There’s classy, then there’s classy. Want the ultimate exclusive experience? It doesn’t get more on-the-surface-looks-so-pretentious-and-foodie-exclusive than this. But let me tell you now, it’s the friendliest, silliest, laughter filled and delicious eating experiences you can get. I remember when trying to make a booking here, I thought that I only had 30 days in advance and that they were open 7 days a week. But I was specifically after The Table, which is a 12-seater room. Thank goodness I re-read the page a kazillion times, to notice that The Table has a 45 days in advance booking and that I could do it online. Phew, no more battling the phone! I got lucky that I was also bringing a friend along to this wild ride!
We were a bit early, which was a good thing, since these things have synchronised start times. So we chilled at the bar for a bit and chose mocktails (I think it was the sakura one, which involved a rosewater aroma spray right at the end, but I failed to take a nice picture of it), before we were taken into the room.
It was a small turnout tonight, which kind of surprised me – I thought these things were highly sought after and fully booked all the time, but we were a table of 8 tonight, out of a maximum possible of 12. Interesting. Our chef greeted us and apologised for his unhandsome look of sunburnt face, and then checked that we definitely didn’t have any dietary requirements. Sure, we’d all be game enough to eat kangaroo balls and monkey brains if required… right???
There was a quick Q&A around the room so that he could find out where we were from and why we were here, and for me it was interesting to hear it too, because I wondered if I could pick out what kind of foodie everyone is. Turns out I’m no good at it haha.
He also made mention that unlike omakase restaurants, which were mainly sushi focused, and usually sourced Japanese ingredients, his aim was to use as many Australian ingredients as possible. I like the way he thinks, I love it when local produce gets showcased!
Spanner crab, udon dashi gelee, freeze dried apple
Look at that. Isn’t it beautiful? He first showed us the shell of the spanner crab, and asked if we knew what it was. I really didn’t want to draw attention to myself and I had no idea if he was asking rhetorically or actually looking for audience participation, so I stayed quiet haha. Also I didn’t want to come across like a know-it-all, because that’s sometimes how I feel since I love to play the game of “recognise that ingredient!”
This was super tasty and it was like having solid crab broth! By solid I mean jelly, which is close enough. The flavours on this carried so much depth for a crab wrapped in dashi jelly thing! I could eat this solid soup for days on end!
Oyster with wagyu shaving, tobiko, finger lime
Finger lime makes an appearance again! I love that stuff! I felt the beef was a little overkill since I have a strong preference for natural oysters. But also this was served in a most interesting bowl, it was rocks stuck together inside a glass bubble plate thing.
Oh yeah, the uni shell came out. I’m in for some good stuff.
Uni, roasted cauliflower foam, truffle
I secretly call this one the uni-corn, because there was corn puree at the bottom, then sea urchin, then covered in a cauliflower foam before being covered in shaved truffle. I love the flavour of roasted caufliower! And then the briny creaminess of the sea urchin hit, and that sweetness then carried into the corn. How delicious!
Also, no, we couldn’t eat the shell. Apparently some people have tried, so he has to give that warning every time!
It might have also been around this time that the chef recognised one of the guests here – apparently a return customer? But he wasn’t very sure for now…
I spotted this little thing appear on the table, but I didn’t actually realise what it was. I just thought it was cute, which is why I took a picture of it.
Then this came out. BUT OF COURSE! It’s an onion soup syphon like the one I had at Vue de Monde except it’s got bonito flakes in it!!! Yeah?!?!?! I got really excited about this one and I felt like I wanted the whole world to know that I love syphons and immediately recognised what it was because I love coffee, but I also kept my mouth shut and let the chef explain instead.
I felt a little bad because I was thinking, hey, I’ve seen a restaurant do this 3 years ago, so I know what’s going to happen. But I had to remember that not everyone has seen it done before (especially as a soup), and you know what, it was a good thing that I continued to listen to the chef, because that’s when I learned a little bit more. I had always thought that the heat causes the water to boil, and that’s why it goes up into the top chamber, before cooling back down. However, apparently what actually happens is that their air expands as it’s heated in the bottom chamber, and it’s the expansion of the air that pushes all the liquid to the top. Is that why no boiling chips are needed? Lol, my days of high school science still kicks in every now and again, because I remember always wondering, if we had to put boiling chips in our round flasks to stop large bubbles bursting out of the glass, how come syphons never needed one? Maybe the bead chain did that? Either way, I have no clue, so now I will run around with both water boiling and air expansion in my head every time I see one of these 🙂
Siphon broth of bonito and storm clam, smoked eel
Oh look who it is. Storm clams make another appearance! This time in broth form. I liked the clams when I had them at Cumulus Inc better, but the broth in here was really yummy! It’s what I aim for when I make seafood broths, but I can’t seem to get the flavour as light and clear. I also found it amusing that there were zucchini balls in here. I wonder why there are zucchini balls in here?
