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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Yayoi, Sydney

Kama taki gohan being steamed at the table at Yayoi, Sydney

The golden embryo. It's what's been missing from every bowl of polished rice you've ever eaten. You can find it at Yayoi, a Japanese teishoku restaurant which arrived in Sydney just over a month ago. Yayoi is the first outlet to open outside of Japan, a chain of more than 250 restaurants that trade there as Yayoiken. The name might have been shortened for the Australian market, but their specialty is the same: teishoku or set meal trays built around special steamed rice, cooked fresh at your table.

Yayoi takes over the spot that once held Wagamama on Bridge Street. The internal transformation is striking, a sanctuary of timber and clean lines with a calming hum of whispered conversation. It feels like there's a huge army of waitstaff when we visit -- many of whom seem a little lost at how to occupy themselves when not attending to diners -- but it does mean we're attended to quickly, with a friendly and concise explanation of the menu concept and iPad ordering system.

Edamame soy beans at Yayoi, Sydney
Edamame soy beans $4.50

The kamataki gohan is central to the teishoku set menu, a pot of freshly steamed rice that is cooked at your table. The rice is kinmemai, a special type of polished rice that maintains the kinme or golden embryo in each grain, the base component of a rice grain that is usually lost through the polishing for white rice. By maintaining the kinme, the Japanese believe the rice has enhanced flavour and nutrition. At it's simplest, it's the goodness of brown rice with the softness of white.

Our waitress immediately tips us off about the rice cooking time. It will take about 20 minutes for the rice to cook at our table, and recommends that we immediately order this as a side while we make up our minds about the teishoku set we'd like to have. It works brilliantly. Within 60 seconds, a special metal pot is brought to our table. The wooden lid is lifted to show us the raw soaked grains of rice inside before a flame is lit that will cook the rice. "Please do not lift the lid" she cautions, before she dips her head politely and hurries away.

Kama taki gohan freshly steamed rice at the table at Yayoi, Sydney
Kamitaki gohan freshly steamed rice  $8 or free as part of a teishoku set

There are fourteen types of teishoku you can order, ranging from karaage fried chicken to salmon teryaki fillets to hamburger patties made with wagyu teriyaki mince. Once we place our order, we let our waitress know so she can cancel the sides of rice from our bill. The rice is automatically included in the price for teishoku sets.

If you don't want the whole teishoku set meal, you can opt for smaller meals of steamed rice or udon combinations ($17-$24.50) or a range of standalone dishes and snacks from their Ippin menu ($4.50-$25).

The iPad menu is fiercely efficient, following the same type of instant ordering system as Wagaya and Mizuya. We're barely halfway through our starter of edamame soy beans before our waitress returns to confirm our rice is ready. Our teishoku meals arrive in quick succession shortly after.

Shima hokke shio-yaki salt-grilled Arka mackerel teishoku at Yayoi, Sydney
Shima hokke shio-yaki salt-grilled Arka mackerel teishoku $29

The teishoku meal includes an bountiful array of vegetables, sides and pickles that presents like a compartmentalised dinner set. Half the fun is lifting the lids and deciding where to start: the cloudy miso soup, the wobbly blocks of silken tofu deep-fried and then drenched with dashi stock, a ceramic pot of silken steamed egg custard, or the tiny saucer of pickles made from Japanese mustard leaf.

Shima hokke shio-yaki salt-grilled Arka mackerel teishoku at Yayoi, Sydney
Salt-grilled Arka mackerel

You can order the blue mackerel teishoku set for $26  but it's worth stumping up the extra $3 for the shima hokke or horse mackerel. It's soft and buttery, flaking off in fat slices imparted with a salty and sweet stickiness from the glaze across its surface. There are fine bones here, but these are easily avoided with some care.

Pork fillet katsu teishoku at Yayoi, Sydney
Pork fillet katsu teishoku $29

Just as impressive is the pork fillet katsu, four pieces of pork coated in a panko crumb crust that has been deep-fried until golden brown.

Pork fillet cutlets at Yayoi, Sydney
Pork fillet cutlets

The cuts of pork may be small, but each piece is unbelievable juicy and tender. Dip them in the accompanying tonkatsu sauce, a Japanese version of Worcestershire that is thick and sweet, or dab lightly in the saucer containing hot mustard and green tea salt.

A crisp Japanese beer always works a treat with fried, but they also have a good selection of sake, shochu and umeshu plum wines.

Chawanmushi savoury egg  custard at Yayoi, Sydney
Chawanmushi savoury egg custard

The chawanmushi is something to savour too, a wobbly delicacy of steamed egg custard studded with chunks of prawn, mushroom, carrot and snow pea.

And then of course there's the pot of freshly steamed rice. There's a slight chewiness to the rice, the grains clumping together in a satisfying stickiness so it can be easily eaten with chopsticks. There's a great sense of ceremony around the rice, and it's a sober reminder of the sacred role that rice plays in not just Japan, but so many cultures around the world.

Kanmi santen mori green tea creme caramel and warabi mochi dessert at Yayoi, Sydney
Kanmi santen mori $10.50
Trio of fruit, green tea creme caramel and warabi mochi 

The dessert menu is heavily weighted with green tea and red bean, but if these don't take your fancy, you can stick with the plain vanilla ice cream with fruit ($9), a banana chocolate crepe ($18) or a fruit parfait ($10.50). The last two do come with green tea ice cream.

The kanmi santen mori marries East and West on an elongated plank, a trio of sweets that includes green tea creme caramel, fresh fruits and warabi mochi, chewy cubes of bracken starch jelly rolled in matcha green tea powder.

Matcha and warabi mochi dessert with Uji green tea at Yayoi, Sydney
Matcha and warabi mochi with Uji green tea $8

The warabi mochi is oddly alluring, a firm but chewy jelly made from bracken starch that feels cool in the mouth. On the kanmi santen mori, the cubes come already doused with a sauce that tastes like golden syrup, but if you order them on their own, you can pour the syrup on at the last minute so the matcha green tea powder doesn't get too soggy.

On the side is a ceramic cup filled with Uji green tea, whisked until frothy.

Matcha and warabi mochi dessert at Yayoi, Sydney
Matcha and warabi mochi 

There's a lovely sense of occasion to dining here, the kind of spot you could nominate as an affordable but not-too-fussy date night. Small groups work well too and there's a large wooden table in the rear that could accommodate a bigger group or individuals dining on their own.

Yayoi Japanese teishoku restaurant, Sydney

Yayoi Japanese Teishoku Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Yayoi Japanese Teishoku Restaurant
Shop 2, 38-42 Bridge Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9247 8166

Opening hours:
Monday to Wednesday 12pm - 10pm
Thursday to Saturday 12pm - 11pm
Sunday 12pm - 9pm

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 7/27/2014 01:55:00 am


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