Ocean trout gravlax with wakame and cucumber salad
We start with ocean trout gravlax
, firm and fresh with a hint of sweetness from the sugar curing. The dressing is light and refreshing, a touch of wakame adding a Japanese twist.
King crab pasta with tomato sauce
The second dish arrives quickly. Fat ribbons of fresh pasta are smooth and sexy, topped with a sweet tomato sauce and clusters of succulent King Crab flesh. Chef Inukai tells us later that the crab was hand-picked by himself that morning. He personally buys vegetables every day for his restaurant, and heads to the fishmarket three times a week.
"Do you go very early?" we ask, and he smiles wanly and says he is usually rather late. "About 9.30" he admits bashfully.
Terrine of Campagne with apple puree and toasted walnut bread
Terrine of Campagne is as chunky as it should be, generously interspersed with cubes of creamy pork fat. The thick baton of country-style meatloaf is paired deliciously with a swirl of apple puree - smooth and lingering on the palate - and a thin slice of toasted walnut bread.
A small cup of chawanmushi comes out next. It is blissfully smooth. A barely set egg custard in a sweet broth, gliding down the throat with ease.
Cumin crusted blue eye cod
with smoked eggplant and tomato sauce
The fillet of blue eye cod is more complex than it first appears, crusted with a perfectly even and golden layer of cumin crumbs. Smoked eggplant works marvellously with the cumin, its earthy intensity enhanced by the drizzle of simple but intense tomato sauce.
White clams sakamushi style
is a traditional Japanese way of cooking foods by steaming with sake. The shallow bowl arrives in a fragrant cloud, the broth so enticing I feel compelled lean in and breathe in deeply. The tumble of white clams
are easy to eat and we all have little piles of shells on our side plate in no time. I use a spoon to drink the broth which is resplendent with the flavour of fresh clam.
Spatchcock en croute de del a la Haru
We almost feel obliged to break out into applause when the spatchock
arrives. There's a great sense of ceremony as it's cut open. A napkin is placed over the spatchcock's head -- almost out of respect it seems -- before a sharp knife is used to pierce the thick crust of salt dough. A burst of garlic and rosemary-scented steam escapes and blankets the table.
Spatchcock with green beans
The spatchcock is whisked away to the kitchen for carving, returned on individual plates with spears of bright green beans. It's a simple adornment to enable diners to appreciate the simple flavours of the spatchcock. It does taste a little too salty and the breast is a touch dry on this occasion, but the purity of spatchcock is there, a bird that is all too often overlooked.
Later, when Leigh and Steph interview Chef Inukai for the Chef's Armoury blog, we learn that this dish was inspired by his time with Joel Robuchon, although Robuchon's version involves a rack of lamb.
Inukai's eyes sparkle when he remembers his training with Robuchon who was notoriously strict with his staff, but only in the pursuit of perfection. He also speaks warmly of Hiroyuki Sakai, explaining that many of the chefs in his kitchen have been there for 20 years - always a good sign of an inspiring leader. "He is very kind," Inukai says with a nodding smile.
When the topic turns to cookbooks, Inukai runs into the kitchen and returns with a well-worn copy of Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire, translated into Japanese in 1969. It is his favourite cookbook and his main source of inspiration. [Read the full Chef's Armoury interview here
Warm sticky date pudding with rum raisin ice cream
We receive the VIP treatment tonight with not just one dessert, but four, allowing us to sample more of the menu. Warm sticky date pudding is more muffin-like in appearance and texture, served with a scoop of rich rum raisin ice cream and drizzles of caramel.
Traditional creme brulee with coffee ice cream
Suze and I are both eyeing the creme brulee when it arrives. We break through the top layer of toffee with a resounding crack to reveal a silky smooth custard. I'm enamoured with the coffee ice cream which has a deep and satisfying espresso kick.
Chocolate fondant with vanilla ice ceam
Chocolate fondant has been plated sexily with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a splay of fresh strawberries and two rounded strokes of chocolate paint. It seems like every second dessert menu has a chocolate fondant but truly special ones are few and far between. This is one of them. A light and fluffy exterior that gives way to a melting ooze of chocolate that isn't cloying or overly sweet. It's elegant but also childishly good.
Fromage blanc with honey and ginger jelly and meringue
The purity of the fromage blanc belies its complex interplay of flavours. We dig our spoons into the ramekin of fromage blanc, a fluffy cloud that reminds me of the lightest Japanese cheesecake. A delicate length of meringue is superbly crisp, baked in the oven at an extremely low temperature to dry it out, Inukai explains.
An accompanying glass holds honey and ginger jelly, soft and quivering, cool and sweet. In the depths of a Sydney winter, we exit onto the street in a similar fashion, but happily so.
Shop 1, 21 Elizabeth Bay Road
Elizabeth Bay, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9360 3555
Lunch Friday and Saturday 12pm-2.30pm
Dinner Monday to Saturday 6pm-10.00pm
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