I make it no secret that Japanese cuisine is one of my favourites. It’s a food that’s mostly light, it’s generally made with energy, veneration and a respect that’s inherent in the Japanese culture.
When I came to this area, I started an eating affair with the local Japanese food outlets; Sushi Wave was the first, the ‘mother’, the original if you like, then O-Sushi restaurant came to Byron Bay.
These eateries held my attention with a consistency and quality that I appreciated (and missed) after leaving the big smoke.
Now years on, I consider the fact that many of the new Japanese restaurants have been spawned from these sushi stops.
Chefs from O-Sushi have set up their own places, while other familiar faces pop up all over the place: some working, some operating and others planning to.
The Japanese community is rapidly growing in the Byron Shire along with our taste for their cuisine and I suppose after working many years to produce successful outlets for others, you’d want to stop the train and get off into your own obsession.
This is a tip of the hat to the folks that thought it a good idea all those years ago, and a nod to the new Japanese eateries.
Here’s a selection to try if you haven’t already.
For those who aren’t yet in the know, this Japanese tour de force is one of three restaurants owned by two very smart local women. Karni Shai and Chaya Regev are those two.
Karni opened the doors of O-Sushi in July 2004 with Chaya’s late husband, Danny, as the original partner.
After enjoying the Japanese food served in the first and original sushi in Byron Bay, ‘Sushi Wave’, Karni saw an opportunity to provide more of a good thing to us all. The rest is history.
On Danny’s early passing last year, his wife Chaya continued the partnership with Karni in the businesses. Sushi Wave later moved and became Kinoko Sushi Bar and Restaurant, now operating on Jonson St in Byron Bay near the first roundabout.
Takayuki and Takashi, now of Doma Cafe in Federal, and also Taka Fumi and Kane now of Izakaya Yu in Mullumbimby, all worked for seven and a half years with us’, Karni told me. ‘They then went on their own way, firstly doing the markets and Bluesfest, then their own restaurants.’
The recent renovations here were completed from start to finish in an amazing 2.5 weeks. ‘It was challenging and intense’, Karni says. The project was designed by Mariko Miyagishima from Sydney: ‘Shestarted drawing and the plans were laid’, Karni told me, ‘Chaya and I, with Zuika Aloni as project manager, worked non-stop to complete the renovations in the shortest time possible’.
It may have been fast, but the subtle and clean atmosphere they’ve created here is a credit to all involved. A fitting Japanese fitting.
The menu hasn’t changed. Teriyaki with the optional base of bio-dynamic, organic local brown rice.
The train pulls out plated with all the nigiri and nori you could want. O-Sushi supports local businesses where possible – Bay Seafood supplies the fish and they themselves try to get as much local fish as possible, so occasionally you may find tuna missing from the train.
Sarah Wheeler from Pure Melt Chocolate does custom-made organic sugar-free chocolates. Max Brenner chocolates are coming too. There’s a good wine selection and some serious graded sake. O-Sushi definitely looks to be on track with their latest changes.
O-Sushi. Eat-in/takeaway. Fully licensed. Open 7 days 11am–9pm (Winter), 11am–10pm (Summer).
Byron Bay: Shop 15, Woolworths Plaza, Jonson St,
Coolangatta: 32/ 72–80 Marine Pde (07) 5536 5455.
Broadbeach: 2/12 Charles Ave (07) 5570 2166.
This quirky renovated Federation building is surrounded by ground, grass and dirt. A doma, in Japan, connects all the parts of an area or household together, so you can leave your shoes on in these places.
All nations can come as they are and enjoy the casual concept, hence the name Doma. I can’t see a fireplace anywhere (common in a doma) but this place is connecting the community in a nice way.
Pop into this unique east-meets-west eat-in takeaway and you’ll be confused as to whether it’s going to be a hamburger day, a chook katsudon day, or perhaps the right time for some freshly sliced sashimi.
This is a truly free-ranging menu.
Takashi Yaguchi and Takayuki Kuramoto are the owners, originally both from O-Sushi and both still held in high regard by the owners of that restaurant.
This early relationship inadvertently created a Japanese Eden for the local community. What exceptional choice we now enjoy in the northern rivers. Gorgeous landscapes minutes from the beaches and some of the world’s best are cooking lunches and dinners right under our noses. Gosh, if you can’t get excited about these sorts of places up in the hills, then you’re simply a sourpuss and nothing’s going to float your boat.
Now, reality denotes that if something is popular and without an overly big staffing, then service may be a little slow at times. At these times, just remember that good old saying ‘good things come to those who wait’. This is not to say that you’ll die of old age waiting for your tucker either.
A coffee from Moonshine Roasters along with good and reasonable cafe fare has the West covered. The East is well represented with temaki (nori cones) their speciality, and Japanese staples like nigiri, sashimi, and the family dish of katsudon. This dish is made normally with a schnitzel of pork atop rice.
