Tetsuya's, located on the southern end of Sydney's CBD behind the cinemas of George Street not far from Chinatown, virtually defines destination dining. This is, hands down, the most hyped restaurant in Australia and usually makes it onto lists of the finest restaurants in the world.
The chef, Tetsuya Wakuda, is a migrant from Japan who landed in Australia with no formal training over 25 years ago, worked in some of Sydney's trendiest kitchens and then opened a humble little restaurant in the suburb of Rozelle in 1989. By all reports there was nothing to be humble about when it came to his cooking and his reputation as a chef built steadily to the point in 2000 he opened his current location in the beautiful old house that used to house the Suntory restaurant with its beautiful courtyard Japanese garden in Kent Street.
So it was with much anticipation, but with the nervousness of one who is often disappointed, that I arranged for dinner with two VIPs who needed impressing. There is only one menu at Tetsuya's - a modern take on the kaiseki tradition. This approach of having the chef choose for you would be quite familiar to anyone who has spent time in Japan, but for most Australians is quite novel.
On the evening in question dinner opened with an amuse of chestnut and cepe soup, which was pleasant enough. Then we were offered, upon the agreement to pay a supplement, an oyster served with ginger and rice wine. I found the taste more than acceptable - an opinion echoed by my guests. The next course was an egg-yolk served on chopped, smoked trout garnished with herring roe. Although the tastes were not so powerful, this was an interesting looking dish. This was followed by a fairly bland, but pleasant savoury custard with caramelised leek and Queensland spanner crab.
The next course was raw Crystal Bay prawn served with soy caramel and King Island cream, a combination which I imagine was inspired by the current Tokyo trend for salty caramel. I'm not such a big fan of raw prawns (don't come the raw prawn with me!), but this was perhaps the most interesting course of the whole night - and was judged a hit by the table. Following this was the trout confit crusted with salty konbu (seaweed) crumbs which is the specialty of the house, and this was voted superb. After the trout, a terrine of crab wrapped in seaweed paired with avocado cream was served. This was very tasty. The final fish course was a barramundi served with fennel and black bean, which made no great impression.
Two meat courses were to follow, the first being a boneless (thanks!) spatchcock with a foie gras stuffing and a wagyu (for once meat called wagyu in Australia actually was wagyu) served with mushroom, wasabi and ponzu jelly. The beef was a real hit. After the meats came four dessert courses. The first a dish of canelloni beans and mascarpone, followed by two shot glasses of green apple sorbet and liquid strawberry cheesecake. This was followed by an lighter-than-air ile flottant with a super-rich chocolate mousse after that.
Just writing all this makes me tired, but I assure you that eating it was no chore. In fact, it was only after I finished the mousse that my sufficiency exceeded elegant. As for wines, I was driving that evening so had to go easy, but the sparkling aperitif of the Crosser Piccadilly Valley had a fairly memorable flavour.
The service is superb - at a level that really stands out in Australia. My only beef (non-wagyu) is that we were served by so many different waiters. I prefer to have the same person look after me all evening, but just a preference that didn't take away from my enjoyment. Overall, I would have to highly recommend Tetsuya's. It's far from cheap, but not outside the norms of what one would pay for a similar meal in Tokyo - even accounting for the currently cheapish Australian dollar.
Could you experience a meal of similar quality in Tokyo? The answer is yes, but this should not detract from the wonderful experience that has been created for my fellow mere Australian mortals who, even though they like to boast about the quality of their restaurants, do not usually have access to this standard. I have to admit to not eating anything that surprised or excited me, with the possible exception of the caramel prawns. For destination dining such as this, I would have liked to have been surprised by more daring and passionate combinations and creations - but I suspect that the chef knows his customers pretty well and understands that for most of them, what he serves each evening is plenty creative enough.
Tel: +61 2 9267 2900