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Fat Duck in Australia, Melbourne

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-001Chef: Heston Blumenthal     Website:    Cuisine: Modern British

Photos: Courtesy of Harvard Wang (

I had pretty much given up my hopes back in late 2014 on dining at the Fat Duck in Melbourne in absence of any confirmation e-mail. Fast forward a couple of months when I had pretty much forgotten about the whole affair when a friend of mine offered me a seat at his table of four. I sheepishly looked at my wife and she reluctantly agreed to me going alone. Fast forward another week and suddenly I had a phone call from the front of house confirming my table for six! I couldn’t believe my luck. Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-002It wasn’t difficult to fill up our table. First and foremost we definitely had to invite our friend Sarah who came with us to our last Fat Duck meal in Bray a couple of years ago. Check. My new foodie sidekick and amazing photographer Harvard Wang (who was also photographer to our wedding). Check. My wife’s friend and his wife who are both fine dining and wine enthusiasts (he even had Jeremy Oliver to host his 30th). Check. And my wife of course this time. Check. Returning to the Fat Duck ‘Family’ felt rather nostalgic. A couple of the front of house staff recognised us from our previous meals back in Bray and stopped by to say hi.

P1160528Having paid upfront for the meal at the time of the reservation all we now had to do was decide on the wine pairing. A couple of us opted for the cheapest option of circa AUD200 a person, whilst one of us opted for the luxurious fine wine pairing at north of AUD 1,000. Hefty, yes. Worth it? Definitely!  When you get wine like the Henschke Hill of Grace poured, who could blame her. And, just like the Fat Duck in Bray, the sommelier was generous and topped up each glass of wine at least once throughout the meal. This was going to be a long and fun afternoon!

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-004Whilst our wines were chosen, we could not resist checking out the Fat Duck wine bible. My wife and I had fond memories of trawling through the wine list in Bray. Our first trip to the Fat Duck was also our first ever fine dining experience, leading to over a hundred fine dining adventures since then. I guess you could say Heston was the one who really started us off on this journey and passion.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-003We all partook in a glass of champagne as we settled in for the afternoon. Having been away from the fine dining scene in Europe for a little moment it was rather nostalgic to see the attention to detail and surroundings by the front of house headed by restaurant manager, Dimitri Bellos. There was always someone at the right time in the right place when they were needed. Whilst some of the services at the upper end of fine dining establishments in Australia are very good, there’s still a very long way to go to catch up to the calibre of those like the Fat Duck. Heston invests in his staff with choreography lessons, and the like, and it showed!

Simple things made such an impact. For example after only a couple of small dishes Dimitri had picked out two of the diners on our table were left handed and, without them even registering the change, their cutlery from here onward had been oriented to their left hand. Simply amazing.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-005Course 1: Aerated Beetroot. We were instructed to eat this in one bite. The earthy beetroot macaron dissolved immediately to leave behind a tangy flavour from the horseradish cream. The flavour of the beetroot was much more intensive than the last time I had tasted this dish and I loved the slight heat from the horseradish. There was a lot happening in your mouth from such a small morsel.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-006Course 2: Nitro poached aperitif. Choice of Vodka and lime sour, gin and tonic or campari soda. Why have an aperitif in a glass when you can pick it up and pop it in your mouth? I had the gin and tonic which exploded in your mouth with smoke bellowing from my nostrils. Refreshing, fun and a beautiful palate cleanser.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-007Course 3: Red Cabbage Gazpacho, pommery grain mustard ice cream. The deep colour of the red cabbage is mesmerising to watch as it gets poured into your plate of the mustard ice cream. The rich and creamy ice cream balanced out the heat from the mustard. The compressed cucumber lifted the dish by adding some textural crunch and a refreshing element to all the strong flavours competing against one another.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-009Course 4: Savoury Lollies. Waldorf salad, Salmon twister and Feast. This was a new one for me and one which I really looked forward to. I just missed out on this course the last time I went to Bray and boy did it put a smile on everyone’s face! The waldorf salad on the left had three flavours of apple, walnut and celery. The salmon twister made from salmon smoked in lapsang souchong tea, asparagus and horseradish cream was divine with a sweet and smokey aroma. The feast was a hommage that did justice to the iconic Australia golden gaytime. Chicken liver parfait was coated in fig and wine gel, and crunchy nuttiness. Whilst they were relatively small in size, the flavours were big, bold and beautiful.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-010The next course was a familiar site and one which we never tired of. It was a tribute and hommage to Alain Chapel who was one of the founding fathers of nouvelle cuisine, and Heston had fond memories of dining at his restaurant with his parents when he was growing up. The front of house started preparing the next course by serving a pack of Fat Duck Films which were flavoured with oak and moss. A wooden tray containing moss and dry ice was brought over to the table and water was poured carefully to release a blanket of oak and moss scented smoke to stimulate all the senses.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-011Course 5: Jelly of Quail, Marron cream. Caviar sorbet, oak moss and truffle toast. This dish was adapted to the Australian environment utilising marron instead of crayfish. The caviar sorbet was also a new but welcomed ingredient. It was a polished dish that took the umami to a level which I had not thought possible. It was however very intense. You only needed the small portion served. The earthy flavours of the truffle toast was complemented by the intense flavour of the jelly and cream.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-013Course 6: Snail porridge, joselito ham and shaved fennel. Granola had been added to the dish since the last time I had this to provide some textural contrast. Whilst the dishes in the Fat Duck often stick around for a while, the team are constantly finding ways to improve the dishes. This was one such dish. It was a more filling dish than we had previously tried and worked well with the crunchy fennel shavings, juicy snail and salty ham.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-014Course 7: Roast Marron, shiitake, confit kombu and sea lettuce. Another fine adaptation of the duck to the Australian environment. Sweet and juicy marron, umami from the kombu and shiitake and the crunchy sea lettuce. It wasn’t a bad dish but possibly the least memorable one from the meal.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-015Course 8: Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. A classic dish and one that just puts a smile on everyone’s face. The course started off with a little bookmark that told the story of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland…

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-016The touch on the pocket watch was very classy this time as it was served in a glass box. Each person had a watch given to them and carefully placed in their tea cup. When water was added it created the stock that would form the base of the soup.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-018The final product was the Mock turtle soup which had black truffle, ox tongue, enoki mushroom and an “egg” in the centre made from swede and turnip cream. To go with the soup was a much needed…

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-019… Toasted sandwich with a filling of smoked anchovy, bone marrow, cucumber and even more black truffle. There was even a very clever layer of thin crispy toast in the middle to contrast against the fluffy white bread texture. This dish had certainly evolved significantly from the first time we tried it seven years ago.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-021Course 9: Sound of the Sea. If there’s one dish that truly defined the Fat Duck for both my wife and I, this was it. It’s a personal dish that can divide opinions. However, there’s a lot of choreography and thought that goes into this dish. For one, the staff are reminded not to disturb any of the diners for a good ten minutes and therefore any paired wines are poured beforehand. The catch of the day here were kingfish, abalone and butterfish. The sea succulents of oyster leaf and dead man’s fingers were locally sourced. As the sound of the sea faded away with the last spoonful, we all came back to our senses and shared our experience.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-025Course 10: Salmon poached in liquorice gel, endive, vanilla mayonnaise and golden trout roe. Perfectly poached salmon, beautiful balance of the savoury fish and sweet endives, with the occasional bursts of saltiness from the roe.

During this dish we again experienced the extraordinary nature of the fat duck front of house. Our friend who had the luxury wine pairing had momentarily crinkled her nose in nanosecond of dissatisfaction with the paired sparkling shiraz (sparkling shiraz can be a polarising drink). I kid you not, within 15 seconds Dimitri had whisked away her glass without making any fuss (and despite her polite protest, that the wine was fine but it was just not really her thing) and served her a delicious glass of the Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1. As it turned out it was an inspired recommendation (and one which subsequently resulted in my friend investing heavily in this wine).

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-028Course 11: Lamb with cucumber, green pepper and caraway. A quietly brilliant lamb dish sourced from South Australia. The dish was served in two parts including lamb tongue, heart and trimmings, pea-shaped mint emulsion, quinoa crisps and a delicious lamb consommé jelly. This was definitely one of the best lamb dishes I’d had in Australia, although it still didn’t quite reach the perfection that the Sportsman in Whitstable has achieved.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-029Course 12: Hot and iced tea. It’s always fun to watch the reaction of those who have never tried this dish previously. It just blows your mind. I am not going to spoil the effect by divulging the mechanism (although it can be found elsewhere). One word of advice. Don’t rotate the glass around as it is served at a certain orientation to ensure the hot and cold elements go to opposite ends of your cheek to achieve maximum effect.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-031Course 13: Botrytis Cinerea. This was hands down my favourite dish of the day, old or new. Other than the artistic way in which this abstract grape had been presented, there were so many thing going on this plate. There were 80 ingredients, 23 elements and 55 stages. You had everything from a churro stalk and compressed red grape in liquid nitrogen, to citrus sorbet, aerated saffron and pear caramel. What was most impressive, however, was that it all occurred in perfect harmony.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-035Course 14: The Not-so-full English Breakfast. One of Heston’s signature dish consisting of bacon and egg ice cream, candied bacon on a bed of French toast. The ice cream, prepared in liquid nitrogen, was not quite as creamy as I had previously tried it on my last two occasion in Bray however the flavour was there with a delicious contrast of sweet and savoury, soft bread and crunchy bacon, warm bread and cold ice cream. If only the ice cream was creamier!

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-032The course was accompanied with a box containing puzzle pieces which were to be slotted into the wall as part of Fat Duck history, and some candied parsnips with parsnip milk to be consumed as a cereal. I’ve had this dish before and must admit it hasn’t quite struck a cord with me previously nor on this occasion. It was certainly crispy, crunchy and sweet…. but it just didn’t feel anything special.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-038Course 15: Whiskey wine gum. I absolutely love whiskey and still haven’t come across any other restaurant that can do something so unique and fun with it like Heston (I have still not forgiven Disfrutar for their somewhat desperate whiskey handwash dish!!). On this occasion, one of the whiskey was sourced from Lark distillery in Tasmania alongside Oban, Laphroaig, Highland Park and Glenlivet.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-039As Dimitri packed away our sweets to have at home (Like a kid in a sweet shop) we realised that we were the last ones in the dining room, again. What’s more, we were only 30 mins away from the start of the dinner service (taking our dining time to a new Australian record of 5 hours and 30 mins) so we knew we had to get our bill before we overstayed our welcome. What amazed me again was that at no point were we made uncomfortable or pressured to getting our bill, despite how close they were to the next service. It was perfect execution by the whole team.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-020Our meal at the Fat Duck was flawless and magical as my previous two experiences. The front of house was phenomenal. It was clearly evident to all of us that what the Fat Duck did was highlight the sad truth that Australia still had a long way to go when it came to hospitality. While the service in other fine dining Australia restaurants are obviously very good, it was clear that they are not in the same league as the best the world had to offer. So was it worth the hefty price tag? Without a shadow of a doubt, yes, and I would pay it again even if I had to eat beans and toast for the next few week.

Tempura Matsu (天ぷら松), Kyoto

P1200228Chef: Matsuno Toshio   Website:  Not Available    Cuisine: Traditional Japanese / Washoku

Arashiyama is undeniably a magical site offering ample examples of the scenic beauty Kyoto is known for. However, unlike other areas of the city it is perhaps less frequently associated with fine dining. While, if you follow the red book religiously, you’d probably venture out there for the incredibly expensive three starred meal at Kitcho, that’s probably the only establishment on most foodie’s list. One would therefore be forgiven for not having heard of Matsuno Shunichi’s restaurant, Tempura Matsu, located a couple of kilometres down the Oi river in the neighbourhood of Matsuo Taisha since 1973, but you would certainly be missing out.

tempura matsuThe restaurant is a well kept secret amongst the locals and is often booked out by Japanese politicians. It does however appear to have started attracting some foodies from afar. But don’t let the name deceive you. Whilst tempura certainly does make it on the menu, the cuisine here is traditional Japanese (washoku) with some surprisingly modern and creative twists. This can be easily explained by looking at the CV of the current chef, Matsuno Toshio, who took charge of his father’s restaurant a few years ago. Toshio has an impressive resume working with such icons as Alain Ducasse and Grant Achatz.

P1200229We were fortunate enough to have a private room upstairs. This allowed us (and most importantly, our two year old daughter) a bit of privacy and room to move around. Given we had travelled all the way to Japan, we opted for the most elaborate menu containing the best ingredients available at 15,000 yen per person; an absolute steal considering the feast we were about to indulge in. Many of the courses were also served on oribe ware (a style of ceramic ware with vivid colours) produced by one of Japan’s most important artist Kitaooji Rosanjin (北大路 魯山人). Some of his works have been declared as national treasure by the Japanese government and are absolutely priceless fetching tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars for each piece. What an absolute honour to be able to use and admire them up close!P12002331st Course: Corn soup, scallop, water shield and prawn in bamboo cup. The bamboo cylinder was filled with a sweet corn soup, generous portions of scallop and prawn and slithers of water shields (also known as junsai in Japan) and chilled in the ice bucket to make this a rather refreshing starter. I particularly enjoyed the transition from the sweet flavour to a more sharper finish with the junsai which had been pickled in vinegar.

