On Good Friday I was invited along to a tuna auction at Shell House Sydney to help kick off the mega venue’s next few weeks of one-off dinners, concerts and events. Though it lacked the grit and chaos of the famed tuna auction at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market, the highly polished Clocktower Bar was an absolute scene as guest Chef Toshihiko Oe, of Cammeray’s acclaimed Sushi Oe, carved up a massive tuna into different cuts – the most expensive of which fetched an easy $2,000. I knew it was a bargain, given I’ve been to Tsukiji before and seen how much these chefs spend on tuna, but I didn’t know just how much of a catch it was in this context – a sushi supply shortage in Australia that’s threatening to push prices through the roof.
As reported in Good Food last week, produce shortages and price hikes are making it harder for Japanese restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne to turn a profit, meaning we’re starring down the barrel of an unfortunate sushi shortage. According to the Good Food article, a recent report by Square shows that the average price of sushi in Australia has jumped 27% when compared to last year, indicating an average hike from $11.40 to $14.55.
With sushi and fresh sashimi costing some of Australia’s most acclaimed Japanese restaurants more than double what they did last year, the increased price is starting to flow onto consumers. And while it may not be too drastic yet, given you’d only need to fork out a few dollars extra for your favourite sushi, the growing supply shortages are something all sushi lovers should be worried about.
Scarcity is never fun, especially when we’re talking about something as beloved as sushi.
Many orders placed over the past few weeks from some of the country’s top Japanese restaurants have not been honoured. Some have arrived with less than half of the fish that was ordered, which is an issue that has been going on for a few months now and plays into the general supply chain issue that has emerged during the pandemic.
Some of Australia’s top Japanese chefs have reportedly been trying to absorb the costs so they wouldn’t spill over to customers, but they’ve been struggling.
Talking to Good Food, Alice Chan, the owner of East Brunswick sashimi restaurant Matsumoto, has had to spend an additional $10 per kilogram of salmon and has seen a similar price hike on bags of rice over the past few months.
“Salmon is normally really easy to get. We never really thought about it before… but now, sometimes we don’t even get the stock. It’s really hard when we order four salmon and only get half of the order.”
A similar issue has been found over at Surry Hills’ popular Toko, where owner Matt Yazbek received just one fish from a recent 30-kilogram salmon order. That kind of shortage is even more worrying when you consider that wagyu beef has also been seeing a similar decline in recent years.
Since the 2019 drought in NSW, cattle prices have been rising for restaurants and that issue has been exacerbated in recent months with the floods. As such, Toko has either raised the price on some of its more popular menu items or dropped options altogether.
“We’ve been around for 21 years and this has been the biggest spike in prices we’ve ever seen, over such a short period,” said Yazbek.
“It’s not pretty to see inside of a restaurant right now. It was already difficult for us to make money but this is a whole new challenge. It’s nerve-racking.”
While some other owners are still trying to absorb prices for as long as they can, it’s unlikely this issue will be sorting itself out anytime soon. Just know that next time you get your hands on a delectable piece of sashimi, especially salmon, it’s a hard-won treat that should no longer be taken for granted.