Have you ever seen The Iron Chef with an unironed apron or a set of blunt knives? We didn't think so. The SBS icon exemplifies the impeccably presented precision of Japanese culture. And it's not just Japanese TV we're tuning into: we're obsessed with all facets of this slice of the orient, from karaoke (it's nothing to be ashamed of, okay?) to The Karate Kid to bonsai, kimonos, origami and wasabi.
Which brings us back to Japanese cuisine. The ultimate expression of their super-cool culture, Japanese food is not only a work of art, it's delicious and nutritious. In fact, the Japanese diet of back-to-basics rice, fish, vegetables and lean meat is often credited with life longevity. As a dining out option it's the guilt-free favourite and lucky Sydneysiders have a bounty of sake and sashimi to choose from. Chopsticks at the ready - these are our top five:
Related story: Molto bene! The 5 best Italian restaurants in Sydney
1. Cho Cho San, Potts Point, chochosan.com.au
Cho Cho San is the real name of the beautiful Japanese Geisha, Madame Butterfly, in the opera of the same name. The food here lives up to the hype (sans the sad ending) - it's light and beautiful, flitting prettily above the usual sushi fray. Best house seats are at the bar facing Macleay street so you can people watch while you Pork Katzu Bun dine. Choicest chops include anything from the Raw/Sashimi bar, Miso Eggplant on a Stick, Chicken Karaage and crowd-pleaser Green Tea Soft Serve Ice-cream. Cup or cone, your call.
2. Saké, The Rocks and Double Bay, sakerestaurant.com.au
Executive Chef Shaun Presland presides over Saké's flavour-packed, sushi-heavy menu with a practised hand. Having spent seven years dedicated exclusively to sushi making, Presland really knows his Californian roll from his Dragon inside out. Situated in the historic Rocks district, Saké sees bankers vying with teriyaki-hunting out-of-towners for a seat at the sunken table, all keen to ponzu dip their way through the sushi master's fare. The sushi menu is a distinguished roll call of fresh fish like tuna, salmon, kingfish and snapper, but the real karate kicks come courtesy of Presland's signature dishes - Kingfish Jalapeño, Sashimi Tacos and Popcorn Shrimp. Saké now also caters to the uptown set with the recent opening of a chic sister in Double Bay.
3. Sokyo at The Star, Pyrmont, star.com.au
The culinary A-team behind Sokyo could be straight out of central casting for a Tokyo MasterChef series. Nimbly lead by Chef Chase Kojima, The Star's Japanese stunner does the best supper club update on 'Kaiseki' style multi-course share plates. The wide-ranging menu gives good Robata grill and sushi, with a nod to its Australian setting including dishes like the 'Queensland', a sushi roll with spanner crab, spicy aioli, avocado and soy paper. Can't find the perfect taste performer on the card? Go off-menu with a personalised selection edited by you, for you. Leave space for dessert: the list is long and deliciously sake-soaked.
Related story: The 5 Sydney brunch spots worth getting out of bed for
4. Tetsuya's, Sydney CBD, tetsuyas.com
Tetsuya's is the haute emperor of Nippon dining in Sydney, probably Australia and possibly even the world (truly, it's that good). Tetsuya Wakuda, the award-winning chef behind the eponymous restaurant, fuses the finest French cooking techniques with Japanese flavours and a seasonal taste-driven philosophy. The restaurant, located in Sydney's Kent Street, was rebuilt to Tetsuya's exacting specifications and is akin to stepping into another dimension of the serene, green, Japanese gardened variety. Book ahead and eat lightly prior to ensure ultimate enjoyment of Tetsuya's otherworldly 10-course degustation. Current favourites on the tightly curated menu include Hiramasa Kingfish with Salt Bush and Shiso Relish, Grilled Tooth Fish with Miso Corn and Pickled Onions and Tetsuya's Chocolate Cake.
Related story: The 10 most stylish bars in Australia
5. Toko, Surry Hills, toko-sydney.com
Toko is a slick, après-work joint on Crown Street's Surry Hills. The timber-hued, low-lit den is favoured by the miso-supping and sake-sipping creative crew who live and work in this 'hood. Styling itself as an Izakaya-style eatery, Toko translates the traditional definition of informal Japanese tavern into a modern sushi lovers' destination, incorporating fresh Aussie produce into light oriental dishes. Their delish soy sauced bites are perfectly menu-matched with a long list of sake-laced cocktails. Take the Rabuba, a dynamic rhubarb sake spiced tipple which will blow even the most jaded drinker's kimono back. Standouts eats include Sweet Eggplant Miso, Moreton Bay Bug Tempura, and Miso Black Cod with Pickled Kohlrabi.