Ok guys, time for a bit of disclosure up front. This write-up is different from my normal modus operandi in that unlike my usual incognito reviews this time around I was invited to dine as a guest free of charge. So yes, I got a free meal, and while this may threaten my journalistic integrity somewhat, where I come from (Yokine) if someone offers you a complimentary meal at a nice restaurant you damned well take them up on it. That being said, I have tried to retain a sense of objectivity and provide an accurate review, and now that you know the deal you’re free to make up your own mind. So, housekeeping out of the way lets crack on with things…
I have to say that I was pretty excited about getting an email out of the blue inviting me to dine at Fuku in Mosman Park. Not only was it a chance to check out a new place (and score some gratis nosh along the way), but it was a brilliant opportunity to experience something that my normal spending habits would not allow. I don’t know if you realise this, but baristas don’t actually make that much money in the grand scheme of things, which is a grave injustice as far as I’m concerned. If we all went on strike and you lot had to start every morning with a shitty coffee or, heaven forbid, learn how to make your own I’d give it two weeks tops before you were all a gibbering mess weeping like new-borns, begging us to please come back to work and willing to pay us whatever we want. However, until that glorious day when my coffee slinging brothers and sisters in arms rise up and take what is rightfully ours I’ll have to be content with choosing more cost effective dining options (hence my focus on the cheap and cheerful of late) or, as it turns out, waiting about to be invited for free stuff at fancier venues. Seeing as I was allowed to bring a plus one I took my friend Joel who lived in Japan for a year teaching English and thus was a useful sidekick for such a dining experience.
Doing a bit of research online beforehand I found out that they are “a small 16 seat restaurant specialising in ‘omakase’ (small plates chosen by the chef for you) made right in front of you”. Again, this only served to increase anticipation levels on my part as I’d seen teppanyaki chefs doing their thing on telly before but never experienced it in the flesh. Upon arriving, Joel-san and I discovered that Fuku was indeed an intimate little place consisting of little more than a wall of backlit sake bottles and bench type seating facing right on to the cooking area. As is the case with the cuisine, the décor has a traditional Japanese theme with a crisp, modern feel. The sense of refined oriental elegance was also accentuated by a backdrop of tranquil Japanese instrumental music.
Soaking it all up we sat down and were given a run down as to how the evening was to proceed. Basically Fuku does 3 set taster menus; Good ($100 per head for 4 courses), Better ($135 f or 8 courses) and Best ($220 for 10 exceedingly opulent courses). We were to have the ‘Better’ along with a selection of different sakes off their impressive list (they have the biggest collection in WA). In case you’re wondering they do have a beverage list with wine and beer too, but if you’re going to do it properly it’s all about the sake. Thoroughly chuffed with how things had shaped up so far we were given a sake to wet the whistle, strapped ourselves in and waited for the feast to begin.
First up was Kawa Ebi (river prawns) and crispy nori sheet. Deep fried to crunchy perfection yet no at all oily, the small shrimp are meant to be eaten in one go; heads, tails, the lot. Overcoming my initial distaste at the thought (primarily out of a fear of being judged an uncultured swine) I popped one in my gob and was pleasantly surprised to taste nothing but crisp, prawny goodness. The shells and head only added to the crunchy texture and weren’t overly fishy at all like I was expecting. The fried crispy nori was a salty delight too. My mind had already been slightly blown and my horizons expanded, and it was only the first course!
Round two was the small morsels (otsumami) which consisted of a tempura oyster with ginger paste, a fried soba noodle tree, some snapper and some smoked wagyu. The oyster was amazing! Crisp on the outside and creamy in the middle with a ginger kick, it was definitely my favourite of the morsels. That being said, the others were great too. The fish had an interesting sweet and sour thing going on and the wagyu beef had a smoky kick that matched up perfectly with a sweet teriyaki sauce. More decorative than anything else, the deep fried soba noodle tree was nevertheless fun to gnaw on.
The third course of sashimi took me back to familiar ground as I adore the stuff and eat it on a fairly regular basis. Consisting of Tasmanian salmon, Fremantle Tuna and an Exmouth Prawn, Fuku’s WA supplied take on it was very good indeed (the salmon simply melted away in your mouth), though perhaps not the best I’ve ever had. The sashimi prawn was a new experience for me though (insert your own joke about coming the raw prawn here), and we were told to eat the pickled ginger before having the fish so as to cleanse our palates from the last course and properly taste the delicate flavours, so at least I was still learning new things.
