500 George St
Sydney, NSW 2000
Just like everyone else, I was super excited when Sushi Hotaru made its way from Sydney to Melbourne a few years back. The prospect of a $3 per plate sushi train seemed too good to be true, yet there it was. In the intervening years however, I have to admit that the quality of the sushi had declined by a small yet noticeable degree, whilst the prices inched up bit by bit. Still, that’s not enough to get rid of the small soft spot I nurse for the popular sushi train, and to this day, I still enjoy the occasional visit. And although the prospect reviewing the original Sushi Hotaru location in Sydney isn’t exactly exhilarating stuff, I feel like I owe it to them, given that I’ve tried and written about their main competitor, Sushi Rio.
Every time I walk past the storefront, I can’t help but admire just how nicely it’s been set up. The space is clean and modern, and the abundance of glowing bulbs dangling from the ceiling gives the utilitarian space a feeling of warmth. It’s also significantly larger than on first appearance, the narrow space extending far into the building, with enough room for some cosy 4-person booths towards the back. Other than that, the experience is very familiar, though I did notice a significantly larger selection of hot dishes compared to its Melbourne counterpart. Oh and the price? $3.8 per plate unless otherwise specified.
Call me gross, but I was drawn towards the Squid Nigiri because it came with the tentacles. You won’t believe me if you’re not already on the bandwagon, but they are honestly a textural delight, the slippery little segments contrasting with the smoothness of the rest of the squid.
The Seared Salmon and Scallop Nigiri is one of the dishes that just isn’t what it used to be, yet I somehow find myself ordering it every time in the hopes of a miracle. Mind you, it’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s just nowhere near as good as the days where each piece of sushi would have a thick piece of salmon, and a whole plump scallop balanced on top.
The Salmon Nigiri surprised me with how not-great it was. I’m used to getting a solid salmon nigiri from Sushi Hotaru, but this was unfortunately quite sad and flavourless. Once again, it wasn’t specifically bad, it just wasn’t good either.
The Kingfish Nigiri on the other hand was unexpectedly good, the thickly-cut fish firm and unusually rich.
Diving into some of the hot dishes, the Curry Croquette was freshly fried, the crunchy golden exterior hiding a fluffy centre of mashed potato, flavoured addictively with Japanese curry.
I almost always order one of the signature soft shell crab hand rolls when I’m at Sushi Hotaru, but I decided to switch it up a little with the Wagyu Beef Omelette Hand Roll this time around. Despite only being sushi in the loosest sense of the word, the silky omelette and pan-fried wagyu slices, drizzled with sweet teriyaki sauce, was a surprisingly delicious filling for the cone of rice and nori.
Chris snuck his favourite Tamago Nigiri off the train whilst I wasn’t looking, and it’s pretty much what it looks like – I literally have nothing extra to say about it.
Preferring the more exotic options, I ordered the adorably-named, but also kind-of-terrible-if-you-think-about-it, Salmon Family Gunkan. The generous amount of roe made this a salty, briny mouthful, which was thankfully balanced out by the buttery diced salmon. This is a good one for the seafood lovers.
Another must-have for me is the Seared Scallop Nigiri – you just can’t beat that smokiness superimposed on the sweet, melt-in-the-mouth texture of the scallop.
The Scampi Nigiri is not always available, but I’m always sure to nab it when it is. The crustacean is super fresh with an indulgently sticky texture, boasting an unbelievable sweetness underscored by a faint whiff of breezy brine. You may only get one piece for $3.8, but it’s totally worth it.
Rounding out the seafood was the Seared Engawa Nigiri, which I’ve never had before. This is an unusual cut – from the tail fin of the flatfish – but a delicious one, with a mild, buttery flavour and texture, aided by the once-over by the blowtorch.
As terrible as it sounded, I was won over by the Crab Mentai Gratin ($7.9) – an unholy concoction of imitation crab baked in a cream sauce, topped with a chewy layer of cheese. It is, of course, wrong on every level, yet I couldn’t help but be totally pulled in.
I don’t usually have dessert at Sushi Hotaru, but after seeing the plump Tiramisu Mochi spin past half a dozen times, I caved and grabbed it. This is far from traditional – instead of a dense, glutinous rice cake, most of this was filled with airy coffee-flavoured cream. Yet there was no arguing that this was totally delicious; I’m extra keen try out the strawberry and matcha flavours next time around.
Although this meal didn’t carry any major surprises, I was glad to discover that not only was this Sushi Hotaru significantly better than Sushi Rio, it’s also an improvement upon the Melbourne branch as well. Not only was the quality of the seafood up to scratch, there was also a satisfying range of hot dishes made to order. Sure it may not be top-notch sushi, but it’s pretty alright considering the price and the convenience. Looks like I’m fully back on the Sushi Hotaru bandwagon.
Rating: 13/20 – sushi groupie.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.