I haven’t done this in a while because I’m an ageing crone, fit but for the retirement paddock and not cool enough to go out and see young people’s music. However, some of the most memorable gigs (I’m still hip enough to call them gigs, but only just) I ever saw were ones where I had no idea who I was turning up to see, and had never heard any of their music.
It would be through random chance or through a friend’s recommendation, but I remember seeing bands at college like Belly and The Makeup and Low and not knowing a darn iota going into the venue and being butt over head in love with them coming out. True story.
Speaking of belly, specifically the filling of my own literal stomach, I had a similar experience withthis restaurant. I’m raddishly-shamed-faced to admit that I had never heard of Sydney’s Tetsuya. It’s perhaps because I’m definitely NOT a “self-confessed foodie”, mostly as it’s obviously a grammatical error and all those people mean “self-PROfessed” because how can you confess to yourself, it doesn’t make sense, we can all agree on that, RIGHT?
Right. Anyway. I’d cast about for some restaurant reviews while I was in town and nothing really came up and then one day I got an email that asked if I was up for a short-notice visit to Tetsuya. Now, I was pretty casual in my reply. “Sure,” I said, not really grasping the gravitas of the situation. “Probably some hyped up noodle bar,” I said nonchalantly to the friend of a friend I was spending the evening with and who was suddenly to be my dining companion. She didn’t correct me. Or maybe she didn’t hear me. Doesn’t matter.
We rocked up a louche 15 minutes late for our reservation, and even as we meandered through the gates, seeing delicately-coiffed and be-suited couples being escorted through the doors by uniformed staff, I knew we were in trouble. We didn’t look bad or scruffy, just a little…informal.
Here’s what I now know: Tetsuya Wakada is an internationally and universally-respected chef, the restaurant itself is a model of elegance and is suitably highly-ranked as one of the best restaurants in the world, and I am a cultural dunce who lucked out on someone else cancelling.
The staff, unfazed by us being the only ones not in formal wear, are incredibly welcoming as they situate us in a wonderfully Zen dining room overlooking a rock garden – the building used to be the Suntory building and you know, for relaxing times, make it Suntory times – right, Bill Murray?
There’s a menu, but it’s set. It’s a 12-course degustation menu accompanied by wine pairings. We’re in for an adventurous long haul here, beginning with a stylishly simple and understated Pacific oysters (with rice vinegar and ginger), paired with sake.
The next 11 courses come out at a mercifully unhurried rate, giving us all a sporting chance to really relish and bask in the flavours. It’s a masterfully assured course that Tetsuya steers us through, with the signature dish – his world renowned Confit of Ocean Trout – as a triumphant half way marker. It’s allegedly the most photographed dish in the world, though I’m too busy making ridiculous noises of satisfaction to snap it myself.
The service hits that sweet spot of friendliness and approachability with the air of expertise that you really want in a high-class joint like this, and it creates a warmth that complements the slightly removed but impressive elegance of the dining room’s Japanese design.
The wines trip between old and new worlds with graceful choreography, and aren’t exactly slight in their quantity, so by the time dessert came out, two recent acquaintances were toasty and chatting like old friends, cracking jokes with the servers that doubtless they’ve heard a hundred times but are way too polite to show it.
Five hours, friends. That’s how long Chef Tetsuya is willing to indulge his menu and your enjoyment of it. You can linger over the spectacular tea-smoked quail or the knockout barramundi and its mushroom ragu or Instagram that ocean trout for all it’s worth, and by the time the petit fours come out, you’ve been truly pummelled (in a culinary sense) into content submission.
Of course, if you’re reading this, then you can’t go in there not knowing anything like your humble reviewers, but in this case, I don’t think a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Quite the opposite.