Ala Champ

A Cinematic Setting for this Modern Sushi Restaurant

A Stand-Out Japanese Dining Destination in Brisbane

July, 2023
The beautiful Hinoki timber sushi counter at SUSHI ROOM | Photography Cieran Murphy©

Dining underneath a hovering celestial dome with cinematic lighting spotlighting a Hinoki-wood sushi counter, these details hint at the experience to come at this sushi restaurant in Brisbane.

SUSHI ROOM, found on the ground floor of renowned The Calile Hotel on James St in Fortitude Valley, is a dining experience presenting the best of Australian seafood together with the traditions of an authentic Japanese sushi restaurant. With both an ala carte menu and omakase dining (meaning control of the menu is left to the chef to decide, using the best ingredients of the day), the sushi restaurant offers it all for its audience in Brisbane. 

Seating 80 guests, the restaurant has multiple seating arrangements, but the place to be is at the 9.3 metre solid Japanese Hinoki timber sushi counter. With one sushi master per 2-4 guests, the experience at SUSHI ROOM feels intimate yet informal. It very much reflects Executive Chef Shimpei Raikuni’s approach to perfection, held within the context of laid-back and unpretentious Brisbane. 

SUSHI ROOM | Photography Cieran Murphy©

Shimpei San himself surfs and fishes, and is passionate about quality produce. He liaises daily with his fish selector who sources the best cuts for him each morning at Australia’s largest fish market in Sydney. They discuss what’s available, and it’s from here that Shimpei San selects what will then be on offer on his menu or omakase dining.

Moving from Kawasaki, Japan to Brisbane, Shimpei san began work at another of STK Group’s restaurants, it was when STK Group founder Simon Gloftis (behind ventures Hellenika, SK Steak & Oyster and Sunshine – all in the James St precinct) suggested that a sushi restaurant open on the premises and Shimpei San’s expertise was brought to the forefront.

With an extensive menu on offer at SUSHI ROOM, all types of sushi, sashimi, sushi rolls, tempura and more are available to order. The set menu’s at the counter are the ones to go for, with the Sushi Counter Set new on the menu at $180pp. A daily changing omakase champions the best seafood of the day, with the menu in order of Otsukuri (oyster from Coffin Bay, South Australia, cuttlefish noodles, mixed sashimi roll and ikura on a handcrafted wooden spoon, along with a skinless cherry tomato as a palette cleanser), Agemono (Toothfish Ankake, an Australian fish found 2000km west of Perth), Chawanmushi (spanner crab and burnt butter), Chef’s selection of Nigiri (9 pieces) with a special Kagoshima A5 Wagyu Nigiri with the additional black truffle, followed by miso soup and dessert.

A celestial dome above the SUSHI ROOM restaurant | Photography Cieran Murphy©
Sashimi platter served in Japanese lacquerware at SUSHI ROOM | Photography Joshua Maguire©

Ingredients are carefully presented in front of diners, and on our occasion, skilfully constructed by Shimpei San himself. The theatre begins.

The Nigiri is stand-out, with each cut of fish masterfully presented in front of diners before construction with Shimpei-san’s own recipe for sushi rice. The chef uses Yuki-tsubaki made Koshihikari rice, the same used by Michelin-starred chefs around the world, cultivated in the Niigata prefecture where heavy snow from the Winter melts in the Spring to cover crops with mineral-rich water. Actually, he uses two types of sushi rice, combined with three vinegars (wine white, one red) with a little bit of sugar and salt. The result cannot be faulted.

Some nigiri includes a brush of Shoyu, specifically selected by Shimpei-san from his mother’s hometown of Oono town in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, famous for soy sauce making in the country. Others include a touch of freshly grated wasabi from Tasmania, one of the few growers in the country of the precious plant. Shimpei-san tells us he’s just visited the farm, run by a young couple in Tasmania’s north. He’s eyes light up when he discusses the quality of the produce and production of the farm, and he even shows us images of the farm at the end of our dining experience, also showcasing the beautiful wasabi plant and root sitting at each iced ‘cold room’ area in front of diners.