P12002402nd Course: Sweetfish (Ayu). The last ayu of the season which contained delicious roe was presented in two ways. Firstly, as a sushi and secondly, prepared using a charcoal grill, or sumibiyaki. The green sauce was made from ayu that had been preserved in salt and vinegar from last year with water pepper leaves. The sushi was exquisite and sweet but my favourite was the salt grilled ayu. The entire fish could be consumed right from the head to the tail. Crunchy, crispy, sweet and savory.

P12002433rd Course: Prawn potato (Ebi imo), pike conger (hamo) and sea urchin (uni). The ebi imo is a unique variety of the taro potato and was served with deep fried hamo and a slither of uni, both  sourced from Awajishima in the Hyogo prefecture, and chestnut chips. It was seasoned with salt from Okinawa. It was another well balanced dish with varied textures and flavours.P12002494th Course: Matsutake Dobinmushi. A traditional but luxurious course serving the prized matsutake mushroom which was coming to the end of season. A teapot was presented to each person with a sake cup that had been sprinkled with yuzu zest and a slice of sudachi on the side.

P1200257Inside the teapot were oysters and matsutake. We were advised to first pour the broth out into the cup and drink it, before moving on to squeezing the sudachi over the matsutake and oyster before eating them. The broth was absolutely exquisite – a perfect marriage of flavours from the mountain and the sea.

P12002635th Course: Pacific Saury Sashimi (sanma), served simply with a pinch of salt. Don’t let the simplicity of this dish fool you. This was simply the best sanma I have ever tasted and surpassed all expectations. I personally preferred my sanma grilled with salt but this sashimi just melted in your mouth like butter. The Absolutely divine.

P1200271We thought it would be a shame not to have some beverage to go with our food that was more fitting than beer so opted for the finest junmai daiginjyo called ‘gesshou’ which was a limited release and was served in a chilled bamboo flask.

P12002736th Course: Tile Fish (Amadai) and Fatty Tuna (Ootoro) Sashimi. The pampas grass (susuki) on the bowl is a typical decoration used during the months of moon watching (tsukimi). The sashimi was served with seaweed soy sauce on the side (nori jyouyu). It was a showcase of the superior produce and ingredients Japan has to offer. The amadai or, as also locally, guji is considered to be the fish that represents Kyoto and is highly sought after for its sweetness.

P1200274 We were advised to eat the fried scales of the amadai after the sashimi. This was the perfect snack to go with the sake.

P1200277 7th Course: Seabass (nozoguro), slighted torched and served with wasabi and sudachi. It had an intoxicating smokiness and melted in your mouth all too quickly. The direct application of the wasabi was ingenious. It eliminated the charred smell, focused on the smokey flavour and cut right through the oiliness of the fish.

P1200279A Japanese spiny lobster (ise-ebi) was brought to our table alive again to showcase the superior quality of their ingredients. Japanese people go bonkers over these crustaceans at the height of the season. I certainly got excited as it had been a while since I had one.P12002828th Course: Ise-ebi shabu shabu. A decadent and luxurious rich soup made from the head of the ise-ebi was presented to each of us in a bowl. The aroma from this was unbearably good and I had to hold myself from immediately picking it up with my hands to slurp it – fortunate given the bowl was scorching hot.

P1200284Each person had a portion of the ise-ebi and two thin sheets of tofu skin, otherwise known as yuba.

P1200285The sweet ise-ebi and yuba soaked up the flavour of the soup. It was unbelievably sweet and euphoric. The last time I had such an array of exquisite courses one after another was at Matsukawa over two years ago. But this was at less than a third of the price.P1200289A small grilled rice ball, or yaki onigiri was brought afterwards to soak up the rest of the soup. This was comfort food for the ultimate foodie and it was great to see that the chef was humble enough to serve such a common touch. After all, this was the equivalent of having a great bread in Europe to mop up the sauce. It was very gratefully received. There was no way I was wasting even one drop of this delicious dish.

P12002959th Course: Pike Conger (Hamo) shabu shabu with mozuku seaweed and dipping sauce. The hamo, sourced from Numazu had been prepared using the traditional technique of honegiri which requires a skilled chef to break the hundreds of tiny bones in the fish without breaking the skin. P1200296A shabu shabu set was brought right next to the table for the chef to prepare. I thought perhaps two shau shabu was overdoing it but boy was I wrong. This was on par with the shabu shabu of the matsutake and hamo which I had at Matsukawa.

P1200299 The hamo was cooked in shallow fashion in order to ensure it was not overcooked the top side to retain its soft texture. A delicate fish like hamo can easily be overcooked so this technique ensured the fish was treated with the most respect.

P1200300Mozuku is a seaweed from Okinawa which has a jelly like texture not too dissimilar to jellyfish. The final product was another winner. It was a shame we only got two pieces!P120030310th Course: Pike Conger Dashi which was made from the remnants of the previously presented hamo and was served with gingko nuts. Nothing went to waste here and I admired the chef’s respect for his ingredients. Amazing aroma and flavour from such a simple looking soup.

P1200305 11th Course: Prawn and lotus root tempura served with the option of salt and sudachi. Of all dishes I expected this one to be amazing given the restaurants name… luckily they lived up to it. The tempura was light and without oiliness. The prawn was juicy and cooked perfectly.

P1200307A second plate of tempura of Japanese whiting (kisu) and onion. The onion in particular was remarkable with its sweetness and juice.P120030812th Course: Udon. Home made udon was served in a giant ice cube with quail egg, mountain potato and dashi. This required a couple of people to serve given its size, slipperiness and weight. It was certainly entertaining and very theatrical.chihiro in japan 83 The ice cube was an idea that came to the chef when he wanted to find a way for his diners to enjoy the rich dashi stock instead of wasting it. Depending on your personal taste you were advised to let the dashi sit longer in the cube to allow the melting ice to dilute the stock. It was quite remarkable as to how much the flavour changed during the ten minutes. Flavourwise I wasn’t convinced on this one. It was perhaps less flavoursome than everything else we had that evening and I found the quail egg to be slightly bland in the rich dashi. The texture of the udon was good but again nothing outstanding. It was a very fun dish however.

P120032413th Course: Houjicha ice cream. A good ice cream which cleansed our palate. Whilst it was perhaps lacking in creativity, we were stuffed at this point and welcomed the light dessert.P1200327Our meal at Tempura Matsu was without a doubt the highlight of our trip and almost on par with my most memorable Japanese meal at Matsukawa. The quality and variety of ingredients was simply remarkable, particularly given the affordability of the meal compared to many establishments in Kyoto that would easily charge you two to three times without batting an eyelid. As we made our way out, Matsuno-san came out to thank us for our custom and bid us farewell. I will not be forgetting this meal for some time to come. It was a magical four hours that went by at a perfect pace.

Harutaka (青空), Tokyo

p1190343Chef: Harutaka Takahashi   Website: No website Cuisine: Edomae Sushi
Harutaka Takahashi started off his sushi apprenticeship in Hokkaido in Sapporo before training under the renown Ono Jiro at Sukiyabashi Jiro for thirteen years. After being entrusted as the third chef in command (after Jiro’s two sons Yoshikazu and Takashi), he went solo to open up his sushiya, Harutaka, in December 2006. The location he chose was Ginza and unlike many other restaurants in Japan, this restaurant was quite easy to find. I wasn’t personally sure as to what to expect from this meal. On the one hand the reviews from Japanese bloggers were consistently positive across tabelog and personal websites, and regulars often spotted dining at the restaurant were chefs with two and three stars themselves. However, on the other hand he appears to have gained and lost Michelin stars over the years. He had two stars in 2011 before subsequently disappearing from the red book, only to make his way back in 2017 with one star.
p1190332Harutaka occupies the entire third floor of the building and offers 12 counter seating and 1 private room for an additional 4 people. The restaurant is only open in the evenings and serves a standard omakase menu at approximately 30,000 yen. Unlike his mentor, his menu offers other otsumami (snacks) and comes with less attitude. Contrary to the experience I had endured the night before at Shimizu, the environment here was more relaxed. Chef Harutaka even offered an English sushi dictionary to my wife who was the only foreigner dining that evening, which was kindly received.
p1190261Harutaka is well known for his use of rice vinegar in his shari (rice) and superior quality of neta (topping). Whilst foreigners appear to have a more divided opinion on his sushi, the locals overwhelmingly rate positively the way in which he prepares his shari. There’s a slight sharpness from the vinegar, followed by a slight saltiness, finishing with the natural sweetness of the rice.
The chef quickly gave us a heads up that we would be getting a variety of otsumami before sushi, and just like that we were off.
p1190262Appetiser – Gingko (銀杏) served slightly warm and sprinkled with salt. Certainly whet our appetite.p11902631st course – Japanese Tiger Prawns (kurumaebi) with Japanese radish (daikon) and ponzu. The sweet tiger prawns from Kyushu were served raw in a sashimi style and married well with the daikon and slightly sharp ponzu. p11902672nd Course – Pacific Saury / Sanma (サンマ). Slightly grilled with salt creating a lovely contrast of the crispy skin and the soft flesh of the fish. p1190269Sake – Yoemon – Junmai. A perfect timing for the arrival of my sake for the evening. It went down really well with my grilled fish at a modest price of only 3,000 yen per tokkuri.p11902723rd Course – Conger pike (Hamo) with matsutake broth. The umami from the dashi used for the broth was superb and really worked well by drawing out the flavour of the delicate conger pike. There was also a slight hint of plum and vinegar which complemented the fish. p11902764th Course – Sashimi of Flounder / Hirame (平目) and slightly grilled barracuda / kamasu (梭子魚). A great combination of flavours between the sweetness of the flounder which becomes very fatty during autumn contrasted with the strong flavour the lean barracuda.p11902785th Course – Steamed abalone / mushiawabi (蒸し鮑) scorched with soy sauce. The abalone was steamed for 3.5 hours in sake before being sliced and scorched with soy sauce. It was perfect in every way with its scent, umami and crispiness. By far and beyond the best abalone my wife has ever had. p11902796th Course – Skipjack / Katsuo () with ginger soy sauce. This was our favourite course of the otsumami. There was a slight smokiness to the fish from the way in which he scorched it before dressing it with the ginger soy sauce.p11902817th Course – Willow leaf fish / Shishamo (柳葉魚) sourced from Hokkaido. The flesh here was far more delicate and the flavours more subtle than others I have tasted before. Unlike the normal ones I’m use to at the typical izakayas, this one was completely absent of any bitter aftertaste. p1190285We looked over to see the chef preparing for the private dining room’s next few nigiris who were far ahead of us. The quality of the tuna looked very good.
p11902878th Course – Squid / Sumi ika (スミイカ). Our first sushi was a silky and tender ink squid. Absent of any rubbery texture, this was as good as squid goes.p11902919th Course – Striped Jack / Shima aji (縞鯵). An impressive sushi with an incredible sweetness and fattiness from the slightly pickled fish competing with the slightly sharp shari. p119029210th Course – Lean part of the Tuna / Akami (鮪赤身). The shari actually worked best here with the tuna. Attention to detail here was important and my wife’s tea was changed just before the akami was served (it is common practice to change the tea when tuna is served to cleanse your palate between the tuna courses and bring the temperature of the tea up again).p119029611th Course – Medium fatty tuna / Chuutoro (鮪中トロ). An absolute masterpiece of nigiri. The sweetness and fattiness of the tuna penetrated right through the sharp and salty shari. A match made in heaven with no lingering fatty aftertaste. This was probably the best chuutoro I’ve ever had.p119030012th Course – Fatty Tuna / ootoro (鮪大トロ). A lovely cut of tuna but personally I felt the combination of the medium fatty tuna and the shari was superior. Each to their own I guess! It did however allow us to appreciate the different textures and flavours of the whole fish.p119030213th Course – Gizzard shad / Kohada (小鰭). This nigiri required a labour of love in order to remove the distinct smell, leaving only a peasant oiliness and sweetness behind. The fish was sourced from Amakusa in Kumamoto prefecture. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality given the best season to fish is normally November / December, and we were a month early.p119030314th Course – Salmon Roe / Ikura (イクラ). An all time favourite of mine since I was a kid and this certainly didn’t disappoint. The salmon roe was slightly pickled in soy sauce to enhance the flavour. Each pearl burst with a gooey delicious salty juice. p119030715th Course – Japanese Pilchard / Iwashi (いわし). This nigiri was my personal favourite of the evening. The umami was incredible and it just melted in your mouth with little effort like a slice of the finest iberico ham. The slight bit of ginger underneath cut through oiliness of the fish. p119031016th Course – Sea urchin / Uni (雲丹). A classic nigiri which required very little interference. Sourced from Hokkaido again, this was a beautifully sweet, creamy and absent of any bitter aftertaste.p119031317th Course – Amberjack / Buri (). Sourced from Himi at Toyama prefecture, home to one of the best amberjack in Japan. I did however find that the vinegar rice and the fish on this occasion wasn’t quite the perfect match, although the quality and preparation of the fish was second to none.p1190314Chef Harutaka spoke very little English but was happy to answer any question I translated for my wife. Whilst he was very focused in his job, meticulously preparing each nigiri, we couldn’t help but notice that he looked like he was having fun. Perhaps it was the cheerful crowd of three sitting at the other end of the counter (they appear to have been celebrities), but he certainly did not stop smiling all evening.
p119031618th Course – Red clam / Akagai (赤貝). Again the quality of the superior red clam could be tasted here even before you ate the nigiri. The olfactory senses were teased before the tastebuds picked up the natural sweetness of the clam as soon as it landed on our tongue. Sensational.p119031919th Course – Salt water eel / Anago (穴子). A lovely finale to our sushi segment which also brought a sense of disappointment that this was over all too quickly (mind you we were there for 2.5 hours). The eel was delicate in its soft texture, yet packed with enough flavour to balance well against the shari. p119032320th Course – Sweet egg omelette / Tamago (玉子). The omelette here was of the the finest quality one could get, utilising grey prawns (shiba ebi) and mountain potato (yamatoimo). It was very airy inside yet also had a firmness and held a lot of moisture. They say that one must have trained for over ten years before being able to serve an omelette at Sukiyabashi. You could certainly see the skill that went into making this tamago. p1190326All in all the meal came to about 33,000 yen per person including the sake and a beer at the start which isn’t cheap yet certainly worth every yen when you consider the calibre of the food here. When I raised the question about the red book, the chef shrugged his shoulders as if he really couldn’t care too much. When you looked around the room you could see why. Every single diner here, other than us, appeared to be a regular and the chef knew each person’s likes and dislike. In an intimate environment like a proper sushi-ya, the regular custom is far more important than attracting new diners from afar. Whilst it makes getting reservations even more difficult for people living overseas like myself, I do hope this tradition does not disappear. It’s comforting to see that bond between a diner and a chef.