Ok everyone, what colour is the sky? Blue, but then we all started joking about it, red at sunset, grey if you’re a Londoner, etc. And apparently there was one guy in a different sitting, who got really serious and started describing it as colourless and that it was simply refracting light which is why we see it the colour we do….
Too bad I already realised why he asked, possibly because I saw him hiding a very special caviar-looking tin behind his back while he was talking. Oh yeah. Imagine holding something like this in your hand!!! Wow!! He explained that tobiko was coloured and rather ordinary, but that this, this was real colour. Completely natural. Too bad I already knew this, having read some of Mr. Niland’s description of tasting it. Ok yeah, I talk a lot about Mr. Niland lol.
He was showing this around the table, so I took a picture and said that his hand would now be famous, haha!
I also decided, you know what, I know how much a Perth retailer sold this for. So I’ll see if restaurants get a better deal on it. I asked cheekily, how much does a tin like that cost him? The answer? $140 a tin. Which means they don’t get a discount. They pay the same price as I would have. Ouch, that’s the real deal when it comes to premium product! So now I know!
Scampi sashimi, nori puree, scampi roe
And this is how it was served. In a massively shiny golden-on-the-inside bowl. Oh yeah. But guess what… when I saw the ingredients being piled on, I realised something. THIS WAS THE EXACT SAME THING I HAD YESTERDAY AT MINAMISHIMA LOL. Exactly the same ingredients, but done in slightly different ways. The nori here was a paste rather than crisps, and the daikon was presented in a more pretty manner here. Apart from that, there was still finger line, and bottarga. Cool stuff. It’s as if I wished really, really, really really hard that I really, really, really wanted this one again, and my wish came true!!!
Given that the ingredients were the same, they were also equal in taste, so I was super happy. I absolutely couldn’t believe my good fortune that somehow, I ate the most gorgeous dish twice, in two nights!
The chef was kind of looking around expectantly at this stage, and then when no one talked (because we were all too busy enjoying our food), he announced that usually at this stage, more likely the girls, would ask where the bowls were obtained from. That’s when we all joked that these were IKEA bowls. I couldn’t actually remember where any of the servingware came from since I am not interested in that stuff, but it was something that was talked about in a lot of the dishes.
Oooh, a smokey dome! I actually got a funny video of this but I don’t have time to figure out how to convert and embed; the chef presented each one to us, but for mine, since I was filming, he made sure to stick his pinky out like a proper snob, and then swirled the glass round as he lifted it.
Grilled green lip abalone, charred eggplant, caviar
The smokiness was amazing and lingering here. I think it was applewood that was used to smoke this? The very question made me think back to Firedoor, where specific woods are used for specific food. While the abalone was nice, it was the eggplant that was the real flavour bomb here! So delicious!
Watch out, tweezers in action! This smelled great while being made, and of course my eyes went straight to the broad beans. Just 3 on every dish, and I was so eager to eat them!!!
John dory katsu, spring garden
Look that those flowers so delicately and lovingly scattered upon the crispy fried fish. You wanna know the secret to edible flower arrangements? Flower bae, that’s what. Salt bae was so 2017 😛 even though it’s still 2017 (at the time I originally wrote this). This was more fish than I was expecting, but it was perfectly cooked and I was really loving that crust!
Spring vegetable terrine
I was happily chatting to my friend and probably off in my own little head-world when this dish came out, but when I finally paid attention and looked at it, my face was just like OH WOW OMG WHAT IS THAT BEAUTIFUL PRETTY THING. Even the chef laughed because he says that people usually have my kind of reaction when this dish came out!
My goodness. That knifework. It’s no superfine dice, but this still requires so much precision. All the chefs who prep this have to be within 1mm of each other and the standard measurement of I think 12 or 15mm or something, for this dish to come together. Even then, each different vegetable is pickled and prepared differently too, before it all comes together. Man, that’s some insane stuff. I would love to try this one day, but it’s infinitely more daunting than trying to just finely chop onions as a show of skill.
