Monday, July 7, 2014

Tetsuya's: A degustation to remember

The name Tetsuya's is still spoken with reverence in Sydney and probably always will be. There's not really any other restaurant experience like world-renowned chef Tetsuya Wakuda's Japanese-meets-French degustation-only lunches and dinners.

My first ever visit to the Sydney institution earlier this year for a surprise birthday celebration was everything I expected and more.

From the moment you enter the tranquil restaurant, modelled like a traditional Japanese home off a driveway on Kent Street south of the city, Tetsuya's whisks diners off on an hours-long gastronomic journey filled with sensual delights.

Bread and truffle and ricotta butter at Tetsuya's, Kent Street, Sydney
We put in an order for cocktails while alternating looks through the drinks menu and the Japanese zen garden outside, debating the merits of matching wines. Without food menus provided in the first instance, booze selection is more a case of budget and taste preferences, rather than your own food matching. We ended up with the matching wines.

We started with a bread and a pot of Tetsuya's trademark truffle butter, whipped with ricotta cheese to a light and creamy consistency. It's about the most luxurious thing you could spread on bread, with the earthy flavour of the black truffle coming through strongly beneath the rich and creamy dairy components.

The cocktails took a while to arrive and so basically collided with the first of the matching wines - not the first time I've had this happen in hatted restaurants.

In any case I barely remember the sweet apple cocktail or the blood orange one. It also makes me wonder why fine dining restaurants don't just keep to classic cocktails.

Pacific oysters with rice wine vinegar and ginger
We opted in to the extra course of Pacific oysters to start. Served as two per diner, the plump oysters dressed generously with rice wine vinaigrette, ginger and chives were a divine precursor to the luxurious meal.

Excitement got the better of me when the amuse bouche of arrived: a tea cup's worth of chawanmushi-style savoury custard flavoured with soy cream and mirin, topped with avruga caviar. I got to the bottom of it, savouring every small spoonful, before I realised that I'd forgotten to take a photo.

With beautifully rounded and umami-rich flavours and the most delicate texture of the steamed custard against the pops of salty caviar, it truly was a blissful and memorable start to the degustation. A thoroughly Japanese one too, matched with the seriously drinkable Tamano Hikari Tokusen junmai ginjo sake from Kyoto.

Carpaccio of leatherjacket with nori and citrus soy
The modern artistic presentation of the first course was somewhat surprising, offering uncommonly raw leatherjacket in carpaccio fashion.

The loose rolls of the white fish were fresh and firm, mostly flavoured by a very well-balanced nori seaweed and citrus soy sauce while pickled onion pieces added zing and crunch. The impossibly thinly cut radish was a stunning feat of knifework, adding mainly to the plate's presentation.

The leatherjacket was matched with the 2009 Tunkakililla Vineyard Riesling from Oregon, USA.

Marinated scampi with walnut oil and egg
The raw seafood theme continued with the marinated scampi dish; the tails of many of the delicious crustacean forming a generous tower topped with crème fraîche.

The scampi tails were marinated quite simply in the walnut oil dressing, allowing the scampi's sea-sweet creaminess to shine while a gooey egg yolk at the bottom of a soft seaweed nest added a velvety texture.

This was matched with the buttery 2011 Pierro Chardonnay made especially for Tetsuya's from the Margaret River in Western Australia.

Confit of Petuna ocean trout with a salad of celery, witlof, apple and unpasteurised ocean trout roe
I couldn't contain my excitement when Tetsuya's long-time signature dish landed in front of me: the perfectly presented confit of Petuna ocean trout. The beautiful dish deserves every bit of fawning and glory it receives, and it was easily my favourite course of the degustation.

The soft cooked ocean trout is coated in a salty crust of chives and kombu seaweed, which contrasts exceptionally with the sweet, tart, slightly bitter salad of celery, witlof and Granny Smith apple matchsticks.

The ocean trout roe on the side seemed a purely luxurious addition, making every mouthful - best with a bit of everything - more special and fantastical.

The ocean trout was, interestingly, served with a green leafy salad on the side and was matched with a light 2012 Journey Wines Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley, Victoria.

Roasted Moreton Bay bug with braised oxtail
We moved on to warm dishes, still with seafood components. Before this meal I hadn't realised that the Tetsuya's degustation would be so seafood-heavy, although I certainly had no issue with that.

One of my favourite shellfish, the roasted Moreton Bay bug, featured in the next course; free from its shell in large pieces that you rarely see. Given the simplicity of the roasted crustacean, the significantly heartier, oily flavours of the stew-like braised oxtail beneath it tended to overpower the delicate bug meat.

