In Short: Delicious and perfectly cooked seafood, expertly prepared sushi, spacious restaurant, relaxed ambience.
Yayoi Garden Sydney Video Review
“…Passing through Tago Bay and coming out to an opening, I see snow falling, pure white, on the lofty peak of Mt Fuji…” Man’yōshū-759
The above prose is inscribed on each of the plates at Yayoi Garden. It’s a pointer to the history and culture that the restaurant aspires to present in its food offerings. Yayoi Garden is part of a group of restaurants headquartered in Tokyo. The first of its restaurants opened in 1886 and now the group have restaurants across Asia, Australia, and the US. Not to be confused with Yayoi, its sister operation opening in various sites across Sydney, Yayoi Garden is a step up on refinement and quality of food. Its location, on the corner of Bridge and Loftus Streets, sees it in an area of Sydney city that’s lined with quality restaurants. Yayoi Garden doesn’t give away anything to its neighbours in terms of outward presentation. An expansive dining area wraps around from Bridge to Loftus and when the sun goes down, the restaurant’s light emits a glow onto the streets as the guests, insulated against the street noise, dine on great Japanese cuisine.
The interior takes its inspiration from Japanese gardens, and the stone feature on one section of the restaurant reminds me of the famous Ryōan-ji in Kyoto. Blonde beams are complemented by blue Noren lined along the windows. The warm and cool tones work perfectly to create a relaxed dining atmosphere. I was also impressed by the sake arrangement. Needless to say, it could be a very celebratory evening if you love sake to complement the seafood and meat dishes.
The Coco and Vine team are provided with a rare opportunity to witness the chef and his team at work in the kitchen. It’s fascinating to see our food being prepared. The first dish we sample is a gindara saikyo-yaki. Each portion of black cod is marinated for three days before being cooked. The fish is first grilled for 7 minutes to ensure that a golden caramelised crust develops. It is then layered with a Kyoto-style miso (saikyo) paste and wrapped in a cedar wood parcel and put back under the salamander for 5 minutes.
It is delivered to the table still wrapped in the cedar with a slice of grilled lemon. Simple, beautiful, and akin to a little present just waiting to be unwrapped.
Pulling open the cedar reveals two beautiful fillets of cod with golden hues on the outer, it is separated by a star inscribed mushroom. My chopsticks act as knives through butter as the fish flakes apart. Chef Marshall Pai executed the cooking of the fish to perfection. The fish is moist and the miso adds a sweet flavour, but it doesn’t overpower the natural flavours of the black cod. I get hints of mirin and the smokiness of the cedar is there but very subtle. It’s both beautiful to look at and to eat. A signature at Yayoi Garden.
After seeing what Chef Pia could do with cooked fish, we then had the opportunity to sample his, and his team’s, creativity with the Yayoi temari sushi platter. It was a Kyoto-style platter of ingredients, served in the form of ball-like sushi. In a formal western dinner these would be the perfect canapés. They are bite sized and meant to be eaten in one mouthful.
The dish is beautifully presented with ribbons of ginger, a mound of wasabi and a garnish of flowers.
I start with the scallop which is fresh, sweet and creamy. There are also two types of salmon. I absolutely love the seared salmon which is scorched by the heat of the blow torch. The smoky, buttery textured fish just melts in my mouth. I then go from cooked fish to a fresh prawn which still tastes of the sea, salty yet so sweet! Perhaps the strongest flavour on the plate is the kingfish, but even then it’s a beautiful little morsel of fish with clean flavours and a silky texture. The cooked prawn is still soft and topped with dainty little triangles of radish which adds a delicate peppery jab. The unagi, or eel as we know it, is smoky with a sweet flavour that comes from the tare sauce that coats the flesh of the eel. It’s a satisfying platter of clean, fresh flavours with perfectly cooked sushi rice acting as a base for each of the sushi balls.
Yayoi Garden is the perfect retreat to experience Japanese cuisine. It is crafted by a team that are focussed on sourcing premium ingredients, and then treating them with respect while keeping their core flavours at the forefront.
*Coco & Vine dined as guests of Yayoi Garden