Tokyo on the Gold Coast

The Gold Coast is the lat­est hot des­ti­na­tion for lovers of cut­ting-edge Ja­panese cui­sine, writes Tiana Tem­ple­man.

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BACK IN THE 1980S, when Ja­pan was one of the Gold Coast’s big­gest tourist mar­kets, it was rare to see lo­cals din­ing at the city’s many Ja­panese restau­rants. How­ever, this slowly be­gan to change as Aus­tralians de­vel­oped a taste for Ja­pan’s na­tional cui­sine. When tourist num­bers started fall­ing in the 1990s, many of the Gold Coast’s Ja­panese din­ing spots had de­vel­oped a loyal lo­cal clien­tele. Restau­rants such as Ya­m­a­gen rode out the drop in over­seas din­ers and in­tro­duced the flavours, pre­ci­sion and art­ful­ness of Ja­panese cook­ing to an in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated lo­cal au­di­ence. Since then, the Gold Coast has gone on to be­come one of Aus­tralia’s hottest des­ti­na­tions for lovers of mod­ern Ja­panese cui­sine.

Ya­m­a­gen has been oper­at­ing at the same lo­ca­tion in Surfers Par­adise since 1987, long be­fore Event Ho­tels & Re­sorts pur­chased the Gold Coast’s very first fives­tar ho­tel and trans­formed it into the hip QT Gold Coast. The iconic Ja­panese restau­rant has re­cently un­der­gone ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tions and been trans­formed into a con­tem­po­rary Ja­panese iza­kaya with a stylish twist. With a slick new fitout that blends ur­ban street style with pop cul­ture kitsch and Ja­panese fish­ing vil­lage charm, the in­te­rior is vir­tu­ally un­recog­nis­able ex­cept for the fa­mil­iar sight of sushi mas­ter Mit­suo Yoshino, who has been work­ing at Ya­m­a­gen since it opened.

Ya­m­a­gen’s reimag­ined dé­cor and menu blends old-school Ja­panese culi­nary tra­di­tion with new-school chef in­ven­tive­ness. In many ways, the re­design en­cap­su­lates con­tem­po­rary Ja­panese din­ing. “Tra­di­tional Ja­panese re­ally hasn’t evolved—at least, its essence hasn’t changed,” ex­plains Ya­m­a­gen’s ex­ec­u­tive chef, Adam Lane. “How­ever, chefs are get­ting more cre­ative with Ja­panese in­gre­di­ents and how they com­bine them in dishes. It’s the at­ti­tude and ap­proach to Ja­panese cook­ing that has changed— meld­ing the old and the new.”

Lane brings an im­pres­sive pedi­gree to Ya­m­a­gen, af­ter work­ing at Sakè, Sushi E and Tet­suya’s, and cook­ing along­side Nobu Mat­suhisa at the starred Nobu. His use of in­no­va­tive tech­niques to bring new and ex­cit­ing dishes to the menu means there is never a dull mo­ment at this new-look restau­rant. “I en­joy ex­per­i­ment­ing with dishes, so my menu is al­ways evolv­ing. One of my favourites at the mo­ment is the sakura smoked ocean trout with negi, fen­nel, crispy leek, ikura and lime zest. We are play­ing around with cold smoke, try­ing sakura (cherry blos­som) wood chips and smok­ing salmon in a chilled en­vi­ron­ment,

which gives the salmon a sub­tle smoky flavour without cook­ing it.”

Kiy­omi, which is lo­cated on the mez­za­nine level of The Star Gold Coast, also en­cap­su­lates the city’s new con­fi­dence as a cut­ting-edge des­ti­na­tion for Ja­panese food lovers. Molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy makes Kiy­omi a must for those who ap­pre­ci­ate so­phis­ti­cated cui­sine and the the­atre of fine din­ing. Be­gin your night at the bar with a Ja­panese-in­spired cock­tail, sakè or top shelf whisky, be­fore mov­ing to a pri­vate booth for din­ner. Seared scampi with foie gras and scat­tered ed­i­ble flower petals look al­most too pretty to eat, or you could opt for ex­ec­u­tive head chef Chase Ko­jima’s favourite dish, a 9+ Wagyu in­side skirt steak from multi award-win­ning pro­ducer David Black­more which is only avail­able at Kiy­omi. “To pre­pare this steak, I like to mar­i­nate it quickly in a Ja­panese fer­mented rice malt (shio koji) as this helps to break down the tis­sues of the meat and draws more nat­u­ral umami flavour into the pro­tein, leav­ing you with a melt-in-your-mouth tex­ture. I then grill it to medium rare on Ja­panese bin­chotan char­coal and serve it with fresh Tas­ma­nian wasabi. It’s an in­cred­i­bly sim­ple dish but so de­li­cious and lets the pro­duce do all the talking.”

For a tra­di­tional tep­pa­nyaki ex­pe­ri­ence there is Misono Ja­panese Steak­house, one of Aus­tralia’s largest tep­pa­nyaki restau­rants. De­spite its im­pres­sive size, this pop­u­lar din­ing spot at the Surfers Par­adise Mar­riott Re­sort & Spa reg­u­larly books out, es­pe­cially on Fri­day and Satur­day nights. The early seat­ing at 5.30pm is a win­ner for any­one din­ing with chil­dren and the chef’s cheeky show­man­ship makes for an es­pe­cially en­joy­able fam­ily din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. There’s even a sim­pli­fied kids’ tep­pa­nyaki menu to keep costs down and en­sure young din­ers en­joy their meal to the full. Book a spot at one of the tep­pan plates in ad­vance, even if you are din­ing mid-week, as Misono is equally pop­u­lar with lo­cals and tourists.

In a nod to the Gold Coast of old, most of the Ja­panese din­ing ac­tion is cen­tred around Surfers Par­adise and Broad­beach, both of which were pop­u­lar with tourists in the 80s. How­ever, din­ers who ven­ture down the Gold Coast High­way to Mer­maid Beach are re­warded with Etsu, a funky ‘iza­kaya’ that is akin to a Ja­panese pub. Pop cul­ture ref­er­ences abound, the mu­sic is pump­ing and the shared plates of gy­oza, sashimi and tem­pura will have you com­ing back for more. Etsu isn’t ex­actly quiet, but it is a whole lot of fun.

With so many choices, you’ll find your per­fect slice of Ja­pan right here on the Gold Coast.

Ya­m­a­gen. Misono Ja­panese Steak­house. Sashimi Mo­ri­awase, Kiy­omi. Photo: Remco Jansen. Chase Ko­jima, ex­ec­u­tive chef, Kiy­omi. Photo: Remco Jansen.

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