Saturday, July 30, 2011

A virtuous feast: Chef Shinichi's Signature menu at Sake

I first heard of Sake Restuarant when Shaun Presland (the executive chef of the Sydney restaurant) appeared on Masterchef in one of those challenges where a chef is pitted against a contestant in a brutal culinary battle.  I was pretty impressed by Shaun because he peeled a chinese radish vertically in one long thin slice with nothing but a ridiculously sharp knife and a mischievous whiteboy grin.  Not only that but he reduced the Masterchef contestant to tears (well.... his dish did).

After seeing this sobfest on TV I got excited when I heard Sake was coming to Brisbane's Eagle Street Pier with head chef Shinichi Maeda - of Noosa's "Wasabi" fame.

So what's the story? Well it's modern Japanese cuisine with a casual feel. There's a focus on share plates that are brought out sporadically during your meal in the order the kitchen chooses. There is an intimidating sake menu, but don't worry there is plenty of wine available too. There's also a bit of a Mexican twist on some of the dishes too which I just love - case on point, this fabulous kingfish sashimi with jalepeno sauce is like WOW.

My absolute fave on the menu is the popcorn shrimp though.  Crunchy tasty and delicious!

I recently had the absolute privilege of being invited to sample Chef Shinichi's new signature menu with a group of food bloggers.  Now I've got a confession to make here.  When I started this food blog last year, it was in the secret hope that I would one day get invited to restaurant openings and menu tastings.  That's not to say that that was my only motivation.  The blog also provides a means of justifying the obscene amount of food and booze I ingest on a regular basis (I do it for my readers ok?), not to mention, a forum to voice my many (many) and varied uninformed and ignorant opinions on eating and drinking.

The signature menu is a new thing at Sake in which Chef Shinichi treats guests to a 9 course modern Japanese degustation with matching sakes chosen by Sake's resident sake sommelier, Miriam McLachlan.  There are various banquets at various prices, but the signature menu will set you back $115 (without booze).

I'm going to make a big call here.  This was the best Japanese food I have ever had in my life.  And it was so goddamn healthy!  There was barely a carb in sight!

So let's begin. 

After suckling on a deliciously refreshing Chu-Hi made out of lychee syrup, soda water and shochu (a Japanese distilled spirit which can be made from barley, sweet potato and rice), we were led to our private dining room where our tantalising food journey began with an amuse bouche of amberjack and sato-imo soup. 
The little sashimi bite on the spoon was soft and so fresh, having only been caught that morning.  The sato-imo soup (it's a type of taro) was warm, savoury, thick and delicious. 

Next up were the kumamoto style oysters (from Coffin Bay) topped with a bonito dashi jelly and golden flying fish roe, with Hervey Bay scallops topped with Ikura salmon caviar and ponzu sauce. 
I love entree dishes that have a ludicrous amount of ingredients in them.  It's like there's a party in your mouth and everyone's invited!

After slurping down these lovelies (and I had to stop myself from licking the scallop shell for fear of embarassing myself in front of the other food bloggers) they brought out some cool, glistening southern blue fin tuna sashimi.  Actually I had no idea it was all tuna until I read the menu afterwards - 3 different colours and 3 different textures, from different parts of the fish. What a magical animal!

Throughout the meal we were treated to 3 different sakes that were all expertly matched to the courses.  I'm the first to admit that I know sweet fuck all about sakes, but I do like them.  The first time I tried sake was in the sushi train at the top of the Wintergarden when I was an articled clerk.  A friend and I ordered warm sake with our sushi for shits and giggles and were surprised at how boozed we got on this potent stuff.  So much so that we giggled our way back to the office and had to close our doors all afternoon so as not to alert our supervising partners that we were a tad soused. 

I've always liked the umami rich warm hug of sake.  It's kind of like drinking salty liquid rice.  But I was pretty surprised at how different the sakes we were served that night tasted.  One of them (Kozaemon Yamahai Junmai Banshu Yamadanishiki) was the traditional style I was familiar with, but another (Amabuki Daiginjo) was actually quite sweet on the palate, with more savoury notes on the back end.  Sake offers sake flights for a set fee where you can sample a few and see what you like.

The next stop on our protein binge was a plate of crimson, just seared venison tataki. 
These luscious morsels of red meat were dressed with crispy ginger chips, kumquats and pickled pear and plum sansho pepper dressing.  Red meat tataki is my current food fling and seeing this just-seared meatstuff come out on the plate was a real treat.  I love how raw meat is so soft and squishy on your tongue and I love how Japanese restaurants are not shy about serving it.

All the while the food bloggers were tentatively and awkwardly getting to know each other.  Some seemed to know each other already, and it was good to put a face to the blog in some cases.  Unnervingly, someone struck up a conversation about a bizarre food ingredient that I'd never heard of.  Usually I am the person at the table doing that!  Another person seemed to know all the chefs around town.  Another person knew Matt Preston.  Was I out of my league here? 

Next was a delicate shiitake mushroom and tuna marrow consumme featuring a slippery Mooloolaba spanner crab and yellow fin tuna dumpling. 
Again I had to restrain myself from slurping the remainder from the bowl at the end!

We were only just halfway through!  Next was quail galantine stuffed wth yama-gobo and shiitake mushrooms, coated wth orange soy glaze and served with poached golden beetroot leaves and pickled golden beetroot. 

Quail on quail was always going to be good, but the real surprise was the piquant pickled beetroot leaves.  I'll confess I stole 2 of the rolled leaves before any of my food blogger compatriates could get a chopstick in....

We weren't sure if we could handle any more sweet delicious meats at this point, until we saw they were bringing out the medium rare shar wagyu sirloin with white sesame and ginger-miso emulsion, confit sato-imo and onion bulbs.  This was accompanied by a winter salad of fresh persimmon, kumquats, daikon, celery, minza, spinach, renkon and radish with ginger and guava dressing.

I know I know my BlackBerry camera is a piece of shit, and my blog has the production values of a 14 year old's Facebook profile, but you get the idea.  I've got to admit I felt a little intimidated by other food bloggers there who brought out proper cameras including one with a proper SLR.

Finally, after a palate cleansing Kozaemon Kabosu drink we moved onto the chocolate garden dessert which featured dark chocolate bavaroi, served with chocolate sand, quenelled white chocolate sorbet and chocolate liqueur jelly.

As I slurped and scraped through all of the chocolate based noms on the plate, the real standout was the chocolate liqueur jelly.

It was a fabulous evening and it was really good to get to know a few of the other foodophiles around Bris-vegas.  Any other restaurant PR types reading this - I'm happy to be bribed to blog about your restaurant, but only if the food is as delicious as at Sake!
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