Anyone who has successfully set up a restaurant or cafe will tell you how crucial it is to build up a base of loyal diners. They will also tell you that this inevitably takes far longer than you'd think. So imagine if you'd successfully established a popular eatery, got it to the point where it was humming along nicely with a decent and regular trade, then one day, it all came crashing down.
This is what happened for restaurateurs Yoko and Koichi Kigami when their Japanese restaurant, Tatsumi, was hit by the Christchurch earthquake last year. For more than six months they waited to hear their fate, then finally conceded their restaurant, now officially red-zoned, would have to close for good or be relocated. They took a leap of faith and last October, encouraged by their loyal Christchurch fans, they relocated Tatsumi to Auckland to take up the space that once housed Rikka in Newmarket.
A stone pathway snakes through the long narrow dining room, overhead lanterns spill a soft calming light and translucent rice paper screens silhouette dinners. So far so zen.
By his own admission chef Koichi offers a menu of "extra flavours and surprises", preferring to fuse international influences with traditional Japanese fare, rather than following the purist route. He goes as far as offering a prix fixe menu as well as some intriguing combinations; chicken teriyaki with quail egg and halloumi and a salmon teriyaki with blue cheese tortellini. Interesting.
My two dining companions and I opted for a three-course set menu each, as this way, we would get to try most things on the menu.
Starters arrived and we were immediately enchanted with the presentation. With each dish intricately placed on cute, mutely colourful dishes and every detail paid attention to, these were works of art. All of the flavours worked well from the scallops with a parsnip puree and miso beurre blanc, to the grilled prawns - yakitori style - with roasted pumpkin, chorizo and wasabi aioli. The beef tataki was the most traditional and the clean, citrus flavours of ponzu combined well with spring onion and coriander and were an honest balance for the earthy slivers of rare beef.
The plate of sashimi was nothing short of spectacular with the freshest morsels of scallop, snapper, tuna, trevally and salmon delicately fanned out and a scampi and ponzu concoction served in a shot glass. Divine. The chicken teriyaki was not so successful with its companions of halloumi and quail egg, the chicken needing more flavour to stand up to these ingredients. Our third main, the assorted tempura, put us back on track. The variety was impressive with soft shell crab, prawn, pieces of moist fish and vegetables encased in a light and expertly executed tempura batter. Served with Japanese pickles, a perfectly formed mound of snow-white grated fresh daikon radish and white ginger, this reminded us of all that is good about Japanese cuisine - light, balanced and with the accompaniments playing an important role in cleansing the palate.
Desserts were most surprising. I found the green tea affogato fabulous but my dining companions weren't so enamoured by it. True green tea, matcha, is an acquired taste. Here it is combined with top notch Kohu Road ice cream, which is inspired.
Tatsumi's black sesame creme brulee was superbly silky and came with delicate green tea shortbreads. But the third dessert had too much going on for our liking with a yuzu citrus flavoured meringue tart, mascarpone, berry sauce and pistachios.
The bottom of the Tatsumi homepage reads "There are so many more Japanese restaurants here compared to Christchurch. We do have a lot of competition, but we are very sure that Aucklanders will love our uniqueness." I'm sure of it too - this is a Japanese restaurant that is playful and approachable and we can be grateful they chose our city to relocate to.
From the menu: 3 x three course prix fixe menu $55 each - included starters of pan-seared scallops, grilled prawns, beef tataki, mains of chicken teriyaki, assorted tempura, sashimi and desserts of black sesame creme brulee, green tea affogato, yuzu meringue tart.
Drinks: Fully licensed