Thursday, 10 July 2008

japaz

Published in Time Out Sydney Magazine

165 Wycombe Rd
Neutral Bay NSW 2089
Phone (02) 9904 0688
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 6pm-10.30pm
Thur-Sat: 12pm– 3.30pm
Licensed. Around $60pp including wine.

The new kid on this Neutral Bay block is a cosy dining room, designed for a sexy evening of sharing; all dark wood, tables for two and dimly lit atmosphere. Unfortunately as the room is quite echo-y noise does travel, so you may need to practice suggestive glances across the table. But whichever table you're seated at, you do have a front row seat to Head Chef and co-owner Hiro’s skilful operation in the open kitchen.

If you’re sceptical about what Japanese Tapas entails, don’t worry. While the ‘series of small dishes’ rule still applies, its more a DIY degustation rather than the scarier possibility of Tempura Chorizo or Teriyaki Patatas. The menu features a series of small, modern dishes with a delicate Japanese touch, starting with lighter offerings at the top and progressing into heartier fare.

The well-informed and attentive staff suggest around six dishes (averaging $14) between two people as the general rule and the journey commences with Witlof Leaves Stuffed with Crab, Green Apple and Lime Salad with Sour Apple Jus. A few too many flavours detract from the delicate crab flavour, but it remains a fresh and interesting combination of textures.

Twenty Second Swordfish with Preserved Lemon Jus sounds too intriguing to pass up – pan seared, finished with aniseed liqueur and served with fresh tomatoes, the only disappointment is that there isn’t more to go around. Fortunately the Scallops with Sweet Soy and Onion Butter arrive promptly and the flavours are clean, simple and really let the scallops play the lead.

The Eggplant with Pinenuts and Cured Mullet Row, which follows is testament to the fact that vegetable-based dishes can be as creative and substantial as their meaty counterparts. And speaking of meaty; the rich stewy Wagyu Beef topped with Almond Cream is meltingly tender, however the almond cream doesn’t quite fight its way through the crowd to really feature.

Six rapidly-served dishes down and the man-friend whispers “I’m still kind of hungry.” The Duck and Mushroom Salad comes to save the day and is deliciously uncomplicated.

Still under construction, there are currently two desserts on offer: Coarsely grated Manchego Cheese, served with Rum & Raisin Gelato and topped with Nut Praline. Sounds like 'fusion dining gone wrong' but it works surprisingly well. The second is the less experimental Dark Chocolate Tart, served with Coconut Sorbet.

It may not be Japanese, Tapas or even Japanese Tapas, and there are a few hits as well as misses, but this is one newbie to keep an eye on.

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