Guidebook Ishizuka: a 12-course kaiseki love affair

Best eating in town

Ishizuka: a 12-course kaiseki love affair

Dining at Ishizuka is “not a normal night out,” explains Richard Cornish at Essentials magazine. “The knife strokes, the burnishing under flame, the cooking over charcoal, the placement of gold leaf on a puck of lobster -- beautifully considered movements that all form part of the greater choreography that is the meal … it has the zen-like quality of the Japanese tea ceremony, in which time slows down and the senses are heightened.” You enter by walking up “a gentle slope, the rough textured foundations of the apartments above forming columns in the walls around you, up-lit from a bank of lights obscured by the raised, black carpeted floating floor … it feels ancient, almost Roman.” Diners are individually greeted by chef and owner Tomotaka Ishizuka -- “he offers his business card in two hands and politely welcomes you to your seat in his restaurant” -- before embarking on his 12-course kaiseki love affair.

“We bet you've never experienced the concept of kaiseki quite like you will at Ishizuka,” writes Libby Curran at Concrete Playground. “It's the Japanese fine dining experience characterised by intricately plated dishes, an intimate setting, and a produce-led menu that celebrates that perfect balance of taste, texture and precision.” The “subterranean” Bourke Street restaurant is only tiny, she says, but it's “built on a huge respect for fresh, seasonal produce and served with a healthy side of theatre.”

Then there’s the food. “What do you want? Beluga caviar?” asks Gemima Cody at Good Food. “Here it comes atop the first bite – creamy, grainy edamame tofu crowned with just-set scampi and a sucker punch of wasabi.” The complexity of Ishizuka's dishes “runs deep, and often incredibly subtle,” notes Cody. “Our soup sees a ball of freshly dispatched crayfish washed in a dashi concealing junsai – a vegetable that tastes a little like tea and has jellied in the heat like basil seed … sea perch, gently grilled and topped in a salty meringue with curls of uni, eats buttery-rich and almost meaty but is ethereally light – like a marrow-flavoured marshmallow toasted over a fire.” And she cites duck breast (“finely sliced, is slicked in a sweet, viscous stock, surrounded by turned vegetables and namafu”), sashimi of kombu-aged snapper and soy-softened tuna (“kid-leather soft”) and nine-score wagyu (“hits the magic balance between crisped fat and mellow melt”). And, to top it off, “appreciate the mastery of the infamous dessert that places red bean in a starchy pumpkin jacket like the glossy yolk of an egg.”

This is “the most expensive meal of my life,” says John Lethlean at The Australian -- “$215 per head before you even open the brief wine and sake list” -- but it’s “an exquisite way to eat.” It all starts with the zensai, or “seasonal delicacies”: about seven small items “ranging from the richness of whole, grilled baby abalone with sauce of its own liver to the cleansing, abrupt palate-jolt of pickled turnip, prepared meticulously to resemble a flower, or sea anemone … some items make more sense than others … there are peaks, but no troughs.” Lethlean names his highlights as the sashimi (“deep red bluefin cubes with soy-cured egg yolk and vinegar-cured King Dory with pink finger lime garnish”), abalone liver and black sesame tofu (“in a dashi gravy with superb braised abalone and a garnish of real caviar, gold leaf and a fine shard of chive … a revelation”) and simply grilled slices of marbled beef (“with salt, wasabi and ice plant, which pulls you back from the Wagyu brink of richness”).

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