The second reason was that sometimes all of the big rich meals of wonderful French cuisine end up with you feeling a little... well... a little ill! Three courses (and sides) of rich food can often see me and my dining companion slide our seats waaaay back in the car and groan most of the way home. Would I give up French food to avoid this? HELL NO! But a number of French meals in a row did leave me looking forward to a meal that wouldn't leave me feeling sick at the end of it!
Little did I know that I'd end up feeling that way anyway - not because it was bad in any way - just that they provided so many courses of so much amazingly good food, that it was inevitable! Do I regret a single thing I tried? NO, NOT A SINGLE MORSEL! In fact, it ranks among my favourite reviews thus far.
The restaurant looks expensive. It's located in the heritage listed Qantas building on Chiefly Square.
Inside there are a number of spaces, where you can dine in booths in the Tokyo Room (kept mostly for those diners who arrive without a booking), at the bar with a train running past you, at tables, or in a private dining room if you pre-book a large group - all up there are about 140 seats. The decor is nice, the lighting is appropriately subdued, and it's fastidiously clean.
The menu looks expensive too - it's a huge hard-back tome with gorgeous photography. Each page deals with a different style of Japanese cuisine, explaining the concept with photos and words, and laying out a number of options.
It's hard not to get overwhelmed, so many choices... so many beautiful photos... more writing than you could possibly read before the eager staff are attentively waiting to take your order...
There are laminated specials pages to look at too! And that's where the penny starts to drop... THIS ISN'T AN EXPENSIVE RESTAURANT.... it's a mostly Asian chain restaurant delivering everyday Asian cuisine at superb universal prices! This is their first venture into Australia, but they have 8 stores in China, 2 stores in Thailand, 1 store in Bali, 8 stores in Indonesia and 8 stores in Singapore.
This explains these amazingly expensive menus, and surrounds, as being offset by the other restaurants. The huge menu is common across all of their restaurants, and their prices are the same, despite there being reasonably large differences between relative value for money between say Australia and Singapore. This means we win - big time!
Now all this is very well, but there is still that huge problem of choosing what to eat - even if you can afford to try quite a few dishes. Luckily for us, the chef had designed us a menu showing us the best of their various styles of cuisine. Warning bells began to ring in my head, and as delighted as I was to have the choice taken and placed in more capable hands, I felt a modicum of trepidation...
Our first offering was the Kani Avocado Salad ($8.80) pictured above, with crab claw meat, avocado, fresh vegetables and an amazing 'Sushi Tei' dressing (unfortunately the ingredients were a secret).
The next dish was an amazing platter of impeccably presented sushi, sashimi and sides. This particular combination is not available as a menu item, but all the elements are. As you can see, it was a work of art! The three little brown pots were side dishes, which were all worth trying. My favourite was the Chuka Chinmi ($3.80) which is made of scallops, and the one at the top right of the three. The top left bowl contains Chuka Wakame ($3.80), a seaweed based side, and the bottom bowl had Chuka Kurage ($3.80) or jellyfish.
The delicate beautiful detail on the sushi was amazing too - I particularly loved the raw scallop layered with cucumber, which you can get from the menu in a 5 piece set Nama Hotate ($8.80).
We were next treated to a platter of Aburi ($12.80/6 kinds) or half-broiled sushi. Mostly I personally preferred the raw fish style of sushi, but there was one very notable exception - the Unagi ($2.80) or eel is a real winner here. I was very glad to be forced to try it! The Salmon belly was also lovely, and the other pieces photographed above are (I think) Kingfish, Sea Bream, Swordfish and Tuna.
The next dish delighted me - not only was it topped in the Unagi I had enjoyed from the previous dish, it was also so well presented on the plate! It was called a Phoenix Roll ($13.80) and it was a king prawn sushi roll topped with avocado and warm pieces of smoked eel, on a platter drizzled with Japanese mayonnaise. There was a great hot/cold contrast, and I loved the design sense of the dish as much as the flavour. Yum!
The dish reminded me of the food I used to enjoy at the dearly departed Zenbu, a restaurant I loved which used to be at Darling Harbour near the IMAX Theatre.
From there we went to Hotate Misomayo ($9.80) - a wonderful quartet of grilled scallops flavoured with miso and mayonnaise which makes them creamy and delightful, especially with the contrasting lemon.
Service by the way is snappy, polite and helpful. There are lots of staff - dishes are clearly promptly and quietly, and staff are well able to make suggestions, and help newcomers make menu choices. Oh and by the way, I am starting to feel reasonably full right about now...
The next dish was called Ebi Mentaiyaki ($15.80) and it was a large grilled prawn topped with cod roe. It was one of my favourite dishes of the evening, after the Phoenix Roll.
The Ika Suga Teriyaki ($8.80) above was probably my least favourite dish, and even it was nice... it could have been just that I was nearing my limit...
Luckily for me, the next dish took a little time to set up and prepare... but of course, so we didn't starve, they brought a wonderfully fresh side of Edamame ($2.80) to nibble on while we waited. We watched with interest as a luminous purple gel was added to a burner. We were told it was 'liquid wax' and it is an imported product which they have had trouble getting into Australia from China as it is flammable.
On top of the burner a paper lining was placed (over a naked flame) and then the ingredients were added, including liquid! The paper wasn't waxed - we were amazed it worked. Apparently this is the latest technology - and has only been available in Asia for five months.
The dish is a Scallop and Salmon Kaminabe ($12.80) or hot pot, and as you can see, it stayed completely contained in the paper bowl! You can have it with a miso or shoyu (soy) base, ours was a miso base.
By this point I really wanted to die... I couldn't imagine eating another bite, and I tried to flag this with Michael Suwandi, our host. However there was of course another dish that the chef really wanted us to try from the 'Summer Specials' menu...
And the Wagyu Steak with Wasabi Sauce ($16.80) was indeed an amazing dish - the sauce was an amazing accompaniment. I thought I was going to die though, as they brought us a plate of it EACH! I sank into my umpteenth glass of Hana Flavoured Sake ($32.80) which we tried by the bottle in both Fuji Apple and Lychee (both were amazing, refreshing and complimented the meal perfectly). Luckily it was 8%, so it's ideal for patrons who'd like to drive home.
And of course, we weren't going to escape without trying dessert were we? Desserts range from about $2.80-$7.80 with most being in the $2.80-$3.80 range. Our dessert was a trio of three ice-creams ($7.80) to share because I was pleading a deeply rooted inability to eat any more.
You'll laugh though when you see the post-dessert result...
These were absolutely great ice creams. I started with the one on the left - Green Tea, moved on to an even better Red Bean, and then tried the Sesame which was my dining companions favourite - it was certainly the most subtle and grown-up of the flavours. However I am responsible for nearly finishing the Red Bean which I adored - it was nutty and not too sweet. They are imported, from Japan, and I really, really recommend you try them, even if you're full.
And you guessed, by this point I really feel sick. A food coma ensued shortly after.
1 Chifley Square (cnr Elizabeth & Hunter Streets), Martin Place
Ph: (02) 9232 7288