This meat is melt-in-the-mouth tender with bold beefy flavours.
Easily the dish of the evening.
You will find croquette, prosciutto, carpaccio, beurre blance and balsamic vinegar sauce, foie gras and fig, Bagna càuda, Gâteau au Chocolat and Fromage de Chèvre on its menu.
But it is neither French nor Italian because this restaurant boasts a tag line of ‘modern Japanese dining’.
Such is the extent of contemporary dining in Sydney.
For a brief moment, I thought we were having sushi in an Italian restaurant when kingfish bruschetta hit our table at Berta (see our previous blog post). A few suburbs away in Neutral Bay, pasta at Italian Restaurant 16 is being dished out by Japanese head chef Toru Ryu.
So the juxtaposition of Italian and Japanese cuisine continues at WAQU, a contemporary Japanese eatery that promises more than your run-of-the-mill sushi, sashimi and yakitori takes.
There are two menus at WAQU.
The first menu is Kappo Dining or a la carte which include fresh oysters, small sharing plates, grilled premium beef and kamameshi rice. The second menu is Fine Dining where you can choose either a 6-course or 8-course meal for $69 per person / $117 with matching wine and $90 per perso / $152 with matching wine respectively.
WAQU, Crows Nest
Just as the food promises to be, decor is modern and this dining room is divided into two main sections with private dining in the rear.
Despite being fairly crowded on a rainy Saturday evening, noise level is subdued.
A 2011 Majella Cabernet Sauvignon is bold and oaky on the nose.
This wine is definitely one to drink with a ‘naked’ steak – a piece of good beef straight off the grill with just a pinch of salt and black pepper.
Slap yourself on the wrist if your steak comes with some fancy Mediterranean olive tapenade or pumpkin puree like some restaurants will insist.
Bagna càuda which hails from the the Piedmont region is Italian style Swiss fondue where raw and boiled vegetables are dipped into a warm sauce made with butter, anchovies and cream.
WAQU style is a combination of raw and boiled vegetables and we manage to count ten different ones.
Baby zucchini, cucumber, witlof, broccolini sprigs, French beans, snow peas, halved baby red radish and Dutch carrot, yellow beetroot and cherry tomato are paired with miso anchovy cream and white basil-flavoured powder.
The savoury cream mixed with vegetables and powder takes on an airy and foamy mouthful. I can definitely eat more greens this way.
There is traditional sashimi on the menu.
But since we are having contemporary Japanese, a lemon cured salmon sashimi is laced with small dollops of red capsicum and black olive puree, smoked salmon mousse, crumbly bits of cauliflower cous cous and a filigree of deep-fried potato strips.
Five salmon slices so thin, they’re almost translucent. With my chopsticks, I fold a slice to wrap a bit of everything for a mouthful of soft, savoury, tangy and crispy taste sensation.
For $12 or $2.40 per mouthful, I rate this elaborate lemon cured salmon sashimi one of the best value mouthful in a Sydney Japanese restaurant.
Two slices of tempura whiting are coated in light and crispy batter.
Smeared with the tang of nanban dashi vinegar sauce this is very Japanese fish minus chips.
It hard to go wrong when you choose a pinot noir from the cool-climate and exceptional terroir conditions of Tasmania.
For me, this varietal is a beautiful ‘half-way point’ between white wine and a full-bodied red which most Australian wines exhibit.
The plummy and earthy notes of a 2011 Derwent Estate Wines Pinot Noir proves a flexible complement for our cured sushi and foie gras.
Small cubes of foie gras paired with armagnac marinated figs is a French classic.
Subtle sesame, sake sauce and a tangle of shredded daikon garnish are the admission tickets onto a Japanese restaurant menu.
It might be fashionable to order goose liver in a Japanese restaurant. But it’s equally difficult to credit a fool-proof recipe since this foie gras comes from France in a can and there is little cooking involved.
Six slices of snapper are thick enough to qualify as Japanese sashimi rather than Italian carpaccio.
Dollops of green broccolini puree, fine slithers of red radish, crispy scallop and squid ink bark make this another great value small plate.
Call it carpaccio if you will but to me, this is sashimi that requires no wasabi or light soy.
Sear marks on roasted lamb cutlets mean they are twice cooked.
Red capsicum spice sauce is subtle but I would have preferred simple roasting juices as they are often the best.
Though the menu specifies it takes forty minutes to cook, they are expensive and I do wonder if roasted lamb cutlets belong in a Japanese restaurant, modern or traditional.
Kobe is the capital city of Hyogo Prefecture in Japan, home to the most exclusive Wagyu beef in the world.
Under Japanese law, Kobe beef can only come from Hyogo Prefecture. Therefore, it is worthy to note all Kobe beef is Wagyu beef but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe beef. Wagyu, literally meaning “Japanese beef”, comes in different grades depending on their marble beef score (MBS).
Despite our steak being named Kobe Wagyu rump cap on the menu, a quick check with the manager confirms it is not an imported cut from Japan. So our steak falls into the ‘second’ category, a high quality piece of meat from the Blackmore farms of Australia.
Our steak is served on a heavy piece of black slate and comes with red wine salt, black pepper, mustard powder, yuzu & green chilli paste and wasabi cream.
Medium rare as requested, this beef is beautifully seared and caramelized outside with a healthy blush of red in the middle. It is melt-in-the-mouth tender with bold beefy flavours and easily the dish of the evening.
Each slice of this beef is a palette for the medley of seasoning and condiment.
I definitely advise against mixing the seasoning because flavours are so different, except perhaps pairing the red wine salt with black pepper or mustard powder. Yuzu & green chilli paste is tangy and spicy for obvious reasons and definitely a standalone. My favourite is the wasabi cream because it’s so compatible with beefy flavours. Our waitress gladly obliges a request for more of this foamy cream.
Note: This 300 gram Kobe Wagyu rump cap at WAQU costs $56 which equates to $186 per kilogram. Australian Blackmore Wagyu rump cap at premium Sydney butchery Victor Churchill retails at $99 per kilogram. This butchery only sells Australian meats and does not sell imported Japanese Kobe beef.
Modern Japanese goes back traditional with snapper fillets fanned out on a claypot of Kamameshi rice.
Literally “kettle rice”, this kamameshi is flavoursome with its own version of crunchy socarrat on the edges of the pot.
There are only four desserts on the menu.
A thin crisp of corn flake tuile is the flag bearer for a Gateau au chocolat. A black pepper vanilla ice cream quenelle sits on a block of chocolate brownie cake. Crunchy caramelized nuts and foamy chocolate mousse provide textural contrast with a streak of pear puree.
Green tea, strawberry, vanilla and black pepper up the flavours for an ice-cream trio with sticky rice powder and red bean paste.
Mango pudding is chilled and refreshing in a stainless steel cup with vanilla sauce and calamansi jelly. Could this be a touch of Chinese too in this modern Japanese?
Whether it’s French, Italian, modern Japanese or call it a steakhouse if you will because Mysaucepan and I have since returned just for another dose of the Kobe Wagyu rump cap.
So dear readers, what would you expect to find on the menu of a modern Japanese restaurant?
308 Pacific Highway, Crows Nest
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9906 7735
Opening hours: Lunch Thursday to Sunday from 12pm Dinner Tuesday to Sunday from 6pm. Closed on Mondays.
The restaurant is fully licensed with 11 wines and 15 sake by the glass. BYO wine only on Tuesday to Thursday at $7.50 per person, Friday to Sunday at $10 per person.