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