Kisume – Melbourne, City – Saturday 10 March 2018 – Dinner

Kingfish sashimi, truffle soy, black truffle

I will admit it. I just don’t know enough about Japanese food to feel entirely comfortable critiquing it. I do know about restaurants and I do know what is good though.

There is no aspect of Japanese food that I do not like. Tempura, nigiri sushi, sashimi, yakitori, ramen, you name it; I love them all. When they are done at the highest level of quality it sticks out. There may only be a sparse number of ingredients, making it less obvious to differentiate, but when the component parts are superb, it is something of beauty.

Take that tradition of few ingredients and incredible fastidiousness, and add some modern flourishes and you have “modern Japanese”. Like other modern takes on traditional cuisine, it is not a complete transformation, but does make a statement. The other ingredients here at Kisume is a rockstar sibling restaurant in Chin Chin that is still attracting lines of people many years on, a glamourous space over a couple of levels, and that intangible cool that is a magic of its own.

We had the tasting menu with the deluxe sushi upgrade. The food is by no means flawless, or even close. The service is chaotic at times, but generally okay. No one seems to care that much because this is one of the hottest tickets in town. The experience feels similar to when you see your favourite band – even if they are not the best they could be, you are so excited you don’t care that much.

Tonight I’m dining with three friends and we all have different views on Japanese cuisine. “Chef” as we know him, is not a devotee and, unsurprisingly, this is not his best experience. Jarrod loves Japan and Japanese food, but was unmoved by several dishes. Trav has been to Japan multiple times too but had a more positive response.

Chargrilled edamame

The tasting menu started with edamame. We had already been suggested to try some as we decided what we would order, and whether we would try the tasting menu. They were very nice, chargrilled with salt and garlic oil. After opting for the tasting menu we were told that was the first course anyway. Then we received a further two bowls. Three bowls of edamame for four people? We felt bad leaving one completely untouched but the staff didn’t admit it was a mistake, and either way that is a lot of edamame to eat.

Crispy pork kimchi gyoza

Next were some delicious pork gyoza that some at the table were saying are equaled at several other venues in Chinatown, but I thought were terrific. Kingfish sashimi that is first class comes next. Truffle soy and black truffle elevate the flavours, but the kingfish is top of the range. When kingfish is this good it reminds you why variations are so popular on restaurant menus. It was my favourite dish of the evening.

Sushi course with deluxe upgrade

The sushi boxes have some serious diversity. There is sashimi, nigiri sushi, and several other tastes and textures including the uramaki (inside-out roll). The issue here is the varying degrees of enjoyment from the food. At the bottom end some of the sashimi is chewy in an unpleasant way, and the combination of uni, pastes and roe in the middle is difficult to understand (and not explained by our waitperson). The large pieces of cucumber are a distraction. On the plus side, the nigiri is excellent (wish there was a lot more) and some of the sashimi was beautiful too.

Miso soup with chrysanthemum tofu

I appreciate the skill involved in the chrysanthemum tofu, and I like the silken texture, but the miso is plain. Anything but plain, the grass fed beef tenderloin from O’Connor’s is almost completely covered in foie gras. As an ingredient, foie gras is the epitome of richness, but there is an issue with the beef. Experience of beef in Japanese restaurants has always involved an awe about how it can be so tender and juicy. The richness of the foie gras simply doesn’t mask the fact that the beef is not up to the quality we would expect.

Foie gras and beef

The hapuka fish with a puffed black rice crust is easily the superior of the two mains. The crust works really well against the firm and juicy fillet. Add the spicy miso and chive oil and you have a very nice dish. The side salad of cucumber, cucumber and more cucumber was pleasant enough with its vinaigrette dressing and good measure of coriander. However, did we really need three of them for four people. Generousity is one thing, but wasting so much cucumber felt wrong, especially after our three serves of edamame.

Spicy miso hapuka with puffed black rice, spicy miso, and chive oil; cucumber salad in the background

The dessert to finish lacked impact. Three puffs of cream with some additions for texture. It was sweet, and we ate it (in under 2 minutes), but it felt like an afterthought.

On this one experience I wouldn’t go back to Kisume, but I’ve heard enough good things about the Chef’s Table (exclusive to 12 people) and there were some serious highlights. There’s little doubt that with a restaurant this spoken about it will get another chance, but I hope it is better the second time around.

Kisumé Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Shobosho – Adelaide – Friday 8 September 2017 – Dinner

Spit roast Teriyaki Clare Valley chicken, eggplant cream, shallot bread

I have mixed feelings about our visit to Shobosho. Putting aside the obvious (who you are dining with) when I go to any restaurant, it is always predominantly for the food. However jovial the experience, the food dictates.

