Sydney's Potts Point is home to some of the most progressive and exciting dining options in the city. Cho Cho San, a modern Japanese joint featuring sleek, pared back wooden and white interiors, is one such place. While not strictly traditional, its menu takes on the clean and balanced flavours of Japanese cuisine and spins it into something new. With menu options like pork katsu steamed buns and Japanese bolognaise, head chef Nicholas Wong has been careful not to step on the toes of tradition.
Even still, surely he must have felt some pressure when opening up a Japanese restaurant, especially having had no formal Japanese culinary training? "No, not at all," says Wong. "I didn't want to do it any injustice and try and replicate any traditional dishes. I know what the Japanese are like in regards to the look of their food. I have the utmost respect for it - every style, every technique is totally unique." While an avid fan and frequent visitor of Japan, Wong's take is refreshingly Australian. "I think we go for more of the ethos of Japanese food culture. It's about light, balanced food that works in harmony with the space," he says.
With a career that name checks some of the harbour city's best restaurants, it's lucky that Wong's repertoire isn't confined to one type of cuisine. Starting out as an apprentice at Billy Kwong, Wong moved to Rockpool George St, Vini, Bodega, he then helped open Apollo and Ester... and finally, Cho Cho San. It's a career path that would impress any foodie, but Wong shrugs it off. "Everyone on my Chinese/Burmese side are doctors and lawyers," he laughs. "I was probably the black sheep of my family on that side!"
While Wong's Burmese background means he has an ingrained love of Asian food, it's also what he's most comfortable cooking. With memories of Burmese mohinga (fish laksa) and his grandmother's steamed egg cake, Wong's love of shared food is filtered into the menu options at Cho Cho San. "All my food memories are based around that sense of nostalgia - who I was eating with at the time," he explains. It's why, when it comes to cooking at home, he favours a simple approach. "I recently had some friends over and we did a steamboat," he says. "I like it, because I don't have to stand with my back turned to my friends. For me, cooking dinner at home is really enjoyable - because there's no pressure!"
Nic's food picks
Best Sydney restaurants: "Maybe I'm a little bit biased, but I think Rockpool does an amazing job. Neil Perry is next level - he is such an amazing chef, person, and restaurateur. I also really like Icebergs, I think it's more the setting, but it's the most amazing dining room in Sydney. I recently ate just the bar stuff at Sepia, which is amazing. Martin Benn was chef of the year for Gourmet [Traveller] for a reason."
Best yum cha: "At the moment, Spice Temple is really, really good. It's probably the closest thing you can get to places like Hong Kong."
Best sushi: "I still think Yoshi is the best, he's traditional and he's very dated but I think as far as lunch goes - that's value for money. He's a true master of his craft. Sokyo is also really good. Chase [Kojima] and Sano-San, who is the sushi master there - they're pretty amazing and they get some amazing produce. They're getting some tuna that you don't even get in Japan."
Best ramen: "Ikkyu, I will say. There are so many different styles for ramen, but I like Ikkyu because it's well-rounded and it suits the Australian palate. I also like Ichi Ban Boshi because it's close to a wonton noodle soup - it's a cleaner broth."
Best udon: "Not here, to be honest! In London there's a place called Koya, they do hand-made udon. I've talked to a few chefs who actually worked there... they work the dough with their feet! Outside of Japan, that's like, 'Wow'. It blows your mind."
Best Yakitori: "Chica Chica, on Bourke Street in Surry Hills. They also have a branch in East Redfern. I think their chicken skin yakitori is so good. It's amazing and still one of my favourite things."
Cho Cho San is located on 73 Macleay Street, Potts Point, NSW