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Published April 21st 2014
Japanese degustation to die for
Mouth-watering seared tuna. Image courtesy Wasabi Restaurant and Bar.
Conveyor belt restaurants have delivered sushi to the masses. However, they've unwittingly constrained diners' horizons too, with many unable to conceive of Japanese food as anything other than what arrives atop a toy train.
This is a shame, because Japanese food has so much more subtlety, variety and complexity to offer. It was in this spirit of discovery that we arrived at Wasabi Restaurant and Bar at Noosa Sound. Situated overlooking the Noosa River, offering a view of boats docking, kayakers paddling and waterbirds wheeling, Wasabi offers a fine dining experience that marries Japanese techniques with fresh Australian produce. And it does so using a creamy white palette - from the starched tablecloths to the dreamy candles to the milk-glazed porcelain shipped from Japan - as a backdrop.
It's the sort of place that could be intimidating were it not for highly knowledgeable wait staff who refrain from condescension. All our stupid questions, from how to eat the bowl of edamame beans that materialised on the table through, to the significance of the paper cranes delivered after the meal, were answered with aplomb.
We were not possessed with sufficient confidence to make selections from the extensive a la carte menu but fortunately Wasabi offers a couple of set menus too.
We thus became torn between the experimental omakase ('let the chef decide') menu featuring 5-9 courses with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients that might not make it to the printed menu, or the more traditional 7-course wakeru, designed for sharing and showcasing some of the stand-out menu items.
Muted tones offer diners a soothing cocoon in which to indulge in fine Japanese food. Image courtesy Wasabi Restaurant and Bar.
We eventually decided on the wakeru menu because it featured familiar items such as sushi, sashimi and gyoza - although I'm definitely going back one day for an omakase adventure. (The prospect of dishes such as uzaku featuring unagi or freshwater eel, mozuku seaweed and cucumber has me more than a little intrigued.)
Our meal commenced with miso soup which was enriched with the addition of some steamed local spanner crab. Next up was sashimi moriawase - a selection of five of the day's best sashimi, including scallop, which was close to divine. An additional treat was the delivery of hand-grated wasabi root. 'You'll see that after about 20 minutes, it loses much of its heat and flavour. And it turns more beige than green due to oxidisation, which is why it's best grated as you intend to eat it,' our waiter explained.
Next up, the shiromi ponzu, thinly sliced shiromi sashimi with toasted sesame, ginger chips and ponzu (the Japanese version of viniagrette), which offered a wonderfully clean balance of flavours. Maki moriawase arrived next, an assortment of premium sushi rolls. ('Now this, I understand,' said my teenager, who clearly relished being back on familiar ground.)
Tempura of local tiger prawn, rock oyster and local reef fish followed. However, by this point, our waistbands were beginning to feel too tight and tempura seemed a shame after all the refreshing rawness and freshness we'd just experienced, so we didn't quite manage to polish it off.
Our appetites returned with the arrival of gyoza - pan-steamed, house-made dumplings containing pork, bamboo shoots and yuzu (citrus) zest. Last up was spatchcock teriyaki, deboned and stuffed with hijiki rice, torigara shoyu, roasted golden eschallot, nama shitake and served with a warm Japanese mushroom salad.
Dessert? Not a chance after all that, though Wasabi has several tempting options including momo zake (sake infused custard, peach blossom jelly, ginger jelly, rasberry and shiso sorbet and green wakamomo peach).