Amaru, Melbourne

P1190048Chef: Clinton McIver   Website:  Cuisine: Modern Australian

High Street Armadale isn’t exactly the most exciting street when it comes to the fine dining scene of Melbourne yet Clinton McIver is certainly working hard to change that fact. Once a Vue de Monde chef, McIver has taken his first steps in making his own mark in the fine dining scene after an unexpected stint in the Claytons Bowl Club. I must confess I was completely unaware of Amaru until my last visit to Lume, where several front of house members spoke very highly of their food. I didn’t need any other excuse to make a reservation.

P1190050I was rather surprised to find an ample and generous dining room with only eight tables and six counter seats holding a maximum capacity of up to 30 people. The textured render on the wall, the natural wood tables and minimal decoration echoed the minimalist Scandinavian theme that continued through the beautifully handcrafted ceramicware. P1190054The service by the front of house was friendly and personal, although it did take a while before our aperitif order was taken and served. The choice of the menu was simple. There was one tasting menu option priced at 95 AUD for lunch and a more extensive 120 AUD tasting menu for dinner. As the 120 AUD option was not offered we assumed that there was no possibility to upgrade our menu so agreed with the shorter menu. We also opted for a matching wine option which was extremely flexible. This was very welcome as one of my dining companion asked only for red wine to be matched.P1190058We had the best table of the dining room with a perfect view over the kitchen and the pass. Personally I thought it offered a better view over the kitchen than the ‘chef’s table’ which was technically seats at the counter of the bar.P1190059Course 1: Activated Nuts and Seeds – A moist savoury biscuit with a distinct flavour of sesame that reminded me of Japanese black sesame rice crackers, and Course 2: Walnut Leaves / Compressed Pear – served with a smoked eel mousse and shavings of jerusalem artichoke; served together over a bed of empty walnut shells.

P1190061Course 3: Eel / Onion / Pickle – Served over a typical Finnish bread (one of the three chefs was Finnish which explained the Nordic flavours). This was our favourite snack course with a good balance of the rich eel mousse against the pickled onion and dill. P1190064Course 4: Swede / Natural yeast / Pork Sausage – A surprise course which wasn’t on our menu which drew a close to the amuse bouche segment. The warm deep fried Swede was a perfect canvas to take on the flavour of the crumbled salty pork sausage. Not a bad start.P1190069Course 5: Tuna Belly / Shaved Radish / Sweet Ginger / Granny Smith apple / Horseradish oil – The dish was completed at the table with the cold pressed Granny Smith Apple juice and horseradish oil.

Matched wine: 2014 Le Grand Cros, Rose, Cote de Provence, Provence, France

P1190073Under the thin slithers of the fatty tuna belly was a bed of tuna loin tartare. The larger salt crystals enhanced the flavours of what was rather a subtle and delicate dish. There was a weak but definite present apple juice flavour that surprisingly worked well. It wasn’t personally my favourite dish as I felt the tuna belly could have been used better but I admired the courage to try something different.

P1190057For our next course we were offered the option of adding some shavings of Manjimup Truffle, sourced from Western Australia for 20 AUD per person. I wasn’t initially sure about spending 20 AUD for a truffle I’ve previously found to be bland but I was certainly glad to have opted for it in hindsight (and that’s the beauty of hindsight!).P1190077Course 6: Organic Hen Egg / Celeriac / Sea Butter / Truffle – A generous portion of black truffle was consistently given to each of us on our table to go with our course.

Matched wine: 2014 Tissot ‘Patchwork’, Chardonnay, Jura, France

P1190082Whilst the earthy black truffle was a triumphant addition to the gooey poached egg yolk, the true star of this dish was the celeriac. The celeriac had been salt baked before being sliced into wafer thin slithers and served over the egg yolk. The slightly charred edges gave it a distinct smokey flavour which melded beautifully with the truffle and egg.P1190084We were thoughtfully provided with a slice of toasted home baked sourdough to mop up the rich egg yolk and tiny morsels of black truffle. My only complaint was that it was slightly burnt on the edges which detracted slightly from the dish.P1190087Course 7: Dry Aged Duck / Liquorice / Kombu Butter / Leek – I personally do like my duck on the pinker side but this bird could have done with another thirty seconds on the heat. The liquorice used to season the duck was a novelty which contrasted well against the bitter charred leek. The meat, however, due to its rareness was slightly difficult to cut through despite the crispy skin.

Matched wine: 2012 Saint Prefert Chateauneuf de Pape, Rhone, France

P1190090Course 8: Emu Egg / Toasted Hay / Unfiltered Olive Oil / Vinegar – Equally impressive as the celeriac dish was this rich and creamy hay-infused ice cream that had been made from emu egg. The unfiltered olive oil and apple vinegar reduction added a combination of both sweet and savoury flavours to the ice cream. The smooth texture, richness and complex flavours – this dish had it all.

Matched sake: 2013 Emishiki ‘Monsoon’ Yamadanishiki, Saga Prefecture, Japan

P1190094Course 9: Roasted Artichoke / Fuji Apple / Verbena – It was difficult to shine after the previous ice cream dish. While this dish wasn’t bad at all, and you could distinctly pick out the flavour of the apple and hints of verbena, it was nowhere near as memorable as the ice cream. This closed the main part of the tasting menu.

Matched wine: 2010 Burklin-Wolf Auslese ‘Ruppertsberger’ Riesling, Pfalz, Germany

P1190097Course 10: A Taste of Gin & Tonic – The first of the two petit fours was a sphere of gin and tonic jelly. It was a good palate cleanser but I found it more alcoholic than anything else.P1190098Course 11: Chocolate Shiso Ganache / Crystallised Pumpkin Seed –  To finish off was a dense bitter chocolate ganache ball infused with shiso flavour.

Overall, at circa 200 AUD a head I thought this was good value for money particularly given the extra black truffle course. The meal was mostly good, although the simple mistakes on the toast and the preparation of the duck was surprising. This was particularly due to the two outstanding dishes  which showed promise of what other great things we could expect from McIver. A word of warning however for those who are contemplating on skipping breakfast or lunch before coming here with an appetite; I left slightly hungry. It could have been the shorter lunch menu or the absence of the usual serving of bread on the side, but you have been warned.

Isshin (いっしん), Kyoto

FullSizeRender-20Chef:   Hideichi Katagiri      Website: N/A       Cuisine:   Beef Kaiseki

(Photos courtesy of Framed Eating)

Isshin is a small restaurant tucked away in the heart of the Gion district in Kyoto. It is operated by Chef Hideichi Katagiri and his wife, who looks after the front of house. The couple moved their restaurant to Kyoto in 2003 from the Shiga prefecture, bringing with them the region’s famous Ōmi beef. Isshin is famous amongst the locals for their dishes utilising the rarest cut of the inner shoulder blade, the misuji, which only yields about 2kg from an entire cow. The restaurant, of course, offers much more than that. Isshin offered a very good value nose-to-tail menu of Ōmi beef for 13,000 yen. I was excited to compare this against the Matsuzaka beef I had tried in Tokyo!

FullSizeRender-19Isshin has a couple of policies around dining manners. Whilst the chef doesn’t mind photographs being taken, he does ask for diners not to use cameras that make a lot of noise. He also doesn’t take solo diners as they tend to finish their dishes quicker and disrupt his serving rhythm. I booked one of their two private dining rooms to ensure we could have the option of using a more powerful DSLR. It was a good option given the low lighting level throughout the restaurant. Service commenced rather smoothly. Our drinks were brought to us promptly… although it must be noted that was not consistent throughout the meal.

FullSizeRender-171st Course: Beef Sōmen (生肉そうめん) – Raw beef that had been cut very precisely to resemble the Japanese wheat flour noodle of sōmen. It was served with yam, seaweed, spring onion, horse radish, wasabi and home made tsuyu dipping sauce.

FullSizeRender-16The thin beef noodle had a good amount of marbling with just the right amount of fat; not too little and not too much.  The wasabi and horse radish cut through the fattiness of the beef and drew out its flavour. It had a lovely smooth texture and was a great introduction to Ōmi beef.

FullSizeRender-152nd Course: Beef Three Ways (生肉3種) – Starting with the left was a vacuum cooked Roast beef, followed by a Raw yuba (tofu skin) made with beef and Mino (a fish which is the South Korean varietal of the Japanese Drumfish), topped with salmon roe. The last item to the right were two slices of Inner Thigh prepared two ways; one as a shiozuke (in salt), and one in misozuke (in miso).

FullSizeRender-113rd Course: Beef tongue and Conger eel soup (生タンと穴子しんじょうのお椀) – The chef carefully placed the beef tongue on the conger eel so that it sat above the soup, ensuring it did not cook any more than it needed to. Sure enough, the tongue was cooked beautifully and, whilst it was slightly tougher in texture, the flavour was amazing. The conger eel and broth were subtle but present, allowing the star of the dish to shine.

FullSizeRender-124th Course: Inner shoulder blade of beef (ミスジの昆布締め) This was exactly what I had been waiting for. The premium cut of the beef. The inner shoulder blade, the misuji, which only yields 2kg from an entire cow is hightly sought after. It was cured with kelp to draw the flavour out of the meat using its natural umami. It was served with Japanese aubergine (nama nasu) and radish, dressed with a ponzu sauce. It just melted like butter in my mouth. Wow.

FullSizeRender-95th Course: Beef tongue sashimi (タン刺し) – The beef had been marinated in soy sauce before it was served with some kelp (konbu) to enhance the flavour. This was another solid dish oozing with umami.

FullSizeRender-106th Course: Beef Tail with Dadacha-mame flan (ダダ茶豆のフランとテール肉の煮凝り) – This was tail meat that had been slow cooked over hours to soften the texture. The gelatinous feel of the sauce was extremely rich. This balanced well with the flan made from dadacha-mame. Dadacha-mame is considered to be the king of edamame’s with its earthy and sweet flavours.

FullSizeRender7th Course: Sushi moriawase (寿司の盛り合わせ) – Starting with the right was Aburi Toro (あぶり寿司) which was essentially another beautiful slice of their superior misuji cut that had been torched to create a nice and oily sushi. In the middle however, was a rather confused Crab and Avocado roll (カニアボカド巻) with slithers of the same cut of beef. It wasn’t terrible with the creamy avocado and rich crab meat but I thought it just didn’t fit and distracted from the rest of the dish. Lastly to the left was the ‘Toro’ Beef on rice (トロ肉漬けごはん) which was a bowl of fatty beef that had been pickled over the rice to further infuse its flavour. The texture was exactly like a top grade ootoro and just melted in your mouth. I never expected to have this texture from beef. It was even softer than the finest fassone tartare I had in Piedmont.

FullSizeRender-68th Course: Asparagus and beef tongue in white miso (アスパラガスタンの白味噌仕立て) – The lovely cut of misuji was served this time as a stew with sweet white miso. It wasn’t a terrible dish but the white miso distracted from the beautiful cut of meat which was a shame.

