Tetsuya’s, Sydney

February 10, 2008

Restaurant Magazine in London rates Tetsuya’s as the fifth best restaurant in the world, ahead of Michel Bras, the Louis XV and Per Se. Even though we know that such rankings are silly exercises, the evening promised to be memorable.  Sue, Linda and I went for dinner on February 7, 2008.

Tetsuya’s is in a Japanese-style wooden building set back from a commercial street northwest of downtown Sydney. The initial impression is excellent; the entry is an oasis of calm; the welcoming staff members there are wearing Relais et Chateaux tieclips. But as we went toward the back, I was surprised by the size of Tetsuya’s. There are several large dining rooms, including one that held mostly Japanese. (I read later that Tetsuya’s seats 55.) We were seated next to a glass wall with a view onto a Japanese garden out back. Our dining room was calm on our 7:00 arrival, but by 8:00 the room was full of people out for a good time, many at large tables. It became hard to hear each other and the pronouncements of the staff on each course. I wondered, and still do, how they could attract so many customers, many of them young, at these prices.

There is no menu; everyone pays A$195 (US$185) for the tasting meal. There is an optional oyster course which we did not take. Wine is extra, of course. But there was not even a printed description to help us know what we were eating. A waiter or waitress would describe each dish as it was delivered. Unfortunately, between the noise, the Australian accent and my efforts to take a photo I seldom understood any of it. Sue and Linda would try to fill me in and I wrote notes after eating. I had read the menu on the website before coming, but some dishes had changed. Checking it on the website created a problem later, as you shall read. The photo taking was not easy, not because a flash was inappropriate in the festive atmosphere, but because the light coming in the window onto the white plates made the flash wash out the food. So I had to rely on natural light until after sunset. Sorry about the fuzziness on some.   I have clipped descriptions from the website for this blogpost where possible, which included most of the courses except the desserts.

We ordered glasses of Clover Hill blanc de blanc Tasmanian sparkling wine. Nice. Wine pairings were offered, but we declined. We ordered an old favorite of Linda’s and mine, Tarrawarra Chardonnay (2002, Yarra Valley) for our white wine and the 2005 Stefano Lubiano (Tasmania) Pinot Noir for our red. They didn’t seem inclined to put the red into a decanter so we asked that it be poured into the glasses while we drank our white.

We were offered bread and a crock of butter with shards of black truffles in it was put on the table. The butter really had the truffle flavor and was delicious.

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The meal started with a martini glass with Chilled sweet corn soup with saffron and Vanilla ice cream. The corn flavor was very good, (It is late summer here.) but I couldn’t taste any saffron.
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Second
was a Tian of Smoked Ocean Trout & Avruga Caviar with a poached quail egg coated in scallop mousse. We were instructed to break the egg and let it run over the tian. I liked the dish, although I could not taste the gelatinous scallop. We were told that Avruga caviar is Spanish herring roe, but a little research later shows that it is a proprietary product made from herring by a Spanish company.

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Third
was Caramelized Leek & Crab Custard. This was quite subtle.

At this point a waitress removed our white wine glasses as she saw they were empty and there was red wine on the table. After a bit of arm waving we got new ones which were filled from our still half-full bottle.

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Fourth
was Sashimi of Big Eye Tuna with wasabi and Ginger Vinaigrette.

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Fifth
was Confit of Petuna Tasmanian Ocean Trout with Konbu, Daikon & Fennel
Seasonal Green Salad.
Ocean trout in Australia is a red meat fish, somewhat like salmon. The coating on one side was based on kelp providing a nice counterpoint to the fish which had been slowly poached in olive oil. This can be an excellent way to prepare meaty, oily fish; it worked here. Annisa in NY does it superbly with tuna. There was a very nice salad of little greens served with this; as we didn’t finish it with this course, it was left on the table for the following courses.

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Sixth
was Ravioli of Queensland Spanner Crab with Tomato & Basil Vinaigrette. The dish was too complicated and dominated by the Thai basil vinaigrette.

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Seventh
was Grilled Fillet of Barramundi with braised fennel.

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Eighth was Twice Cooked De-Boned Spatchcock with Olive & Caper Jus and smoked eggplant puree. Spatchcock is Australian for a poussin or young chicken.

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Ninth
was Grilled Wagyu Beef with Lime, Wasabi and a square of ponzu jelly.

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Tenth was supposed to be Comte with Lentils and that is when the trouble began. After the beef, we were asked if we would like to have the bread plates removed. Unfortunately, I had read on the website that the menu included this comté course so, thinking that I would want some bread with the cheese, I asked if a cheese course came next. The clearing waiter said it was just a spoonful. But the senior waiter came by and announced that he would prepare us a cheese course. We said that we did not want it if it wasn’t part of the regular meal.  No, he said, he likes to prepare a cheese course. We said that we didn’t want it. He came back half an hour later to say that the cheese was warming up. We repeated that we did not want it and he repeated that he likes to serve it.

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So we waited for another half hour and two identical plates of various cheeses and fruit were presented, which I refused to touch and they were removed. The comté (presented as “cow’s milk cheese”) with lentils arrived.

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Eleventh
was a fruit cup with “summer pudding,” pear and sauternes jelly and two special grapes that tased like Concord grapes to me.

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Twelfth was a Blue Cheese Bavarois. I think this was offered to us outside the regular menu. It was excellent. I’m told that it is a signature dish which he has been offering for a long time.

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Thirteenth
was a banana mousse with a passion fruit sandwich and caramel ice cream.

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Fourteenth was a fudgelike chocolate cube.

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Finally there were  Petit Fours

So if I try to look beyond the service problems and the noisy ambiance, how was the cuisine? In New York or France it would certainly get a Michelin star, maybe two, maybe not. Perhaps this kind of Franco-Japanese fusion cusine seems wildly inventive in Sydney, but having just come from New York, San Francisco and Honolulu it seems ordinary to me at a highly rated restaurant. The large number of courses is impressive, but that is different from great cooking and is made simpler by serving everyone the same thing. I doubt there are many restaurants in the “Top Fifty” that do not have an a la carte menu; El Bulli, of course, but Tetsuya Wakuda is no Ferran Adria.

http://www.tetsuyas.com

4 Responses to “Tetsuya’s, Sydney”

  1. sue Says:

    Mike — I think in the circumstances, you let Tetsuya –and the restaurant’s patrons — off very lightly. Your comments are on the button and I can think of little else to add. Over the past few years there have been varying reports, and I was very curious to see how “Tets'” food and style had evolved over the many years since I had first eaten in the Roselle restaurant he established back in the ’90s. There is a French expression which escapes me momentarily for someone who has aquired great prominence, and because of that legendary status he is rather left alone, free of too much criticism, to enjoy an almost deified existence — though it is not warranted. That’s the niche that Tetsuya now occupies, I believe.

    Best,
    Sue.

  2. Michael Says:

    I think the expression is “un monstre sacré.”

  3. Jo Says:

    I really do not understand your problem with the complimentary cheese plate. There was no need to be so stubborn and frankly, rude. Think about it, the poor waiter probably went home and cried that night. Furthermore, if you’re so content to go and sit down to an entire degustation not knowing what you were to have, what’s wrong with having the senior waiter present you with a little cheese that had been clearly intended for diners to consume (or else why would they have had it in the first place?)? When you think about it, it is unlikely that Tetsuya Wakuda had anything to do with your meal that night, apart from developing the dishes.Tetsuya Wakuda may not be Ferran Adria, but his food is certainly more accessible and in my view, an Australian asset to be sure.


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