On a recent Saturday our good friend was having a birthday and wanted to have Nice Grown Up Lunch. It proved a little tricky trying to find somewhere a bit fancy that could seat a group of 13, but we ended up with a late lunch booking at Cho Cho San, on Macleay Street in Potts Point.
Cho Cho San effectively means ‘Madame Butterfly’, as opera aficionados will know; and it’s also of course a clue to the cuisine: modern Japanese.
The space is sublime in its imposing minimalism (not a tautology, I promise). Every surface is pale and plain and monochrome; and the space is brightly yet subtly illuminated, but not by any natural light sources nor obvious light fittings. Rather, there are giant translucent panels on the ceiling, which are either uber modern skylights or are disguising light fittings above (I think the latter, as the level of light didn’t change as the afternoon went on). The effect is as though you are in an Instagram filter. It’s curious; flattering to customers and consumables alike; and completely perfect for the ‘muted industrial minimalist Zen’ vibe they’ve got going on with all those sleek concrete surfaces.
The food was exquisite and plentiful – we had the $65 banquet and some fun drinks (we possibly had too much fun…) and I’d be keen to revisit and upgrade to the $80 version. We started with a round of Japanese-inspired cocktails; mine was the Kimono, a sort of Japanese martini with Tanqueray 10, Cointreau, and sake. Most elegant.
We whet our appetites with pretty edamame and miso soup with corn…
The first proper course was the most tender sashimi of petuna ocean trout with black pepper and wasabi in a light soy dressing. This was heaven and I would’ve eaten the whole dish had it not been a share plate!
The ‘carb course’ featured 和風 (wafu) or Japanese-style Western (ish) dishes. The base was udon noodles but served like pasta with toppings: the carnivore option was called ‘Japanese bolognese‘ and had a (surprisingly) very spicy mince sauce with lashings of Kewpie mayo; the pescetarian version was also spicy and mayonnaise-y but liberally scattered with smoked bonito shavings. Both dishes were unexpectedly rich and filling (and laid good foundations for more delicious Japanese drinks – I moved on to a pleasing barley-based shochu at this point).
My blurry photo of the next dish is not the result of said Japanese drinks, I swear ;) These were whole grilled prawns in kombu butter. We were encouraged to eat them whole – I am fine with legs and tails but only managed one head. I still can’t quite get my head around prawn heads, excusing the pun. It’s the eyes and all those pointy bits…
These were prettily furled お絞り (oshibori) or warm hand towels, post- kombu butter prawnies. They looked like marshmallows and caused some confusion!
The last main dish was the fabulously presented teriyaki beef short-rib, which even I ate and I’m off beef. As this was exceptionally good beef, I felt it would have been disrespectful to the cow not to eat it. (The pescetarian substitute was a teriyaki fish collar – more heads!)
The deceptively rich main dishes were off-set by with the prettiest palate-cleansing salad of finely mandolined cabbage, radish and ginger with adorably neatly snipped chives. I do love a snipped chive.
We rolled out of Cho Cho San after a leisurely 2 – 2 1/2 hours of excellent noshing. The pace of the dishes was good, and the selection didn’t leave you feeling over-stuffed nor still peckish – though the crazy soft-serve at the end had certainly helped. I think adding plain white rice to the banquet would’ve made it perfect, but that’s because I’m a Japanese rice fiend :)