Whilst wandering through Queen Street Mall we had come across the entrance to a Japanese restaurant with an LCD screen flashing pictures of its menu items near the doorway. The name, Sono, sounded familiar but for reasons which I could not quite place. A quick internet search reminded me that a Japanese restaurant bearing the same name at Hamilton was on Brisbane Times’ one-hat list. Indeed, the two are related so Monsieur Poisson took down the details in order for us to arrange an evening for dinner.
The evening that we arrive for dinner, I already know I am in for a lot of photographing as soon as my foot passes over the threshold of the doorway. The restaurant is simply stunning from the moment you step from Queen Street Mall into the Tattersalls Building. An exclusive staircase is flanked by vertical banners advertising the restaurant beckoning your arrival. At the top of the staircase is a massive wooden plaque bearing the kanji character for ‘sono’ (園), meaning a garden or a park, which is adjacent to a glass push-through door into the restaurant. The light cherry wood theme is carried throughout the restaurant in its walls, dividers, sushi bar, table seating and hole-in-the-ground seating. At the far corner is a balcony area overlooking Queen Street and Edward Street with an outdoor Zen garden.
We have made a table reservation and, although it was not requested, we have the fortune of being seated at one of the hole-in-the-ground tables. Waitresses in different coloured yukata lightly pad around the restaurant and one shows us to our table. The booths are separated by wooden partitions to provide privacy and the one we are seated at is designed for four people. There are sitting cushions to make things more comfortable and warm handtowels to greet us. Staff are diligent in rearranging shoes left at the edge of hole-in-the-ground booths so that the tip of the shoes face outwards, making it just that little bit more convenient for patrons when leaving or when taking trips to the loo. It is a lovely and considerate touch.
The menu is quite extensive and we seem to spend absolutely ages deciding what to eat. Monsieur Poisson is excited to find not only uni but also swordfish sashimi on the menu but, alas, both are sold out from that day’s lunch session. So we rethink our options and start with the gyu tataki that does not come with the usual ponzu dressing, but is instead served with sliced spring onions, finely minced ginger, finely minced garlic and what we think is finely minced garlic with chilli oil all arranged on discs of radish. It’s fun to pair mouthfuls of beef with the differing accompaniments, and I feel more of the beef’s flavour is allowed to shine through than when doused in the usual dressing.
The soft-shell crab karaage is deep-fried with the lightest dusting of flour and has obviously been carefully presented so that the legs resemble a perched claw atop the plate. The menu says it is served with a shiso sauce but I can only see a finely chopped salsa of red onion, cucumber and tomato. Perhaps shiso leaves were used to impart flavour to the light and tangy salsa.
When Monsieur Poisson and I were perusing the menu we came across something that we had never seen before – chawanmushi. The menu describes it as ‘steamed savoury egg custard’ so we immediately draw comparisons to Chinese steamed egg and decide we have to give it a try. It arrives as a small, lidded urn on its own heat mat with a teaspoon alongside. We remove the lid and are welcomed by aromas of Asian-flavoured stock wafting up our nostrils. The surface is smooth like a block of tofu and the egg is seductively silken. It even wobbles a little when the urn is moved. Within the steamed egg mixture, there is sliced kamaboko, chicken pieces, small prawns, vegetables and the occasional piece of unagi. We sit back in food-induced euphoria and wonder how we could have never come across this dish before!
Next we have the otsumami udon from Sono’s October specials menu. It features multiple small individual serves of cold udon with different cold toppings and is presented in little Asian-style teacup-type dishes on a bed of ice chips held in a shallow wooden basin.
One serve of udon is topped with a very mild curry and is the only one to use thick udon noodles – all the other serves employ a thinner, flatter udon that is shaped like a larger version of linguine. Another dish is topped with a tempura prawn and smoky dressing. The third udon is dressed with soy sauce and has a beautiful soft-poached egg yolk sitting on top which, when punctured, reveals a sticky golden centre that we attribute to it having been chilled. The final serve is also dressed with soy but has thin rounds of lush green okra on top. The whole dish is tasty, refreshing and light and would be ideal in hot weather.
Also from the October specials menu, we have the unagi tsutsumi yaki which has grilled eel with an assortment of mushrooms enclosed in a lotus leaf before being roasted. It arrives at our table smelling charred but fragrant of lotus leaf. Interestingly, there is also a thick slice of yellow zucchini resting in between the two pieces of tender unagi.
Although Monsieur Poisson missed out on both uni and swordfish sashimi, his other favourite of scampi is fortunately available. We order the nigiri and a serve of two pieces arrive with the head arranged to be resting on its body. The flesh is very sweet and firm with a slight amount of chill, and is topped with tiny tobiko.
To finish the meal, we go for something with a bit more rice and order the chirashi sushi mainly because I am attracted by the picture in the menu. It comes with miso soup and doesn’t disappoint with thick slices of fish and scallop sashimi atop a thick bed of vinegared sushi rice.
But we can’t be finished as there is always still dessert! Monsieur Poisson is disappointed to hear me declare that I am too full for dessert as he has two preferred options in mind. He concedes to ordering only the azuki ice-cream cake, of which there are two pieces sitting on a handled plate. The flavour is not overly sweet but the texture is unfortunately a little icy. The thin layer of sponge underneath aids in halting any melting ice-cream run-off.
The meal is not cheap but we leave feeling very satisfied both in hunger and in value. Not only has the food been excellent with great attention to detail and presentation, but the service is most polite and attentive. These factors combined with the array of servingware has us making comparisons to our wonderful recent meal at Koi.
Level 1, Tattersalls Building, cnr Queen St & Edward St, Brisbane QLD
Tel: (07) 3220 1888
Opening Hours: Mon-Thurs 12pm-2:30pm (lunch)
Fri 12pm-2:30pm (lunch)
Sat 6pm-10pm (dinner only)