"It's not much but it's ours"

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Tetsuya was recently voted No5 best restaurant in the world by trade gossip rag, Restaurant Magazine and, while the creation of the list is a most spurious exercise, the constant appearance of this restaurant in the upper reaches should tell us something about Sydney’s most sought after reservation.

I must be one of the few people in the world to cancel a reservation at Tetsuya which I did on my last visit when I was feeling under the weather. I regretted it ever since and this time, I was determined to make sure I snagged a table

Mind you, they don’t make it easy. Faxed confirmations, phone confirmations, vials of blood to be deposited at a secret location (well I made that last bit up, but you get the picture) and, it is not cheap either with the degustation menu with attending wine flight coming in at AU$300 (about £125) which is expensive by London standards and makes it a “once in a lifetime” treat for much of Sydney.

Is it worth it? Well, for your (lot of) money, you get thirteen courses (or fourteen in my case as I was comped one) of cooking that would put it near the very pinnacle of any serious eater’s “must do’s”

It is not flawless, of course. How many meals are? Out of fourteen, there were probably three or four misfires. But, there are moments of surprise and brilliance to compensate, a sensitivity to local ingredients and one dish that will be considered amongst the very greatest of culinary creations when the good lord decides to create a degustation menu in Heaven.

I was surprised, at first by how utilitarian the room looked. The chairs are uncomfortable and the lighting is flat and makes the room and everything in it look unattractive. Not hard for a pug ugly like me but unflattering to the uber beautiful of Sydney.

But, the service was, as it should be for that money, on the ball. Polite and formal, without being stuffy.

As a side note, they had no issues with me taking pictures of my meal, as long as I did not use the flash. Fair enough. All of which makes the recent protestations at Number 6 look even more silly.

There is no point listing the dishes. You can see all of that online. Although, I do wish they would list all the ingredients as each dish contained at least two things that were unannounced and meant I was constantly asking questions.

What did I like?

a pant wettingly good disc of smoked ocean trout with avruga caviar which came topped with a quail egg yolk protected by a scallop mousse. The yolk dribbled from the mousse when punctured and the whole lot was mixed together to form the most extravagant tartare which was complimented by a small tumbler of sake.

A small plate of wagayu came with lime and wasabi which made even those jaded taste buds of mine feel like they had been wakened from the dead.

A ravioli of spanner crab was accompanied by a simple tomato and basil vinaigrette and sat on a small mousse of more crab wrapped in nori. As good an example as you are ever likely to find.

A perfectly good scallop carpaccio raised its game with the addition of four tiny cuttlefish tempura which crunched pleasingly by way of counter point to the soft scallop slices.

Best of all, however, was Tetsuya’s signature dish. More ocean trout, but this time confit in local olive oil, topped with konbu (seaweed) and served on a bed of baby fennel and shredded daikon. It is hard to describe how good this dish this is. So good that it managed to survive the clumsy addition of a green salad so heavily laden with balsamic that it would have killed all taste for that dish and those to follow had I not left it well alone after one bite. So good that I carved small thin slices from the fish to make the eating of it last all the longer. So good that conversation at all the tables surrounding me came to an appreciative silence in their conversations as each person put the first bite of this in their mouths. This is one of “those” dishes that rank up there with the very best.

What didn’t I like?

Pea soup with bitter chocolate sorbet got the meal off to a bad start as these unlikely bedfellows showed why they should stay of opposite ends of the menu.

Twice cooked, de-boned, poussin was oversalty thanks to an enthusiastic use of anchovies.

A small spoon of lentils cooked with brown sugar topped with grated comte just didn’t work. Plain and simple.

Vanilla bean ice cream with white beans & dates suffered from an overly aggressive cooking of the beans to a softness that left no counterpoint to the softness of the very good ice cream.

The decision to use only Australian ingredients wherever possible limits provides a challenge to the sommelier and the wine flight struggled to keep up with the invention of the cooking. A some, like a leesy chardonnay, worked well, in this case with the spanner crab raviloli. Others, like a pinot grigio, were insipid and uninspiring. For the desserts, the French sommelier brought me two glasses of eiswine. One local and one from Austria. Let’s just say, the Australians have a long way to go in this niche market.

Minor quibbles, I grant you. But, for $300 and for a menu that has changed little in recent times, you could argue that there should be no room to get things wrong.

For all that, this didn’t feel like culinary list ticking. It felt like a kitchen still striving to be at the top of its game even if they did not always get there. Tetsuya was very much in effect in the kitchen and did not make an appearance in the room until towards the end of service when he came out to glad hand a few favoured guests.

There are lots of reasons I chose Sydney for one of the first stops on EAT MY GLOBE. Tetsuya was one of them. I am not disappointed.

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Blogger Trig said...

I've never been able to understand why every aspiring restaurant of a certain level feels the need to have certain dishes and methods on their menu. I mean if you were to look on the menus of the "top 50 restaurants in the world", how many of them would not have something "confit", something else served as a "carpaccio", John Dory perhaps with fennel, and predictably a "ravioli" of some sort.

This is in no way a personal attack on Tetsuya, I just get so frustrated at seeing the same old stuff on every damn menu. So no foie gras then?

Saturday, May 05, 2007 4:37:00 pm  
Blogger Chris Pople said...

Yes it's funny how after your 3rd or 4th Michelin-star meal you get to see so many pigeon, turbot, fois gras, etc. dishes. I suppose the more a chef tries to reach for his 2nd or 3rd star the more he ends up trying to emulate what's worked in the past. It's a shame really.

Sunday, May 06, 2007 2:14:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent reading Simon. This is the one restaurant, I have wanted to get to more than any other.

But Pea soup and bitter chocolate? Eeek- that's on a par with that hideous potato and maple syrup spoonful we were force fed at the Fat Duck years ago.



Sunday, May 06, 2007 6:04:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 2 said...

Fair points, but it is worth pointing out that Tetsuya is not a michelin rated restaurant ( although certainly would be at least a 2* if their rationale was applied)

Also, I would argue that Tetsuya is, in some cases, the originator of SOME of these dishes which now appear on other menus. It is funny how many confit ocean trout I have seen on menus in Sydney.


Sunday, May 06, 2007 10:47:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

More photos definitely needed here, HS.

Thursday, May 10, 2007 5:27:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good and fair comment, particularly as most Australian critics fawn over Tetsuya and never have a negative word. I have been about 5 times in the last 10-12 years and you are correct, the menu evolves very slowly. Accordingly, each visit of less utility. You are also correct that the confit ocean trout is a great dish and the conception and method can be attributed to Tetsuya alone.

Monday, June 22, 2009 3:09:00 am  

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