Saturday, 9 February 2013

Sono Portside - stunning Japanese cuisine

For many years one of my best friends has continually raved about how good Sono Portside is.  The Big Boy has been there many times and each time he has told me about the amazing food and experience to be had.  My experience with the Sono brand had been with the Sono in Queen Street, and I failed to connect the food and experience I had in that restaurant with the tales of wonder I was hearing.  It was time for me to put the Big Boy's ravings to the test!

Sono Portside was launched in 2007 with a view to providing a more modern and contemporary offering than its sister restaurant Sono Queen Street Mall.  The kitchen at Sono has a self professed guideline to produce consistency and creativity to ensure each meal combines authentic and traditional Japanese elements mixed with modern tastes.  Sono has earned a reputation as one of the finest Japanese restaurants in Brisbane and has some Australian Good Food Gude Chefs Hats to go along with the reputation.

Sono Portside is located in the Portside Hamilton complex, right by the Brisbane river.  It's normally an area that I try to avoid, mainly due to the distance from the CBD and the difficulty getting there by car. The restaurant itself is in the Dendy Cinema complex and the entrance is up some stairs to the 1st floor. Walking to the restaurant we were warmly greeted and ushered past the intricate Samurai ceremonial dress (named by the owner as George) to the main dining area.  You don't get a sense of it at the entrance but the restaurant is huge, massive and can hold over 200 people at a time.  We also noticed that there were a heap of secret dining compartments along the outer walls and there are low set tables near the windows that get you closer to the ground, much like traditional Japanese settings.  Unfortunately we did not get one of these and were seated in a more contemporary table setting.

We were handed books that also doubled as menus.  I say books because these menus are the most comprehensive and detailed menus I have ever come across.  There is a lot of food on offer here and we took quite some time trying to decide on what to order.  We took a long hard look at the degustation before deciding that the a la carte option would be the option de jour.

SC and I started the meal with a share platter of sashimi moriawase, otherwise known as the chef's selection of sashimi.  There was a little bit of theatrics when the sashimi was presented to us, with the fish placed on a bamboo mat over a bed of ice and dry ice.  This was a great way to keep the sashimi cool and lovely way to present the fish to the table.  There were six different types of sashimi presented to us including salmon, tuna, calamari and kingfish along with some other types that we could not quite identify.  The sashimi was fresh and delicious and worked nicely in combination with the table soy sauce.  While we both agreed the sashimi was good, it didn't blow us away.

After a pretty solid starter of sashimi, I was looking for something with a little punch to blow me away and opted for the buta kakuni which is 120g of pork belly slow-simmered twice and served with a sweet soy sauce.  This is a very traditional and popular Japanese dish and when it was presented to me it came with an aroma that was intoxicating.  The dish both looked and smelled amazing and I was pretty sure I was in for a treat.  The pork belly was incredibly tender, so tender I could break it down with a spoon and my chopsticks.  After my first mouthful, I knew I was in heaven, it was simply stunning.  The soft tender pork was worked wonderfully with the soy sauce.  Each mouthful was like an explosion of pleasure in my mouth.  SC quickly devoured the portion I shared with her to try and also agreed this was something special.  There were also some well cooked vegetables in with the dish which ably supported the main act, the pork.  I can see why this is such a popular dish here.

No visit to a great Japanese restaurant would be complete without sampling the Gyoza and SC did just that by ordering the pan-fried Japanese pork dumplings served with dipping sauce.  We have been eating a lot of Gyoza lately (as it seems is everyone in Brisbane, see post) and these were very fine examples.  They had beautiful colouring and were incredibly light both in texture and casing.  The pork was very subtle, yet full of flavour.  SC only shared a little of the gyoza with me and it was one of the better examples I had sampled.  All too quickly the delicious dumplings were gone and SC was left wanting more.

