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A friend in need is a friend indeed.

I prefer not to write about my personal life story on my food blog because firstly, it is totally unrelated topic and secondly, I am always cautious about sharing my personal life story on the interwebs. But right now I think it is an appropriate moment for me to express myself for once. I have to say I don’t have many friends in real life, sounds depressing doesn’t it? It is not. And when I say friends, I don’t mean the random strangers that you added on Facebook or the thousand fans that follow you on twitter. Don’t even get me started on the “reciprocate to comment on each others blogs” rule to make friends. I simply don’t buy into that.

I’ve learned from a very young age that you can’t buy friendship. I’ve always known that I was different from other kids at school, but I did have a group of very close friends that hung out together with. Call us “GLEEK” if you like. But same old story, as time went by, we all drifted apart after high school and me being landed in Australia and lost contact with most of them. But when I am least expected and thanks to new technology, some of my closest friends from high school had suddenly popped up on facebook and now we all have 15 years of life stories to catch up on. It is the most surreal feeling I’ve had for a long time.

A particular close friend that just found me last week has also invited me to attend his wedding in Canada in July! He was my junior and I actually didn’t even think we were that close until he started mentioning that I used to call him by the nickname ‘xxxxxx’, and he remembers my colour socks with the pattern of the world map that I used to wear to school which I totally forgot about. It only then strikes me that we were a lot closer than I’d imagine! I am still deciding whether I will go to Canada for his wedding, but catching up again in the future is definitely a big ‘Yes’.

Like I said, I don’t have many friends, but I’m very lucky to have a few close ones and Helen is one of them. I have known Helen way before I started this food blog and we’ve been going out for dinner and karaoke god knows since how long ago! (Yes Helen, I still have the photo of you standing on the couch rocking Living On A Prayer somewhere…  😉 ) During our recent trip to Melbourne, I didn’t even have to ask whether I could stay over at her place so that we both can catch a cab the next morning to the airport to catch our flight, she has already presumed that’s the plan and told me do not bring towel and use hers so that I only have to carry a light hand luggage while we both catch up for dinner in Newtown. Helen, you’re a Champion! This is what friendship is all about and it is the small little things that count, and I will never take it for granted.

Toss between iiza and bloodwood, two newish establishments in Newtown that we both like to try. But Jon has a good review on iiza which does help us to make our decision a little easier. Once used to be a pizza joint sandwiched between a Thai and a Vegetarian restaurants on each side, iiza has now taken over the space and is now a modern Japanese izakaya restaurant. The minimalism decor in the restaurant makes the space twice as large – simple wooden tables stretched along one wall with paper lanterns overhead, massive sake bottles on the bar are just as impressive as the giant Japanese calligraphy banner hanging on one wall. It is not Japan, but they do make an extra effort with waitresses dressed up in traditional kimonos and shuffling up and down the tiled floor in plastic Japanese slippers.

The extensive pictorial menu offers more than just izakaya-style food, but also sushi, sashimi, salad to slow cooked hot pots. It takes us quite some time to coordinate and decide what to order, eventually we settled on few dishes simply because they look pretty in the photos. The first dish to arrive is the aburi sashimi salmon. Aburi salmon has never fail and is one of my all time favourites.

Eight thin slices of salmon belly are lightly seared to perfection while itself is still melt-in-the-mouth tender, served with zesty saikyo miso dressing which enhances the sweet flavour of the salmon belly even further. But the highly addictive salty crumbs on top had both of us intrigued. I ask the waitress what it was and she excuses herself into the kitchen to ask the chef, then comes back with the answer of dried garlic miso.

Cheese? It’s a no brainer. Helen and I didn’t have to think twice and it is the first dish we have already confirmed to order right from the beginning. The Camembert tempura unfortunately is little pale in colour and also lighter in flavour, and the batter is also a little too thick to be tempura style. Dip into the little tea cup of Teriyaki sauce also can’t really save the day.

Helen is highly amused by the unusual presentation of the Spider roll – ‘safe sex sushi’ as she calls it. The crispy soft shell crab sushi rolls are wrapped with a translucent sheet of daikon radish. The ratio of sushi rice and soft shell crab is a little imbalanced in my opinion and the flavour is very subtle, me ended up using fair bit of wasabi and pickled gingers to accompany it. But it is priceless giggling along with Helen like school girls while biting into these novelty sushi.

We order a hot pot as our last stomach filler. The Japanese gyu-suji nikomi is a hot pot stew of tender wagyu beef tendon with sweet daikon and crunchy beans added before serving.

The wagyu beef had been braised overnight to a melting point, it is incredibly soft and simply disintegrates into meat floss. It is served with two thick slices of garlic toasts but I was craving for a bowl on steamed rice with all the gravy goodness drizzle all over. Perfect winter comfort food.

Despite a gorgeous photo with all desserts beautifully plated in one shot in the menu, there are actually only a couple that take our fancy. I take the honor of cracking the Japanese brown sugar toffee on the Kokutou brulee to find a velvety smooth custard beneath which is perfect and not overly sweet. A spoonful of mixed fruit balances the sweetness of the dessert nicely.

I never really particularly like Japanese cheesecake, but it is the Kinako powder that we are interested in. The thin slice of kinako cheesecake is a little firm and heavily dusted with ground toasted soybean powder, which has a distinctive sweet nutty flavour which I adore.

iiza has some beautiful and some “interesting” presentations of their dishes, but flavour wise there are room for improvement in my opinion. I enjoyed my meal, because I shared it with one of my best Tomodachi.

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184 King Street,
Newtown Sydney
P: +61 (02) 8095 9260

Opening hours:
Monday to Sunday 6pm-11pm