Monday, November 29, 2010

Fire and water at Wharf Teppanyaki

I’d never been to teppanyaki before – the mere thought of someone throwing rice bowls or an egg at me is petrifying and gives me jelly arms that would guarantee a bowl on my head or egg down my top.

Wharf Teppanyaki, Lime Street, King Street Wharf, Sydney
But at Wharf Teppanyaki, the latest venture by Kobe Jones on King Street Wharf, I’m reassured that there will be no throwing of food or crockery. Instead, we’re in for a show of fire and skills, freshly grilled food and water views within the sumptuously decorated restaurant that adjoins Kobe Jones Sydney.

Teppan table and settings
Some other food bloggers and I meet our hosts and chefs for the day: Paul Misan and Justine Norwood of Kobe Jones Restaurant Group, and head chefs Yumi Maeyama and Sucahyo Yuniadi. Yumi is the cheerful, potentially pyromaniacal head chef from The Rocks Teppanyaki, taking the lead in both feeding and entertaining us this day.

Table settings
Formerly the private dining and functions area of Kobe Jones Sydney, the Wharf Teppanyaki space (with a different entrance and address to Kobe Jones) is impressively filled with a six tonne teppan table that seats 46 diners and eight cooking stations.

It’s the biggest teppan table in Australia; Misan is waiting to hear from Guinness World Records to see if it’s the biggest teppan table in the world. The completely stainless steel ventilation hood is also a design feature; spanning the entire room and functional in that we’re not expected to leave lunch all smoky and smelling of food.

The teppan table and ventilation hood
We each select teppanyaki sets from the menu, my affections torn between the lobster and crab sets. While deciding, we were treated to the Kobe Jones Number One Special – an intricate roll of shredded crab salad and avocado encased in a thin slice of Hiramasa kingfish.

Secret sauce
The maki sushi like pieces were placed onto the teppan to grill for a few minutes before being doused in a secret sauce (creamy, mayo like) then both flambéd and literally torched by a grinning Yumi.

Fiery flambé action

Yumi blowtorches the Number One Special
Things were warming up in the heat and appetite department while Misan was telling us that the Kobe Jones style is a fusion of Japanese styles including Californian and Pacific – which makes more sense of my first dining experience at Kobe Jones many years ago when I noticed an abundance of mayonnaise and thought, "This isn’t really Japanese".

Number One Special
The Number One Special comes out from the flames looking like it was covered in melted cheese, the sauce which is surprisingly not overwhelming despite the amount. The charred, almost black bottom provides a crunchy contrast to the soft and creamy crab – a few more of these would definitely not go astray.

Preparing the cauliflower soup
Making as much use of the teppan table as possible, the cauliflower soup is also prepared on the hotplate in a copper pot, and we’re assured that dessert will be too.

Cauliflower soup
The soup is creamy to a point of cheesiness, with the sweetness of the cauliflower a highlight. It almost feels a little odd not to have some crusty bread along with it, before I remember that I’m at teppanyaki, which is then a little odd anyway.

Seafood poke
The seafood poke arrives next and takes me straight back to Hawaii where I had poke with almost every meal, traditionally made with cubes of ahi, raw tuna. Here it wasn’t so much cubes as slices, with a spicy mix of salmon, kingfish and seasoned wakame seaweed topped with tiny alfalfa sprouts.

I don’t remember the Hawaiian versions being spicy at all, but I rather liked the fiery yet tame heat that comes from the addition of US style hot sauce – I might even prefer it to traditional soy sauce and wasabi.

Mushrooms on the teppan
With most everyone on a different teppanyaki menu, timing of food is a little disjointed. While we all receive poke and salads at similar times (one a warm mushroom one, the others just dressed lettuce, tomato and cucumber), most of the grilled food is cooked in bunches; that is, the seafood, then the burgers, then the meat.

It makes for prolonged dining when there are various menu choices, which is probably why Wharf Teppanyaki recommends that the dining experience should not be rushed.

Seasonal salad
The chefs re-emerge from the motion activated kitchen door (which is a little Get Smart in its attempt at concealment) laden with ingredients. The wagyu burger orders were the first up - and these were not just any wagyu burgers.

Making your own wagyu beef burger pattie
The Wharf Teppanyaki wagyu burger is a bit of a DIY job. Presented with wagyu beef mince, ingredients and spicings, diners are encourage to select their own flavourings for the patties which chefs then cook on the teppan.