Doma has anglicised it and turned it upside down with a schnitzel of chicken on the bottom and rice on top with egg. Weekends bring with them local musicians that match nicely with the lively dining crowd.
I’m constantly hearing the ‘Takas’ and their team receiving warm accolades from locals. I’m sure they’d be embarrassed by such positive appraisals. I’ve met unassuming Japanese folk like Tetsuya Wakuda of Tetsuya’s restaurant fame.
He started his career washing dirty dishes in Surry Hills for another restaurateur, then opened his own place – now he’s one of the world’s top chefs.
Eat in/Take Out/Catering
7.30am–2.30pm Mon–Fri 7.30am–3pm Sat, Sun
3–6 Albert St, Federal.
‘It is difficult to study the universe if you only study one planet’ – Miyamoto Musashi. These words are written above the drinks fridge as you walk into the Sabi restaurant in Ocean Shores.
When it comes to its people, traditions and way of life, Japan is a small ‘planet’ that can seem a universe away from the Aussie culture. Many Japanese are now making Australia their home though, and cleverly some have chosen this neck of the woods.
This small Japanese diner is the best thing that could have come to this otherwise typical Aussie shopping centre.
Japanese people have an aesthetic eye; beauty and grace sit in their culture in about the same measure as the meat pie and footy sit in ours. This sushi diner has been built and designed as its name suggests, with an uncomplicated and tasteful style in mind.
They’re not trying to be fancy, it’s practical and accessible dining.
Apart from its philosophical billboarding, Sabi has an unusual speciality and it’s not a Japanese creation. Here they house an espresso machine and serve a coffee that’s surprisingly good. Allpress comes complete with coffee art and a proud barista to make it for you – go figure! I’ve been known to wait at the door for a cup in the morning.
Sabi, like O-Sushi, has plenty of parking. It’s not a bad thing to exist on the edge of a carpark after all and, like O-Sushi in Byron Bay, they flank a major grocer too. So, you can go shopping for dinner and end up taking dinner home instead.
I’ve snacked here too, instead of the alternatives for an afternoon lull, healthy Japanese sushi and a miso soup will get you going again (it’s a blessing for my toddler when his blood sugars are running low).
Skilled staff and recognisable faces, some former O-Sushi stalwarts, hand make the fare. All forms of good Japanese food are available here, from the standards on the train – salmon, scallops, prawn nigiri, nori rolls and seared salmon (fresh fish daily comes in from Bay Seafood) to the popular salmon nori roll, deep-fried with a tempura batter.
Here you’ll find an unusual version of agedashi tofu with shredded daikon radish and ginger flavours hidden under the tofu, sitting with other popular choices from the kitchen: teriyaki, seared salmon and tempura all a la carte and available throughout the day and night.
Wabi-Sabi refers to an ancient Japanese aesthetic – an appreciation of beauty that’s imperfect and comes with age. And, like I have, this nondescript shopfront has waited years for the right people to come and create a simple, elegant restaurant… now it’s a beauty.
Eat in/Take out
8am–5pm Mon, Tues
8am–7pm Wed, Thurs
8am–7.30pm Fri, Sat
Ocean Village Shopping Centre, Ocean Shores
Tapas is not an uncommon concept. Practically every culture has a version of it. Izakaya is the Japanese equivalent and as a style it seems to work for this petite Mullumbimby restaurant.
Izakaya Yu is the polar opposite of the newly sized-up O-Sushi, yet the atmosphere remains comfortable and makes a diner feel as though it’s roomier than it actually is.
You get the sense that the two owner-chefs Takafumi and Kane decided on the name and concept for this little diner as a standard to pursue, and a statement to all who entered, rather than just tagging it.
The Yu in Izakaya Yu is Japanese for pleasure and I’m sure these founding chefs from O-Sushi restaurant take pleasure in the fact that they now own a well-patronised and loved local eatery.
The restaurant’s location itself is strangely magnetic. Not the kind of attraction you’d have to a beachfront or mountain retreat; rather this goes to the primordial in us all – it’s mostly out of sight, and a cosy cave.
Don’t try to walk in here without booking between 6 and 8 any night it’s open; you’ll be waiting a while if you do. Again, this is not sizable dining and only sits a modest amount of diners.
The Japanese are a consistent people. The menu here is as good as any I’ve tried in the neighbourhood and has all the goodies that we’ve come to expect. Seared salmon and the well-liked agedashi tofu come perfectly plated. Nigiri, nori and glistening sashimi are less than a metre from your mouth.
Of course when in an Izakaya diner try some sake. Super premium sakes are available or try a Yu cocktail: Sake Mojito with sake and fresh mint. Hai!
Izakaya Yu has two Japanese chefs at the helm committed to pleasing through their food. They too joined O-Sushi in 2004 and contributed to the popularity of that restaurant for years.
This is now their culinary expression and one that has easily won the approval of the Shire folk since it opened two years ago.
1/53 Stuart Street
Eat in/Take Out
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