There's Japanese and there's Japanese, the former being almost everyday for lunch, the latter being Saké. We chose to dine at Saké recently to celebrate a milestone birthday, the birthday girl being a lover of Japanese food.
The restaurant itself is a "land" of contrasts with a welcoming bar area, long narrow intimate dining room, individual dining rooms (which seemed almost cell-like!) and a larger, buzzier dining room. We chose the last of these as we were keen to experience the sunken tables (this area offers both the traditional Japanese seating as well as western-style regular seating). Unusually, the tables are not sunk into the floor so much as raised on a platform onto which you must clamber before threading your legs into the space designed for them, a little awkward if you are sitting near the window. Service is also impacted by the waiters' inability to reach further than the end of the table, requiring dishes to be passed by the diner, so if you are tempted to experience this, be sure your party members are fairly agile and happy to participate!
The menu is a double-page tri-fold of options and when faced with too many options, we did the usual thing - chose the $88 per person Chef's Banquet Menu which showcases all of the restaurant's signature dishes.
First though, drinks! Happy birthay Wag! : )
Although we selected the degustation, there were a few dishes which each of us nominated as add-ons to the main fare, dishes which were too tempting to await another opportunity to trial. These were:
Fried Tofu - fairly traditional but served with what we guessed were fried prawn whiskers/antennae.
Tuna Tasting Plate for 2 - tuna & avocado sushi rolls, tuna tataki salad with white dressing & tuna tacos with Kozaemon Junmai 'sake shots'.
Sashimi Tacos - tuna & salmon sashimi filled baby tacos with chilled tomato salsa matched with Kozaemon Junmai 'sake shots'.
You can't go to a restaurant named Saké and refuse a serving of it, even if it's an adjunct to the dish itself! The sugar encrusted shot glasses lent a sweet foil to the sake, great for the uninitiated sake drinker but YaYa didn't see the point of putting perfectly nice sashimi inside a mini taco which didn't really add anything to the dish.
Back to the degustation! As we were a table of six, each course was presented for two people so in most cases, there were three identical plates placed along our table. The only exceptions to this were the Silver Cod (where we were presented with a single dish containing one serving for each person) and the Popcorn Shrimp - but more on that later!
Edamame - served piping hot and generously salted
Kingfish Jalapeno - hiramasa kingfish, yuzu soy, thin slices of jalapeno chili. A beautifully presented dish, this is a good introduction to those who don't enjoy sashimi as the citrus in the marinade practically makes this ceviche-like and many of us were surprised that the jalapeno was not as "bad ass" as they had assumed it would be!
Shumai - chinese inspired steamed prawn dumplings with ponzu. An homage to the Cantonese prawn dumpling but more tender, more flavourful and fanciful with the tendrils of julienned wonton wrapper enclosing a melt-in-your mouth filling.
Silver Cod Lettuce Cups - grilled miso-marinated silver cod in lettuce cups. Exactly as described but a delicious moist mouthful of savoury textures. This is the dish which served all six of us!
Popcorn Shrimp - bite sized prawn tempura tossed with a creamy spicy sauce (part 2). As the allergy sufferer who couldn't have the mayonnaise, I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only did the waitstaff enquire about food allergies when taking our orders but instead of missing out, we were presented with one of our three dishes with the mayonnaise on the side. The mayonnaise eaters declared that it was even better served this way as the prawns retained their crispiness and they could take as much of the accompanying mayonnaise as they wanted, which made for an even spicier mouthful. Win/win all around!
Wagyu Teriyaki - marble score 7 wagyu beef sirloin, cooked medium-rare & served on sauteed shiitake & buckwheat with yakiniku sauce. Smokey from the grill, the beef was tender and sweet on the palate which contrasted well with the savoury buckwheat. Although the flavour was likely there, actual shiitake pieces were few on this plate.
Miso & Rice - served along with the Wagyu beef dish, all received a bowl of miso but (presumably and wisely to save rice wastage) we were offered a single bowl with more if we required it. We didn't need it but the bowl was sufficient for a large spoonful each and proved to be beautifully cooked.
Vanilla Panacotta - jasmine tea jelly, yuzu granita - the perfect size following the volume of food we had just consumed, the bottom layer was a very smooth, perfectly set, heavenly scented in vanilla panacotta offset by the delicate jasmine tea jelly and again with the tart yuzu granita. Could have eaten more than one, glad we weren't given the opportunity!
Traditional colourful sake barrels adorn one of the walls in the main dining area.
If I were being crass, I could describe our meal here as a gourmet surf 'n' turf with minute amounts of carbs in the form of taco or dumpling wrappers! What completely erases this thought, however, is the delicacy with which the ingredients were combined coupled with the freshness of the ingredients and the recurring ponzu theme all of which left us feeling visually and belly satisfied but also very healthy.
The $88 menu is a particularly good choice for those who dislike raw fish as the only sashimi dish features the least fishy variety while the remainder of the banquet is cooked. Saké also have a $110 banquet menu (food only, matching wines are $175) which features more of their sashimi dishes.