FullSizeRender-59th Course: Sirloin steak (牛肉ステーキ) – As expected from a restaurant specialising in beef, the penultimate course was a fine miniature sirloin steak, dressed with a soy sauce foam and horse radish, served with a side of salad. The soy sauce foam was like no other. It was light and airy, tangling around the meat and melted on your tongue. The meat of course was cooked to perfection, bordering the rarer side to medium-rare with a slight crispy exterior.

FullSizeRender-210th Course: Beef Chazuke (肉茶漬け) – The finale was a comforting ‘porridge’ or chazuke of beef served with a side of pickles. The pieces of beef was prepared rather unconventionally as a nikujaga (beef cooked in a soy, mirin, sake and brown sugar) before being added into the green tea with puffed rice, seaweed and spring onion.

FullSizeRender11th Course: Corn crème brûlée and peach sorbetA rather bizarre combination of flavours to finish of the meal. On their own each element was delicious and would have probably worked better as separate dishes.

FullSizeRender-1Needless to say, 13,000 yen for the entire menu was an absolute bargain and a steal given the quality of the dishes that kept being brought to us. I personally found the marbling of the beef here far more agreeable than the fattier Matsuzaka beef I had up in Tokyo at Satou Steakhouse. The misuji cut was particularly impressive and unlike anything I have tried before. The downside to the meal was the service tempo which almost gradually came to a near grinding stop when the restaurant was operating at full capacity. It took nearly an hour before someone came to our room after our last course had been served. Luckily we were in no rush to go anywhere but let it be warned that you may want to avoid planning ahead for any post-dinner activities.

Igni, Geelong

P1180971Chef: Aaron Turner   Website:    Cuisine:  Modern Australian (charcoal)

When Loam abruptly closed its doors for good over two years ago I was rather annoyed with myself. I should have made the effort earlier to head down to Drysdale and I was kicking myself. To add salt to the wound many of my food contacts would often repeat how great the restaurant was. So when I heard Aaron Turner had decided to make a come back I wasted no time in getting a reservation to his new venture in Geelong. His new restaurant Igni promised to deliver far more refined food than Loam with a focus on using a charcoal grill like Lennox Hastie’s Firedoor. After a rather disappointing meal at Firedoor I was praying for something better.

P1180973The generous amount of space in a modest sized dining room made the dining experience a rather intimate one. The raw timber and simple designs of the furniture were reminiscent of Noma and El Celler de Can Roca where Turner had previously trained and polished his skills. There’s also no escaping from the intoxicating charcoal grill smoke that adds that rustic canvas to a modern decor. It took me back to my meal at Asador Etxebarri almost five years ago. P1190027Igni only had two degustation menus on on offer: a five course menu (AUD 100) or eight course menu (AUD 150). Turner only used fresh ingredients available on a given day so there was usually not enough of one ingredient to go around for all diners. To top it off, the chef also catered to each diners likes / allergies so each table was not likely to be getting the same dishes. We were perhaps not overly helpful when asked about likes and dislikes as all I could come up with was “No bad food, please”. As with most degustation menu options there were also matching wines available for both menus… Who am I to say no?

P1180978The bread on offer was supplied by a seventh generation baker based out in Warrnambool. It had a light and fluffy texture and disappeared all too quickly with…

P1180979… the smoked home cultured butter that really got our palate going. We subsequently had another two serves.P1180982Amuse Bouche 1: Air dried beef – The beef had been marinated in a concoction of mushroom soy sauce, grapeseed oil, vinegar, dried herbs and fish paste before being dehydrated. Delicious!P1180983Amuse Bouche 2: Salt and vinegar saltbush leaves – The saltbush leaves had been fried to a crisp and dressed with a vinegar powder. It was a healthier alternative to salt and vinegar chips and rather delectable.P1180984Amuse Bouche 3: Duck Crostini – A lovely fatty slice of duck ham wrapped around the thinner-than-usual crostini which was as texturally pleasing as it was flavoursome. P1180985Amuse Bouche 4: Chicken skin and cod roe – My personal favourite of the amuse bouche series were the crunchy roasted chicken skin that had a generous portion of cod roe with a hint of citrus spread across it and dressed in dill. This was exactly my kind of food. Comforting, different but most importantly delicious.P1180987Amuse Bouche 5: Guanciale – House made slices of guanciale.P1180988Amuse Bouche 6: Zucchini flower and pickled mussel – The zucchini flower had been stuffed with pickled mussels before being grilled over charcoal. This was the end of our amuse bouche segment. Not a bad start at all. Overall, some interesting textures, flavours and ideas. P1180992Course 1: Oyster, guava berry, sea water – Our first course consisted of a lightly roasted oyster that had been placed in a ceramic oyster shell with a salty sea water emulsion and guava berry juice. All the flavours worked well including the slightly tangy guavaberry which I had never tried before (apparently it goes well with rum!). The overall taste echoed the taste of the ocean. Light, fresh and mineral.

Matched with a glass of the 2014 Bodegas Bernabe la Amistad, Alicante, Spain

P1180994Course 2: Leek, cultured cream, dill – A fat piece of char grilled leek served with cultured cream, dill oil, saltbush and oyster leaf. I was not the biggest fan of this dish. I could see that Turner was trying to celebrate the humble leek in the same way the Catalan do with their Calçot, but I found it rather bland and at best slightly bitter. It looked better than it tasted.

Matched with 2012 Ben Haines, Encore, Marsanne, Yarra Valley, Australia

P1190004Course 3: Southern Calamari, broth, brook trout roe – This was a better dish. Raw thin calamari ribbons, dressed with a generous portion of trout roe and finished with a marron and chicken broth poured at the table. The broth had a good depth of flavour, perfect to be mopped up by the incredibly thin slithers of calamari. Its aroma was equally inviting.

Matched with 2014 Pierre Rousse, Le Pelut Dithyrambe, Languedoc, France

P1190007Course 4: Marron, pil pil, cucumber – Admittedly this dish divided us a bit. The lightly grilled marron was an odd combination with the fermented pickled cucumbers, yet the Basque pil pil sauce worked brilliantly well. Overall, however, there was one flavour that lingered in our mouth and that was the pickled cucumber. I thought it was a bit of a shame for the beautifully cooked marron.

Matched with 2014 Matassa, Coume de l’Olla, Blanc, Cotes Catalanes, France

P1190009Course 5: Lamb rump, parsnip, radicchio – A giant radicchio leaf dressed in a honey vinaigrette was placed over…

P1190010… a smooth parsnip purée and a piece of perfectly cooked lamb which was unbelievably tender and juicy. The honey vinaigrette worked well to balance the bitterness of the radicchio. Every element here was important in creating a very well balanced dish. I’m not easily impressed by red meat dishes but this was quite good.

Matched with 2013 Brendan Tracey, Gorge Seche, Loire, FranceP1190013Course 6 (Extra course at supplementary cost): Smoked duck, baby fennel, finger lime – Perhaps it was the caliber of the last course but we felt we could do one more meat course before moving on to the dessert courses. This was the best decision we made. The free roaming ducks sourced locally from the Great Ocean Road were aged for 21 days before being smoked. The crispy skin, the smokey meat, the bursting bubbles of finger lime. What a treat to the taste bud!

Matched with 2014 Mahana, Gravity, Pinot Noir, Nelson, New Zealand

P1190017Course 7: Old ewe, new ewe – Essentially a mixture of Roquefort cheese, mint and sheep milk granita. An interesting take on Roquefort but I would have much preferred a plate of good old Roquefort to be honest.

Matched with NV Tom Shobbrook, Salvia, Barossa, Australia

P1190021Course 8: Mandarin, cream, honeycomb – To my relief it wasn’t another cheese course but this time it was a bowl of mandarin sorbet, cultured cream, lemon drops and honeycomb using real honey for a change. Refreshing and great flavours from a tried and tested combination. A perfect course to make way for the finale.

Matched with Ginger beer and Heiwa Shuzo yuzu-su

P1190026Course 9: Seaweed, quinoa – A rather polarising finale of a sweet and sticky goats milk ice cream flavoured with seaweed, sandwiched carefully between thin and crispy quinoa wafers dusted with a green tea powder. I personally thought the dessert was a triumph. The umami and saltiness of the seaweed, the sweet and sticky ice cream and the slightly bitter green tea. It all just complemented each other.

Matched with 2015 Mukai Shuzo, Junmai Genshu, Japan & Ota Shuzo, Dokan, Ume-shu

P1190029Petit Fours 1: Madeleine’s coated in icing sugar to finish the dish off.P1190030Petit Fours 2: Roasted pineapples and physalis to draw the meal to a close.

Perhaps it was the friendly front of house who put up with my wanker food talk with a grain of salt and good humour, or it may have been the intoxicating smell of burning charcoal, but there was something in the air that made you feel at ease in Igni. The food was very serious but equally comforting and delicious. What was a pleasant surprise was that the food here was far more enjoyable and less pretentious than Firedoor in Sydney. Whilst we decided to drive from Melbourne, the station is only a few minutes walk if one wanted to partake in the very reasonable and excellent wine matching option too. It was a few years of waiting but I’m glad I finally had the opportunity to try Turner’s food. His future looks promising. Let’s hope he keeps this one open for a while. I certainly will be planning to return there a couple more times.


Eleven Madison Park, New York

P1180820Chef: Daniel Humm   Website:  Cuisine: Modern American

My recent business trip to New York was the first time in almost two years that I had been away from my wife and daughter for a prolonged period. It was a rather unnerving experience being away from my eighteen month old daughter, but it was also a rare moment where I could indulge in a few days of fine dining. After all, there was no point in being miserable when you had so many fine dining establishments at your footstep was there? The difficulty was choosing which ones to go to. I had three meal slots free so I had to choose wisely. The first one was a no brainer for me. Daniel Humm’s Eleven Madison Park had consistently maintained the title of Best Restaurant in North America for three years on San Pellegrino’s list and was recently voted as the Chef’s choice. What’s more, Chef Humm was from my native country of Switzerland. Surely I had to support my countryman.

P1180823At USD 295 a tasting menu, Eleven Madison Park doesn’t come cheap but then again they’ve done away with the US customary act of tipping, stating publicly that it is neither expected or accepted. With soaring ceilings, marble floors and natural light flooding in from the massive windows overlooking Madison Square Park, the dining room is anything but modest and, whilst the front of house was slick, observant and professional, they could not have been more hospitable and personable. After spending a few days alone in Washington before arriving in New York, the friendly banters and chats were exactly what I needed to recharge my battery. More importantly, my stomach had not been coping with the high fructose American diet so I was eager to tuck into something more agreeable.

P1180829 The wine list was dominated by the old world and to be very precise, France. I was a bit disappointed that I was not be able to match my meal with a selection of American wines as I was hoping to explore the USA through the sommeliers eyes. Nevertheless, I opted to start my meal with a glass of their mineral driven Suenen, Blanc de blanc, Extra Brut, Cramant.

P1180828Amuse Bouche: Black and White savory cookie with apple and cheddar

P1180831 The box contained a modern twist on the classic New York snack, traditionally consisting of a vanilla and chocolate fondant. Not having ever tried the classic cookie, Chef Humm’s homage to the city that adopted him was perhaps lost at little in its meaning on me, but it was a nice little introduction to whet my appetite.

P1180833 Just as soon as my empty box was taken away another staff member brought over a hexagonal tower to my table. They then disassembled it to reveal an array of amuse bouche that were hiding underneath.

P1180834 Amuse Bouche 2: Wellfleet oyster with caviar. This was the only disappointing dish of the evening. I was rather looking forward to tasting the local oysters but sadly the all important natural flavour of the oyster was completely lost.

P1180836Amuse Bouche 3: Morel with rye crisp which had a good sharpness and acidity from the vinegar that cut right through the mushroom. Lovely textural contrast of the rye crisp against the slithery morel disc. This was more like it.P1180837Amuse Bouche 4: Fava bean croquette served with mustard grains. Good introduction of a warm element in the amuse bouche series and the distinct flavour of mustard was surprisingly pleasant. P1180840Amuse Bouche 5: Whitefish salad which consisted of a sturgeon mousse hiding underneath a layer of trout roe. To the left above was a mixture of crispy fish flakes and herbs. I was advised to take the radish and sugar snap and dip into the two containers. The smokey mousse and trout roe were divine, but so were the crispy fish flakes. I did not hesitate, polishing this up using the spoon despite having run out of vegetables to dip into. It was heavenly.

P1180841 Course 1: Caviar, Benedict with spring onion and ham. A modern take and homage by the Swiss chef on the classic New York dish of egg’s benedict, served in a geometric patterned tin box that mirrored the dining room’s art deco design.

