Review: Sushi Co, Skopje Macedonia

According to TripAdvisor, there are only 158 restaurants in the Macedonian capital of Skopje. Compare this to the 4,946 restaurants in Sydney or the 19,444 restaurants in London and you begin to get a sense of how small the city is in comparison. Food options are limited for travellers – there’s a number of more touristy restaurants in the centre of town and bakeries selling burek everywhere, but we found it harder to locate a local restaurant serving good healthy food at a good price.

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Two out of three ain’t bad though, so we headed down the road from our Airbnb apartment to SushiCo, a ‘Chinese, Thai and Japanese’ restaurant (#14 of 158 restaurants) offering a Sunday lunch buffet for 990 Macedonian Denars, or $25 AUD. Considering that the average Macedonian monthly wage is $550 AUD, this is an extremely pricey dining option for many Macedonians, and certainly not an everyday indulgence. When you can get lunch for two people for 500 denars at other restaurants or a burek from a bakery for 50 denars, 990 denars is quite out of reach!

So with that in mind, please note that this buffet lunch we had at Sushi Co in Skopje is not a standard experience in Macedonia. We were part of the 1% when travelling through countries in the Balkans, and K constantly had to remind me of that when I was trying to decide whether to leave a 100 denar or a 200 denar tip in restaurants. There’s only a few dollars in it. Err on the side of generosity, as it will make a bigger difference.

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Travel ethics aside! Sushi Co is beautifully done up inside with a modern Japanese style – it’s very clean and sleek with a lot of natural woods used throughout the restaurant to create warm tones. They also have outdoor seating capacity which wasn’t being utilised at all during the cold rainy winter. All the wait staff are local Macedonians, though I did spy one sushi chef who looked Japanese.

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The buffet is set up at one end of the restaurant on a single long table. There’s no bainmaries here, which does unfortunately mean that dishes do get cold relatively quickly. So if you’re after one of the Japanese tempura prawns or Thai fried money-bags, you do have to keep an eye on the staff as they restock the table with fresh food to make sure that you swoop in to get it while it’s still piping hot. There’s nothing worse than cold fried food!

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You can start off with a few salads to help yourself feel a little more virtuous before diving into the sushi carbs or salty stir-fries. There’s a red cabbage salad on offer, as well as a green lettuce salad. They are quite plain though, so I wouldn’t concentrate too much of your eating energy on the salads.

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This is where it’s at – the maki and the uromaki hand rolls. There’s a bit of a mix of different ingredients used here – some use tuna, there’s also quite a bit of avocado and seafood stick used as well. There was a white fish used as well which I couldn’t identify – it didn’t look like albacore, snapper, or any other white fish I’m familiar with! Perhaps its a local freshwater white fish?

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The nigiri was popular as well, though the seafood stick nigiri wasn’t really touched at all. I did eat my fair share of prawn nigiri and tuna nigiri, but found that the tamagoyaki nigiri (egg omelette nigiri) tasted a bit strange, as though they hadn’t put in quite enough mirin for the eggs used. To be fair, it might also be the European eggs which I have found to be much earthier in taste with yellower yolks than we would normally find in Australia.

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Fried food galore – sesame chicken, money bags, fried wontons, honey chicken…plus a bit more. In the back you can also see a bamboo container of Peking duck pancakes – don’t go near these unless they’ve just been brought out of the kitchen. As any duck pancake connoisseur will know the pancakes need to be freshly steamed to be edible – if they’ve been out of the steamer for any more than five minutes, they’ll start to harden and ruin the whole pancake experience. The same goes for the fried food – it always tastes better when it’s fresh, so keep an eye on when they bring a fresh lot out!

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There’s a few generic Chinese stirfries on offer as well – a beef, a chicken, a vegetarian. The sauces used in each stirfry are indistinguishable from the next – I suspect there’s some soy sauce in there, probably also a plum sauce as well. What is in the stir fry isn’t important, what is important is that they will remind you of Australian food court Chinese food, a.k.a three combinations for $8 or the cheap eating of my student days. There’s nothing like a bit of homesickness to make food court Chinese taste wonderful.

And now, a few shots of our plates!

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Sushi Co isn’t the world’s most authentic restaurant – how can it be when they’re trying to offer three different cuisines in one? By local Macedonian standards however, Sushi Co is a fantastic restaurant that offers quite an upscale dining experience, introducing locals to foods and cuisine that you would not be able to find elsewhere in the city.