In addition to diced onion, egg and milk for binding, there are an array of spicings including chillis, garlic, chives and capers to choose from. Indeed, one could use them all and be in for one flavour packed burger.

Sucahyo shapes the patties to perfection
After shaping into perfectly round patties, the burgers get the the full flambé treatment too, before being served on a white bun with lettuce and tomato.
Burger patties get flambéd
Meanwhile, at another teppan cooking station with Yumi the seafood hits the grill with Simon’s lobster the first to get the teppanyaki treatment.

Western Rock lobster on the Teppan
The half Western Rock lobster was grilled flesh down under the specially-made hammered copper cloche, presumably for a steaming effect, then dramatically flambéd at the very end.

Western Rock lobster
Yumi had the tail removed from the shell in a blink and chopped the lobster into bite-sized pieces, followed by a light dressing on the teppan of garlic and butter.

Western Rock lobster tail meat
Generously shared around (thanks Simon!), I hate to admit finding the lobster a little chewy, remembering why I actually prefer crab. Preferences aside, it was delicate in flavour, enhanced with a squeeze of lemon and not quite an everyday lunch item.

King prawns on the teppan
Next on the grill were the seafood components for those of us having the Seafood on the Wharf set. Huge king prawns were effortlessly peeled, beheaded and de-veined on the teppan with the heads left behind.

Salmon, scallops and prawns on the teppan with butter
Evenly sliced salmon pieces followed, then the faster-cooking scallops. After another flambé session, the seafood was all lightly dressed in the same garlic and butter combination, the butter even getting the clanging utensils treatment of teppanyaki theatrics.

Grilled salmon, scallop and king prawn
Served with three dipping sauces – a ponzu soy, a sweet white miso and a teriyaki – I favoured the salmon of the three grilled seafood offerings, which easily flaked into pieces and was nicest with the miso. The soft-ish prawns were best with a squeeze of lemon, with the huge scallop best with the citrusy soy.

Alaskan king crab legs on the teppan
As I started on my plate of seafood, the neat, clean Alaskan crab claws made their way to the teppan for just a few minutes on each side; Yumi mucking around with them before flambéing them too.

Crab legs get flambéd
Presented with two legs plus small joint/body bits, I hadn’t considered the logistics of eating crab when I ordered. Fortunately the shells were prepared with that in mind, with just a little push, pull and bend required to get the sweet meat from the legs; the sweetest in the thinnest, hardest-to-get-to part of the leg, of course.

Crab meat in the prepared shells

Crab legs
The Alaskan king crab doesn’t quite compare to mud crabs’ sweetness, and it’s expectedly coarser than blue swimmer crabs, but holds its own when you manage to extract a leg piece in its entirety and chomp right into it.

After all the seafood was done, it was finally beef and chicken time (see earlier comments about meal timing). Yumi appeared excited to be showing us a wagyu roll which was thin strips of wagyu beef with grilled vegetables rolled within.

Vegetable filling of the wagyu roll

Wagyu roll on the teppan
The roll was then sliced into thick rounds, much like a hot, meaty version of sushi. The sear marks on the outside of the beef were so appetising and despite the thinness, there is the choice of how to have your beef done - from medium upwards at least.

Grilled vegetables
During my extended crab eating time (it’s a slow process plus I’m a slow eater) my table place started to fill up: with teppan grilled red capsicum, zucchini and bean sprouts; with deeply flavoured miso soup prepared in house; and with a garlic rice prepared on the teppan with pre-cooked short grain rice, not much garlic but a load of other seasonings.

Miso soup

Garlic rice
Yumi even made rice crackers of sorts by flattening and leaving some of the garlic rice to crispen, like the rice on the bottom of a paella pan, but crunchier.

Garlic rice'crackers'
I like the rice 'crackers' dipped in the sweet miso sauce; in fact, I liked everything dipped in the miso sauce.

Prawn head cracker
It was at this point that the prawn head from what seemed like an hour ago reappeared; split, flattened and with its legs still attached. I normally don’t have a problem with eating school prawns head and all, but a head this size was a little more daunting, although at least without the orange head goop. This was exceptionally crunchy, especially the legs, and packed full of rich seafood flavour – a nice beer snack, I would imagine.