P1180842It was essentially poached quail egg, bacon gelée, corn and smoked ham, topped with corn liquor reduction jelly (which resembled the Hollandaise sauce) and a generous portion of Petrossian caviar. It was served with…

P1180844… some homemade English muffins which were pleasant. I know it may sound rather crazy but despite even the generous amount of black caviar this dish just didn’t do it for me. Sure it was rather decadent but I found there were too many components that, in combination, amalgamated to a non-distinct flavour that was salty and rich. I personally felt the chef could have simplified this dish a bit more to draw out some individual flavours that tasted delicious individually.

P1180850A handful of individuals were whisked away during the course of their meal that afternoon to explore the kitchen and I was fortunately one of them. The Chef de Cuisine Chris Flint stopped momentarily to welcome me before going back to the running the pass. My guide from the front of house then immediately drew my attention to the Miles Davis print and words of inspiration that had been framed up. He continued to explain that Chef Daniel Humm had decided to answer one of his critics for the lack of ‘Miles Davis’ by quite literally bringing him into the kitchen. And who says the Swiss don’t have a great sense of humour? Or perhaps he wasn’t joking!

P1180845Before being led out of the kitchen I had one last surprise which was a palate cleanser. One of the chefs came out with a block of ice and started shaving it using an antique ice shaver they found in the Bronx.

P1180849Palate cleanser: Snow cone with rhubarb and gin concoction that was pleasant and refreshing. A flavour combination I wouldn’t have thought of but worked rather well. I felt like a kid just for that moment and it took me back to the hot Japanese summers of my childhood.

P1180855Soon after being escorted back to my table I was presented with some home cultured butter with shaved cheese and salt from Rhode Island to go with…

P1180856… an organic bread made with half white and half whole wheat flour, which had a lovely texture not dissimilar to a good croissant that flaked as you bit into it. I ended up asking for two more serves because it was that good. There’s a lot to be said about good home made bread.

P1180857Course 2: Foie gras served with sorrel and fava beans. The locally sourced foie gras was perfectly seared and sandwiched between a bed of fava beans and a layer of meyer lemon marmalade, amaranth marmalade and sorrel leaf on top. To the side was a delectable smoked wood sorrel sauce that brought the dish together. Each component added value, from the peppery note of the amaranth to the smokiness of the sorrel sauce. Who would have thought of putting all these ingredients together? This dish was not only delicious but also different. It was one of my favourite dishes without a doubt during this service, and in my top three foie gras dishes.P1180860As I wasn’t after getting each course matched with a glass of wine, I asked the sommelier for a recommendation to go with the first few dishes including the foie gras. I was poured a glass of a 2014 Samuel Billaud, Les Fourneaux, Premier Cru, Chablis, France.

P1180861Course 3: Lobster butter-poached with morels and peas. The butter poached lobster from Maine was juicy and married ever so well with the porcini infused mashed potato ring and the slight hint of sweetness of the peas. I particularly enjoyed the textural crunch of the crumbed sweetbread that had soaked up the lobster bisque. P1180864Prior to the next dish being presented, the sommelier had suggested moving on to the Syrah although he noted the chablis was equally adequate to match the next course. I obliged but the Syrah was forgotten, only for the sommelier to cover up the mistake by advising me afterwards that he thought, after all, the chablis was better suited. To be honest, we’re all human so a simple sorry would have been sufficient (and preferred). Moving swiftly on to the next course, there was some theatre by way of a table side gas stove. Inspired by the ‘Poulet de Bresse en vessie’ from Paul Bocuse, this dish similarly cooked the main ingredient of the next course in pig’s bladder to keep the content moist whilst basting it.

P1180867Course 4: Asparagus braised with potato and black truffle – The inflated pig’s bladder was cut open, revealing two moist and tender asparagus sourced locally from Hudson Bay. It was dressed with a deliciously rich pork and Perigord black truffle jus and a dollop of more black truffle purée. The jus and asparagus in my view were the stars of this dish and I perhaps could have done with a bit more purée to mop up the jus. P1180872As a precursor to the next dish, a rich and sticky duck broth was served in a beautiful tea cup. It had a remarkable depth to the flavour which no doubt was a result of hours of reducing.

P1180873My glass of the Domaine Monier Perréol, Saint-Joseph, Rhône Valley, France 2013 was finally poured to match the next course.

P1180874Course 5: Duck, honey and lavender glazed with spring onion and rhubarb – The dry aged duck breast from Ithaca was coated in Sichuan pepper, lavendar, coriander and cumin before being whole roasted and subsequently served with some citrus jus. The spice mixture was very balanced and the all important bird tender, but not chewy. Another thumbs up.P1180877Side dish 1: Two side dishes accompanied the duck course starting with the morel custard with spring garlic which had a great earthy flavour and…P1180880 Side dish 2: Some new potatoes variations with flowers. The new potatoes were served in its entirety and as thin shavings of crisps.P1180884Course 8: Nancy’s Hudson Valley Camembert with rhubarb, sorrel and green garlic A few ordinary looking bread rolls were presented but they turned out to be stuffed with camembert. They were served with…P1180883…  a rhubarb purée and a sorrel and green garlic crème fraîche. The cheese oozed out of the bread and worked well with the condiments. However, I would have preferred a proper cheese course for the simple reason that I wanted to eat the cheese and not the bread. I was getting quite stuffed by this point.

P1180887Course 9: Strawberries poached with vanilla and elderflower – A tingling sensation from the elderflower foam, rich and creamy vanilla ice cream, and sweet strawberries poached in elderflower and vanilla. Sadly, this was the only dessert course of the meal! Certainly an unusual situation in the fine dinning world. I couldn’t recall having a tasting menu in the last couple of years with only one dessert. P1180891Course 10: Chocolate “Name that milk” – I’m not sure whether I would describe this as a course but it was presented as a game where the diner had to match the four chocolate bars to an animal on the card on the left. Each chocolate bar was made using the milk from a cow, sheep, buffalo or goat. I managed to get the cow right and found the sheep’s milk chocolate unpleasant. P1180893 Digestif: A bottle of Eleven Madison Park’s own house cask of Laird’s Applejack, an apple brandy distilled nearby in New Jersey. I was told to help myself to as much as I wanted but alas I had another appointment to get to and therefore had to settle with just one glass. I’m not a brandy man but found this rather pleasant and refreshing. With a bit more time up my sleeve and it could have been a bit dangerous.

P1180896A chocolate pretzel with sea salt came with the brandy to end the meal. To sum it up, the meal at Eleven Madison Park was enjoyable and pleasant but lacked that special something that defines most restaurants in the Three Michelin Star category. The front of house was superb and almost faultless, and I loved the fact that almost all the courses had a story and a connection with a local artisan or producer. The cooking was also solid and dishes perfectly executed, but I found there was not enough of the ‘wow’ factor. I was glad to have come here but I’m not sure whether I would travel again half way around the world for a second reservation.

Noma in Australia, Sydney

P1180482Chef: René Redzepi     Website:     Cusine: Modern Nordic

Noma and the Fat Duck were two of the first fine dining experience my wife (then girlfriend) and I had experienced in Europe so I thought it would have been very fitting if I managed to miraculously score a table for both pop-ups in Australia; and I did! Admittedly, my friend Sarah was the one who actually had scored the table at Noma as I had accidentally slept through my wake up alarm whilst traveling in Spain. It does appear that lady luck is still by my side in my culinary adventures. She didn’t abandon me for elBulli and the Fat Duck down under and she certainly didn’t here. We were two of the 5,500 lucky diners… and trust me you were well aware of the 27,000 strong waiting list breathing down your neck!! Fast forward a few months and here we were, having flown from Melbourne to purely indulge ourselves for the afternoon. I had very fond memories from my last experience seven years ago in Copenhagen and the staff warmly greeted us as they had before.


After being greeted by Redzepi and his team of chefs, we found ourselves directed to our table in a cool and modern decor dining room. There wasn’t much of a view as the curtains were draped from top to bottom and we were oriented towards the service stations. This did have some advantages as it allowed us to observe the army of front of house meandering around the room as well as the reaction of each diner as their dishes were being served. This certainly worked at building up the anticipation. There was certainly a different type of dynamic here compared to the Fat Duck in Melbourne which was perhaps more discrete, not that I minded. With the meal paid upfront all we had to do was choose our beverage pairing option. I went for the matching wine option ($195) whilst my friend chose the matching juice ($95).

P1180489We opted for a glass of the Snakebite a la Noma, which was a significant departure from what I remembered from my students days. The producers from Two Metre Tall in Tasmania recreated this classic drink with an unusual barrel-aged cider-ale blend; the result being a rather crisp and refreshing drink that went down almost in one gulp perfectly quenching my thirst from the heat outside. Luckily the team here were as generous as always. Top up was plentiful at no extra cost. This was going to get messy. As the glass got topped up for the second time our friendly waitress Tamara explained that the meal today was celebrating the Australian native ingredients and produce. Intriguing. I was wondering what lengths Redzepi had gone to for authenticity. Perhaps he had wrestled a kangaroo to the ground himself (to which he assures us not this time later in the meal).P11804911st Course – Unripe macadamia and spanner crab: The first course was a broth of spanner crab from Western Australia with macadamia nut from Byron Bay, served over ice and drizzled with rose oil. I loved the marriage of the sweet and savory broth, the crunchy and sweet nut and the floral note of the rose oil (which to be honest, prior to tasting, I didn’t expect to work). The combination of the flavour reminded me of eating coconut on the beach while licking your lips wet from the salt water. P11804942nd Course – Wild seasonal berries flavoured with gubinge: A dish created from several types of native berries including muntries, riberry, kakadu plum, desert lime and lemon aspen, dressed finally with finely grated kakadu plum (gubinge) powder and olive oil. It was a rather tart dish that could have been balanced better in my opinion, making it my least favourite course of the meal. In comparison, I thought Attica’s take on the native berries was more refined.

P11804983rd Course – Porridge of golden and desert oak wattle seed with saltbush: This was a far more interesting and, most importantly, delicious course. The ‘porridge’ which was wrapped in celery oil compressed saltbush leaves, was made from two types of wattle seeds, the golden and desert oak. This playful take on Dolmades was completed by a sweet anise myrtle oil, native herbs and finger lime dressing. It was a very creative use of unconventional local produce which highlighted Redzepi’s ability to adapt in foreign environment. P11804994th Course – Seafood platter and crocodile fat: If, for some bizarre reason, you ever wondered what crocodile fat could be used for then Redzepi has the answer. A selection of five locally sourced molluscs were served over a bed of chilled pebbles, each one covered with a crispy thin wafer made from crocodile fat combined with the skin that forms on top of chicken stock. We were advised to start with the Pippi, followed by the blue mussels, strawberry clam, flame cockle and finally the oyster. My personal favourite was the flame cockle and the sweet strawberry clam.

P11805075th Course – W.A. deep sea snow crab with cured egg yolk: Undoubtedly one of my two favourite dishes of the meal. The snow crab, sourced from the deep sea south west of Western Australia (Albany), lightly steamed and extracted with as minimal interference as possible. The crab was placed over a bed of rich sauce made from…. wait for it… egg yolk from an egg that had been cured in fermented kangaroo juice (sounds worse than it was) and smoked butter, kombucha and rose. The fermented kangaroo juice required six months preparation! This was an unbelievably deliciously and rich course with its success attributed to the salty and luxuriously creamy egg yolk that surpassed even the curing techniques used in Japan (commonly in dashi and soy sauce) in my opinion. P11805086th Course – PIE: dried scallops and Lantana flowers: Another simple looking dish which could not have been more complex. The crust of the ‘pie’ was made using dried kelp to add umami into the dish. The main content of the pie was a scallop fudge made by slicing and drying a scallop before powdering it and mixing it with some bees wax. A layer of Lantana flowers were laid on the pastry before the fudge was set into the crust. We were advised to pluck the Lantana flowers and scatter it over the pie…

P1180511… which we naturally obliged. In the absence of a distinct smell, the edible flowers provided a lovely aroma to the dish and also cut through the rich slice of pie. All in all, the flavour of the pie was not too dissimilar to a very concentrated taste of scallop unlike anything I had eaten before. The crust crumbled like a sable biscuit and provided that important firm texture to the dish. It was an interesting dish although I was not quite decided as to whether I just liked it or loved it. It reminded me of a Japanese prawn cracker, and a good one for that matter.P11805137th Course – BBQ’d milk ‘dumpling’ Marron and Magpie goose: Our only meat course of the meal was something I had never tried before; a magpie goose. It is apparently a waterbird species from the wetlands in the Northern Territory. P1180514 This was another winner of a dish. Inside the palm leaf was a dumpling casing made from crisp milk skin, resembling more of a taco shell. The marron could be seen poking out, oozing with a ragu made from magpie goose. The entire dumpling appeared to have been grilled to create a smokey flavour. The magpie goose, it was explained to us, is a culled pest in NT due to their love of the farmer’s treasured mangoes. Even worse, they only eat the sweetest part of the mango!! Perhaps this explained why they had a rather sweet flavour to their meat. It didn’t take long for Sarah and I to devour this dumpling.

