The long and eager wait is over! We finally dine at Miso Japanese Restaurant! Did we like it?
Miso Japanese Restaurant has been sitting on my ‘Top 5 restaurants to try’ list for more than 8 months now (Kusuka on Sussex, the only restaurant spending more time on the list). The difficulty in getting into Miso is due to the simple fact that it’s really really popular and they don’t do Sunday trade. On Friday and Saturday nights, be prepared for a long wait as at peak periods its normal to have 8-10 groups already waiting for a table. Out front of their store, there is a physical list where you write down your name, party size, your willingness to share a table, and the time you arrived; and then you just find a spot to stand and wait it out. Our motto has always been “We don’t queue for food in the city, as there are too many options out there”, but this time, we were just so curious to see what the hype was all about! Fortunately for us tonight, a couple had just had their number called and vacated a bench seat outside the restaurant, so we happily took a seat and bunkered down for a long wait as we studied their menu.
My first gripe of the night was when I found out that the paper menu which we were studying (picked up from the door) was actually the take-away menu – where there was at least double the amount of choices compared to the dine-in menu. When studying the paper menu, I had happily settled on the Wagyu Beef Bento ($19.80); then I had to change it all because the Wagyu option wasn’t on the dine-in menu (dine in menu was found on-line- and to this day I still don’t understand why a take-away menu has more selections than the dine in options, it’s counter-intuitive); not to mention everything was $3 to $4 more expensive (larger portions when you dine in).
After a 30 minute wait, our number was finally called and after as long as the gestation period of a child (remember, 8 months on my Top 5 must-try list) we finally set foot in their store (the shop has a swing door which muffles any noise from within). “So this is what’s it all about!” I thought to myself as we were finally granted access to the inner sanctum. The restaurant was humming with noise, I guess that is the outcome of having a packed restaurant and it was actually larger in size than I had anticipated; we were led to the upper side of the restaurant, up a couple of steps where we sat in a short corridor for 3 tables, looking onto the open kitchen.
The categories of food on offer were Teishoku (sets), Bento, Katsu, and Karaage. As Miso’s drawcard for us was the promise of bento boxes, so we both naturally ordered one each- I ordered the Miso bento ($20.80) and my wife went with the Unagi bento ($23.80). We’re usually table-water people, but as their original juices sounded interesting- I ordered the apple, beetroot, and blueberry vinegar juice ($4.00) while my wife ordered the pink grapefruit and yuzu juice ($4.80). It was interesting to have our orders taken by the hostess, and then a couple of moments later, hear the head chef call out in Jap-glish our orders to the kitchen, so the section chefs knew that they had an additional katsu to crumb and fry.
As we waited for our drinks and food, we took in the ambiance of the restaurant. The only description which comes to mind to aptly describe the look-and-feel of the restaurant is that it’s clean! The décor was all white and clear glass, no ornaments which spelt out that ‘this is a Japanese restaurant’, and the music they played was jazz at low levels. So it was evident that they were going for a refined vibe.
After a few minutes our juices arrived.
My beetroot drink was the darker red of the two, and at first taste it was interesting – eyebrow raisingly interesting, as the flavour wasn’t what I had expected. But after having the length of our meal to work out the flavour profile, I ended up working out what it reminded me of. You know tinned beetroot, and that deep red vinegar liquid the preserved beetroot slices come in? Yeah, the drink actually tasted like that tinned liquid i.e. Like someone had reserved the tin fluids and added apple juice to it. So I guess you can say it was a bit of a letdown in the end. While my wife’s grapefruit drink had real grapefruit pulp and it was as advertised, bitter like a grapefruit and sour like yuzu. *Squinty face emoji*. And after a few more moments, my wife’s Unagi bento arrived.