Tea smoked quail breast with parsnip and calamari
There was more surf-and-turf action with the tea-smoked quail breast; a delicately flavoured, medium-rare cooked breast alongside raw, shaved squid.

The latter outshone the poultry with its velvety mouthfeel and uniqueness, while the soft parsnip chip added what I call a quirky root vegetable flavour to the dish.

At this point I was having the 2012 Kellybrook Cabernet blend, also from the Yarra Valley.

Grass-fed fillet of beef with soy braised tendon and wasabi leaf
Our final savoury course featured a trio of beef: a round cut fillet, soy braised beef tendon and gorgeous blob of bone marrow.

Thoroughly cooked, the beef fillet had some surprisingly chewy parts but was nonetheless a great base for the rich feature additions of gelatinous tendons and fatty marrow, while the raw wasabi leaves brought much needed freshness and spiciness.

White peaches with almond milk ice cream
There was an appropriate pause before dessert was served, now more than a couple hours into the meal.

The first dessert featured white peach segments poached in champagne and crumbly bits of meringue, topped with a subtle almond milk ice cream. Served with the 2011 Georg Breuer Auslese Riesling, it was mild on the overall sweetness but was a nice, fruity lead into the second dessert, which also doubled as a birthday cake for one.

Tetsuya's chocolate cake
It's surprising that this dessert doesn't have the profile of some other chocolate desserts around town as it was sensational.

While the non-birthday version showed off the mirror chocolate glaze, rather than an over-the-top amount of gold leaf and a candle, it was the rich, multi-layered, all-chocolate affair inside the coating that was mind-blowing. Mousse, cake, crisp and creamy bits - this chocolate cake had it all.

Adding to the sense of indulgence was the final matched wine: an almost syrupy 1983 Toro Albalá Gran Reserva Pedro Ximenez.

Petit fours
We finished with petit fours - a strawberry macaron and dark chocolate truffle - and tea and coffee, and ended up being one of the last tables to finish; not that that seemed to trouble anyone.

Garden views
Service throughout the night was impeccable and at the height of professionalism, as was expected. Rather than having one section waiter look after a number of tables, we were served by a number of waiters during the course of the degustation - all extremely knowledgeable and supplemented by a couple of sommeliers.

The fact that there was a large, rowdy group dining in one corner of the room meant the evening's ambience was, perhaps unusually, convivial; particularly when chef Wakuda himself came out to meet and greet with select tables.

While the meal itself was punctuated with a couple of clear highlights - in particular the amuse, signature confit of ocean trout and Tetsuya's chocolate cake - some of the other dishes faded into the overall experience which was certainly one to remember.

Tetsuya's on Urbanspoon


Jacq said...

What a way to celebrate a birthday! All the courses sound incredible and good to hear that the ocean trout lives up to the hype

chocolatesuze said...

i want to lick that bone marrow through my computer screen.

Cindy (a foodie's joy) said...

Tetsuya Wakuda is one of my food heroes and I hold fond memories of his superb Petunia ocean trout confit! Nice post! :)

Ramen Raff said...

Can't wait for the day I dine at Tetsuya's! I was able to try that truffle butter through a friend and it was sooo damn awesome!

Trisha said...

Been years since I was last at Tetsuya's... I could still taste that butter mmmmmm. I could eat that butter forever!

Tina said...

Hi Jacq - Yeah, I was afraid the ocean trout was overhyped but glad to report: it's not!

Hi suze - Hehe, how do you feel about beef tendon?

Hi Cindy - The whole experience was quite special and memorable :)

Hi Raff - It was impossible to not have seconds of bread - the butter is so good!

Hi Trisha - I'mm looking forward to my second visit in the future!

penny aka jeroxie said...

Happy birthday! I love Tets but feel the same way as you. H brought me there for one of my birthdays too.

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

The service here is always impeccable. What a fab birthday surprise :)

Richard Elliot said...

What a lovely birthday surprise.

I went for my birthday a few years ago and had a similar experience to the one you had (if I got the right impression!). There were some great dishes, but overall it didn't reach the heights that I hoped for based on the reputation Tetsuya's has and the price I paid.

Tina said...

Hi Penny - Yeah, I seem to be hearing that from lots of people now.

Hi Helen - Loved the overall experience, and especially the service.

Hi Richard - Yes, though I suppose it's hard for everything in the deg to be spectacular... Still, great experience.


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