P11805168th Course – Sea urchin & tomato dried with pepper berries: Another surprise of the day was the source of the sea urchin. I was quick to assume this had been sourced from Tasmania but quickly corrected that it had in fact been sourced from Ulladulla, NSW. The sweetness of the sea urchin was remarkable and the tomatoes from Launceston were equally impressive. They had been cooked 30 mins on each side to get an equal amount of heat. The delicious morsels were placed in a soup of fermented tomato oil, pepperberry and elderberry.

P11805209th Course – Abalone schnitzel and bush condiments: The abalone sourced from Eden, NSW was crumbed lightly to create a crunchy texture that contrasted with the juicy and tender meat inside. We were presented an assortment of Australian bush condiments to try with the abalone, starting with mattrush, sea fennel, beach plants, native fig, neptune necklace, Kakadu plum, Atherton oak nut, sprouting kelp, yellow palm fruit, bunya nut, sea pearls and finger lime. On the side as well there was a small bowl of salty sauce made from celery oil and yeast. I wondered what had happened to the other half of my abalone. Given the number of condiments on the plate it was impossible to try each with the abalone.

That, ladies and gents, was the end of our savory dishes. Was it enough? No, I definitely wanted more!!

P118052710th Course – Marinated fresh fruits: Our first of three desserts consisted of Redzepi’s famed ingredient, ants. On this occasion we had native green ants coated around a mango sandwich although the lime-like taste we were promised was nowhere to be seen. We also had a watermelon cube soaked in Davidson plum sauce and my favourite of a pineapple cube soaked in Tasmanian Belgrove whiskey.

P1180528Some dessert plum and finger lime were also presented with a pepper berry twig as a utensil to pick it up.P118053411th Course – Rum lamington: A courageous move in my view as Australians generally prefer their lamington’s untouched but (and admittedly I am still a new Australia) I thought it was executed well. The light and airy lamington conjured from aerated Black Gate rum cake topped with shavings of dried milk on a native tangy tamarind sauce was a very well balanced dish.P118053512th Course – Peanut milk and freekeh ‘Baytime’: The finale was another homage to the Australia iconic “Golden Gaytime” ice cream which was one of the first thing my wife introduced me to when I arrived in Melbourne. They had wanted to call it a Gaytime but couldn’t (possibly for copyright reasons I assume) and instead called it a Baytime to reflect the location of the restaurant. Inside was a toasted freekeh glazed coating was a frozen peanut milk juice and a caramel centre. A twig of lemon myrtle was used as the stick of the ice cream, adding a subtle note of citrus fragrance. Impressive!

P1180540We were next provided with some dessert lime candies to go with our Ethiopian coffee which was excellent. Whilst I haven’t delved too much on the matched wine, I can share a few thoughts. Firstly, they are exclusively Australian and, in absence of a wine list, one can safely assume the choices are limited to the Sommelier’s suggestions. Secondly, there was a concentration of wine from South Australia and in particular the Adelaide Hills. I was surprised to find no Victorian or Western Australian wines. Thirdly, just as my experience in Copenhagen seven years ago, the offering is generous with at least a top up for each matching wine; so much so I was utterly intoxicated by the time we moved outside to have a digestive. Lastly, as dictated by the courses, it wasn’t surprising to find that all but one wine were white. On a completely separate note, my friend’s matching juice was in my opinion a far better match to the food as far as the compatibility factor went.

P1180541Since returning home the main question I keep getting asked was whether it lived up to its hype. To be honest this is something I’ve struggled to answer. There’s a certain intrinsic value of something that is so finite in supply, similar to our experience in the closing season of elBulli, that canvasses the sense of occasion. To that same token, comparing my meal here to the one in Copenhagen would be like comparing bananas with apples; the food was completely different. Overall there were a couple of knock out dishes and a couple less so. What excited me, however, was the opportunity to taste and celebrate Australian ingredients and produce in a way that I’d never come across before. The uniqueness in this occasion was that this was done through the perspective of a talented foreign chef. Redzepi was in a great position to present ingredients which to be honest I suspect no one would have even contemplated serving. This highlighted the diversity and abundance of ingredients found across the continent. For this reason, Noma in Australia was truly a unique and memorable experience like no other. The icing on the cake of course was the friendly service I fondly remembered from Copenhagen. So if you do get a chance, go. You may not agree with all the dishes but you will certainly have a unique and highly memorable meal.

Matsukawa (松川), Tokyo

IMG_1059Chef: Tadayoshi Matsukawa  Website:  Cuisine: Kaiseki

There’s a reason why Tadayoshi Matsukawa’s restaurant in Akasaka, Tokyo is considered, amongst the gourmands in the know, the best in the city, and possibly the country…  but he isn’t about to let anyone come into his restaurant to find out why. As an invitation-only restaurant, getting a reservation at this 22 seater is no easy feat. The lunch sitting however does seem to be somewhat less challenging than dinner. There’s also another catch with the restaurant: it’s cash only and, given a meal here sans alcohol will knock you back at least 35,000 yen a head (or more during matsutake season as we discovered the hard way), make sure you bring a wad of cash with you.

IMG_1043Trained classically in traditional Japanese cuisine at the two starred Seisoka in Minato-ku, Chef Matsukawa is renowned for creating phenomenal dishes from the freshest ingredients chosen personally by him every day. He is equally well known for being very shy from any publicity, perhaps explaining why this restaurant has evaded the red Michelin book to date. After all, why would you want to attract every man and his dog when you already have a steady clientele of the well connected and aristocrats? There’s no menu per se at Matsukawa – everyone gets 10 courses of the best ingredients he has chosen that day, give or take some substitutions for any allergies.

IMG_10571st Course – Japanese spiny lobster / Ise-ebi (伊勢海老): Our meal truly commenced with a feast for all senses. We could smell the ise-ebi being grilled very lightly over white coal (binchotan) before it was served on a bed of pine needles. The delicate and juicy tail meat was served with the sweet meat of the head/brain and ponzu to add some freshness. A beautifully balanced dish that was flawlessly executed. It was also the best preparation of ise-ebi I have had to date.IMG_10562nd Course – Rice Steamed Abalone / Awabi no imushi (鮑の飯蒸し): Generously thick but tender and juicy abalone served over mochi-gome (glutinous rice) that had soaked up the flavours of the ocean. The chef utilised the natural flavours of the ocean to season the dish and a zest of Japanese citrus sudachi to cut through the rich meat. Another simple looking but delicious dish.IMG_10553rd Course – Simmered dish of Red snow crab and matsutake / Benizuwaigani to matsutake no nimono (紅ずわい蟹松茸煮物): We had noticed that the chef had literally a mountain of matsutake from Saitama piled over the counter and wondered when he was going to use it – this was it. The sweet simmered crab meat was served in a clean broth with a few slithers of matsutake, topped off again with sudachi rind. I’m not the biggest fan of matsutake but I thought the marriage of the sea and mountain worked well here. It was again a very subtle dish with little salt. I imagine this could divide opinions between the salt loving Kanto people and the Kansai people of Japan.IMG_10544th Course – Sea bream sashimi from Awaji-shima (淡路島の鯛の刺身): An extremely delicate dish with a variety of options to go with the sashimi. There was either salt and sudachi juice or soy with a dash of mirin. I personally preferred the salt and sudachi as I could distinctly taste the flavour of the fish better than with soy.IMG_10535th Course – Thawed Squid and its liver / Surumeika no kimo no rui-be (スルメイカの肝のルイベ): A meal at Matsukawa certainly showcases some of the more rare types of Japanese dishes. Dishes that foreigners may not otherwise be exposed to. A rui-be is a typical style of dish that originated from the Ainu people of Northern Japan where they thawed food that had been preserved at -20 degrees celcius. The squid and its liver literally melted in your mouth as soon as it touched your tongue. It was not too dissimilar to foie gras in terms of texture. I wasn’t quite convinced with the flavour here but loved the texture.IMG_1052 6th Course – Steamed sea urchin and lotus root / Uni to renkon no hasumushi (海胆蓮根蓮蒸し): We moved slightly south to Ishikawa prefecture for the next dish of the hasumushi. In this dish grated lotus root was steamed and covered with a thick broth. In this instance Chef Matsukawa also added slivers of deliciously melting sea urchin to the grated and crunchy lotus roots. This was yet another delicate dish that celebrated the superior quality of the best ingredients one could get their hands on.

IMG_1048We could see and smell over the counter the next course… IMG_1049 7th Course – Sweetfish with water pepper vinegar sauce /  Ko-ayu tadezu (子鮎 蓼酢): The yakimono (grilled) course was sweetfish (ayu) that had been grilled over white charcoal (binchotan), served with an alkaline base sauce made from a water pepper (tade) that grows by the river where the sweetfish swims. The addition of the sauce cut down the heat of the vegetable and cut through the acidity of the fish. This was easily the best ayu fish we had on our trip, and by quite some distance. IMG_1047Curious to know what water pepper looks like Chef Matsukawa presented a bowl of it.  IMG_10468th Course – Ōmi beef and matsutake: A slice of beef from Ōmi served with matsutake and ginnan. The meat was rather pleasant and not too fatty. Whilst this was the only meat dish of the meal, the quality of the meat more than made up for it. I wasn’t really sure whether the matsutake was necessary here other than to bump up the price of the menu. IMG_10449th Course – House Soba with grilled and shredded crispy matsutake: In comparison to the previous dish, I rather enjoyed this preparation of the matsutake. The matsutake’s crispy texture was a nice contrast to the firm noodles. The tsuyu or the sauce was well balanced and did not overpower the mushroom.IMG_1039For the next course the binchotan was brought to us over the counter and we were in for another treat…IMG_103610th Course – Shabu shabu of conger pike and matsutake / Hamo to matsutake no shabu shabu (松茸しゃぶしゃぶ): I was left speechless with this dish. The dashi made from the bones of the hamo (conger pike) had an amazing flavour like nothing I had ever tried before. Given the bone of the hamo are so small to the point where breaking them without piercing the skin is considered an advanced skill, I was amazed so much flavour could be drawn out of them. Unlike some of the hamo that we had tasted on our trip, I could really taste the natural flavour here due to the minimal interference in the preparation of the fish. There was also the generous slices of matsutake which was perfect to soak that deep and rich dashi. Wow. Simply, wow.IMG_1034 11th Course – Matsutake rice: To finish off the savory segment we were brought a bowl containing raw slices of matsutake over rice served with pickles and miso soup with matsutake. The matsutake had a slight crunch and was again very subtle in flavour with minimal intervention. It gave us some time to reflect on the meal we had just experienced (and also fear what the price tag was going to be!). This was most definitely the best kaiseki meal I have ever had the joy of eating.  IMG_103112th Course – Red bean jelly / Youkan (羊羹): Even the youkan was superb! It was not sickeningly sweet and had a very silky texture to the point where it was borderline liquid. I’ve always had them quite solid and quite sweet. I didn’t know it could get this good. I certainly couldn’t go back to the other ones after this. I was ruined.IMG_1030Glass of green tea (matcha) to finish off.

IMG_1027My friend and I literally scrounged around for the last 500 yen coin as we had not anticipated our bill to come to an eye watering 87,200 yen between the two of us (including one small beer), making this the officially most expensive meal on our trip as far as food went. However, if you asked me then or now if I would return, I would say yes in a heart beat. The food here was really mind blowingly good and was on another level to anything I have previously tried in Japan. What’s more, it ridiculed the three starred kaiseki we had the day before in Kichisen on every front staring with produce, to the cooking and service. Chef Matsukawa’s eye for the perfect ingredient and produce is equally impressive as his skills in handling them. What’s more, what I really like about him was his quiet confidence in his own skills which has rewarded him with his faithful clientele. I had some hesitation writing this review because it is clear that he’s not after publicity or fame. Judging by the demeanor of some of the other diners, most of his customers are equally coming in to enjoy a delicious but low key meal. I hope it stays this way.

Fujiya 1935, Osaka

FullSizeRender-18Chef: Tetsuya Fujiwara     Website:    Cuisine: Innovative Spanish

A common mistake many foreign food enthusiasts make when visiting Kyoto is to sample as many three Michelin starred restaurants that all offer kaiseki menus only. After all, kaiseki is a cuisine that follows a certain formula of dishes, utilising only seasonal ingredients so visiting one three starred restaurant is more than sufficient for ones visit. My friend and I had already booked a table at Kichisen (Kaiseki), Isshin (Beef) and Seto (Chicken) and were looking for something different to try. When we exhausted looking at options in Kyoto our attention switched to Osaka where we found one restaurant that fitted that bill. What’s more, it had a bonus of three Michelin stars and was extremely affordable at 7,000 yen only for lunch.

FullSizeRender-17 We hopped on a train at Arashiyama and arrived in Osaka with a great sense of optimism. Despite having pre-loaded our maps on our phone, the restaurant was slightly difficult to spot as the signs were not jumping out, but then again that’s just Japan for you. After locating the entrance we had to wait outside for half an hour as we had arrived too early so we decided to read up on the chef. Chef Fujiwara came from a family of chefs and had trained in Italy and subsequently in Barcelona at L’Esguard; a one starred restaurant owned by a chef – neurosurgeon. He came back to Japan in 2003 to take over the family business and re-establish the restaurant as Fujiya 1935; the year being the formal incorporation of the family restaurant. The food at Fujiya 1935 was described as innovative with a Spanish twist so we were expecting some exciting dishes.

