Saturday, April 2, 2011

YOSHII of Sydney, Australia

Japanese cuisine has taken over Sydney; I reckon it has.

Ten years ago, when I first visited the most cosmopolitan city down under, sushi was but a subculture spreading across the scene. Today, the "deli" and "conveyor belt" style of many sushi dives still remains, only far more of them have cropped up. The population has explodedand, with our weaker American dollar, so have the prices. One could have eaten double the amount at almost half the price and felt duly decadent a decade previous, but today, not only is it more expensive because of the exchange rate, but Sydney has developed into one of the most pricey cities in the world.

The range of restaurant echelons is far and wideyou could order an "uncut" roll (the style of serving a sushi roll distinctive to Australia) for as little as A$2.50, or sit down for the seven-course degustation menu at YOSHII for A$140, one part of which features the freshest and best-tasting nigiri you'll ever have in your life.

YOSHII, located in a region known as The Rocks, has two dinner menus: the Yoshii Course for A$140, or the Saqura Course for A$130. Both come with the same specialties; the only differences are the "Milk Fed Veal Carpaccio with Japanese Mushroom Dressing" and the "Daily Fresh Selected Sushi" in the former, versus the "Tuna Sashimi Marinated in Soy and Truffle Essence Sauce" and "Slow-Cooked Kurobuta Pig Jowl served with Tamari Soy and Vinegar Sauce" in the latter. Although I would have liked to try some truffle essence, I obviously absolutely had to have the daily fresh sushi a lot more; and this did not seem like one of those places that would understand or tolerate complicated requests, say if I were to ask for a substitution. YOSHII is a quiet, upmarket and formal dining establishment; their service is so polite that it borders on fawning, and the atmosphere is so relaxed and subdued that it really feels more like a spa than anything.

The Sea Urchin Egg Cup was a visual wonder for the eyes and a tantalizer for the taste buds, with its bonito stock and gold flakes inside. The laser-cut egg sits upon a nest of shredded radish festooned with a garland of seaweed and laced with fish eggs; you dig into this with your tiny spoon and wonder why no one ever served you an egg in this style for breakfast. This was followed by a Kaiseki-style plate with Tasmanian smoked salmon with passion fruit kimizu sauce, kingfish sashimi marinated in wasabi oil, duck foie gras and kelp seaweed "Tsukudani," and deep-fried Crystal Bay Prawn mince covered with potato. It's edible art in its truest form, and its essence was overwhelmingly delicious (the passion fruit kimizu sauce actually brought tears to my eyes).

Following the uniquely brilliant "Deep Fried Toot Fish Tempura" served with orange salt and a white wine marinade with dried fruits and celery, the "Green Tea Soba Noodle wrapped with Steamed Snapper with tea-flavored bonito stock" was served. Although the dish was exactly as described, I never could have imagined the intricacy with which this dish was rendered. With punctilious precision, the perfectly sliced snapper was literally wrapped around the neatly chopped green-colored noodles. Bits of rice cracker floating in the bonito stock offered a delicate contrast to the soft chewiness of this dish.

Need a palate cleanser before the sushi showcase? Yoshii doesn't just offer ginger like most restaurants do. Rather, a cup of Lemongrass and Champagne Sherbet is presented, and it's a remarkably refreshing twist. Part of me still wonders if the eight-piece nigiri set would have tasted just as marvelous without the tart slush of a palate-cleanser, but somehow I reckon the sushi would have been out-of-this-world regardless.

The bewitchingly colorful palette arrives, and it's fraught with an array of tuna, kingfish, (a breed of yellowtail that is very popular in Australia), crystal bay prawn, alfonsino, scallop, bonito (with plum sauce and grated radish), grilled ocean trout from Tasmania (topped with yuzu and grated radish), and unagi from Japan. The scallop, wrapped in its riband of seaweed, was bar none the best scallop I'ver ever eaten in my life, and the crystal bay prawn was paragon. A rare thought zipped through my head: I didn't overpay for this meal; I didn't pay enough.

For dessert: a heavenly Marscapone Cheese Mousse with black sesame and soybean powder, followed by the piddling check, and then gracious bows of courtesy and gratitude from the staff and chef as I floated out of the door.

115 Harrington St., Sydney NSW

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