Mukai “Ine Mankai” Junmai sake – made by Japan's only female sake brewer with an ancient strain of red rice called Murasaki and local Kyoto rice Iwai | Photography Joshua Maguire©
Miso Dolce for dessert at SUSHI ROOM | Photography Joshua Maguire©

The presentation of each nigiri is complete perfection, created with respect for each piece of fish. Starting with 4 different cuts of tuna – some Australian and some from Japan – the journey begins for the tastebuds. Shimpei-san informs us that the season for Blue Fin tuna has just started, which continues for the next 2-3 months. For the Akami nigiri made with lean tuna, it is from NSW waters, an Australian tuna. For the Otoro (Fatty) the tuna is from Japan.

Tai nigiri (snapper from New Zealand) is presented with Shiso and Umeshu, whilst the King Salmon (from New Zealand) is created with spring onion and ginger, together with the salmon’s skin in place and lightly scorched (inspired by Bonito Tataki). Saba (vinegar-cured mackerel) is cleverly put together with a ever-so-thin slice of Kombu (seaweed) which balances out the salty flavours evenly. The Akaza-ebi nigiri – scampi – is sourced from New Zealand and its curing in a light salt brine creates a flavour and texture that just literally melts in the mouth. Finally the Uni (sea urchin) is from Tasmania, and its creaminess informs us its the long spine variety (with short spine uni coming from Victoria). Whilst the last piece, the Kagoshima A5 Wagyu Nigiri won’t be to everyones liking (the meat is too lightly-fired, allowing the fats to overpower the experience and cover the flavours of the meat), but it makes for an interesting experience.

SUSHI ROOM | Photography Cieran Murphy©
Tableware is sourced from both Japan and Australia | Photography Joshua Maguire©
Executive Chef Shimpei Raikuni in the eight-seat private dining room at SUSHI ROOM | Photography Cieran Murphy©

Sake and wine pairings are optional, and we’d most certainly recommend two key makers available at SUSHI ROOM. The first, a rare Mukai Ine Mankai Junmai sake by a female sake brewer in Japan, is made with an ancient strain of red rice called Murasaki and local Kyoto rice Iwai. It includes notes of red berries, rhubarb and a hint of smoky earthiness, and pairs with the tuna nigiri very well. The second, the Tengumai Umajun Junmai sake from Ishikawa, a brewer in operation from 1823 until the present day. The sake selection at SUSHI ROOM is exceptional, with many brilliant producers to be found.

For dessert, Shimpei-san presents a special ‘Cappuccino’ in a textured white ceramic cup. Made up of an irresistible chestnut icecream with Yamasaki whiskey foam and dusted truffle on top (to represent the chocolate powder on a cappuccino), the dessert is brilliant. A fun way to round out the evening, the dessert leaves a lasting impression of the pleasantly surprising dining experience.

Uni Gunkanmaki - Sea urchin - at SUSHI ROOM | Photography Joshua Maguire©

Designed by Richards & Spence, who also designed The Calile, the elegant yet Brutalist interiors are slightly reminiscent of Gottfried Böhm’s Brutalist Church of the Pilgrimage in Neviges, with its grey concrete celestial dome and slight hint of deep red from the private dining space above it.

Elements of Japanese design are found in the details – from the tableware and glassware to presentation and service style. A mix of Western and Japanese ceramics and lacquerware is found throughout the dining experience, whilst sushi served during the 9-piece nigiri set is on Australian brand Marloe Marloe black glossed ceramic plates (however, they mainly reflect fingerprints of both chef and diner upon touch – they just aren’t the right fit for this restaurant’s lighting and menu). 

The aural architecture in the space caters to the audience, presenting crowd-pleasing soul music with a mix by the restaurants in-house DJ whom resides by the cocktail bar counter at the entrance of the restaurant. Here, guests can enjoy a pre-dinner drink or late evening aperitif before venturing back to their room at The Calile just steps away. 

No matter the occasion, SUSHI ROOM is a delight to visit. The wonderful Australian produce, combined with Japanese customs found in a traditional sushi restaurant are great to discover in Brisbane, a city with a rapidly evolving dining culture. With everything on display from the ingredients to the chef’s at work, SUSHI ROOM is both a feast for the eyes and the belly. An ultimately satisfying experience.

SUSHI ROOM | Photography Cieran Murphy©
SUSHI ROOM | Photography Cieran Murphy©

The Calile Hotel, 48 James Street, Fortitude Valley
Brisbane, Queensland, 4006

For more Australia destinations, click here.

Text: Editor-in-Chief Monique Kawecki
Photography: c/o Sushi Room©

July, 2023