We had probably driven past that inconspicuous metal gate a thousand times. Back and forth, in perpetual ignorance of what exactly lied beyond that gate. Then, I became a “foodie” and those gates somehow began to mean something else. It was as if the moment I began to love food a homing beacon was turned on; and one day while naively driving down Kent St, I saw the indistinct sign and exclaimed to G, “That’s Tetsuya’s!” And from that moment on, I began to dream of what gastronomic pleasures lied beyond those hallowed gates.
The dreaming continued for some time, then not too long ago, when G and I were planning what we were going to do to celebrate 4 years together, he proceeded to utter five most magical words, “I’m taking you to Tetsuya’s”. A rush of blood to the head and a brief rendition of the victory dance ensued and I’m sure if there were a couch nearby I would have jumped up and down on it, fists punching the air and all.
So began four weeks of counting down to the day of our degustation lunch and it seemed that those days could not have passed by more slowly. Oh how waiting can feel so long. We had tried to book dinner, but seeing as that it was only four weeks prior to the date we wanted to go, and dinner usually needs to be booked at least three to four months ahead we could only secure a table for lunch. Not that lunch would be any less magnificent. At this stage there was no going back, I was determined and if that meant sneaking in my own table and chairs, so let it be.
Like one of our waiters who graciously took our photos in the Japanese garden said, "It's not everyday you come to Tetsuya's". So I’ll try my best to recount what we actually ate, but at that time my head was clouded with the giddy delirium of a lovesick school girl. I was just ecstatic to be actually there and that was probably enough for me. However for the noble purposes of food blogging I did whip my camera out at every course to faithfully document our meal. And surprisingly many other people were doing the same and I did get one business man and his wife requesting me to email them our photos. It was a nice piece of flattery that soothed every shred of embarrassment I felt in taking photos at such a fine establishment. It's not everyday you go to Tetsuya's so why not have a photographic account of your experience.
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And so it began, the day I was finally going to find out what lied beyond the gate. I imagined that some sort of alarm bell or siren must sound the second that automatic metal gate opens because valets, hosts, greeters, an entire entourage somehow materialises in the previously unmanned entrance as if they knew we were coming. This is what I call service and I thought to myself, “That was quick!” It was a great start to our lunch and not a morsel of food had been served yet.
Just minutes after being seated you are presented with a choice between freshly baked white bread or sourdough rolls and is accompanied by a small supply of black truffle salsa butter! The only way to eat the bread is to smear the butter on thick like there’s no tomorrow. As you can see we savagely mauled this little pot just minutes after receiving our bread.
Then came the wine list, it was a thick black book that almost rivalled the size of War and Peace. Okay, perhaps I exaggerate although it did take G a good fifteen minutes to pore over the list and eventually settle on a bottle. He opted for a 2005 bottle of Lost Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($55), which was a little dry for my tastes but was beautifully earthy and aromatic.
The degustation started of with a cold corn soup with basil ice cream which I have to say was a great start. It was a beautiful mingling of flavours; the sweet corn soup and the crisp sharpness of the basil ice cream. It was certainly an imaginative introduction to the menu.
Next in line was an optional course of Pacific oysters with rice vinegar and ginger. We shared one serving seeing that I do eat oysters, but don’t exactly love them. It’s an acquired taste that I never really acquired even after numerous attempts to do so. These oysters were fresh, I would not have been surprised it the kitchen staff had fished them out of the restaurant pond themselves as they were so plump and succulent, and I had almost acquired the taste for them. But I do emphasise, almost.
Then we were treated with what I would say was one of my favourite courses, a tartare of tuna on sushi rice with avocado. The tuna was gorgeous, it melted in your mouth and the avocado cream was just the right amount of spiciness. The servers always explain what is on your plate and he suggested we eat this by mixing a little bit of everything in one spoonful. Too bad, the servings are quite small, I could have eaten about three of these!
You might need your magnifying glass to see the Tuna Marinated in Soy & Mirin, Soft Smoked Ocean Trout with Asparagus and Marinated NZ Scampi with Chicken Parfait and Walnut. Again, the servings are quite small, and I do realise it is a degustation but it really wouldn't hurt to have just a fraction more on your plate. Small as it may have been in size, the flvours were huge enough. My favourite of the three would probably be the tuna as I love mirin although all three were so fresh and felt so luscious on your tongue.
