Opened in mid-2013, Sushi Hotaru Sake Bar is located on Bathurst Street and like its sibling restaurant offers a large selection of freshly made sushi at $3 per plate (with exception for special plates - prices are clearly marked on the menu). At 6pm, there was no line in sight and the place looked fairly quiet with only a few diners scattered around the sushi bar. Upon entering, Jono and I were greeted with a friendly chorus of "Irasshaimase!" (meaning 'welcome' in Japanese) called out by the staff and were promptly shown to our seats by the maitre'd. J-pop music filled the air giving an upbeat ambience to this contemporary Japanese-themed restaurant.
Sushi Hotaru Sake Bar on Bathurst Street
Customers seated around the sushi train enjoying their meals
Witness all the action in the open kitchen right from your seat
I immediately caught sight of their iPad touch screen ordering system and began flicking through the menu, ignoring the physical copy that was also available at the bar. The touch screen ordering system is one of the unique and fun things about Sushi Hotaru and makes ordering a breeze - you can take your time, mull over the choices and order as you go. Your favourite sushi not seen on the conveyor belt? Just look it up on the iPad, select the item and place your order, and before you know it, the chef would be meticulously preparing your sushi and have it served to your table in no time. Need to call a waitstaff for assistance? No more waving your hand around to get their attention; you can do this with an easy touch of a button. Effortless!
Order at ease using the touch screen ordering system
Jono and I selected a combination of items, some ordered via the touch screen and others taken from the sushi train. We started off with some drinks - a Sapporo Premium Beer (refreshing and crisp golden lager) for Jono while I opted for a non-alcoholic Lychee Calpis, a cultured milk drink with a slight acidic flavour likened to Yakult or Vitagen (the latter more familiar to those who grew up in Malaysia and Singapore) with the fruity sweetness of lychee. Brings back fond memories of drinking copious amounts of Vitagen when I was a kid!
Sapporo Premium Beer ($6.50)
Lychee Calpis ($5.50)
We decided to go with the staff recommendation and tried out their increasingly popular recent additions to the menu: LOL, Volcano and Hotaru Pork Bun. I'm not sure how they came about calling a sushi roll LOL - you can't help but laugh at the name and order it out of intrigue. Made with crispy prawn and cucumber dressed with a 'secret sauce' and sprinkled with little bits of batter (also known as tenkasu) on the top, this sushi is delicious on its own without the need for wasabi and soy sauce.
LOL ($3) - crunchy prawn roll with secret sauce
Combining two of my favourite seafood - salmon and scallop - Volcano was a clear winner for me even though it was quite a challenge fitting the entire thing in one mouthful. The sushi is made aburi style where the top/outer sides have been partially grilled but inner sides still partially raw. Whatever this mysterious 'secret sauce' is, it tasted pretty darn good in combination with the rest of the ingredients.
Volcano ($9.90) - seared salmon and scallop with tartar and secret sauce
The Hotaru Pork Bun comes plated with a small side of salad drizzled with miso dressing. The slow cooked pork is fatty and so tender that it falls apart easily, and is wedged in between a soft bun together with sliced red onion, Japanese mayonnaise and a piece of lettuce. Though a generous serving for one, it was lacking in robust flavour and perhaps needed a thicker sauce or spice to give it that bit more oomph.
Hotaru Pork Bun ($7.90) - bun with slow cooked pork
A generous piece of fatty and tender pork wedged in a soft bun
Assorted Sashimi ($7.90) - salmon, tuna, kingfish
The Soft Shell Crab was as expected - crunchy pieces of battered softshell crab and lettuce rolled inside nori and sushi rice, topped with spicy mayonnaise. The lotus root chip, however, was not crispy but chewy, perhaps having absorbed some of the vaporised heat from the cooked crab.
Soft Shell Crab ($3)
"This is not on our menu yet but please try," said the maitre'd as she placed the Chicken Nigiri Special (name yet to be confirmed) compliments of the chef on our table. The chicken is grilled and the sushi's lacklustre shade of white given a boost of colour with edible flowers and a sweet glaze drizzle. I do not normally go for sushi made with chicken (I tend to favour the seafood ones) so was pleasantly surprised the simple chicken nigiri tasted delicious.
Chicken Nigiri Special compliments of the chef
Sakura Mochi plate ($3) - sakura mochi, chocolate truffle, crispy 'gold fruit'
By the time we were ready to leave around 7.15pm, the restaurant was at near full capacity. We made use of the 'Call Staff' button on the touch screen to have a waitstaff tally up the bill, then headed to the payment counter up the front with chit in hand. The restaurant has minimum $15 spend for use of EFTPOS and credit cards (plus a 3% surcharge if using Amex) so be sure to have cash handy especially if you're dining on your own.
Overall, the quality of the food was good with plenty of menu items to choose from and ease of ordering with the use of the touch screen ordering system not to mention the speedy and friendly service. With little to no queues, I would definitely go for Sushi Hotaru Sake Bar for my sushi fix over The Galeries branch any day!