Note: After a couple of hiccups with blogger last week, we are back on track! Thanks to one of my friends and subscribers, Dawid, I was able to find the original Sono at Portside Wharf post so am reposting today. Enjoy!
A couple of weeks ago, I received an invitation to dine at Sono Portside. I've been to Sono in the city plenty of times so was really happy to go to the Portside sister restaurant. Owner Mr William Liu was kind enough to meet me, give me some insight to Japanese cuisine in Brisbane.
Sono Portside is a huge venue and can seat up to 200 people, it is, however, anything but crowded. We dined on a Tuesday night and on that evening there was 130 booked for dinner, with more walk ins expected. One thing stuck C and I- we had a very spacious area all to ourselves- as does everyone else. When Sono at Portside was built about four years ago, there was a large focus on creating a venue that felt very spacious. A little luxury that often isn't indulged, usually dining seating is quite close together for obvious reasons. Sono Portside also has some of the taken on some of the traditional aspects like custom made private rooms decked out in Japanese style, but also has a more modern element than it's city counterpart.
This rings true with the food too.The two menus differ slightly, as the Portside crowd are a little different. Whilst 80 % are willing to be a little more adventurous with their choices and are happy to indulge in traditional Japanses fare, 20% aren't really keen on that idea and Sono can caters towards that market too with dishes that are toned down and more familiar.
Of course G.G. and C always want to try a large variety of the dishes on offer, so William suggests having the tasting menu ($85 p.p) with a few little twists- sounds good to us! We are also offered matched wines ($+45) but decline, C is driving and I would prefer to drink Sake to get a little bit more acquainted with the beverage that I know little about, but has taken my fancy lately. I couldn't say no to the lychee cocktail that was offered to start off though!? You know what I'm like with cocktails!!
Sashimi is next. Incredibly, Sono fly in their Sashimi fresh from Victoria so that they can serve their customers a greater variety of sashimi. Apparently the colder water down south is the place to get the best fish in Australia, so they get the Sashimi to come to them. Sono have the option of more than 10 varities of white flesh fish as opposed to the one or two you can usually buy in QLD. When I probe him about using local ingredients, he assures me that most of his ingredients are sourced locally, but notes that Sashimi is such an important element, he wasn't willing to compromise.
Salmon, Tuna and snapper with shallot and seasme vinaigrette are standard on the sashimi platter, but we are lucky to be provided with a generous serving of Tasmanian Uni (oo-nee). We were eager to try the uni first, C was a first timer so didn't know what to expect. I tried telling him it was absolutely awful so that he would hand over his portion to me, but he didn't fall for my trick and ended up liking the sweet briny taste and creamy consistency. This was probably the nicest uni I have tasted- it was much sweeter than usual, which I liked, apparently a trait of Tasmanian uni.
As you probably know, Sashimi is one of my favourite things, and this sashimi was beautifully fresh and soft. The snapper with soy and seasme vinaigrette was amazingly good - wrapped up like a rose and dressed to the nines it literally felt like it was dancing in my mouth. It was my favourite dish of the evening. Next time, I will order ask if they can please create me an extra large version (perhaps 20 times the size) of this so I can have more than just a taste.
The knife work of the chefs at Sono is also pretty spectacular - they carve everything by hand. William noted that he tries to keep his chefs happy, because a happy chef with no worries produces the best food for the customer. Many of the staff, like our main waitress, have been working at Sono for years, so they become almost like a second family. How cute is this little hand carved Australia?! Love.
ake tasting kits are available if you want to taste a cross section of sake which I did. The kits included Kitanhomare Ginshin Junmai, Tateyama Ginrei Honjozo and Ranman Reinjo Ginjo. Now, obviously I had no idea which to drink to match the food with, but the waitstaff are really helpful. I also had a second tasting kit after the first (C and I were sharing- I wasn't being ridiculously greedy!) which was tapered towards the sake I liked the most in the first tasting. The Kitanhomare Ginshin was quite dry but smooth. The Tateyama Ginrei was quite crisp and the Ranman Reinjo was quite summery. I couldn't really say which was my favourite for sure (because I'm a little confused which is which now) but I think it was the drier Kitanhomare Ginshin as it went really well with the duck that my choice of a main. I will also note, at dessert time, I did have a glass of green tea umeshu (plum wine) because I love it SO much. Words can't describe. I'm actually going to start seeking out some different sakes and umeshu and add them to my liquor cabinet. If anyone knows anywhere I can go to learn about Sake, please let me know, I seriously want to do a course or something to increase my understanding.
Next out was the impressive looking fresh crab meat croquette. The croquette was oozy, creamy and moreish without being too overwhelming as it could be after directly eating sashimi. On this plate, was also a scampi spring roll, hence the scampi head being placed on the plate, as a way of showing that the scampi meat comes directly from a fresh scampi, rather than using frozen packed scampi meat or another alternative.
C is a sushi fiend so was pleased when a nice little selection arrived and was placed on the table before us. The sushi are more traditional and all have quite a clean taste, which is different to the westernized versions you find at many sushi places. Maybe I have become accustomed to the more western versions though, because the fish tempura roll and prawn tempura roll's were a little bland for me. The grilled salmon belly with Japanese mayo and avocado nigiri is my favourite as it is much more flavoursome.
For the main, you have a choice of the South Qld Kobe Wagyu striploin, NSW duck breast and teriyaki orange sauce or the fish of the day with asari clam sauce. C most predictably went for the wagyu, and I most predictably went for the duck breast.
The wagyu at Sono gets a few rave reviews but I wasn't really sold. I have to admit, I am always underwhelmed when it comes to wagyu. It is talked up as though it could be the best thing ever, but really, I think it can become just like any other steak. With a marble score of 6, I thought this was a nice steak, cooked well, but wasn't something I could rave about. Am I being too harsh? It's possible, because my expectations were high. But in fairness, I really wasn't wowed at all.
Something I will happily rave about is the duck breast. I think C had a bit of menu envy, which was a nice change as it is usually me 'wanting what he's got.' The duck breast was meltingly tender, perfectly cooked, nicely pink in the middle and the teriyaki orange sauce was not overwhelming, just perfectly complimentary. The asparagus was fresh and al dente and I really liked the orange segments that were added for flavour. This was a really beautiful dish.
Miso Soup was also served with the mains, which apparently is the customary time to be served in Japan. I wrongly believed it was after the sashimi course!
By this stage, we were starting to be close to full, but didn't have that overfull sick feeling that can sometimes come with a tasting menu. When I commented on this to the waitress, she told us that the menu is specifically designed so that you don't feel leaving too full. One of the many benefits of the Japanese way of thinking about food, which I am keen to learn more about. Dessert came out and I handed my ice cream over to C, but did manage to eat the strawberry mousse cake styled dessert that was, refreshingly, not too sweet.