Historically I love bentos, I enjoy the fact that you have all these little sides and everything has its home in its little compartment; just like airline food! And don’t get me started on airline food! But the bento presentation at Miso is different from what you’re used to (square lunch-box style bentos); it was served in a large round compartmentalised bowl, with your rice and main protein at the 4-8 o’clock, and all of your sides at the 8 – 3:55 o’clock. So as my wife tucked into her food, I waited for mine. And then I waited some more (felt like I was waiting for most of the night tonight) and after 15 minutes, just when we were discussing whether or not they had forgotten my order, the waitress came out with my bento. She sounded genuinely apologetic, and hearing how genuine she was, it helped dissipate most of the ill feelings I had developed (but just for the record- since first putting our name down on the list, it was almost 70 minutes before I had food placed in front of me).
The round bento box was set before me on a tray, also on the tray was a shallow saucer with a soya dipping sauce, and a bowl of steaming hot miso soup. My Miso Bento’s main protein was a pork katsu which was cooked on a bamboo skewer. Threaded onto the stick was 3 large chunks of pork, with a slither of onion placed in-between each like a bookmark, the pork (and the stick) crumbed and deep fried; and it was served with a smear of sticky sauce which tasted a bit like a thicker teriyaki sauce. This fat shish-kebab lay on my bed of rice, and it was alright- the pork was tender and was leaning towards being under (meat a little pink near the stick), and it was tasty enough with the sauce. But the star of the dish was actually the miso soup, it was salty, and gave my tastebuds the saltiness which I needed, to an otherwise salt-free meal.
The sides were a bit of a random collection of stuff- from left to right or from 8 o’clock to 3:55 – there was 3 large slices of fresh salmon sashimi (thumbs-up for freshness); fried tofu on a stick (horizontal thumbs, as it was a bit forgettable); egg tofu (thumbs-up, I always love the light, fluffy, sweetened egg tofu thing); potato and cucumber salad (thumbs-up, it was a bit more like a thick mash but it was tasty enough); single semi-raw broccoli (horizontal thumbs, as it was a little strange to have one single undercooked floret with a smear of mayo on it); meat ball (horizontal thumbs, it was tasty enough but it was pretty mushy, my wife was dubious if it was cooked through and left hers); spring roll (thumbs-down, I got to this late so it was cold and chewy, but the only thing I could taste was the oil it was deep fried in); soft shelled crab (thumbs-up, there were two large deep fried soft shelled crabs and they seemed pretty fresh); and last of all there were two slices of fruit- a cube of watermelon and the other was rockmelon (thumbs-down, my wife advised me not to eat it as it looked unappetising).
Our end verdict, 3.5 Stars from 5 (2 from 3 stars for Food (as the food was alright, but unfortunately nothing amazing, although it was interesting to get that many different elements on a ‘plate’); 0 from 0.5 for Service (the waitress was really polite, but with the long gap in between our dishes arriving, points had to be deducted for that); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (as the place was buzzing, the soft jazz added to the classy vibe and it was interesting to see/hear into the kitchen); and 1 from 1 for Value for money (the drinks were quite reasonably priced for this day and age, while $23.80 for a bento is pretty steep, but for the amount of food we received, you can tangibly see that you got your money’s worth).
In conclusion, after seeing their takeaway menu where there are more appealing options on offer; the fact that takeaway eliminates the upwards of 30 minute wait time for a table; and the fact that take-away is a couple of bucks cheaper than dine-in (and having a smaller serving size might actually be preferable), we think the take-away option might be the perfect soft spot for customers of Miso. I think Miso would have received a 4.5 Star rating from me if I didn’t have to wait, if I could’ve had my Wagyu beef, and if the portions were a little smaller so that when I got to some elements they wouldn’t have been cold and limp. So perhaps the take-away option captures all that is good about Miso. But to answer my opening question, ‘Did we like it?’ Sadly the answer is no, we were underwhelmed by Miso Japanese Restaurant after all the wait and anticipation. But I guess you’d never, never, know, if you never, never go.
Miso Japanese Restaurant- Friday 1 March (3.5 Stars)
PH: (02) 9283 9686
Shop 20 World Square Shopping Centre, 644 George Street, Sydney
Mon-Sat 11.45am – 2.30pm, 5.30pm – 9.30pm