IMG_0987As the heavens started to open we managed to just make it inside and were seated in their front lounge room. It was a very calming room that could not have been more different from the busy main street the restaurant was located on.

IMG_09841st Course – Mushroom soup: A cup of warm mushroom soup was served to us whilst we sat in the lounge. The concentration of mushroom flavour was remarkable with a very long aftertaste. It was soothing and delicious, but hardly anything innovative or exciting.

IMG_09712nd Course – Chestnut bread with bubbles: It was a light and fluffy bread that we were advised to eat like a hamburger as  it would collapse into itself. The ricotta cheese cream was almost like a purée with a good textural contrast to the bread. The flavours were very subtle but the sweetness of the chestnut was very obvious.

FullSizeRender-123rd Course – Radish Wasabi Cream: A crispy radish was served on a slab of ice with a silky wasabi cream dip. The radish was very fresh and had a good bite but again this was hardly anything earth shattering…

FullSizeRender-9A box of bread was presented to us and served on a slab of warm stone to keep the bread warm. A thoughtful touch though I didn’t think it was necessary as it disappeared very quickly with the accompanying…

FullSizeRender-10 … two butters. The one on the left was from Takayama in the Gifu prefecture, and the one on the right was a sesame butter made with butter from Hokkaido. The sesame (goma) butter hands down was our favourite with its slight sweetness. The bread was nothing worthy of highlighting.

FullSizeRender-144th Course – Tomato Soup, soy beans, basil sauce, sea bream “Tai”: A rather bizarre combination of flavours which I personally didn’t find harmoniously working together. The quality of the sea bream sashimi from Akashi was evident but the clear tomato soup and nutty edamame just didn’t gel together. It also felt a bit busy with the shiso (beetle leaf) flower, okra flower and olives as well.

FullSizeRender-75th Course – Parent sweet fish “Ayu”, sauce of river seaweed: The confit fish was grilled and not too dissimilar to that of a grilled mackerel, but meatier. The slight bitterness from the intestine of the fish was balanced against the sweet edamame. It wasn’t a bad dish but again it was not what I would have called innovative in any way, let alone Spanish.

FullSizeRender-46th Course – Spaghettini, saury, new ginko nut, dill: The saury (sanma) sourced from Hakodate, Hokkaido was delicious despite my reservation with this dish. The marriage of spaghetti with Japanese food is a rather odd invention that I never understood (other examples include the salted roe tarako spaghetti or the stinky fermented beans natto spaghetti). The saury was beautifully cooked with a crispy skin and almost rare inside, and just melted in your mouth. Whilst the spaghettini was al dente, it felt like comfort food that lacked any inspiration.

FullSizeRender-37th Course – Free range chicken Nanatanijidori, manganji (shishito) pepper, myouga: The thigh and breast of a free range chicken sourced from Kyoto was served with a mushroom sauce, beans, shishito peppers, myouga ginger and mountain vegetables. Great execution again in the preparation of the chicken but it was similarly lacking in creativity. I’ve definitely had better chicken in many other places. The myouga ginger also didn’t belong on this dish, though I could see the chef wanted something to cut through the rich mushroom sauce.

FullSizeRender-68th Course – Warming grape, Cool grape, blueberry from Murou: The Okayama grapes were served naturally and as a sorbet with flaky and crunchy nuts. This was hands down the best course of the meal and extremely sophisticated. I was surprised at how the flavour of grape was retained in the sorbet  and the blueberry brought a second flavour to avoid this becoming one dimensional. It had textures, flavours and different temperatures. Divine.

FullSizeRender-59th Course – Chestnut pudding: A box containing roasted chesnuts was brought to our table. The waiter proceed to open the box to reveal the chesnuts and the smokey aroma that reminded us of autumn. It had a soft texture with ample sweetness and smokiness in flavour. On the side was…

FullSizeRender-1… a Jelly of the rum flavour, which essentially had coffee jelly, chestnut foam and a dash of rum. The combination of the sweet chesnut, bitter coffee and the rum was spot on, and who could say no to a glass of liquor to finish the meal with a choice of rhubarb, fig or a medicinal tasting herb?

FullSizeRender-11So what was our verdict? We felt the trip all the way to Osaka was not worth it even at 7,200 yen making it the cheapest Three starred meal ever. The caveat here, however, was that the lunch course was half the price and size of dinner so we probably missed out on the more elaborate courses. Saying that, what we did taste was at best well executed but generally lacked inspiration or creativity. What was apparent was that the chef was far better at preparing the dessert courses than the savory ones but even the desserts were not of three or two Michelin star calibre. I think Michelin got this one wrong, and quite wrong. It was definitely not “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”.

Jimbo-cho Den (神保町 傳), Tokyo

photoChef: Hasegawa Zaiyuu    Website:   Cuisine: Modern Kaiseki

(Some photos courtesy of Framed Eating)

During my culinary research for Japan I came across one particular restaurant that was creating quite a buzz across several social media and restaurant rating websites. Hell, bloggers appeared to be flocking there en mass, claiming it to be one of the most exciting restaurant in Tokyo. The restaurant was of course Jimbocho Den, opened and owned by Chef Hasegawa Zaiyu in 2007 at a mere age of 29. Since then he made the culinary headlines again for getting his second Michelin star only three years later in 2011. Unfortunately, he was to lose that second star in 2014. The loss of the star, however, does not appear to have diminished the shine on the young talented chef.

photo 5-10My reservation at Den looked uncertain for a while as Chef Hasegawa, who has a wide network internationally, was planning his overseas trip for the period of our arrival. Luckily we managed to catch him a couple of days before he took off.

The cuisine at Den was essentially a modern and creative adaptation of the traditional Japanese kaiseki cuisine. Chef Hasegawa utilises contemporary influences that have shaped the modern Japanese culture as inspiration for his cooking. He is notorious for being creative and inventive, using seasonal ingredients to reinvent classic dishes and flavours. His vision is to create a customer friendly restaurant focused on the happiness of his diners; an inspiration from the Japanese philosophy of omotenashi.

photo 4-11We began our dinner with a rather unconventional but thirst-quenching glass of the Monte Rossa Franciacorta, Prima Cuvee.

photo 3-111st Course – Monaka (最中): Monaka is a traditional Japanese sweet with two crisp wafers made from mochi (rice cake), sandwiching a red bean paste. This, however, was rather different.

P1160068It was essentially a sandwich of foie gras, guava paste and white miso which created a delicious combination of a rich, salty and sweet flavours. The guava worked ever so well against the rich foie gras. It was all gone too quickly…

photo 4-102nd Course – Softshell Turtle Soup / Suppon (スッポン): A container with the shell of the softeshell turtle and its skull was served to reveal…

photo 2-11… the skin and meat of the softshell turtle inside. The clear soup, made from ginger and turtle meat, had a surprising depth in flavour and a very clean aftertaste. The rice cracker scattered on the soup provided a nice textural crisp. This was my first suppon and it was surprisingly pleasant.

photo 5-83rd Course – Dentucky Fried Chicken (DFC): We were entertained with another thoughtful and playful dish from Chef Hasegawa. Aside from the obvious humour, the box contained other elements of a personal touch.

photo 3-9A personal note was placed inside each one of our boxes thanking us for our custom. Underneath the note was…

photo 5-7… another personal touch for each diner. I recalled at the time of making the reservation that I was asked about where each diner in my party was coming from. As I was coming from Australia I received an Australian flag and a sponge chicken!

photo 4-8Finally on to the food itself. A piece of chicken was nestled under all the prop. The chicken had been de-boned and stuffed like a Brazilian faijoada (beans) but using instead cashew nuts and purée. It was then cooked in a stock made of various meats (including pork) and subsequently deep fried, dried, to wipe off the excess oil, and finally quickly grilled last minute to crisp up the skin. It was a lot of effort for fried chicken… but it was worth it. It was one of the best chicken I’ve ever had.

P11600974th Course – Yellowtail / Buri () with spicy (karami) daikon: It was a surprisingly oily piece of fish and possibly the best preparation of buri I have ever had. Buri is normally served in the colder months where they become fatter to insulate themselves from the cold water so I was surprised to come across one of this quality in September. The spicy daikon made from soy sauce and wasabi was a clever component to cut through the oily fish.

P11601135th Course – Pacific Saury / Sanma Houbayaki: Houbayaki originated from the Gifu prefecture in the mountains. Traditionally a combination of meat, vegetable and miso paste is wrapped in magnolia leaves (houba) and then grilled.

P1160114At Den, Chef Hasegawa used Pacific Saury (Sanma) with its liver, miso paste, cous cous, ginko, roasted buckwheat. The combination of the miso and the leaves scent was particularly appetising and the fish was very representative of autumn. Sanma is my favourite grilled fish in Japanese cuisine and this one was just phenomenal. The cous cous, which replaced the rice, was a clever adaptation as it soaked up the flavours better than the rice would have.

P11601246th Course – The ‘Garden’: This was a similar dish to Michel Bras’ famous Gargouillou. All the elements on the dish was supplied by Chef Hasegawa’s sister who is a farmer. The vegetables were prepared in various ways, some raw, grilled, fried and poached but what made this dish amazing was the sheer quality of the produce. There was rocket, red chard, nasturtium, spinach, begonia and mustard leaves as well as a carrot poached in sweet vinegar (amazu) and covered in houji-cha powder, tomato with a hint of vanilla, mountain yam (tororo imo), burdock (gobo), potato from Hokkaido, pumpkin, edible flowers, radish, turnip, peppers and gingko.

photo 5-37th Course – Matsutake Soup: Made from Matsutake dashi, conger pike (hamo) with yuzu. It was good, as far as matsutake went, but again I am not the biggest fan of matsutake. I think there are mushrooms that cost a fraction of the price which taste better.

photo 3-4Some pickles to go with the next two courses of rice dishes served in a donburi nabe.
photo 2-5Two types of rice dishes were served that evening starting with…

photo 1-58th Course – Ikura Donburi: The first was hands down my favourite. Salmon roe was poached in dashi over rice. I’ve never seen such a geneorous amount of ikura served over rice!

photo 2-1Chef Hasegawa wasted no time in mixing the ikura into the rice before serving each of us a bowl of the mixture. As I looked at him serving the last bowl for me he caught my eyes staring at the donburi and chuckled saying “don’t worry, there’s plenty more for seconds.”

P1160140I absolutely destroyed this dish and devoured the first serve in seconds. The rice had soaked up that lovely dashi stock and the the gooey juice from each salmon roe went ever so well with the rich dashi stock. I loved how the texture interchanged between the occasional chewy Japanese rice and the pop from the salmon roe, not to mention the generosity of the chef with the portion size.

photo 2-4Our second donburi made its appearance shortly after…

photo 1-49th Course – Black wagyu cheek donburi: It was another triumph of a dish.

photo 5-1It was very interesting because I’d never tasted something that had such an intense flavour of premium beef without a meaty texture.

photo 3-210th Course – Moss from the Garden: More humour from chef Hasegawa. This time he served the dessert course on a garden spade complete with ‘used garden gloves’. This was a tiramisu in a deconstructed fashion made of cheese mousse, green and brown teas and charcoal. I loved the humour in this interpretation of a classic dish.

P1160155We were fast approaching 11pm and one last installment was awaiting us…

photo 1-311th Course – Star Comebacks: A deliciously humorous finale to end a great meal. The adapted logo of starbucks was used to express the chef’s humour in trying to get back his second Michelin star he lost in 2014. I liked the fact that he was happy to poke fun at himself. The content of the mug was what appeared to be a cappuccino at first glance but was actually pudding and sugarcane.

photo 4-1The dish took seven hours to cook to create a thick caramel before a layer of custard and black truffle from Australia were added. It was a very adult flavour of bitter and sweetness.

photo 2-2Short of 15,000 yen for a tasting menu, Jimbocho Den was definitely value for money in the fine dining scene in Tokyo. Add that to the consistently high calibre of dishes that came out from the kitchen and you can understand why Den was so popular. What personally attracted me equally was the professionalism and focus of the team in their disciplines as they effortlessly managed to make each diner feel personally welcome. This level of omotenashi was definitely not something I found readily in other establishments, even as a Japanese person. Den to me represented a new generation of Japan.

Gastro Park, Sydney

P1180297Chef: Grant King     Website:    Cuisine: Molecular

It’s true, Australia IS being invaded. The Kiwi’s are taking over…. Well at least in the food world where they are certainly making a scene in the fine dining scene across the big Australian cities. My first encounter was that of Ben Shewry, who I still think is my favourite chef currently in Australia. However, I recently found out that there has similarly been another Kiwi chef making a name for himself in Sydney but in the discipline of molecular cuisine. His name is Grant King and his restaurant is Gastro Park.

