I will preface this review by saying that without a doubt, Tsunami is one of the most unusual Japanese restaurants in Perth. I'm not the first to say this, and I won't be the last. The food is exquisite and far beyond your run-of-the-mill local Japanese.
Having said that, I found my experience at Tsunami, well… a little strange.
Tempura prawn and soft shell crab with a Warhol hair-do
It's hard to know how seriously a restaurant takes itself when its website has a list of FAQ that includes things like:
Q: Can I have a spoon for miso soup? A: No
Q: Can I have a knife and fork? A: Absolutely. Don't be embarrassed. We use them all the time.
Q.Is that waitress single? What about the chef?
A. Ask them. Masa is single and the most shy chef in Perth. About him a question about his food. He loves that.
You catch my drift?
We were a small group of three. In hindsight this is a perfect number if you want to order Tsunami's specialty: ishiyaki stonegrill, a flat volcanic rock that has been superheated to 400◦C. Any more people at the table and we ran the risk of over-crowding the table and burning ourselves.
Look for the bright blue building, it's hard to miss
I arrived first and was shown to a booth in the corner of the front room. It was tight. I shimmied my way in, being careful not to disturb the display of probably very expensive wines behind me. It was a laboured process and I would not recommend it for anyone with arthritis, a false hip, more than six months pregnant or of the more rotund persuasion. Ask for a normal table. Forget going to the toilet, once I was in that booth I was there for good.
It gave me a chance to look around. For a Japanese restaurant, Tsunami isn't very Japanese looking. Sure, there was the ubiquitous Kanagawa Wave paintings on the wall and some Sailor Moon in the ladies toilets (I made it eventually) but as they point out in their FAQ, even Japan isn't very Japanese looking these days.
It's dark, with black paint, dim lighting, velvet booths, a wall of wine bottles and a wall of awards including numerous Gold Plates. There are two dining rooms and a stunning garden room out the back, with probably the most beautiful lighting in Perth.
The garden (and the entire restaurant) is available for hire. Not surprisingly, they host a lot of weddings.
Back to the point: the food.
The menu is divided into small dishes (hot and cold), larger entrees (for two people), sushi/sashimi and maki rolls, stonegrill, sukiyaki (iron pot) and 'specials'.
We tried to establish how large the mains were, and whether entrees were really necessary. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a language barrier no matter how we rephrased the question, so we erred on the side of gluttony and each ordered a starter and a main (NB: the FAQ says that if you have any sort of allergy to 'please please please ask to see the manager or someone with fluent English).
For the record, the mains (and some of the entrees) were decently sized, and we could have managed with sharing one entrée between us.
Cold entrées include tuna carpaccio with citrus soy and wasabi herb oil ($16.90) and crispy salmon belly 'sticks' with octopus terrine ($16) while the hot starters have items such as pork kakuni (braised) with a house made soba crepe ($14) and 'agedashi and friends' (tofu and other vegetarian tidbits) $15.
We ordered the crispy fried chicken which came covered in tiny crunchy sago balls, in an edible basket and doused in a sweet and hot chilli jam. It was very tasty and exceptionally filling. It could easily have served as a main.
Forget the pear tree, this partridge lives in a gyoza
Our partridge gyoza were more questionable. Four perfectly formed dumplings sat on a very non-Japanese ratatouille. Peeled edamame beans were the most identifiable Japanese ingredient, and the game filling, while delicious and moist, felt very heavy compared to normal seafood and pork fillings. I wish I'd ordered the carpaccio instead.
The agedashi and friends were very pretty to look at, with three small vegetable dishes accompanying the large crispy tofu cubes.
Mains at Tsunami start at $26.90 for the teriyaki chicken and go all the way to $59 for 200g of a Grade 7 Wagyu sirloin with fresh shiitake mushrooms. On average, you're looking at $35 for mains though.
We didn't order one, but the sukiyaki (or 'nabe' iron pot) seems like an incredible dish: a choice of meats (beef/chicken $29 or seafood $30) with broth, Chinese cabbage, tofu, vermicelli and udon noodles, shiitake and enoki mushrooms and a bowl of rice. Add $1 for an egg.
I had to try to Ishiyaki stonegrill. How could I not? There are nine options on the menu including vegetarian (haloumi/vegetables $25.90), sashimi/tataki ($33) and five Wagyu dishes from $33.90.
So, lots of beef then.
I ordered the Wagyu and scallops ($39.90) and initially it was actually quite a stressful dish. When presented with my four plump scallops already sizzling on the 400◦C stone I was concerned that they would quickly overcook.
If I wanted to ruin expensive seafood, I could do that at home. So it was a fumble to find my knife and fork, quickly turn them, then move them off the rock onto my (small) serve of rice. The cubes of steak I let sit for a minute longer before enjoying them quite rare.
The dipping sauce was tasty and the dinky serve of potato salad was tasty but unfortunately very cold. Maybe I should have popped it on the rock for a minute.
Lamb cutlets, one of the less usual Japanese ingredients
We also ordered from the Tsunami specials (with slightly more Western ingredients such as sweet potato mash and ratatouille).
The miso encrusted lamb cutlets came with potato rosti and the edamame ratatouille ($33). There was no discernable crust on the lamb, but the miso flavours were present, the lamb nice and pink and the rosti declared 'nice and salty', the way it should be.
There was a bit of a drama with our third dish. Good, old fashioned chicken teriyaki ($26.90). You'd think there wouldn't be any issues with such a simple dish. Except, they don't seem to want you to order it. I'm not making this up, it says it on the menu: "not recommended – don't go there".
I couldn't quite tell whether they were taking the mickey out of themselves (or us), whether it was a patronising stab at people who prefer more simple flavours or whether it was just a bit of a mix-up.
Because it is served on the stonegrill, perhaps they are rightfully concerned about customers not properly cooking the chicken and giving themselves food poisoning and Tsunami a potential law suit. Surely though, this is something that could be easily solved by just cooking it for customers and serving it on a plate. Like other restaurants do.
When my friend tried to order the teriyaki she was met with a grimace and was told that they didn't actually serve that. But it's on the menu? Yes, but perhaps you would like to try something else… it was all quite awkward, but she was determined and in the end got her chicken teriyaki on the stonegrill. I thought it looked fabulous.
Unfortunately, despite confirming twice with different staff that it was made with breast meat, when it came out and was obviously thigh meat, it was sent back untasted. My friend was understandably upset, and by the time another meal had been selected and cooked, we had long finished our mains.
Her replacement dish, the tempura prawns and soft shell crab ($18) was from the entree menu but again, was decently sized.
There is a small dessert menu and a large drinks menu, which obviously includes Japanese beers and a variety of sake as well as some wines, cocktails and mocktails.
Which brings me back to the FAQ section on the website, which clearly hasn't been updated in a while.
Q: Any hot tips?
A: The furry beans in the bento box are called 'edamame'. Don't eat them whole. Don't order the natto. Don't put chilli powder on the hot stones. Chilli smoke will hurt your eyes (and everyone else's).
Someone clearly had a lot of fun putting the website together. It makes for good reading, even if makes the experience a little confusing.
So go to Tsunami. Just don't try and order the teriyaki.