Yayoi, a modern take on a traditional Japanese Teishoku restaurant, and the initial Sydney venture from a very large empire throughout Asia, delivers far more than any clichéd franchise experience that others may offer. Refreshingly, the well presented food not only has sound technical foundation, but more importantly shows some soul, as does the classy but understated fit-out. The exceptional hand crafted ceramics by Morimitsu Hosokawa on display, no doubt also inspired some of the stunning plates being used, which showcase the cuisine beautifully.
Located in the business hub of the City, the option to power lunch is ideally assisted through touchscreen ordering. The Teishoku set menu concept, featuring a main meat or fish dish, with a series of small supporting dishes on one tray, is a perfect fit. However, the well-priced Yozakuru (7 courses/$65) and Kayaba menus (11 courses/$80) offers a more relaxed opportunity to look across the menu, should time not be a consideration. Just twenty dollars more gets you matching wine or sake, which is a steal given the quality of both.
The Kayaba menu starts with Zensai Santen Mori (a trio of assorted appetisers), the first Chikuzen-ni (braised chicken and vegetables), is underpinned by a light well-balanced broth. Tofu topped with yuba follows (tofu skin made during the boiling of soy milk), paired with texturally perfect eel and a punchy hit of wasabi. Lastly, flawlessly layered rolled omelette provides a nice contrast. Gyu tataki salad (lightly seared wagyu beef with sesame dressing and ponzu gelée) showcases the importance of acidity and balance to a dish. Similarly, the salmon carpaccio garnished with roe is counterpointed by the citrus notes of the noteworthy ponzu gelée.
Asari Sakamushi (littleneck clams steamed in sake) is quite subtle in flavour profile, which sensibly does not muddle the flavour of the main ingredient. Salmon teriyaki with vegetables, shimeji and salmon roe is inadvertently overshadowed by one of the most stunning plates I have seen. The black centre and gold rim feature the colours of the components brilliantly, so outshining that was always going to be difficult. Crumbed pork is accompanied by Matcha salt (finely ground green tea powder with salt) and a particularly well-balanced katsu sauce.
Nasu Miso (eggplant, pork, capsicum, shimeji and sesame) delivers a noticeable umami hit, with the success of the dish being the sum of its elements. Wagyu Shabu-Shabu (thinly sliced wagyu, vegetables, tofu, shimeji & shiitake) is cooked by the diner in boiling water, adding some playful interactivity to the experience. Unagi Gohan (unagi eel, Kinme rice, julienned omelette, chawanmushi and miso soup) is a favourite dish in Japan during hot summers for good reason. The alternate, Wagyu Sukiyaki Gohan has all the same accompaniments, offering a more savoury aspect in comparison.
Matcha ice cream with whipped cream and strawberries is a simple dessert with clean flavours. Warabi mochi (wasabi jelly, Uji matcha from Kyoto, red bean and chestnut) is my preference of the two, more a petit four than a dessert, but well executed nonetheless. Both come with tea from a well-chosen list that represents the pick of the tea producing regions of Japan.
Service is both pleasant and efficient, and adapts to the varying needs of the diners menus with only occasional prompting. Yayoi, aims to deliver many things to different diners, and overall fulfils on that ambitious promise. The food has some memorable moments, but most importantly does not falter in between, and has found its own voice. The Plenus Group does have plans for a measured expansion, but is mindful of maintaining the integrity of its flagship. Meanwhile, whether you are planning a brief or more extensive meal, the experience at Yayoi will have you returning for more.
2/38-42 Bridge Street, Sydney
Monday to Wednesday 12pm to 3pm, 5.30pm to 10pm, Thursday to Friday 12pm to 3pm. 5.30pm to 11pm, Saturday 12pm to 3pm, 5.30pm to 10pm, Sunday 12pm to 3pm, 5.30pm to 9pm
Reservations (02) 9247 8166