For an Australian who is used to the best in Asian cuisine, Sushi Co is a great nostalgic reminder of the comforts of home and helps to assuage the feeling of homesickness. Go for their 990 denars Sunday lunch buffet if you’re ever in Skopje – it ends up being better value as a single salmon roll will cost you 530 denars anyway. You might as well spend a little bit more for more variety!

Sushi Co is located at 29 Leninova in Skopje, Macedonia.

Review: Udon Kobo Ishin, Berlin Germany

You never realise what you might end up missing until you spend a lengthy period of time away from home. I knew I would come to miss simple pleasures like a large bowl of pork and chive dumplings, or opening a packet of Tim Tams, but I never thought I would miss things like having a good ole Aussie Four and Twenty meat pie. Surprisingly, I do!

One of the things I definitely missed was having a hot bowl of meaty ramen or udon, something that I would probably have at least once a fortnight when in Australia. Yet, as much as I wanted to walk into a Japanese restaurant somewhere sometime during our trip through Europe, I did find myself questioning the authenticity of said restaurants when they also offered bibimbap, pho, chicken chow mein and pad thai as well.

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I lucked out in Berlin though! I did a bit of research online into Berlin expat food blogs, and found a few recommendations for a new-ish restaurant called Udon Kobo Ishin, which was reputed to offer the largest bowls of udon anywhere in Berlin. That sounded good to me, so off we went for lunch one day after a sobering morning at the Berlin Wall Memorial.

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There’s a few smaller tables for groups, but the restaurant is mostly kitted out in large communal tables. This makes it comfortable for almost any type of diner – couples like us can find seats together, larger groups can sit together, and solo diners can find a spare chair anywhere as well.

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The fragrant green tea is complimentary and refillable from a DIY hot water urn near the counter. If you prefer a more refreshing beverage, they also had a range of Japanese soft drinks available. Given the cold and rainy weather outside though, the hot green tea was the perfect warming drink.

Niku Udon, 9.60 Euro
Niku Udon, 9.60 Euro

There’s a few different options on the menu, from Japanese curry to donburis and sushi sets. We were there for the udon though, and chose the Niku Udon, a simple udon topped with cold thinly-sliced pork, and grated radish and sliced shallots. This simplicity was just what I needed to satify my cravings – a clean, clear porky broth, freshly home-made udon noodles with a bit of chew to them, and flavourful pork. Nothing beats a simple udon in satisfying cravings!

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While the udon does come in a regular sized bowl, we had to go for the larger size – I remembered the online reviews about the largest bowl of udon in Berlin! As you can see, modelled by K in this photo, this truly was a massive bowl…though a bit deceptive because there was quite a bit of broth in the bowl and not as much udon as you may have thought!

Take Menu, 13 Euro (7 Nigiri, 6 Maki, 2 Futo-Maki)
Take Menu, 13 Euro (7 Nigiri, 6 Maki, 2 Futo-Maki)

We decided to also share a sushi set, as I was also craving sushi – another dish I have so regularly in Australia, that to go for two months without it in Europe was a real hardship. Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite the same – the sushi rice flavouring was a little bit off, and the cuts of fish that they used in the nigiri seemed to be quite rough.

They were not at all like the creamier pieces of sushi fish that we get in Australia, and I think the reason for that may come down to fishing practices – there’s a certain method to catching and killing sushi fish. You can’t for example, just buy any piece of salmon and expect to turn it into salmon nigiri.  The salmon has to be caught in a certain way, and killed almost immediately so that the lactic acid created by their panic at being out of the water doesn’t destroy the integrity of the flesh.

Still, when it comes to satisfying a craving, this was not a bad choice.

Overall, I can highly recommend Udon Kobo Ishin as a decent Japanese restaurant to visit in Berlin, should you find yourself craving a hot bowl of udon. The sushi is slightly less impressive, but still probably one of the better and cheaper options in Berlin. The prices in the restaurant are very reasonable, though service can be a bit slow and haphazard.

Udon Kobo Ishin is located at 1 Litfaßplatz, Berlin.

Review: Sokyo, Pyrmont

One of the most budget-friendly ways of trying a fancy restaurant is to go at an unconventional time, or for a faster meal. The pre-theatre dining option at most hatted restaurants in Sydney combine these two options, with a specific 5.30pm to 7pm sitting that gets you fed quickly before rushing you out the door to ensure that you can get to your seat in the theatre in time. Sokyo in The Star casino complex does a great $55 three-course pre-theatre dining option. Drinks and dessert are extra, but $55 isn’t bad when you consider that ordering off the regular a la carte menu could set you back an easy $150 per person.

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K and I recently took advantage of Sokyo’s fantastic pre-theatre option before a performance of Matilda the Musical (which incidentally, is a fantastic show so go and see it while it’s still showing in Sydney!). I’d been wanting to visit Sokyo for a while, especially after rave reviews from everyone I know.