Kobe Jones private dining room
Unsurprisingly, a couple of hours in, the amount of food was starting to overwhelm – not that there was insane quantities of food; just that 10 or 11 dishes, however small, are going to impact stomach space.

Going for a wander around the restaurant, I noticed that the Kobe Jones Sydney private dining room was in the back section of Wharf Teppanyaki, looking out to the water but just before the balcony seating.

Yumi puts crepes on the teppan
I almost groaned when dessert was announced but in hindsight, I’m glad I miraculously conjured up some space and appetite for dessert. We were having crepe suzette, heated on the teppan.

The crepes were pre-cooked in the Kobe Jones kitchen, as Misan explained a pan is needed for the shape, as well as utilising the skills of their French former pastry chef. Heated on the teppan, the crepes were drizzled with a caramelly orange sauce, folded into quarters and topped with orange segments before the big show.

Flambéing the crepes suzette

Crepe suzette
So my first ever crepe suzette was cooked on a teppan – not exactly authentic, but after tasting it, I really didn’t care. The silky, soft layers of the crepe, sticky with orange sauce and still steaming from its flambé experience, were divine with just the right amounts of both sweetness and citrus flavour.

I struggle to think of a more perfect dessert, with one crepe being just the right size too. The crepes in themselves are reason to go back, I think.

Green tea
The perfect dessert was washed down with hot green tea as lunch then turned into a three hour-plus affair. I had been wondering what kind of dining out occasion Wharf Teppanyaki would be suited to, and while there is The Kobe option designed for 45 minutes, I think a long lunch or dinner are ideal. It’d also be great for big parties – imagine you and 45 of your best mates around one big, hot table.

Given the theatrics of the meal, Wharf Teppanyaki is definitely an eating experience unlike any other. But rather be thrown food and crockery, it's quality and care being presented on Japanese earthenware dishes. All that, plus a fire show and water views – what a great first experience of teppanyaki.

Thanks to Wharf Teppanyaki and Kobe Jones Restaurant Group for lunch and Professional Public Relations for the kind invite and company.

Wharf Teppanyaki on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 26, 2010

Melbourne wrap #2

Everyone knows Degraves Street in Melbourne. If you haven’t been, your concierge/guidebook/Melbourne host/random on the bus/boyfriend’s little brother’s friend’s workmate will tell you. It’s a go-to place for breakfast nearly any time and in near any state.

Degraves Street, Melbourne CBD
It appears there have been changes at Degraves Espresso since I’ve been last. Despite the same look and interiors of the laneway café, tapas dishes now feature on the menu, presumably for lunch and dinner. Service levels seem to have declined somewhat (coffees arrive midway through the meal; we source our own cutlery, pepper and sugar), while the kitchen still pumps out brekkies at a hunger-pleasing pace.

Poached eggs with chorizo and hollandaise from Degraves Espresso,
Degraves Street, Melbourne CBD
Poached eggs seem to have taken over as the brekky favourite, with scrambled and fried selections seen less and less I think. Must be a balancing/health thing, considering the usual breakfast accompaniments of bacon, sausages, hash browns and so on.

At Degraves Espresso, eggs on good toasted sourdough come with an array of sides options. The chorizo looks a little unexcited, pink and barely charred, but salty and moreish nonetheless. The hollandaise sauce is lukewarm, tart and decadent poured over the perfectly poached eggs and toast.

Poached eggs with bacon and home made baked beans
I’m always inclined to get home made baked beans when they’re available on the menu, and this doesn’t disappoint. A mix of broad beans and navy beans in a well seasoned tomato-based sauce, they’re sustainingly healthy and a pleasant change from plain old bacon and egss – which I also have on my plate.

Strong short macchiatos find us eventually and we’re then ready to face the day ahead in Melbourne, which involves getting around on foot and the lovely city circle free tram.

Not a free tram
While the clean, straight lines of the CBD ‘rectangle’ and wide footpaths make for easy navigation, I find architecture and styling noticeably less straight than that of Sydney – less sleek and modern, more character and quirk – to say nothing of the graffiti art culture. Makes for a nice lifestyle change every now and then.

More Melbourne wraps and restaurants to come, including GT's best restaurant of the year.

Degraves Espresso Bar on Urbanspoon


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...