We love to discuss our favourite things. Our favourite book, or friend, or child. And it’s usually a pretty easy call to make, if we’re honest. But then there are favourites that are best to keep secret. Our family recipes, secret fishing spot, or that restaurant where you can never seem to get a reservation.
I get asked about my favourite places to eat all the time, but it’s difficult to give a direct answer, because things change all the time. So, to avoid anyone challenging my preferences (or stealing my booking) I always give a top five, along with various caveats and conditions, and usually only discuss places I’ve eaten recently, or long-term stalwarts.
This first part is easy: you’ll choose your best friend or love interest to take to ShoSho. But of course, like with any good izakaya you’ll notice that the place is designed to suit dining solo at the bar or group bookings in its semi-private dining space, too.
The staff will welcome you with open arms, and you’ll get nods and smiles as you get whisked past the kitchen crew, completely exposed along one side of the entryway and working hard over smoke, grill and flame. It’s amazing to think that this used to be a fancy chicken shop. These staff deserve some early attention and they’ll certainly get yours. They’re professional, engaging and, most importantly, a whole bunch of fun, as you’re about to experience.
Your favourite cocktail will be a Yuzu spritz. It’s the perfect starter and you’ll sip down a couple of these before beginning to work your way through a menu that is unashamedly Japanese. Simple, staple and refined.
Next, you’ll be after a series of snacks and you’d be silly to go past the edamame crisps that are first on the list for a reason. An absolute delight, with a base of wonton topped with a crisp nori sheet that sandwiches a delicate and silky edamame paste centre. This first bite offers crunch and salt and umami, and it’ll be gone in seconds. You’d be tempted to ask for more if only the next bites hadn’t already arrived, ready to delight a few more of your senses. The salt and vinegar prawn katsu sando is an absolute must-try, with its zingy little cabbage filling wrapped in white bread. Order two – the staff encourage it, and nobody wants to look back and think “I could have eaten that”.
And next, you’ll develop a new love for Laughing Cow cheese, typically hidden between the cheap cheddars and pretend French cheeses in the supermarket dairy section. This is set into a puffy pillow of shallot pancake, sliced down the centre to expose a croissant-like flaky centre, with coriander adding another level of flavour. I’ve had my fair share of shallot pancakes at various places in assorted formats; ShoSho’s version presents more as doughnuts. They are, as I now refer to them: One savoury snack to rule them all.
But there’s no time to get all emotional, your adventure has only just begun. It’s off to the Raw bar next, where you’ll be faced with a choice between oysters with a dash of fermented vinegar for added bite (sensational), or salmon sashimi that swims in a sauce of zingy ponzu and ginger oil with a side of wasabi for you to define your own balance of heat. Silky slivers of salmon may slip through your chopsticks but hold on tight – it’s the king(fish) of the ocean up next. More robust in texture and flavour but still as delicate to bite, ShoSho’s own strange flavour dressing packs a punch but with balance, and an accompanying umami salad will soothe any sting from the peppery, chilli spice of this secret in-house recipe.
If you’ve tried tempura before you might decide to skip this oft oily and soggy section of the menu, but I implore you not to. The chefs at ShoSho have tried and tested to find the perfect coatings and cooking methods for each ingredient. The green beans are still crunchy and, for such a simple vegetable, become the star of the lightly battered show. A medley of scallop, prawn and kohlrabi presented as kakiage, lightly fried and splashed with dashi, will have you second-guessing that conclusion until you try the tempura lobster and rice kushiage served with soy that is as delicious as it is decadent.
Now, take a short break and perhaps a sip of Saké or two, as you prepare yourself to tackle the next few courses that are being prepared by the kitchen team – just waiting for that knowing nod from the floor staff who have been watching your every move, and bite, and faces of exclamation.
And then they’ll arrive with plates of potstickers, just as you begin to wonder what all the fuss at the table next door is about. The combination of pork and prawn and cabbage and silky texture of dumpling wrapper that have been fried until crispy on the outside will have you questioning your favourites again.
This is where things get serious, and you will need to make a careful selection or two as the “Bigger” part of the menu offers just that. These are large serves to share between two (such as the impossibly high and delicious Wagyu cheeseburger with tea pickle and smoked tomato) or to share between four (highly recommended if you plan to order the chargrilled Tomahawk steak at a weighty 1.2kg, coated in sea butter and garlicky soy). But if you’re more of the pescatarian persuasion then it’s the wood-roasted salmon belly with ginger and leeks and onions that will tickle your tastebuds and have your belly thanking theirs for its sacrifice.
You might have one regret when dining at ShoSho and that is not leaving room for dessert. It happens to the best of us (four out of five times for me) but, like our favourite child, this is a section of the menu that deserves your undivided attention. Options include a highly acclaimed coconut sorbet with shiso and dried plum, or a wood-fired yuzu meringue tart if you need something to help cleanse your palate. But for me, it’s the raspberry sando that satisfies all of the senses, and we have no regrets devouring this last dish by the greedy forkful. And with that, the ShoSho adventure is over.
Is it my favourite? Well, that’s a secret. But I can tell you that right now it’s definitely in my top five.
164 King William Rd, Hyde Park
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (08) 8349 0891
Open: Seven days a week from 12pm – late
Paul Wood is InReview’s restaurant critic. He works in the food, beverage and wine business as an industry development consultant and was The Adelaide Review’s food writer for seven years.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.