Fusion restaurants. They're like opinions: ubiquitous and unconvincing. They're like pedestrians: everywhere you look and usually in the way. They're even like similes: far fetched, pretentious and confusing. Fusion this with fusion that. French-Japanese. Modern-Australian-Korean. Anglo-Alburqeurkian-Martian. Seriously. Sometimes it works wonders (as did Ezard, Melbourne), but other times it turns out to be the culinary equivalent of crossing an American eagle with a semi-colon: pointless and nonsensical. I mean, some things just. dont. belong together, and I know that's a lesson we all wish Liz Hurley and Shane Warne would learn some day before one of us actually drowns in the quagmire of our own vomit. I generally don't go in for fusion much. Rather than being a dining-dazzler, it takes the gist of two cuisines and usually gives me a weaker impression of each of them. Cooking is fluid and fancy free, but when I go out for Mexican I want Mexican. When i'm craving Italian, I want Italian. When I go out for Lebanese, I want garlic and hot chips. And when I crave Japanese (every six or seven minutes - even during my sleep) I want the traditional and beguiling mirin-miso-melange that I never attempt cooking at home because my paltry confidence intuits a finesse and mastery in it that I lack the culinary cojones to even try and replicate. With Jap for me, the more traditional, the better.
Sake at The Rocks isn't fusion, as such, it's more of a modded up funkier version of traditional Japanese that breaks quite a few rules. Between plucks and strips of wax and some fanciful European black-thick brow tinting, my amazing eyebrow lady, The Sensational Simone has been raving to me for ages about this slick, spacious ode to all things Jap. She said I simply had to try it, she had her wedding here after all and cannot stop singing the praises of head chef Shaun Presland and his delectable offerings that include sake sourced from a 3 century old boutique producer of the stuff back in Japan. When someone is veritably frothing at the mouth about something and angling some pretty sharp tweezerman's about an inch from your pituitary glad, you tend to do what you're told.
Sorry to disappoint, but there was no sake-to-me as I settled for the Calo Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain: a heady-spicy reddy that Celeste has long ago sold my dizzying will to. Entering the beautiful space that is Sake, levels of perfect polished wood meet heavy, silent stone. It's all bathed in a gentle, glowing light that already makes me a little drunk before I have even been tempted to tempranillo. This is what New York dining feels like, fashionable, sexy and styled. Different seating arrangements section the space into more convivial larger tables, smaller cosy, private rooms cloistered off to the side as well as more traditional Japanese seating on cushioned-benched tables. The music is gentlely atmospheric, it starts to do something to my shoulders and lo and behold, I, Amanda Bechara am actually relaxing as I take in the chefs on fine display in the busy kitchen that slips into view beyond the polished and steamlined sushi bar.
After the light bouncing off the wine glasses and the mixed crowd of elegant 30-somethings, suave men in suits and well-to-do young families, the first thing I notice is a menu that reminds me of the NY Nobu. The popcorn shrimp are redolent of a prawn dish I had there, and the Jalapeno Sashimi is definitely familiar. Nobu is obviously a hard act to follow, the Melbourne version is nothing like the NY. The meal I enjoyed there (for which I will always thank the astral configurations and whatever Gods were rostered in on Mt Olympus that day) is still one of the most definitive Japanese experiences I have ever had, so amazing I could weep. My teeth even remember it. It's beaten only by a hallowed Ginza sushi bar that took 600 Australian dollars from me but gave me the biggest smile I think I have ever had in this life. Nobu ended in Earl Grey chocolate. Did you hear me?! They actually took chocolate and put earl grey in it!! My God. Look. Don't even ask, I really need to put it behind me and move on.
Back at Sake, the very well priced starters are cool and hot and fun and give us a chance to run amuck inside the bountiful imagination of a menu that is equal part traditional, equal part playful. Sashimi Tacos, case in perfectly poised point! These luscious little parcels of tuna-salmon studded sashimi encased in a delicate taco with a sake shot to boot were probably my favourite morsel of the night. The chilled tomato salsa was beautiful and vibrant, it spiked the rich, cool oiliness of the fish with a slap of flavour - and the feel of the tacos against the smoothness of what they held make for perfect balance and moorish texture. Light and delicate and whimsical, and totally unMexican. They were presented wonderfully, we kept enjoying the cutie-pie-ness of them as we gobbled them into oblivion.
Panko rice balls: Get On It! Delicious? Hai! These spectacular little spheres of smouldering scrumptiousness might actually make drops of your saliva shudder with joy, that is before they realize what has hit them and then start forming little saliva shapes that start jumping up and down inside your mouth, bouncing off molars and tonsils like it's a bloody jumping castle in there. Soy bean, bamboo and shiitake are all in ball-bed together and conjuring up a damn delectable result. Take a perfectly steaming glob and plonk it, quickly and forthright into some full bodied wasabi mayo. Hell yes.
Now this is not the best miso i've ever had, but the appearance of the scampi floating around in the middle of it was more than enough to cause me joy. Miso is always best simple but I could not resist ordering this version, it was beautiful to behold. The scampi is lounging around in there taking up most of the room, it looks like it's having a miso jacuzzi, sort of like a dead happy Weekend At Bernie's scampi. What-you-lookin-at type scampi. I wasn't sure whether I was going to grab it a chilled beer and hope in beside it or just eat it all up. Good sense prevailed and I followed through with the latter.
From Scampi to Shrimp, I almost felt slack for not inviting Zoidberg. But Celeste and I were more than enough for this prawn-tempura'd craze in cream and spice. The tempura skin slathered in a rich, creamy tanginess is the kind of pleasant taste/feel that prods me to make a mental note to visit the gym tomorrow. This was a little too tangy and rich for my liking, but it was a fun dish and something people with heavier palates could probably handle far better than I.
A Hand Roll.
A Drum Roll...
Ahhh, at last. You do do me the honour of tolerating me until I get you here, but you know we always arrive at dessert in the end. Yes we do. Sometimes we even get there in the beginning. If death is anything like a meal and the finish is saucy-fragrant-sweet, then I can't fucking wait until I cark it and don't you dare mourn me on my passing (from some excessive cake related incident at the age of 35).
Frozen Yuzu Souffle w miso ginger caramel sauce + what I think is candied fennel. Jesus. I just sat up in my seat and crossed my legs the other way. I know it's messed up. But my reaction to sexy, swoony dessert is always bloody pelvic. It also appeals to my mind, sometimes more than it does to my tongue! This chilled, beautifully bizarre jewel of ice was so citrusy-caramelly-curious I just died. Thick and stodgy. The kind of frozen thickness you have a delve a fork into at a 90 degree angle with considerable force to even make a small dent. Solid sweetness. An earthly angel, sinking and floating and glowing from her own chilled-sweet-sticky-sin ridden inner perfection.
Subtle and tart and so, so gentle. Delicate and spiraling. Tasting it is like having a crush. It's like your tongue spontaneously grows a hand and you hold your tongue-hand inside of your actual hand and walk off into a beachy pink-hued sunset with yourself. This dessert is like dreaming.
Green Apple Mille Feuille: Here I give you the true beauty of Japanese mastery. It creates wonderful, electric, full and surprising flavours that always stun you with their... sheerness. Normal dessert is so heavy and sweet and chocolately. It is sticky and sensuous and simply, simply too much. I love it for that. Anytime Western dessert goes light it can usually fall in upon its own blandness. Not so here. This was cream-spangled apple-infused magic. Soft and crackling, but like lace in between. Green apple-mousse, velvety and creamed, glistening and gentle and so agonizingly loud in its muteness. It's like the quiet confident girl at the party who doesn't need to make any noise or fuss. She knows all they need to do is look her way, catch her eye, speak her language: and then they will be lost to themselves forever. Lovely Mademoiselle Mille Feuille. Lovely, lovely light loveliness. Look at her for a few moments, tell me you don't start swaying...
This candied and subtle stunning dessert line up involves a white sesame ice creamed chocolate fondant (for those who refuse to home without their chocolate), a delectably deconstructed Russian cream in buttermilk and coconutted raspberry (for the Derrida of palate) and an oranged tofu cheesecake. Just thinking of these dishes again makes a bullet train out of my warming pulse.
Seriously good dessert is one of the most beautiful things this life can offer. People who are depressed and contemplating suicide have clearly lost sight of the earthly priorities that a noble existence requires: Eat Cake. Eat Cake Again. Eat Cake Well. Eat Amazing Cake. Cake. Cake. Cake. Dessert. God.
I have to go and lie by myself in a corner now.
Sake happens at 12 Argyle Street The Rocks. Ph 9259 5656, website here. This restaurant is atmospheric genius. You have to come here to get a sense of how thoughtfully and effectively they've styled the whole place. It can be as intimate or as crazy as you'd like it to. Food aside, the service was unaffected and friendly, prompt and helpful. It's a snazzy place where they know they don't have to try too-too hard to prove themselves. You can tell that management really knows what it's doing. Sake doesn't try too hard, it gives the overall impression of a fun and light, stylish effortlessness that makes me want to come here again just to be in the room. For sake fanatics among you, this is definitely where you'll find the best drop of the stuff in Sydney, sorry I didn't kick it back for you. Kick it back for me - Sake is a bar as well, after all!
Sake, at The Rocks and On The Rocks: wear something sharp and be on time.