This really doesn’t need an introduction, but it was presented to us as Tetsuya’s signature dish, his confit of Petuna Tasmanian Ocean Trout with konbu, daikon and fennel served with seasonal green salad. We were guessing that the trout is slow-cooked as that it tasted quite raw and we really couldn’t be bothered asking our server the finer points of the dish as we were too busy eating it. The small crumbs of konbu that crusted the top of the trout are quite salty and I thought that the fish would taste like a glass of sea water, but in one mouthful is an absolute burst of flavours; salty, sweet and a touch of bitterness all in one. On the outside I was cool calm and collected, nodding in quiet recognition of it goodness, however inside I was doing my little victory dance.
The next two dishes were great but in my opinion were not "out-of-the-ballpark" amazing. But I must give some credit to these two brave dishes; it’s not easy following the signature dish. Here you see a ravioli of lobster and crab with shellfish essence. Beneath, the ravioli sits on what appears to be a sort of terrine. I think this is what killed it for me; I just didn’t like the terrine. The shellfish essence was beautiful though, and I was scooping up every spoonful on my plate until it was clean.
I think the only reason I was disappointed about this braised duck with fennel (I couldn’t even remember exactly what it was called) was that I was expecting the de-boned spatchcock. The duck was flawlessy tender and juicy, and the sauce was beautifully sweet, although my pining for the spatchcock clouded my judgement and I probably wrongfully overlooked it in my disappointment.
This next dish normally would have been the Wagyu beef, but was replaced with a tender veal with wasabi butter and spinach. I was so excited at the sound of wasabi butter that I hastily hacked into my plate before taking a photograph. Luckily G reminded me, and I tried to salvage the already ravaged plate and attempted to make it look like how it was before. This was a real treat, the wasabi butter was exquisite and as one who loves her butter this dish made me forget about the Wagyu. Wagyu-shmagyu.
A palate-cleanser and a magnificent introduction to dessert was this vibrant beetroot and blood orange sorbet accompanied by Tetsuya’s rendition of the strawberry shortcake. The sorbet was refreshing and the beetroot’s sweetness was a perfect marriage to the blood orange’s tartness. I am still dreaming of this sorbet and am thinking of replicating it one day.
The strawberry shortcake was the sweetness that I was waiting for. It was not cloyingly sweet, but just enough to satiate my sweet tooth. What it looked like was a sweet yellow pulp at the base, some strawberry pieces in the middle and a thick layer of strawberry coulis topped with the cutest, perfectly plopped dollop of thick cream. It was hard not to end up scraping down the sides, as that the serving comes in such a tiny shot glass.
Almost to the end of the meal, next up is the vanilla bean ice cream with coffee syrup, dates and beans served in stylish martini glass. At first I was a little apprehensive about the beans with the ice cream. I really dislike all those Asian desserts that involve beans and thought this one would be the same. However I was proved wrong, the beans, which were apparently Great Northern Beans went surprisingly well the vanilla bean ice cream. Although I still could have done without them. The dates and the coffee syrup was intoxicatingly good and again it was a pity that there was only one scoop.
The last of the desert course is the serenely plated floating island with praline and vanilla bean anglaise. I have this slight veneration for floating islands as most of my attempts have resulted in a fine mess. The islands were airy and delicate, each spoonful disappears on your palate. I loved the praline and vanilla bean anglaise although I could have done with a little more praline and a little less vanilla, seeing as that vanilla featured in the previous dessert. As you get further in, a chocolate and raspberry sauce oozes out of the islands, which is a pleasant and welcomed surprise.
We had thought that our lunch had come to an end although we still had some petit fours left. We received a small plateful of chocolate truffles which we divided evenly between the two of us and five pieces of these coconut encrusted date biscuits which we rightly fought over. Being the gentleman that G was, he conceded and allowed me the last one. Being the glutton that I was, I gladly accepted the offer.
Maybe I’m just a small girl with the stomach of dozen cows, but I really did wish there was just that little bit more on our plates, not too much, just a fraction more. I do realise that a degustation involves a tasting of flavours, but for the amount of money you part with I did expect servings that were larger than a few mouthfuls.
Even though I do pass judgement on the meagre servings, the flavours and the ingenuity applied in concocting such cuisine needs to be applauded. And not to mention the faultless service you receive from the smartly suited attendants. They knew their stuff and they made you feel at home, their attention to detail was bar none. I loved the way they tuck you into your chair after everytime you have gotten up (and I mean every time) and how they fold your napkin neatly back while you have left the table to go to the bathroom. Your glass of wine and water is watched like a hawk and is always topped up when necessary. Our main server even let us traipse through the pristine Japanese garden out front so he could take our photos. What more could you ask for?
Overall, Tetsuya's degustation lunch proved to be a dining experience we will never forget, and this is testament not only to the excellent cuisine but also to the meticulous attention to detail from the staff and the seamless service we received.
529 Kent St,
Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: (02) 9267 2900