Susan Kuro­sawa is cap­ti­vated by the kaiseki cui­sine at an ex­quis­ite Ja­panese restau­rant

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

THE grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of Ja­panese cui­sine has re­sulted in its ex­ten­sion to snack sta­tus. Wit­ness the num­ber of sushi bars that have those re­volv­ing coun­ters with con­tain­ers of nori rolls and tri­an­gles of sashimi rid­ing around like ex­otic lit­tle car­riages on a train track.

Just as Thai cui­sine can’t be judged by the one-green-paste-fits-all approach of sub­ur­ban curry joints, sliced fish of the eatand-run variety is far re­moved from exquisitely for­mu­lated and pre­sented tra­di­tional Ja­panese cui­sine.

It is all about be­ing pleas­ing to the eye, an approach ev­i­dent in Ja­panese gar­dens (so sym­met­ri­cal, so lay­ered with ob­tuse mean­ing). The taste, al­though im­por­tant, some­times seems sec­ondary to de­sign and tex­ture. No other na­tion con­sid­ers, say, a chrysan­the­mum lightly fried in flaky bat­ter to be a del­i­cacy. Its taste is as fleet­ing a no­tion as the flow­er­ing of cherry blos­soms.

Yoshii does not do ex­press bento boxes. This is a shrine for se­ri­ous con­tem­pla­tion of ori­en­tal artistry. Na­gasaki-born chef and co-owner Ryuichi Yoshii, who has been in Aus­tralia since the early 1990s, is a mas­ter sushi chef and keen ex­po­nent of the kaiseki style of din­ing, in­volv­ing a suc­ces­sion of small dishes.

In West­ern terms, it’s a de­gus­ta­tion menu, and a per­fect way to ex­plore in­tri­cate tastes and com­bi­na­tions. Each dish is like a haiku poem: brief, in­ef­fa­ble, so much more than the sum of its parts.

The restau­rant, in Syd­ney’s Rocks precinct, is small and ap­pro­pri­ately dis­creet, with a sit-up kitchen bar and a par­al­lel din­ing room with seven ta­bles di­vided by a slat­ted screen.

Be­cause of th­ese de­mure di­men­sions, Yoshii’s pres­ence is al­ways ap­par­ent, chat­ting with cus­tomers at the bar as he slices sashimi into pa­per-thin strips.

There are two de­gus­ta­tion op­tions, Saqura Course ($110) or Yoshii Course ($130), and the lat­ter can be teamed, course by course, with a glass of Krug grande cu­vee brut cham­pagne, two white wines and a red, and a sake or Asahi beer ($178).

My part­ner and I each opt for the Yoshii Course, at­tracted by the cen­tre­piece dish of rosegum-smoked wagyu beef with horse­rad­ish and turnip puree (the Saqura Course is more fish-based).

First there ap­pears what Yoshii dubs sea urchin egg cup, a plain but ap­po­site name for this ex­tra­or­di­nary con­fec­tion.

A brown egg, with its top per­fectly sliced off, sits in a sil­ver cup, the con­tents capped with a sliver of gold leaf; inside is a sus­pen­sion of yolk, Tas­ma­nian sea urchins and bonito broth.

Be­neath this in­stal­la­tion is a mound of daikon shred­ded to a fine­ness that de­fies the term juli­enne; on the side is a tiny dish in which to dip and all but dis­solve this white radish.

A ‘‘ quin­tu­ple of en­trees’’ ar­rives on a sin­gle plate, a com­po­si­tion as curved and colour­ful as a Joan Miro can­vas. Two lit­tle white­bait have been deep-fried with par- snip puree; there’s a cake-like cube of tomato mousse with pump­kin puree and a shot glass of luke­warm somen noo­dles in a broth with a dash of bonito and topped with shaved truf­fle. Also on this plate of dis­cov­er­ies, slen­der slices of duck breast with an ap­ple dress­ing and morsels of kobu­jime (fish of the day; this Tues­day evening, it’s jew­fish) on a zingy bed of slowly melt­ing lime sor­bet.

From now on, the cour­ses be­come more sub­stan­tial but no less re­strained in their del­i­cacy. The stand­out is black cod mar­i­nated with blue cheese-flavoured miso; also on the plate are two tiny pieces of se­same toast, so we spread the soft fish and eat th­ese like canapes. On the side of the white dish are sev­eral ar­rows of cu­cum­ber: so in­fin­i­tes­i­mal that I have to put on my glasses to check they re­ally are there.

Milk-fed veal sashimi would hardly ap­peal to those who like their meat well­cooked, but this dish, sprin­kled with for­est mush­rooms, is so ten­der that, even though cut­lery is pro­vided, the barest pres­sure of a wooden chop­stick suf­fices to cut it.

In a lid­ded china dish, float­ing in a ginger-flavoured broth, sits a tri­colour disc of pressed snap­per, scal­lop and span­ner crab. ‘‘ It’s like eat­ing an art­work,’’ sighs my part­ner, who is still re­cov­er­ing from the un­ex­pected plea­sure of drink­ing his Kirin beer from a glazed pot­tery beaker.

The table­ware, in the time-hon­oured way, is as ap­peal­ing as the food. There are big white dishes in ir­reg­u­lar forms, clas­sic plates with gilded rims and bowls pat­terned in au­tumn leaves, one of which ar­rives on its own minia­ture cush­ion and lac­quered stand. The miso soup that ac­com­pa­nies the sushi course (served, sur­pris­ingly, just be­fore dessert) is in an ovoid lac­quered con­tainer that looks as if it should con­tain a fam­ily of ever-smaller kokeshi dolls.

A lemon­grass sor­bet spiked with cham­pagne is served be­tween the wagyu beef and sushi plat­ter.

‘‘ Dessert?’’ in­quires the Ja­panese wait­ress, who all evening has po­litely ex­plained each dish with the pre­ci­sion of a doc­tor de­con­struct­ing a pro­ce­dure to a wide-eyed pa­tient. How to refuse? Ap­ple spring rolls with a dish of wasabi sor­bet could be termed palate-cleans­ing, but there is no resid­ual oili­ness from this ex­quis­ite meal. Is it pos­si­ble we could have eaten so much and gained not a gram?

Yoshii changes his menu with the sea­sons and likes to re­fer to his food as omakase, or ‘‘ leave it to the chef’’.

Like the sub­lime dishes of our most fa­mous Ja­panese-Aus­tralian chef, Tet­suya Wakuda, the food at Yoshii as­tounds in its in­ven­tion and ex­e­cu­tion. We ex­pe­ri­ence an in­or­di­nate num­ber of how-did-he-do-that mo­ments. I doubt you could eat bet­ter Ja­panese food in Aus­tralia; there’ll be no go­ing back to the sushi train. All Ta­bles vis­its are unan­nounced and meals paid for.


Yoshii 115 Har­ring­ton St, The Rocks, Syd­ney, (02) 9247 2566; www.yoshii.com.au. Open: Lunch, Tues­day to Fri­day; din­ner, Mon­day to Satur­day. Drink: Good wine by the glass from $14; Ja­panese beer; flasks of warmed Ta­manohikari sake ($15). Rea­son to re­turn: For a sushi de­gus­ta­tion at the sit-up bar (from $100) or a lunch set (from $40).

Pic­tures: Alan Pryke

If looks could thrill: Chef Ryuichi Yoshii en­sures each dish is as pleas­ing to the eye as it is to the palate

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