The reason I have mixed feelings, is because generally the food was excellent at Shobosho. I can’t help but feel, through a combination of the table we were seated at, the unusual demeanour of the service, and just a vibe, that there is improvement that can be made.

Shiitake “chawanmushi”, toasted grains, dried shiitake, oyster mushrooms

And one element restaurant design that I’ve never really thought about, is having every table in view of the floor staff, or at least the floor staff having a regular need to be overseeing the tables. On a cold night in Adelaide, the position of our table, outside of the main area of the restaurant, but next to the opening, was not ideal.

Honey glazed pork steamed baozi, chinkiang vinegar

In the end, little of this detracts from my personal rating of Shobosho. With some exquisite food, such as nine hour lamb buns, aged wagyu skewers, incredible Japanese custard, and very nice five spice roasted chicken, it is hard to really be critical.

We had plenty of service attention to begin with, but like many catch ups, we spent a lot of time initially chatting rather than reviewing the menu. It’s little wonder why we were left alone, but equally there are very few places that do the restricted time early sitting well. It always feels like there is some sort of hurry to get to ordering, rather than relaxing into the meal to come. Yet for most of the times I’ve done the early sitting at restaurants, we have stayed longer than our allotment, without any consequence for the restaurant or the next set of diners.

Xinjiang style wood roast lamb bun, and Mayura Station 9+ wagyu kushiyaki, yaniniku sauce

As I mentioned, the food was delicious. The shiitake “chawanmushi” Japanese custard dish was one of several recommended by our waitperson, and she was completely correct that this odd sounding dish is beautiful. The Xinjiang style wood roast lamb buns were full of flavour; the blackened crust of the bun adding a great smokiness.

There were dishes like the honey glazed pork steamed baozi that you only expect from a specialist dumpling house. Contrast that with some delightfully plated raw yellowfin tuna, charred edamame, black rice, topped with bonito cream, and you have both rustic and finely presented modern Asian side by side. Though the bonito cream was a touch too much for the softness of the tuna.

With the spit roast Teriyaki chicken to finish, and a satisfying accompanying filler in the shallot bread, we were just too full for dessert. The savouries had done their job, and we had already overstayed our time, eating into the Richmond v Geelong final on at the nearby pubs.

Shobosho was well worth a look. Next time I’ll specifically ask for a table up the top, hoping to get some more consistent attention from the staff, and being away from the door. Some of these dishes would be hard to not order again, which is a big tick for our time here.

Shobosho Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Africola – Adelaide – Wednesday 15 March 2017 – Dinner

Octopus

It’s great to be back in Adelaide. It’s a hot and dry day and I’m on my way to Africola for the first time. I rarely have high expectations when I don’t really know what to expect, but that is the case tonight.

Having never looked at their menu, and only having walked past briefly some time ago, how could I have such high expectations? It comes completely down to the hype surrounding this establishment. Relating this back to Melbourne the hype is Chin Chin-esque.

Chickpea salad

The restaurant is wide-fronted and has a wide entrance giving that casual breezy feel, especially when it is still over 30 degrees. There is plenty of staff, all on the hipster side of the ledger. They are enthusiastic and knowledgeable throughout, but they are also not passive on the upsell.

Peri Peri Chicken

The menu is designed to share and I recommend deciding for yourself. While there is a $65 feed me option, having a couple of meat dishes, a veg, and a seafood, went the distance to my mind. The veg dish was a mixed leaf with deep fried chickpeas, and it was fine, but you don’t win friends with salad.

Flank steak

The octopus had much more to it, with a great spicy dressing. The flank steak was on the less generous side, but was perfectly cooked, and came with a huge piece of bone marrow which made the dish in my opinion. The beetroot and other accompaniments were terrific too. Finally, the peri peri chicken was nicely cooked, and the wilted radicchio worked well with the smokey, and well spiced chicken.

This is an enjoyable restaurant, but I am struggling to work out why it is the subject of such praise. The dishes, designed to share, have been very nice, but not one has really wowed me. The service too, has been good, but there is some uneasiness there too. In some restaurants you immediately feel comfortable. Here there is that little bit of pressure when the waitstaff suggest something that you don’t wish for. It is not like they are unfriendly, but there is a slight uneasy feel.

Adelaide is going from strength to strength in terms of its restaurant and bar offerings. The depth of great places that I want to try one by one each time I’m here is only growing. Africola has been one of those places for a long time, and I probably need to give it another go. Sometimes you cannot help but have certain expectations, and they were perhaps overinflated this time around.

Africola Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato