I’m at a loss for words here. We have Tetsuya’s, a restaurant of legendary repute, coveting the highest honour of three chef’s hats for years, considered the pinnacle of fine dining in Sydney – NAY – Australia, and is #38 in the San Pelligrino top 50 in the world list. It’s considered the “temple of high gastronomy”. It combines the best of Japanese and French fusion in a superlative menu, centered around Tetsuya Wakuda’s signature dish – the confit of petuna ocean trout.
Of course, the establishment is no stranger to controversy – losing its third chef’s hat in 2011, unable to regain it since.
Boy, what a mixed basket. I do know one thing though – it definitely would have been interesting to go to Tetsuya’s several years ago, and then to go again today to compare. I did not have that luxury, but I do have the luxury of actually going. It’s an interesting ride, that’s for sure.
Why did we actually go? You could say it’s a faux-celebration of the end of our 3rd year at university…yeah let’s call it that. Four uni students, a legendary restaurant. Let’s go.
Date Visited: 29/11/2012
Address: 529 Kent St Sydney, NSW 2000
Go-to dish: confit of petuna ocean trout w/fennel & unpasteurised ocean trout caviar
The restaurant is a mansion. No that’s not hyperbole or anything – it literally is a giant house. If you’ve ever walked past it you’ll know what I mean. I’ve never been to a restaurant more seemingly exclusive – you walk past an open iron gate, chances are in a pretty expensive car (not us!), and formally dressed wait staff will usher you in and direct you to your seat. The restaurant actually seats several hundred people in various areas of the house. There are tables of all sizes depending on where you sit – so whether it’s an executive business dinner with 10+ people or a romantic date…the place has got you covered.
Oh and as the cover pic shows – it’s got its own garden. That’s awesome.
So as you can see, fancy outsides, as well as insides. No restaurant I’ve is as opulent, though Est. comes close. In the end though, you can’t beat a private mansion for a restaurant.
But let’s get down to business – cutting out all the history and hype, we find ourselves here for the food. Let’s eat. Tetsuya’s does not have an a la carte menu – you are served a degustation that is completely up to the menu of the day – but there is a vegetarian option available. The price is fixed – $220 a pop. Take it or leave it.
Bread, always bread. A great carb, and luckily doled out in fairly smallish portions so we don’t overindulge. It’s good bread, on par with offerings from any other hatted restaurants. To do better? Serve it warm and toasty. Even in summer I would prefer my bread this way.
The bread also gives us our first clue into the French influence – as a sourdough baguette, as opposed to something more…conventional.
What really makes the bread stand out is the truffle butter – likely the best butter I’ve ever tasted at a restaurant. Oh man, it’s like you could add truffles to anything and it’d make it better. While strictly not true, it definitely is for the butter.
Smooth, creamy, aromatic.
It would be the one butter I’d buy for use at home – despite my misgivings about the health impacts of it.
Our first appetiser comes in the form of an interesting green pea soup. It’s served chilled, and yes, as with many such odd creations it works – to an extent. There’s a grainy texture no doubt from the puréed peas that possesses a light and refreshing, slightly sweet and MSG-like flavour.
The dark chocolate hits you hard at first as a super-strong counterpoint to the general lightness of the rest of the soup, but for appreciators of dark chocolate – this works too.
I can’t confidently say the two worked together, but it worked well enough. Personal preferences will strongly influence opinions of this little appetiser!
This second appetiser comes in the form of an avruga, truffle oil & egg custard. Avruga is caviar made from herring, as with other caviars it has a strong and distinct taste, almost musty. Overall I liked this one much more than the first, as it brought in a heavenly flavour courtesy of the rich ingredient mix, as well as the fact that it’s actually served warm which was preferable to me at the time.
Strong, richly salty bursts of flavour with every spoonful – extremely satisfying.
The salad of the sea can be thought of as a glorified sashimi salad. As expected, the quality of it was top notch – served at room temperature the way it should be, the fish taste delicious and perfectly match their appropriate textures. Tuna – lean and chews through easily, the hiramasa firmer and textured. The sushi rice is the right mix of sourness and softness (and I wanted more of it – unusual for sushi rice), and the konbu is crunchy and flavoursome.
Special mention to the gelatine noodles – they added a third element of texture that usually doesn’t exist in these kinds of dishes. Slippery and jelly-like, they taste quite refreshing and it suits the rest of the dish quite nicely, especially the fish!
Oh, yeah of course, there would be a second type of bread being offered – they just gave it later. We have a rather fancily-designed white bread roll that looks better than it tastes. I’m not saying the roll tastes bad, just that it’s white bread – it can only taste so good.
Again, that truffle butter comes into play
For our next course, New Zealand scampi w/chicken liver parfait takes the stage. The scampi was extraordinarily soft, almost gelatine-like. It’s like they tenderised it with explosives or something. Pretty cool and unusual texture.
It’s flavour was odd however – it tasted quite…rusty, as if there were a lot of iron in the dish. I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but I know this is meant to be the flavour of the chicken liver coming through, but either chicken liver does not taste nearly as good as foie gras, or that this was just badly-prepared.
A dish that looks good, but fails to please or impress.
