No doubt the Tokyo Olympics is sparking some serious wanderlust. Whether the scenes around Japan’s largest city have you reminiscing about that trip you took a few years ago or are reminding you to add Tokyo to your travel bucket list stat, one thing’s for sure: it’s nice to travel, even if only virtually, during these dynamic times.
While Australian borders remain shut, it seems we’re having to find other ways to explore the world around us, whether that’s through interstate weekenders or staycations in our own cities. Thankfully, with Sydney being a populous city and home to so many diverse cultures, going overseas (or at least feeling like you’re somewhere else for a while), is pretty possible.
If it were that you were looking to escape to Japan without a trip to the airport, then we have some good news for you. Sydney is not only home to some of Australia’s best Japanese restaurants, but if you know where to go, you can shop a bunch of Japanese supermarket products, take part in some of Japan’s oldest traditions, and even spend the night in a traditional ‘Ryokan’ or inn.
Below, we’re helping you have a weekend in Japan right here in Sydney.
Sydney has no shortage of amazing Japanese restaurants at a range of price points. There are eateries that specialise in steaming bowls of ramen and udon, tiny restaurants known for their informal izakaya-style menus, and high-end sushi bars with some of the freshest fish around. Below, we’re sharing just a few of our favourites.
Tucked away in a narrow shopfront off Oxford Street is Nom. The family-run restaurant is somewhat unassuming with its no-frills decor, but serves up traditional izakaya-style fare at super affordable prices. It’s loved by locals for its seasonal menu and huge sake collection, and as such, it’s imperative you book ahead, especially since the place only seats 20. You can’t really go wrong with this menu, but we’d never go past the potato salad, sashimi selection, and okra tempura.
Never have I even dined at Ryo’s without lining up for at least 30 minutes, but the huge bowl of flavourful ramen is well worth it. Stepping into the quaint restaurant with walls lined in butchers paper with hand-written menus and specials feels like an instant transportation to Tokyo, and the menu is just as authentic. Whatever your ramen choice, be sure to add extra garlic and gyoza.
After a little something sweet? Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tarts is an expanding chain throughout Australia serving delectable little tarts of biscuit and subtle cheese, boasting a simultaneously sweet and savoury flavour. Original is our preferred choice, but there’s also yuzu, blueberry and chocolate.
A traditional Japanese breakfast is not easy to come by in Sydney, but Kūrumac has you covered. It’s elevated comfort food, with menu favourites being mixed vegetable tempura with green tea soba ($17) and onigiri with tonjiru pork and veggie soup ($15).
The tiny, six-table restaurant in Crows Nest serves up sumptuous yakitori, which is skewered cuts of meats and vegetables grilled. You pull up a stool, order some drinks (we’re told the whisky selection is excellent), and order from the menu as new hunger arises throughout the night.
If you’re planning to make a weekend of it, then we have a few recommendations for where to stay.
You’d never expect a traditional Japanese ryokan could be found in the inner city, but hidden behind a black door against a sandstone street front is a portal to regional Japan. Ryokan Gojyuan has only two guest rooms access via a walkway across a beautiful Japanese-style garden complete with a koi pond. A breakfast including rice, miso soup, homemade pickles, three vegetable dishes, egg and fish is included, likewise is the use of the Hinoki bath overlooking the tranquil scenes beyond the windows. A one-person stay starts from $495 per night.
Just a short drive from Sydney is the Sparadise Japanese Bath House. Perfect for a day of R&R or a quiet night in the mountains, it’s got both indoor and outdoor Onsen baths (hot springs), which draw mineral-rich water from natural springs 300m below the ground, as well as a herbal steam room and a tea room. Make a weekend of it and spend the night in the quaint Japanese-style rooms.
Tokyo in particular, a city with some 13 million people, has learnt to cope with a shortage of space in a number of ways, with one example being capsule hotels. Popular among budget travellers, capsule hotels provide a compact bed for tourists as well as shared facilities like bathrooms and personal lockers. Sydney has its own capsule hotel in the CBD providing short-term stays for travellers looking for a different experience.
Whether you take part in cooking and craft workshops, shop Japanese stores and supermarkets, or wander the Japanese gardens, you’re closer than you think to the beauty and magic of Japan.
Japanese Gardens, NSW
You’ll find beautiful Japanese plant varieties at Sydney’s Campbelltown and Auburn Japanese Gardens, or further afield in Gosford and Cowra. Depending on the time of year, your visit could be made all the more beautiful by sakura or cherry blossoms, which in NSW, will usually bloom towards the end of winter.
Shop Japanese stores, various locations
A number of long-standing Japanese brands have made their way Down Under in recent years. In the Sydney CBD, you’ll be within close proximity to dollar stores Daiso and Miniso, as well as cult lifestyle store Muji, fashion label Uniqlo, and book store Kinokuniya. A quick Google of Japanese supermarkets in your area will also direct you to Japan’s best snacks which you can buy right here.
The ceramic artists at Ceramic Studio En supply some of Sydney’s best restaurants with their plates and bowls. The shopfront allows you to purchase some of the unique hand-crafted pieces, but the artists also run classes throughout the week to help you make your own. A two-session class with Emi will allow you to mould, glaze and finish four pieces for $190.