You don’t normally expect to find raw fish in your martini and yet that’s how the Sashimitini is served in Toko. Then again, Toko is far from being your average Japanese restaurant and bar.
For starters it has several different personalities. You can lounge in the front cocktail bar or outside on the footpath, you can sit at the sushi counter that’s near the line of hibachi grills or you can take your pick of a private table, a communal bench or book a private dining room. But what really makes Toko stand out is its menu, which takes us nicely back to the raw fish in our drink.
The Sashimitini is made from Mitani Fujio sake shaken with Tanqueray 10 gin and ginger liqueur and served with a wasabi-dipped skewer of raw salmon (although we couldn’t detect any wasabi) and pickled ginger. Despite the unusual ingredients this still has the unmistakable taste of a martini, largely because the ginger liqueur is subtle and doesn’t overly interfere with the gin and sake. It’s a great take on the martini although – and despite being a huge fan of sashimi – I didn’t particularly enjoy the salmon at the end, as the alcohol somehow negated its flavour for me.
Talking of unique, Toko also sells shochu tonics, which are made from macerated fruits and herbs in shochu (a Japanese spirit that’s stronger than sake and weaker than whiskey) and stored behind the counter in a series of large ornate jars. I opt for the beri shu ($10), which contains strawberries, blueberries and the South American pau d’arco bark, which is supposed to strengthen the immune system. The barman then takes out an icepick and hacks away at a large block of ice that’s on the bar until he chips off a large chunk, which is placed in a glass before the beri shu is added.
The beri shu has a medicinal taste that isn’t unpleasant, although it’s just as well that little more than a shot’s worth is served as this isn’t the type of drink you’d want to have too much of. If you’re looking for the hair of the dog, however, this might be the ticket.
One cocktail that is immensely drinkable is the lychee and jasmine mojito. Made with mint, muddled lychees and lime, jasmine sugar and Matusalem Platino white rum, this is served in a tall glass with jasmine tea and soda. Despite being a fan of the traditional mojito, this is a great variation for those who like lychees.
At the risk of sounding boring my favourite meal here is the sashimi platter, although I also try the eggplant with sweet miso (which is good but best shared so the strong flavours don’t become overwhelming) and the seared beef with citrus soy sauce and garlic chips, which I enjoy. Friends also tell me that the soft shell crab with mayonnaise is great.
The atmosphere is dark and relaxed. There’s a lot of wooden paneling and subdued dance music in the background and the service is friendlier than you often get in this town. In short, if you want a restaurant experience that’s different to the norm – or if you simply want a cocktail with fish in it – then Toko might be worth a visit.
Toko, 490 Crown Street, Surry Hills. Phone 02 9357 6100 or see the Toko website. Bookings are only taken for lunch, so if you want to have dinner here it’s suggested you arrive early.
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate Toko?