The chef also said that this was affectionately known as the V13. Too bad I didn’t actually count all the vegetables though, I would have loved to, had I thought about it in the moment! I got as far as baby corn, pumpkin, zucchini, pink beetroot, there was probably a carrot, a yellow beetroot or yellow carrot, and other things. I can’t remember what the green paste was, but I guessed correctly that those were elderflowers!
What a tasty pickle dish!
Double toro sushi
This might be a kaiseki restaurant, but it can do sushi if it wants to! There was something curious about this though, and the chef told us to try and guess what was underneath the sushi, because it wasn’t rice. One of the other people at the table tried to lift the entire plate to angle it to the light to try and get a visual on it, so I tried the same. Then I looked at it, then I tried to bite it on its own, then I just put the whole thing in my mouth.
Apparently no one could guess what this was, but I felt it was a little like fish ball. What did it end up being? Well, hopefully you get served this to find out for yourself!
Now, out comes the binchotan! This is super special pure charcoal which can burn really, really hot.
OH YEAH LOOK AT THAT LEVEL OF SIZZLE OH MAAAN
What happens when a binchotan and wagyu beef kiss? Smokey, fatty, flavoursome deliciousness.
Aburi wagyu, sushi, chopped toro
And how it looks when it’s all structured and plated up. This time, yes, there was sushi rice inside the beef. Then it was topped with toro, and it was a very decadent treat! What I loved the most about this was the lingering smokiness from the binchotan, I felt that it made all the difference when it came to making this piece unique from any other place where I might end up trying this again.
It was funny though, because the wagyu slices looked so similar to that of Waku Ghin, and even after cooking, I couldn’t stop thinking that this would be perfect if it was just the beef with some fresh wasabi… that dish was just too good….
Oh. Oh, I get a claypot. Filled with morels. Oh my goodness, morels!!!! This was like what I would get at Den?!?!?! I was so excited!! This is kaiseki!
Morel mushroom rice
And there it is. The rice and roe to beat Minamishima’s rice and roe. I was so happy with this dish, because it was what I really wanted to see, along with the Den salad, when I went to Japan, but couldn’t because the restaurant was closed during my visit. This was amazing, the flavour was great, and while the roe was nice, I really didn’t mind if it wasn’t there.
Did you know that this isn’t just Yarra Valley hand milked salmon caviar? I mean yeah, I buy this for home, and everyone (“everyone” being Minamishima) uses it at restaurants, but the chef explained that this was the first harvest. So that means it’s the one in the special little tins. The first harvest is important because it’s when the eggs have the thinnest shells, so they are softer. Good to know!
He also went on to explain how these were milked (too bad I already knew), but again, what was really fascinating and kept my attention here was that he explained how this was different from places like Japan. If the salmon isn’t hand milked, then it’s likely the salmon had its belly cut open and the eggs removed. So the poor salmon would probably be dead and hopefully, a really tasty dinner. That bit was enlightening and made me once again, appreciate that knowing where your food comes from and how it’s prepared is a very important part of eating.
Blackmore 9+ wagyu, shio koji, asparagus
This was the most ordinary dish for me (this was in no way ordinary, but again, Waku Ghin currently tops the “beef + wasabi” combo for me), but has a few interesting stories with it.
First of all, I was talking to my friend when I stopped mid-sentence, told her I would stop talking to her, and my head whipped around to immediately stare at the white asparagus that’d just come out. Apparently this was so sudden and must have looked so insensitive to my friend that the person sitting across from me (the chef was in the kitchen at that moment) burst out laughing! I couldn’t help the way I acted! It’s white asparagus!! How exciting!!!
My friend said that she’d seen white asparagus before, and that’s when the chef talked about how white and green asparagus are the same thing, the white ones are simply denied sunlight and the opportunity to photosynthesise.
These were served raw, but marinated in shio koji. I was surprised at the flavour and softness of these, mainly because I’d tried cooking some myself not too long ago and the outer stem was tough, and most of the sweetness came from being boiled (I don’t have a steamer). But in this case, it was tender, but also, the shio koji was really strong! It didn’t detract from the asparagus at all though, and I think it probably changed the outside texture of the asparagus ever so slightly, maybe.
