Food around the Circular Quay area mostly consists of various foodcourts and some harbourfront cafes, but I only recently discovered that there is a strip of restaurants conveniently located on Loftus Street which are perfect for after work dinners or even a quick lunchbreak.
Hokkaido is a Japanese restaurant with an extensive menu ranging from wagyu sukiyaki to the usual ramen noodles and bento boxes. The entrance is a bit hard to find wedged next to a convenience store and looking like a fire escape door, although there are several helpful signs outside indicating the existence of this restaurant beyond the door.
It feels a bit dodgy walking down the fire escape to a wooden door marked “The Lobster Cave”, but there are a couple of posters tacked up on the staircase wall to reassure you that you are heading to a Japanese restaurant rather than some random seafood restaurant. Inside is a neat and rather spacious underground restaurant with sandstone furnishings, which is fairly empty when we arrive around 8pm on a Saturday night.
Green tea pot, $6
We start off with a big pot of green tea which is more than enough for 2 to share. To warm us up even more, we order the Japanese comfort foods of Hokkaido miso ramen and a Japanese style salmon risotto, as well as a chicken karaage starter for the sake of some oiliness.
The chicken karaage didn’t have the fluffiest batter, but it was still quite tasty even though it was tending towards the dry side. The serving size of 7 pieces for an entrée was also generous and gave us something oily to nibble on during the rest of our meal.
Chicken karaage entrée size, $8
The mains came with a little dish of butter, but we weren’t sure which dish it was for…so we scooped a little bit into the risotto just to try it. The butter did add an extra dimension of flavour, but the risotto itself was unlike any that I’ve seen before (Japanese or otherwise). It pretty much looked like a huge bowl of miso soup with chunks of salmon, carrots, corn and broccoli giving it some colour. The soggy rice had all sunken to the bottom and just tasted like you had poured a lot of soup over a bowl of regular rice. But to its credit, the miso soup base was nice and hearty, which meant that the dish was still quite comforting despite its simple execution.
Japanese style salmon risotto, $18
At first glance, it appears that the Hokkaido miso ramen shares the same soup base as the risotto, but this notion was dispelled quickly once I took a sip of the ramen soup because it tasted noticeably sweeter than the risotto stock. Overall, the namesake ramen here is a decent rendition of one of my favourite dishes, with fatty sliced pork on top and springy noodles.
Hokkaido miso ramen, $12
I returned to Hokkaido a few days later during my lunchbreak to try more of the ramens for a quick lunch. This time, the restaurant was quite packed with the office crowd and it proved a lot harder to get the waitresses’ attention to order a Hot Dragon Shio ramen.
The steaming bowls of noodles were brought out to us relatively fast even during peak hour lunchtime and my Hot Dragon Shio ramen contained chilli minced pork, sprigs of chives and some slightly evil looking red chilli oil drizzled on top. I always thought that the shio soup base for ramen was simply made using salt and meat bones for the broth and never ordered it off the menu because I preferred the stronger taste of miso in my soups. But Hokkaido had the intriguing description of its shio soup base as “Dried Scallop soup” which I just had to try.
Hot Dragon Shio Ramen, $14
I was impressed that they lived up to their word with some bits of dried scallop meat visibly floating around in my soup and the flavour of the soup was quite rich. The chilli oil and minced pork were fantastic additions to the ramen, but I definitely would not recommend it for those who can’t take spiciness in their food because it had me and my dining companion coughing a bit on the chilliness when we drank the soup too quickly.
There’s a lot on the huge menu at Hokkaido that I would still like to try, so I’ll definitely be making a return visit during a lunchbreak to take advantage of their efficient service and satisfyingly filling meals.
Hokkaido Japanese Restaurant
Basement 20 Loftus St Circular Quay
Circular Quay, NSW 2000
Phone: (02) 9251 8280