29th August 2018
Shop 7, 345 Sussex St
Sydney, NSW 2000
I remember being mega-excited when Sydney sushi train, Sushi Hotaru, first opened in Melbourne. At the time, the prospect of a half-decent sushi train that charged a very reasonable flat rate of $3 per plate seemed like a little pocket of heaven on earth. After the novelty and hype wore off however, I have to admit that maybe a budget sushi train isn’t necessarily the world’s greatest thing. After all, there are only so many plates of deep-fried and mayo-drenched nigiri I can eat, even if the variety is large, and the prices are cheap.
However, despite being a little more jaded these days, I’ve retained enough affection and nostalgia to want to check out Sushi Rio – Hotaru’s main competitor in Sydney’s budget sushi train market. The plates and décor are a bit dated, which is a testament to just how popular this place is. But then again, at $3.5 per plate in the middle of the CBD, what can you really expect?
The setup here is very much reminiscent of Sushi Hotaru – a dark, modern interior, iPad ordering in lieu of waitstaff, and chairs crammed a little too close to each other along the sushi train. Similarly, the variety boggles. Not only are there literally hundreds of types of sushi, there is also a wide range of affordable hot snacks, simple meals, and desserts. Even the sushi-haters will find something to eat here, with sacrilegious concoctions such as the hamburger nigiri on offer.
I use Salmon Nigiri as my benchmark to judge the quality of a sushi restaurant, and this was… fine. It was neither fresh nor not-fresh, and the ratio of fish to rice was passable. In fact, my favourite part would probably be the slight smear of wasabi daubed onto the nigiri that gave a relatively bland piece of sushi some much-needed flavour.
Similarly, the Kingfish Nigiri was pretty much the definition of passable, with the fish tasting indistinct enough to potentially pass off as whatever seafood you want it to be.
I don’t usually have the Tobiko Gunkan, but I couldn’t resist the jewel-bright eggs this time, piled so tantalisingly high. It may not have been remarkable, but it made for a satisfyingly salty and crunchy couple of mouthfuls.
The Soft Shell Crab Hand Roll is a signature dish at Sushi Hotaru, and it is equally as good here. The crab is hot, crisp, and surprisingly meaty. It’s loosely wrapped in a fresh sheet of nori, with a smear of tangy kewpie mayo, avocado, cucumber, and rice. Although the individual elements aren’t all that special, it’s the freshness and the failsafe combination of flavours that elevates it to a classic. Ordering just half a dozen of these wouldn’t be a terrible idea, to be frank.
The Grilled Scallop Nigiri was another one I had to order off the iPad, being unable to see it going around the train. This is definitely worth the extra trouble though – the scallop was sweet and plump, and although the mayo and BBQ sauce were slathered on a little too thickly, you can’t fault it for lacking flavour.
I’m starting to get the hunch that dishes ordered a la carte seem to be significantly better than those taken off the train, because the Squid Nigiri was the third winner in a row. The squid carried a delicate sweetness, its texture pleasingly slippery and gelatinous.
I had grabbed the Ark Shell Nigiri off the train, hoping for a light finish to the meal. Unfortunately this was a total bummer, with a tough, chewy texture, and absolutely no flavour. I left most of it uneaten.
I’ll admit, I’m a little disappointed with Sushi Rio, though I will also concede that maybe I’m not being entirely fair. I think my very first visit to Sushi Hotaru cemented a glorified impression I had of these everyman budget sushi trains, which in turn fabricated an unrealistic standard that I shouldn’t be expecting. With that said however, I do remember the seafood at Sushi Hotaru being fresher and more flavoursome, and there was a better variety of plates going around the train. Mind you, this applies to the Melbourne branch only – I have no idea how the Sushi Hotaru in Sydney stacks up. Maybe a reconnaissance trip is in order…?
Rating: 11/20 – unrealistic expectations.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.