Apologies for the obvious ghosting on this image – my friend was deliberately blowing on the leaves while I was taking the exposure…can’t believe I didn’t see this coming. Sigh.
Anyways, this is Tetsuya’s signature dish – the confit of petuna ocean trout. There’s actually only two things I need to say about this:
Texture: complete and utter win. This is definitely the most full-bodied, well-textured ocean trout I’ve ever had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into. It’s just fatty enough but not overwhelmingly so, and you can discern the subtle textures of the fish. Perhaps the hype about Petuna Ocean Trout (supposedly a superior, selectively-bred species of trout) is warranted after all.
Flavour: excellent, superb across the board….eeexcept for the random jarring bursts of salt. See the salt flakes on the top above the caviar? Yeah that was not cool – while 70% of the trout was awesome, those random places where a ton of salt was dropped onto does nothing but overload my taste buds with saltiness. I can’t imagine this is deliberate – I already like strong flavours so something like this is sure to overwhelm true aficionados who have even more sensitive palates than I.
Massive boo-boo Tetsuya’s. I’d like an explanation on this one.
And it was so close to being a perfect trout dish…
We now move onto the first of three meat dishes, starting with the veal tenderloin w/shiitake mushrooms. Yuzu was one of the ingredients used to make the veal jus, and it shows – it’s like a more sophisticated lemon with deeper and more varied flavour. It made the dish better than it would’ve been overall, though the veal itself was perhaps a bit too rare for the way it was cooked.
Still got a great jus though.
Afterwards, we’re served a little bird in the form of poached spatchcock w/asparagus & morels. I’m not a fan of this dish – the bird itself is very soft and tender, and comes apart in satisfying stringy bits of meat. Texture nails it – but not the flavour.
The main issue is that it’s simply too bland. I can taste some hints of seasoning, but it’s just nowhere near enough. Not even close. And what’s with covering it in a layer of cornstarch? This is your random Chinese restaurant-quality stuff, so it’s very peculiar Tetsuya’s did this.
Ahhh now this de-boned rack of lamb w/sheep’s yoghurt is something pretty awesome. This lamb is great in both texture and flavor – soft, comes apart easily, and very well seasoned. That sheep’s yoghurt is awesome and suits it so well. Lamb with yoghurt is a combination that just works.
A gold star to Tetsuya’s on this exceptional meat dish.
And we begin to encroach onto the sweet stuff, starting with a pear sorbet. This tastes a lot like mashed up pear that’s been frozen, and then thawed slightly. It’s slightly sour, perhaps a bit more so than the average pear. I don’t think it’s that great a sorbet, but it does its job of refreshing my palate quite…refreshingly. Today is not my day for puns is it…
The first dessert comes in the form of a Granny Smith’s apple granita w/basil jelly. I couldn’t get a proper picture of it before it started melting so gave up. Derp.
Flavour-wise, it works better than you’d think. I’ve shown that basil, despite its complete disconnect with anything remotely sweet, works as a dessert [cena itinerante]. It works just as well here, and the whole mix is like a refreshing, crunchy (via the granita) mix of sweetness. A super palate cleanser, if you will.
Our second dessert is a “floating island” w/praline # créme anglaise. The floating island portion is made out of poached vanilla bean meringue, and tastes like a cloud – it’s so airy and light. You’d have no idea that the dessert was actually this incredibly light. Almost feels like a rip for money
The créme anglaise – well, you just can’t go wrong with it. Sweet, milky and smooth, it’s just such a good dessert sauce pairing.
There is an inner portion too actually, the side you see in the picture is the dark chocolate side. There is a raspberry side behind it. I wasn’t really impressed with either – the dark choc was rich, but was also too bitter (pure coffee beans would’ve made a good comparison). The raspberry…well y’all know what I think of that. It’s not too sour though, so that’s good.
We ordered copious amounts of tea afterwards, and thus got to see their hand-crafted tea cups. No two are the same, and while superfluous, was cool nonetheless.
Not a bad (and very heavy!) teapot too!
We now arrive at petit fours, which I was very impressed with. The macarons had their saltiness a little too localised and inconsistent – some parts were good, others not so much. They were also a bit more chewy than expected.
The meringue was like a well-made mini pavlova, ’twas lovely and puffy.
The macadamia truffles were my favourite – their richness leaves a very pleasant feeling in my mouth. Have these last.
As for the mascarpone puffs – yeah they were ultra puffy. Almost felt like I was eating sweet, creamy air again.
Tetsuya’s seems to have an identity crisis where it tries to marry superb textures against a hodgepodge of flavours that don’t always suit, and are sometimes plain wrong. The Good Food Guide noted that Tetsuya’s food has remained little changed ever since it opened. While consistency is good, other restaurants have made leaps and strides and constantly refine their cooking. Tetsuya’s has…for the lack of a better word…stagnated. No doubt would its food have been superb, without peer some years ago. Now, it needs a fresh innovation, else it is merely “great” amongst a sea of greats, not “best”.
It’s still difficult to give Tetsuya’s a verdict, but in the end, gut feeling prevails.
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three
The Good: genuinely well-executed fusion, remarkable decor and service
The Bad: more than a few misses on the food, not up to two-hatted scratch
I give Tetsuya’s a grand total of seven and a half Caesars out of ten – 7.5/10