Then there’s the wasabi. Look at that dollop of real, freshly ground wasabi, to complement the beef. Oh yeah, that was sooooo good. Wagyu and wasabi are a match made in heaven!! It felt like Waku Ghin all over again!
The chef had actually talked about the wasabi earlier in the meal, explaining that packet wasabi contained little to no wasabi, and that wasabi likes to grow in cold, cave-like places and take a year to mature, which is why it’s so rare. Another interesting tidbit of information!
Not only that, he also went on to describe the wagyu grades. He touched on the marble score, but mainly, he explained what full blood wagyu is, and that the stuff at regular shops were partial breeds, so if you want wagyu, you have to make sure it’s purebred. Of course, in Adelaide I already researched this since I saw Sher wagyu being sold as full blood, and thus looked up the definition since David Blackmore was the only one I really knew.
Throughout the meal, the chef’s memory of the return customer also kept improving, and he recalled more and more moments of that previous visit, even outlining where one of his friends had sat and said that he didn’t like cauliflower, but then really enjoyed the cauliflower and uni dish! And one of the other guys at the table was increasingly bemused that the chef was remembering more and more as the night went on.
That was the last savoury dish.
Hey look, it’s dry ice! Woohoo!
Pineapple, lychee, and passionfruit tube
And when the smoke finally dissipated, here’s what was left. Fruit tubes! Three flavours, encased in a glass tube. How do you eat these? Apparently you just take one and suck on it! Yellow side goes first, but apparently, if you want to be kinky (chef’s own words), I guess you could suck from the orange side 😛 He said he created it this way because he thought that the traditional Japanese style of sweet palate cleanser in the form of fresh fruit just a tad too simple. Aw, I would have loved a slice of yubari melon! Haha.
Since we were at the end of the table, we got to watch as everyone else ate these, and still I was nervous because I had no idea how much force to apply to get all the flavours in one go – but it was as self explanatory as the chef made it out to be. What a tasty flavour bomb! I loved the combination, and even though they went into your mouth pretty much all at once, the flavours were still very distinctive. How fun!
Journey from light to dark chocolate
And the final dish. Dessert. From this angle, I felt it kind of looked like a dinosaur head. We were supposed to eat this from light to dark, and it started with coconut and vanilla flavours and yuzu meringue, then moved onto dark chocolate and raspberry sauce at the end. Those shards were absolutely awesome, and there was a black sesame flavour in there too! A really nice end to the night!
Well. This was something else. As a whole, it was a totally new experience for me, since I’ve never done kaiseki before. It was a lot of fun, with great company from both the chef and the other customers, and the food was also really good, especially as some came with a lot of background information! There were so many elements that I picked from all the other restaurants I’ve been to, which was cool, because they gave me comparison points, but more importantly, I got to see why each restaurant is different, and that made me love things even more!
There was a part in the evening where there was a discussion with the couple sitting next to us, and how they’d visited Jiro’s sushiya before. The couple described it as a completely different experience that was so fast, and Jiro watches you and expects you to eat the sushi straight away, and you couldn’t stop at any point, so the girl was so full, but had to keep going to avoid showing disrespect! With that kind of description, it sounded like a very intimidating place to go to, and all of a sudden I don’t think I want to visit haha!
Finally, the chef asked us what our favourite dish was. As he went around the room, everyone said the wagyu beef (I think the sushi version), but by the time he came to me, I said something different. For me it was the mushroom rice, because of how much I wanted a real kaiseki experience, and because I had wanted it at Den, but was unable to get a reservation at the time. The mushroom rice dish was so homely and different from what I could usually get at Japanese restaurants, so I really loved it! And my friend said the vegetable terrine. Go us!
Yep, I definitely want to come back here. But, I am suffering from ingredient fatigue (when I’m not surprised to see blue scampi caviar… where do I go from there?), so I would love to somehow get rid of that first, and rediscover the joys in things that are new to others. While Minamishima ranks higher, I find Kisume more fun. They’re completely different restaurants so I wouldn’t say one is better than the other, rather, I would suggest one based on the preferences of whoever’s asking.
One last thing… the cost of food alone for this place was $220 per person, but it felt like it was worth so much more. I reckon this was closer to a $300 dining experience, but since that price doesn’t exist in Australia (thank goodness!), I guess if they can do with $220, then that’s good. But the quality is way up there, and I’d be happy to pay more.
Melbourne, I love you so.
Japanese food, I love you too.
I love food so much!