Salmon Ssamjang with red shiso, ginger, ssamjang dressing
Salmon Ssamjang with red shiso, ginger, ssamjang dressing

The first course offered in the pre-theatre menu is a sashimi course. There’s three options on the menu, and I opt for the Salmon Ssamjang – thinly sliced, lightly seared slices of salmon with the most amazing spicy Korean-style dressing. It’s deceptively simple, but the spice really makes it something special.

Tuna Umami with choya umeshu, garlic soy umami
Tuna Umami with choya umeshu, garlic soy umami

K orders the Tuna Umami, which comes dressed with Choya branded plum-flavoured umeshu. While there’s only a very subtle hint of alcohol in the tuna dressing, it really lifts the whole dish.

Hibiscus mocktail and Phillip J Fry cocktail
Hibiscus mocktail and Phillip J Fry cocktail

We decided to get a drink each as well, outside of the pre-theatre menu. A Futurama fan, K opted for the Phillip J Fry cocktail, while I chose to have the Hibiscus mocktail. The cocktail was quite tropical in nature, with a healthy dash of pineapple juice that went extremely well with the yuzu. My Hibiscus mocktail was really refreshing, with a mint and lime twist.

Red snapper tempura with coriander salad, black pepper chilli vinegar, and Cuttlefish tempura with chilli de arbot, tarragon ponzu sauce
Red snapper tempura with coriander salad, black pepper chilli vinegar, and Cuttlefish tempura with chilli de arbot, tarragon ponzu sauce

The second course of the Sokyo pre-theatre menu is tempura. I chose Cuttlefish Tempura, and K chose the Red Snapper Tempura. I always think that tempura is particularly difficult to get right. Done wrong, the batter is too thick and gluggy, or the tempura is too oily. Sokyo gets it right though, with an incredibly light and barely-there batter, and light and tangy dipping sauces. Even the cuttlefish is nice and soft, without that overcooked chewiness that it can sometimes have in other restaurants.

Mixed field greens and rice
Mixed field greens and rice

We’re served a green salad and a bowl of short-grain sushi rice each, to accompany our main meals to come. The dressing on the salad was just right – enough to lightly coat the leaves, but not drench them in oil. Serving the short grain sushi rice, flavoured lightly with rice vinegar and sugar, rather than the usual boring long-grain jasmine rice, was a nice touch as well.

Sea Scallops with Shio Koji sauce, wood ear mushroom and coriander
Sea Scallops with Shio Koji sauce, wood ear mushroom and coriander

My main of the Sea Scallops was a little overdone for my liking (I like my seared scallops verging on raw), but others would really enjoy the firm, plump texture and strong bold flavours of the scallops. I did enjoy it myself of course, just not as much as I would have if it had been slightly less well done!

Lamb Chop with Aonori & mint and chilli amazu
Lamb Chop with Aonori & mint and chilli amazu

K chose the Lamb Chop as his main, as he often complains that we don’t eat enough red meat at home so he orders it every time we dine out. I retorted that as we couldn’t possibly hope to replicate the soft tender smoky charred perfection of Sokyo’s lamb chop at home, we might as well give up before we even start!

Goma street (caramelised white chocolate, sesame ice-cream)
Goma street (caramelised white chocolate, sesame ice-cream)

I had to order the Goma Street dessert as soon as I saw it on the menu. I’m an absolute fiend for anything black sesame related, so although we hadn’t originally planned to have dessert at Sokyo, we ended up staying for this. It was a fantastic choice as well, with an ideal blend of sweeter chocolate, strong nuttiness of the black sesame, as well as the creamy smoothness of the ice-cream. It’s beautifully presented, though challenging for those who aren’t used to eating grey or black desserts!

Donatsu (pineapple mascarpone filling, creme fraiche ice-cream)
Donatsu (pineapple mascarpone filling, creme fraiche ice-cream)

K opted for the Donatsu dessert, pineapple cream filled doughnut morsels served with a sweet drizzling sauce and a creme fraiche ice-cream that was clean, crisp, and refreshing. The doughnuts by themselves were probably a tad on the sweet side, but partnered with the fresher ice-cream, it really hit the mark.

With drinks and dessert added on top of our $55 per person bill, we ended up spending closer to $200 as a couple once we added on a tip as well. Still, I think a visit to Sokyo for their pre-theatre menu is well worth it, especially if you’re planning on seeing Matilda the Musical over the next few months!

Sokyo Restaurant - The Darling at the Star Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato