Two of Australia's most esteemed chefs – one a master of Japanese cuisine, the other of Cantonese – are joining forces to open a new restaurant in the former site of Flying Fish restaurant.
Chase Kojima (Sokyo, Sydney), and Victor Liong (Lee Ho Fook, Melbourne) are slated to open Chuuka, a two-level Chinese-Japanese restaurant on Jones Bay Wharf in Pyrmont, in Sydney's inner-city. The restaurant takes its name from chuuka cuisine, imported from Chinese migrants who arrived in Japan at the end of the 19th century, and whose food has evolved into popular Japanese dishes such as ramen, gyoza and chahan (fried rice).
The collaboration has been percolating for some time. Kojima was nurturing a growing curiosity of Chinese food, spurred by David Chang's impassioned Ugly Delicious episodes and podcasts on the subject, and a desire to branch out from Sokyo's strict Japanese remit. After eating at each other's restaurants in the past year, the pair had developed a mutual respect of one another's cooking. "When I ate at Lee Ho Fook, I thought, 'this tastes like Sokyo, but Chinese… I hadn't tried Chinese food like that before," says Kojima. "[Liong] is one of the masters of Chinese cooking."
The clincher was the waterfront venue, which even has a view of the harbour from the kitchen. "That's the only reason Victor said yes," says Kojima.
The menu will feature familiar Cantonese classics, but prepared with Japanese ingredients and cooking techniques. There might be ma po tofu, for example, but made with Japanese peppers instead of the Szechuan variety; and with Japanese black vinegar, which has a milder taste compared to its Chinese counterpart.
The dishes are a true collaborative effort between the chefs, with the pair jointly developing each menu item. "In other pop-ups I've done [with other chefs], we've just complemented each other," Kojima says. "[At Chuuka], we've really worked as a team."
It hasn't always been smooth sailing, with Kojima acknowledging the inevitable clash of ideas when partnerships happen. "It's like getting into a marriage," he says.
But conflict breeds creativity, and Kojima says the new project is about learning, growing and fusing the Chinese-Japanese cuisines. Plus, when he and Liong have disagreements, they've developed a brotherly way of sorting out their differences. "I say, 'I'm 51, you're 49. I get to make the last call.'"
Chuuka is slated to open July 2019 at 21 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont.