salad), which came out in a deep-set mauve bowl (I loved the bowls!!). It was prettily set out with a scoop of potato salad in the middle, surrounded by garden greens and ending with two crispy cracker/flatbreads. The potato salad was smooth and had extra chunks of potato mixed in – it was well balanced with Japanese mayonnaise and seasonings, and not too overpowering with hondashi flavours. The dressing on the greens was fantastic – a lovely tart citrus dressing that went well with the slightly bitter lettuce leaves. The crackers were an interesting addition, but as I love crunchy textures, I enjoyed it with the potatoes.
One of the things I always try at Japanese restaurants is agedashi tofu. I often make this dish at home so am familiar with the flavours. The first thing I noticed was the skin of the tofu was sticky rather than crunchy. I had never tried that before, however it was quite an enjoyable texture when eating it with the silken tofu. The broth was reasonable, however I felt that the shoyu flavour was a little too strong for me. I wanted to taste more of the broth, but it was a little difficult with the deep bowl and shallow spoon.
We also tried Iro’s gyoza. I LOVE gyoza, particularly Japanese ones as they are a bit more delicate in flavours than dumplings from other asian cuisines. This one didn’t disappoint – the skin was nice and crispy on the bottom and the top was well steamed, leaving a teeny bit of juice inside. The balance of seasoning and ginger was good, and I enjoyed the texture of the pork mince. I loved the dipping sauce, which had a generous dash of vinegar in it.
We ordered mixed nigiri sushi and iro rio sushi (mixture of sushi rolls). The first thing I tried was the salmon nigiri. The nigiri was hand formed and small, and the slice of salmon on top was generous. Very tasty and fresh. Mr Ana gobbled up the rest of the nigiri, which he enjoyed. We had a variety of sushi to try, including some salmon and avocado rolls, cooked tuna rolls, and cooked prawn and salmon roe rolls.
Perhaps the most interesting sushi we received was encased in a kind of thin crepe which gave it completely different texture to nori seaweed – a really different experience for Mr Ana and I. The sushi had raw tuna and salmon in it, I’ve never actually tried this combination before – I enjoyed it! The tuna wasn’t as firm as I would like (however that is very, very hard to find in Brisbane), but that didn’t take away from the freshness of the fish. It was my favourite sushi from the platter.
Although we were full by this stage, I really wanted to try their dessert. We ordered Iro’s rice cakes and gelato. They had run out of wasabi gelato and got red bean gelato instead. I assumed we would receive mochi of some kind however we got thin slices of cake literally made with rice flour instead of wheat! One was a marmalade citrus flavour and the other was red bean flavour. I enjoyed the marmalade flavour, which reminded us of a citrus slice, however the red bean cake was a bit hard. The red bean gelato was light in flavour, and didn’t have the grainy texture that many red bean desserts have. I could have had another scoop of gelato, but I’m a bit greedy like that 🙂
Clearly the owners had a strong sense of individuality for their restaurant – it is not yet another traditional style Japanese restaurant, but they’ve included a lot of cute Japanese flair in their decor. The menu is not extensive, however the flavours of their dishes are tasty and fresh. The sashimi is as fresh as you would get in any of the more well known sushi restaurants in Brisbane and I think that chef Iishi has been smart in focussing on a few seafood selections rather than everything under the sun. I felt happy after my meal, and that means that I will return to the restaurant for more – especially when they’ve got their license to serve alcohol!