Monday, August 6, 2012

Restaurant: Sake (Brisbane)

People who say there's nothing to do in Canberra deserve a good slap.  There's so much going on in Canberra that I can limit myself to one slice of it (theatre) and still not get to everything I want to.

But the one thing that I might agree is lacking here us a really first class Japanese restaurant.

Yes, the food at Iori is very good, but it's not exactly an "occasion" restaurant.  I have heard acceptable reports of Wasabi (Manuka), but after three visits there I have yet to find an occasion when they had sashimi available. And I'm not counting anything that is mainly Teppanyaki.  I've spent a chunk of my life in cities where good, genuine sushi and sashimi were plentiful and reasonably priced, and I miss, miss, miss my raw fish.  Sizzle Bento has a placemat that tells you what hotate is, but I've never actually been able to order it there. (It's raw scallop, for those who don't share my passion. Plump, fresh, succulent, delicious raw scallop. Mmmmmmm.)

So finding myself at a loose end in Brisbane on a Monday night, I Googled "Best Japanese Restaurant", browsed through the assorted claimants to the title, narrowed it down to those within walking distance, and took myself off to the Eagle Street Pier to see if I could negotiate a table for one at Sake. Woot! I could, and not only that, there is some sort of in-house tradition whereby all the kitchen staff yell Woot! too (or the Japanese equivalent) as you're shown to your table. It may have helped that it was Monday night, but they were also very good about giving me a table for one rather than make me perch at the sushi bar.

The menu has a staggering array of sake on offer, but alas, my policy is to never drink alone. However champagne doesn't count, so long as I'm out (the same way cider doesn't count, as long as I'm home), so I settled in with a glass of Veuve to survey the menu.

Ah, the menu. My house and my car I decided on within minutes; a menu this interesting can confound me for hours.  In a restaurant of this quality that can usually be solved by the degustation, but alas it's not available for diners a seule.  So while I agonised I started with what I'd been jonesing for - a serve of the hotate sashimi.  Man, it was good. Beautiful fat firm delicate wonderful tasty tasty tasty bites of scallopy deliciousness.  If they weren't $4 each I could have eaten a hundred of them.

I  also love a good seaweed salad - actually, I even love a bad seaweed salad, by which I mean those green concoctions of 30/70 shredded wakame and threads of agar coloured green and sprinked with sesame seeds you see under glass in the food court.  This one was sensational - five different types of seaweed, in five different colours, with five different dressings, and all of them delicious.

Which was good, because all around me the wisdom of the degustation was being affirmed by happy diners hoeing into fabulous looking plates of red-claw crab tempura with mango, and galantine of soy/orange-glazed quail. Dammit.

My next choice took me to the sushi maki menu, originally driven there by a deep nostalgia for the futomaki of my youth. But the ingredient list did not feature that sine qua non of my long-lost futomaki, kanpyo. (Where has all the kanpyo gone? Long time passing ... Seriously, I haven't seen it for years; the last packet I secured was about ten years ago in the Asian grocers in Dickson, and when   I went back for another they denied all knowledge of it, sort of like a Hitchcock film.)  

So, still in a haze of scallop lust, I opted for something a bit more idiosyncratic, called an S-Express, constructed with, inter alia, scallop, salmon, spicy mayo and cucumber, sliced and interleaved with witlof.  It was g-o-o-o-o-od. I could possibly have done with a little less mayo, but only out of guilt. The witlof was a surprise - I often find it bitter, but it was crisp and perfect to cut through the richness of the mayo and salmon.

The only real criticism that I can make of the maki was that it was much more filling than I expected. My whole plan had been to eat a boatload of raw fish, and here I was already replete.  So with not a little regret I settled for a macchiato (perfectly decent, if not brilliant), but I had to leave a polite pause for even that.

The service here was excellent; the waitstaff knew the menu well and provided good advice; they had that first-class knack of being there when you need him them and not when you didn't.  One small annoyance was that the seaweed salad was clearly listed as a "side", but then served alone, when I had in fact wanted it as a side to the maki roll.  And after asking one waiter to take away the sugar, others kept returning it to the table. But there are worse faults in a restaurant than over-attentive service, and I appreciated not being overlooked or made to feel out of place as a solitary diner.

But I do wish I had been able to try the degustation, and I hope to be able to return here with a companion some day and see if it is as good as it looked.

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