It is easy to become blasé about yet another sushi house, especially one located in The Sutherland Shire not renown for its culinary highpoints. No surprise then Masa moved more yakitori than sushi in its first two years. But patience and persistence slowly won over the more conservative local demographic leading them to a realisation that their intimate 22 seater was over delivering big-time on both pedigree and value. By the third year, word had spread and non-Shire foodies had also wised up and joined the converted.
Starting with the refreshingly uncomplicated miso soup ($2.50), often a reliable barometer of quality, it delivers by teasing the palate with just enough clarity and depth to leave you wanting more. The specials board ranging from $6-$15 though is where it’s really at starting with the yellowtail sashimi ($10), a stunningly presented dish which showcases both the produce and presentation skills expected from a former head sushi chef at Zuma in Knightsbridge. Similarly, the salmon with yuzu sauce ($15) is a harmonious and delicately balanced dish that has London high-end all over it, but without the unwanted pretension or price tag.
The more humble cuttlefish sashimi ($10) desperately needs a point of contrast, unlike the garfish ($11) which has more substance to stand alone. The 15 piece sashimi nami ($18) is a collage of carefully sourced quality seafood with the cleanly defined flavours of the salmon, kingfish and tuna making the wasabi and soy just an afterthought. The portion sizing maybe on the smaller side, but it’s the pre-requisite knife skills of a master that immediately catches the eye.
The sea eel sushi ($5), layered over a trickily wrapped bed of rice, belies its unappealing appearance with a depth of flavour and unique texture that inadvertently make the tuna and avocado rolls ($4.40) appear uninspired. Moving from the raw element of the menu to the cooked, I found the five medium sized tempura prawns ($18) from Thailand slightly disappointing, clearly lacking in both freshness and texture. Similarly the imported soft shell crab ($14) with Japanese vinegar sauce did not deliver in comparison with the quality or freshness of the other local seafood sourced so meticulously.
The yakitori ($7), grilled chicken on bamboo skewers, is approachable in flavour but unfortunately is too overcooked for my liking on this occasion. The generously sized five piece gyoza ($7) is not lacking in execution, but not even the dipping sauce can elevate it beyond mediocre. Nicely surprising then is the shigiyaki ($7), a mouth watering deep fried eggplant with sweet soybean paste that has a bit of unexpected wow factor about it.
Service under Shinji’s wife Chiyoko is effective, although the quick fire roundup of final orders around 9ish could have been more subtle despite the pressing reality of a full clean down and reset followed not that much later by the regular dawn pilgrimage to the Fish Market. The entire food prep, service and dishwashing are done without assistance, apart from their daughter who helps to run the food. Whilst this level of commitment is not uncommon, it’s done with such humility that it is hard not to feel the same way about the experience they share with you.
Masa is clearly all about the celebration of exceptionally sourced raw seafood and any curiosity of the cooked will only lead to disappointment in comparison, so providing you stick to its strengths you will walk away astonished at the incredible dining value it represents. Take the tip and book early so you can plunder the exceptional specials board available only on Wednesday and Thursdays, and considering a sushi chef of Shinji Tani’s calibre and skill set is totally across your food from purchase to plate, you simply cannot lose.
28 Princes Highway, Sylvania
Wed-Mon from 6pm
Licensed / BYO ($2.50 per person)