Herald on Sunday Rating: 4.5/5
Address: 193 Symonds St, Eden Terrace
Ph: (09) 377 8537
I just wrote the phrase "occasion dining". It makes me squirm just to look at it. It's classic PR speak and usually a euphemism for "eye-wateringly expensive" in the same way that "entry-level" is a euphemism for, "Well, if that's all you're prepared to spend I don't know why I'm wasting time talking to you".
I apply the phrase to Kazuya because it ain't cheap. But you get what you pay for and I don't begrudge a cent.
For the record, the bill of $252 was made up principally of two set menus at $85 each and a 300ml flask of polished pure rice sake ($34), which was one of the most sublime libations ever to pass my lips. Only the Professor's insistence on some oysters to start with - she left the ordering to me but she has a way of insisting while maintaining complete silence - aggravated the damage.
I discovered some new eating options in this part of town last week when I was at Sri Mahkota. My indigent student daughter alerted me to Bok Choy at No 155. "Healthy life with fresh food" is its motto and $5 buys you a box of noodles with freshly cooked meat or fish and vegetables. A visit there will bring the area's average price down a bit.
Kazuya is the new solo venture of Japanese chef Kazuya Yamauchi and his wife, Haruko, who is a courtly presence at front of house.
Only 33 years old, he has cooked at Cibo and Rice, although he cut his teeth at the Tokyo Italian restaurant Acquapazza, whose signature blend of Italian and Japanese has influenced the menu at this new place. Prosciutto, risotto and excellent olive oil put in an appearance but there's miso foam and subtle inflections of such unlikely ingredients as turnip as well, and the exquisitely restrained conception of each dish - impeccable presentation and everywhere grace notes of tiny flowers - whispers Japanese.
The restaurant deals in formal fine dining in the best sense of all those words. The dark fitout - all chocolate and cream - divides the room into small and private booths and the look is marred only by some derivative artwork that looks like it was bought by the kilo. The waiters and waitresses, who use white gloves to lay the table so as not to put fingerprints on the cutlery, are extraordinarily well-informed and quietly enthusiastic about what they do. I am not sure that I have ever heard a Japanese man speak about cheese; I am quite certain that I have never heard anyone speak about cheese so intelligently and entertainingly as the Japanese man who pushed the trolley to our table.
It will doubtless cause chagrin to those readers who complain that I never write enough about the food if I do not give a blow-by-blow account of our seven courses. But some highlights demand mentioning.
It was once obligatory for a chef to make his own bread but it's lamentably rare now: Kazuya's hard-crust sesame-seed roll and a chewy high-gluten sliced bread, which came with unsalted butter and excellent olive oil, announced that we were in safe hands.
Bluff oysters were topped with a tangy jelly made of yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit like a sour mandarin) that perfectly set off the shellfish's smoothness. And a complimentary amuse-bouche of turnip, gelatinised with parmesan into a kind of custard, was a magic single mouthful.
By this time the Professor was saying "wow" a lot and, I suspect, congratulating herself on her decision to marry me. But better was to come.
A prawn cocktail was, as a cocktail should be, a drink rather than a dish - a mandarin foam atop meaty prawns atop a prawn jelly. Confit salmon looked raw and tasted divine, a cauliflower soup was as creamy as mayo and a big Hokkaido scallop was bathed in a kina foam as rich as bearnaise.
Two quibbles: the snapper fillet, wrapped in ribbons of oven-crisp burdock, looked better than it tasted, being rather dry. And the "vegetarian menu", which the Professor ordered for the sake of variety was principally the same as mine, minus the stuff that vegetarians don't eat. But otherwise this is a consummate dining experience. Go soon.
A near-perfect marriage of form and content makes this an ideal destination for occasion dining.
Need to know
$ = $20-$40; $$ = 40-60; $$$ = $60+.
(Price guide reflects three courses for one person without drinks)