P1180233King worked his way through Europe under big names such as Gary Rhodes, Bruno Loubet and Gordon Ramsey. More recently he cemented his place in Sydney’s fine dining scene at Pier under the supervision of his mentor Greg Doyle. He finally went solo in 2011 opening Gastro Park where he rapidly achieved two hats within four months. He is renown for combining molecular techniques and creative ideas with fresh seasonal ingredients. This ensures his menu continues to evolve every day, keeping him challenged; not something any ordinary chef would take.

P1180236 The perfect opportunity came up for a visit when my family and I were catching up with friends from the UK Guild of Food Writers who were in Sydney for holidays. One of the lovely things about Gastro Park is that they accept BYO. As it was a special occasion I had popped a bottle of my 2006 Greenock Creek Roenfeldt Road Shiraz in my luggage and,  for a mere $30 corkage fee, the sommelier took the bottle to decanter as we took our seat and ordered the 10 course Tasting menu. It was going to be a great afternoon.

P1180243Course 1 – Grissini wrapped with wagyu and parmesan: The first course was technically made up of a few snacks. The first was a generous portion of thin raw wagyu slice that completely covered the grissini stick. The saltiness of the parmesan drew out the flavour of the meat. Simple but clever and tasty.P1180246 2nd Course – Earth tartlets with buffalo mozzarella: This was very light and slightly cheesy in flavour. The wafer thin shell of the tartlet was a good textural element.

P1180247 3rd Course – Salmon with yuzu: The last installment of the snacks was a beautiful slither of salmon with a dab of a light yuzu sauce that cut through the oiliness of the fish.

P1180248 Some home made bread with butter prior to the first main course being served. The bread had a good texture.

P1180251 Our waiter brought us each out a set of closed shells clouded in a mist only to reveal our next course of…

P11802564th Course – Scallop & Pomegranate ceviche: A generous portion of king scallop morsels were scattered underneath slices of marinated soft onion. It was dressed with a slightly tart pomegranate juice which was well balanced against the sweet scallops.P11802575th Course – Seared lobster, coconut, apple, sorrel and kaffir: Seared lobster tail cooked perfectly with a light smokey flavour. It was a beautiful light summer dish and the flavour combination was not too dissimilar to Thai flavours. P1180260 6th Course – Liquid butternut gnocchi, mushroom consommé: This dish has featured on the menu for a long time due to its popularity. The butternut gnocchi spheres were sweet and burst in your mouth with little effort like an egg yolk. The mushroom consommé had a lovely deep flavour and the onion crumb elevated the dish, creating a perfect balance of sweetness and earthiness. Based on the press, I expected this dish to be more gimmicky but I was absolutely wrong.

P1180263 7th Course – Crispy scaled wild jewfish, salt baked celeriac, roast bone sauce: The edible fish scales idea was inspired by Spanish chef Martin Berasategui. The scales were pushed backwards so they stood up before being doused in smoking olive oil until they fried into edible crisps which crackled and popped. The richness of the roast bone sauce and the crispy fried enoki mushroom worked ever so well with the fish. A truly delicious dish. Impressive.

P11802738th Course – Roast pork belly, spanner crab, carrot, pork pebbles: Another winner of a dish with the cracking ‘pork’ pebble crackling. Who would have thought that the creamy spanner crab would work so well with pork belly? This dish was all about the texture and flavours and by god it went down so well with our bottle of 2006 Greenock Creek Roenfeldt Road Shiraz.

P1180276 9th Course – 48 Hours slow cooked Riverina short rib, smoked eggplant, pea & pods: Beautifully pink inside from the sous-vide preparation and yet with a delicious sticky glaze on the exterior with the robata grill finish. The garnishes were simple but complimented the beef, the star of the show. The smokey eggplant was my favourite garnish.

So far, I was quite impressed with the variety of techniques and styles of dishes Chef King created for his savoury courses. I hoped his desserts were equally interesting…

P118028110th Course – Sheeps milk yoghurt, strawberry and pint grapefruit icy pop: Perfect palate cleanser that was equally beautiful and playful. However, I wasn’t sure whether this should have been called a course as it disappeared in two quick bites.P118028511th Course – Robata Pineapple, yuzu ice cream, buttermilk, fennel: Why did I even bother worrying? This was a stunning dessert. The sweet caramelised pineapple and the tart yuzu ice cream was a marriage made in heaven. I even found that liquorice / aniseed flavour, created by the use of fennel, rather enjoyable. P118028812th Course – Chocolate, honeycomb & vanilla sphere, cardamom, saffron, ginger: The finale quite literally went with a bang…P1180290… after cracking the chocolate sphere. A lovely chocolate mousse, vanilla and honeycomb (which had been delicately spiced with a mixture of an cardamom, saffron and ginger) oozed out of the sphere. The spices lifted this dish from becoming a heavy and mundane dish. It divided us down the middle. Two dinners loved it and the other two were not too sure. I for one thought it was clever and delicious, although not as good as the previous dessert dish.

P1180232Gastro Park was far more than just cutting edge molecular cuisine. Chef King clearly had a great palate, creativeness and a sense of playfulness that made his food rather unique in Sydney. I expected some dishes to have more style over substance but I was wrong. For all the wizardry and playfulness, Chef King never lost sight of what was most important – good tasting food. To top it off, the service was also very good, particularly given that our party included two 1 year old babies who occasionally felt like reminding us that they were there. We were very grateful for the care and attention of the staff. We left the restaurant with a smile (and our daughter asleep in her stroller), only to realise then that we had been dining for four hours.

Minamishima, Melbourne

P1170598Chef: Koichi Minamishima     Website:    Cuisine: Edomae sushi

One of my greatest disappointment in Australia to date has been the poor quality of authentic Japanese cuisine, particularly in Melbourne. Sure, Sydney has a handful of old school institutions like Juju but when it came to the matter of sushi, Australia has a lot of catching up to do. I was therefore very excited when I heard about a place in Richmond, Melbourne that opened up in 2014 and had attained two hats almost immediately. It specialised in edomae sushi. This, I thought, was the answer to my prayers…

P1170599Unlike many overseas sushi restaurants that have been opened up by successful chefs from Tokyo, Minamishima is headed up by chef Koichi Minamishima who spent his formative years at Kenzan, Melbourne. This was a sticking point for me as Kenzan had not impressed me in the past. More importantly it wasn’t known for sushi. However, I had heard good things so I decided to keep an open mind.

There’s only one menu at Minamishima which both makes it easy for the undecided and ensures the best seasonal fish is utilised for all customers. AUD $150 buys you a 15 course meal which can be complimented with matching sake or wine. There were also three additional courses offered that evening, two starters and a dessert, for an additional cost…..which cumulatively matched the price of the 15 course menu.P11706031st Course – Ootoro with Italian beluga black caviar (supplementary course at extra cost): It wasn’t cheap but was definitely worth every cent. The tuna was sourced that same week from Tsukiji market in Tokyo. The fatty ootoro (tuna belly) and the salty black caviar went ever so well together. The mother pearl shell spoon was obviously a must when eating black caviar for the purists.P11706052nd Course – Grilled broad beans with shiitake salt: Not too dissimilar to edamame and I liked the earthy salt in combination with the beans.

P11706093rd Course – Fugu tempura (Supplementary course at extra cost): Minamishima-san explained that the fugu had been professionally prepared in Japan by a qualified professional before it was delivered to him in Melbourne. Much like most fugu’s I’ve previously tried, the flavour was very subtle and delicate. The tempura was surprisingly of good quality, not oily and quite crispy.

P11706144th Course – King Dory: Cured king dory, a native fish only found in the southern Australian coast, New Zealand and South Africa with no Japanese name. A pinch of sesame and a squirt of lime blew some life into this thin slice of white meat.

P11706155th Course – Garfish / Sayori (サヨリ): Topped with thinly chopped spring onion and ginger, and some shiso hiding underneath the fish. The fish had been dressed with Minamishima’s home made soy sauce. Another delicate fish with a jelly like texture.

P11706206th Course – Cod fish / Tara (): Topped with shiso. My least favourite nigiri of the evening with unfortunately very little flavour.

P11706277th Course – Sea Perch / Suzuki (): Finally on to a decent piece of sushi. This was what I was hoping to encounter! Great meaty texture and fattiness. The classic combination of ponzu and grated daikon (Japanese radish) with the sea perch worked well. Here’s to hoping there were plenty more like this ahead!

P11706309th Course – Calamari / Aori Ika (アオリイカ): Served with sea salt and shiso leaves. A decent nigiri but not the best calamari I’ve had by a long shot. It had a beautiful creamy texture but I found the flavour rather bland.

P117063310th Course – Scampi / Tenaga Ebi (手長蝦): The scampi was sourced from New Zealand and was sweet, juicy and slightly crunchy. However, it’s definitely no contender to the classic superior choice of the kuruma-ebi which has a far more inviting aroma.

P117063811th Course – Scallop / Hotate (帆立): The scallop, sourced from Hokkaido was, in my view, not treated with respect. The charring left a slight burnt aftertaste and ruined the soft and creamy texture that scallops are renown for. I did however like the smoky component and think this dish could be refined to a lighter degree of charring to make it perfect.

P117064312th Course – Flounder / Karei (カレイ): Finally what I was waiting for. Something to blow me away! This was definitely my favourite dish of the entire evening and my god what a nigiri that was! The chef utilised the fin of the flounder from Hokkaido which is normally discarded. He then proceeded by intricately scoring it, lightly searing with a blowtorch and wrapping it with nori. The smell was ever so inviting and looked delicately beautiful. It packed a punch of rich, smoky, oily flavour, and a meltingly soft texture from the natural fat of the fish.

P117064813th and 14th Course – Chutoro (中とろ) and Otoro (大とろ): The blue fin tuna (hon-maguro) was sourced again from Tsukiji. The quality was decent but I was amazed to find quite a bit of sinew in the ootoro. This was a cardinal sin and disappointing. The chutoro was, however, delightful.

P117065915th Course – Seared Ootoro / Aburi Ootoro (炙り大とろ): Whilst I would normally prefer my ootoro untouched and served as it is, this was far more enjoyable than the previous course as any remaining sinew fortunately had melted to create a juicy and fatty slice of ootoro.

P117066516th Course – Sea Urchin / Uni (ウニ): Sea urchin sourced from Tasmania. Lovely creaminess and absent of myoban and its bitter aftertaste, which is typically used to preserve the freshness of uni for those that are imported from overseas like Hokkaido. The flavour however was not as bold and distinct as the fresh ones you get in Japan.

P117066917th Course – Mackerel pressed sushi / Saba Oshizushi (さばの押し寿司): Also known as battera (バッテラ), this is one of my all time favourite sushi that I always order if available. The mackerel was cured well allowing the meat to retain its shape. The rice was infused with the lovely oily flavour of the fish and balanced against the sharpness of the vinegar from the curing process.

P117067118th Course – Salt Water Eel / Anago (穴子): The final dish of the set menu was another pressed sushi of eel. As noted in my previous write up, there’s a lot of skill required to preparing eel that takes years of practice and experience. I found the kabayaki sauce on the lighter side compared to the usual sticky rich sauce you get in Japan. In addition, the flavour of the eel was bland.

P1170674As we pondered on what additional nigiri’s we were going to order, Chef Minamishima’s right hand man Hajime Horiguchi (middle above) joined the chefs to keep up with the order that were piling in. They worked meticulously in sync and the speed at which the sushi’s were being sent out to the bigger tables was truly amazing.

P117067719th Course – Sweet Egg Cake / Tamagoyaki (卵焼き): This one was with a twist. The tamagoyaki was made more like a castella-styled cake which the Portuguese brought to Japan in the 16th Century. It had a lovely sweetness and moisture.

P117068320th Course – Salmon Roe / Ikura (イクラ): In addition to re-ordering the flounder, sea perch and seared ootoro, I could not go away without asking for my childhood favourite of the salmon roe. The salmon roe sourced from Tasmania was firm enough to be individually savoured but in my opinion, marinating the salmon roe in soy sauce would have elevated this dish further.

P117068521st Course – Diamond Clam and dashi: A sweet and chewy clam suimono that washed away the lingering flavour of sushi before jumping on to the finale of the dessert.

P117068822nd Course – Yokan and Cherry Blossom ice cream: The yokan (red bean paste cake) was smooth and washed down ever so well with the hot tea. The cherry blossom ice cream left a floral aftertaste and the bitter matcha (green tea) contrasted ever so well to the sweet and rich yokan.

P1170694All in all Minamishima for me was a success despite a couple of missteps, the sinew of the ootoro for instance comes to mind. However, it shows a lot of promise and certainly exceed the level of sushi I’ve encountered in Melbourne, let alone Australia. Sure, it wasn’t on par with Kanesaka in Singapore or Sushi Tetsu in London but it showed promise with great innovations like the flounder’s fin nigiri which literally just blew me away. It would be interesting to see what creative dishes Chef Minamishima comes up with in the future.