Shop 5/6, Little Hay St
Haymarket, NSW 2000
In the no-man’s-land between Christmas and New Year’s, finding a good restaurant to eat at can be a bit of a challenge to say the least. Thankfully there are some wonderful souls who forsake their own holidays so that the rest of us, who are too lazy to cook, can have somewhere to wine and dine. And one of those wonderful places is Dopa Donburi and Milk Bar.
Located at the mouth of the fancy new Darling Square Precinct, Dopa caught my eye on my very first foray into the area with its sleek, minimalist design. The menu is very much in vogue, and has its finger on the pulse of what Sydney seems to be loving right now – simple yet high quality rice bowls (don), indulgent Asians desserts, and a range of fascinating drinks.
Yet despite the sophisticated menu, dining at Dopa is refreshingly casual. You seat yourself, decide what you want to eat, then go up to order at the counter. Once your buzzer goes off, head to the kitchen to grab your tray, stopping by the self-serve station to gather up some condiments and cutlery. I’m also a big fan of the relaxed approach to dining. You can get your standard rice bowl by itself, in a set, or even do it tapas-style and order a bunch of individual side dishes, which are derived from the ingredients of the bowls themselves. Make sure you save room for sweets, as there is a great range of both Eastern- and Western-styled desserts, though most have a bit of a Japanese influence. It was with great reluctance that I forewent the Dopashakes, which I heard were amazing, but there were seasonal desserts to try!
I had originally wanted one of the specials, which sounded amazing with its combination of aburi salmon and spicy cod roe mayo. Unfortunately they were sold out, so I had to settle for the more pedestrian King Salmon Sashimi ($15) with Caviar ($3). This was pretty much what it said on the package, and whilst tasty, was certainly nothing special. Though the salmon was streaked with fat and indulgently buttery, it was only passably fresh. The rice was seasoned with shredded seaweed and soy, but it lacked the hint of sushi vinegar that really makes a good chirashi bowl.
In comparison, the Teriyaki Wagyu ($22/$27 set) was much more noteworthy. We got this as part of a set, which came with a Japanese garden salad that had the additions of seaweed salad and wasabi soy, some pickles, and a truly delicious bowl of miso soup.
We shelled out a little extra to get wagyu with a marble score of 7-9, and it was certainly more tender than your usual beef, though I wouldn’t say the difference was staggering. What really set this dish apart was the sauce; not only did it have a great balance of sweet and savoury, it was underscored by a peppery warmth, which somehow just made it that much better. Mixed in with the sticky, fluffy rice along with the gooey onsen egg and crispy seaweed flakes, it was delicious even without the meat.
I had a crazy hard time trying to pick which dessert to get, but in the end whimsy won through, and I decided on the summer special of Peaches and Cream Parfait ($11.9). Whilst the top half of this was pretty standard – peaches and vanilla ice cream – things get much more interesting after you get past the fruit. Layered throughout the glass was soft almond sponge, tangy whipped cream cheese, and a really great almond crumble. It was a fun summer treat, though I do have to ask – why on earth are they using canned peaches and frozen raspberries when both are in season? Seems to defeat the purpose of a seasonal special.
I’m a little conflicted as to how I feel about Dopa. On one hand, I’m definitely disappointed that such a well thought-out and seemingly high-quality venue hid a product that was definitely more on the average side. But on the other hand, I’m a big fan of the concept, and am actually quite keen to come back and try out some of their other offerings. At any rate, Dopa seems to hold plenty of people in its thrall, even if it’s partially just through clever marketing. I probably won’t specifically choose to eat here over any other place, but if a craving for modern Japanese food hits, I can definitely see myself alighting on Dopa.
Rating: 13/20 – sort-of dopamine hit.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.