Next cab off the rank was Quail grilled on the hotplate and served up in a Peking style pancake with mushroom sauce. Apparently the Quail they use is both free range, organic and the largest in the world, which still isn’t very big in the grand scheme of things. It is, however, very tasty and the use of the pancake was a fun way of presenting the bird.
Course 5 switched back to seafood again with the scallop, prawn and crispy prawn head. A seared scallop was served alongside a much larger cousin of the Kawa Ebi we’d scoffed in the first course, and this one had his head dissected and fried to crispiness too the poor blighter. Having overcome my fear of prawn heads earlier on I was only too happy to tuck in to it this time around. The crispy prawn head, beautiful firm prawn flesh and silky soft scallop all offered lovely contrasting textures which were tied together by the Uni (sea urchin) butter that they were grilled in. Truly wonderful stuff.
The penultimate savoury dish was the fish of the day, which for us was swordfish served with eggplant, marinated lotus root and miso dressing. Firm and steak-like as good swordfish should be it worked really well with the salty miso dressing. The sukiyaki marinated lotus root was both a new thing for me and a highlight of the dish. I just loved the flavour and unique, slightly crunchy texture. I’m also a huge fan of eggplant on pretty much anything, and the miniature one they dished up to us is certainly the cutest one I’ve ever eaten.
Last in the seemingly endless line of savoury dishes was the much anticipated Wagyu beef. Given that the name has garnered such a reputation I was keen try the genuine article and see what all the fuss is about. After some spectacular “volcano work” done with the clever use of an onion and some hot oil we were served up cubes of the vaunted steak topped with garlic flakes and served with spicy miso sauce, grilled onion and some fried rice with Wagyu flavour. Now while there was no doubting that it was exceptionally nice it wasn’t by any means the best beef I’ve ever had and I probably wouldn’t go out of my way or pay a lot of money to have it again. As a dish, however, it was the perfect culmination of the savoury courses as the spicy miso, garlic and onion all worked fantastically with the robust beef and the fried rice filled one up to the perfect point of elegant sufficiency, that is, perfectly satisfied but looking forward to dessert.
Desert was Yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit) cheesecake and wasabi cream, chocolate drink and Mountain Peach. A relatively light and simple affair by the standards of the rest of the meal, it was perfect as it would have somewhat ruined the evening if we’d forced down a huge, rich dessert that tipped us over the edge into queasy territory (and we’ve all done that from time to time, right folks?). The small cup of velvety hot chocolate and the cherry-like mountain peach were great, but the combination of the lightly tangy citrus cheesecake and wasabi laced whipped cream was mind-bendingly great. I’d never in a million years have picked those flavours to work together and it definitely added an incredulous edge to the already considerable food lesson I’d been given that evening.
Now I’ve said an awful lot about the food up to this point, but some of you may have noticed a distinct absence of information on the sake. This, I have to admit, is because I am complete novice when it comes to the stuff and wouldn’t begin to insult you by banging on about it like I was a seasoned connoisseur. I did try and pick out the flavours of the first three or so we tried and keep a track of what I like the best, but after that it all became a blur of delicious rice wine that magically kept appearing in my glass. What I will say though is that if you’ve not tried it before then don’t be afraid. It’s not too dissimilar to grape-produced wine and it definitely grows on you after a while. Fuku also has the largest range of Japanese single malt whiskey in WA, a fact that also excited me quite a bit, but we weren’t offered any and it did seem rather cheeky to be asking considering everything else we were getting for nothing, so I can’t report on that front either.
In addition to the fantastic food and the lovely sake, I have to say that I really loved experiencing a new style of eating. Being sat at the bench table and watching all of your food being prepared in front of you lends a wonderful sense of theatre and anticipation to everything. You can speculate about exactly what is going on and begin to imagine what it will taste like. Unlike a normal restaurant setup you can also talk directly to the chef, ask questions and just generally feel more involved in the whole process. The net effect of all this is that you seem to better appreciate the intricate nature of the food they’ve made for you and have a greater understanding of the skill that it takes to put it all together. They also throw in some showy tricks along the way but manage not to go over the top with it, thus leaving the food to remain on centre stage where it rightfully should be.
Overall my unexpected journey to Fuku turned out to be a very educational and exceptionally enjoyable new dining experience. Now while the considerable cost prohibits me for contemplating a return any time soon, those of you out there with greater financial means should definitely consider paying them a visit. If they match the meal that they gave us (and my gut feeling tells me that they will) then I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.