It was time for mains and I really wanted to get something traditional for my main, something that I don't often eat.  After some serious deliberation I chose the tempura moriawase which consisted of large Queensland king prawns, whiting, calamari and assorted seasonal vegetables.  The plate presented to me looked amazing with lightly tempura batter covering a huge plate of seafood and vegetables.  There was also a pretty looking garnish that was made to look like a cherry blossom tree in full bloom.  The tempura was light and crispy and delicious.  My favourite was the king prawns, wich were massive but the whiting was also nice, in fact, it was all really nice except for the tempura pumpkin.  I don't like pumpkin much and after a quick mouthful of this, I quickly placed the rest on SC's plate to eat.  Accompanying the tempura was a trio of salts, green tea salt, shiso herb salt and traditional sea salt.  All three helped provide intense flavours from the tempura.  I really enjoyed this and it filled me up quite nicely.

SC chose a less traditional Japanese dish as her main and and at a pinch you could have called the duck teriyaki orange a Japanese French fusion dish.  The duck was expertly cooked to a lovely pink and came with a teriyaki and orange sauce and was served with asparagus and seeded mustard.  This was a beautifully presented plate that tasted as good as it looked.  The combination of the teriyaki and orange worked really well and was sweet, sticky and full of flavour.  The generous portion of perfectly cooked duck was amazing and if we were not at a Japanese restaurant, I would have had food envy.  This was quickly polished off by SC and I barely got to sample much of it, but the little I had was sensational.

I was feeling pretty full by the end of the mains but didn't want to pass up on dessert, so I looked for a fairly light dessert option.  I opted for the dessert duo which was actually a trio, go figure?!  The dessert comprised of a custard pudding with burnt toffee sauce, citrus yoghurt mousse with strawberry sauce and apple jelly and finally some vanilla bean ice cream.  While some of these sound heavy, each portion was really small, only a couple of spoonfuls really.  The citrus yoghurt mouse was light and the citrus flavour really shone through with just a hint of strawberry.  The custard was very sweet but offset brilliantly by the slightly burnt flavour of the toffee sauce.  While I really enjoyed the dessert, it was pretty hard to eat due to the way it was presented in little round bottomed cups in a bed of ice.  They were slipping all over the place!

SC had no hesitation in ordering the profiterole swans, which were profiteroles decorated to look like swans, filled with fresh cream and crème au patisserie, served with fresh berries and caramel ice cream and crumbled chocolate flakes.  There was no denying that the dessert looked amazing but there was something missing from the plate, it needed a sauce.  The profiteroles were just a little dry and the cream was not enough to to balance out the dish, a nice caramel or chocolate dipping sauce would have really improved this dessert.

When we first arrived at Sono Portside, it was already starting to hum, but didn't think such a large restaurant would fill up on a week night.  Boy was I wrong, not only did the place fill up, once one table was vacated, it was quickly reset and the next sitting would shortly arrive.  Impressive for these relatively tough times for many restaurants!

I was also really impressed with the service, it was faultless.  Our waitress was so polite and attentive it was bordering on freaky.  She really seemed to care that we were having a fantastic time and would regularly come by to check that we were enjoying ourselves.  In such a busy restaurant it was gratifying to see the staff take the time to engage with us throughout the night.

I am now not sure why it had taken us so long to finally get along to Sono at Portside, sure I had a poor experience at Sono Queen Street Mall, but the reputation and feedback was always great.  Now that I have seen the operation first hand and in full swing I can say that it is in fact a special experience and a great place to eat.  Sono Portside is a fantastic restaurant and an experience to be enjoyed!

I guess the Big Boy was right all along.....


The scampi miso soup was a perfect accompaniment to go with my tempura main
SC chose the white miso soup to go with her duck main
Part of the restaurant is set up for traditional teppanyaki.  There was food flying everywhere
A huge space that holds over 200 people.  If filled up nicely and people kept coming
The entrance did not really give away how big the dining space is

Sono Japanese Restaurant Portside on Urbanspoon Sono Portside Sono Portside


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  2. Thank you Calvin, be sure to subscribe to my blog. You can also get more information and updates at my Facebook page and twitter accounts

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