I'm hoping you all had a fabulous safe and happy new year, and that 2011 brings some amazing things!
My friend Kay-Lynn or @monkylicious as you may know her, had been RAVING about one of her recent visits to Sydney restaurant, Sake, when it was announced that Brisbane would be the next destination for Shaun Presland's next Sake Restaurant. How exciting. I love that Brisbane is not attracting the big ticket restaurants and we have some really high end, lovely places to dine.
After checking out some of Kay's photos, I was obsessed with making a booking. The opening did get pushed back a little from the original date, so it became apparent that the first week it would be open, would be my birthday week. As you all know how I feel about my birthday, I decided to take my mind off the whole thing by eating at Sake!
Sake is a fairly impressive fitout, somewhat similar to the Sydney version, but a little spesh cos it's right on the river. It's definitely got a little somethin' somethin. Clean lines, yet earthy but also very relaxed. Coloured Sake barrells add an interesting focus, as does the beautifully large open kitchen. The bar and outdoor casual seating area is a perfect spot for that first Pink Blossom. Stepping in to the newly fitted out space, I was overcome by how comfortable everyone looked chatting and eating.
The restaurant is in capable hands. Head chef Shinichi Maeda is no new comer to the QLD food scene, having spent 7 years living the dream in Noosa, head cheffing at renowned Japanese restaurant Wasabi. I liked his style at Wasabi, and I'm always excited to see what a great chef can achieve in a different space.
Staff gave us a friendly greeting, and it was good to see that during lunchtime, the restaurant was packed, even in the opening week/s. We were seated at a spot near the window, which was great, because there was a fierce storm happening outside that I loved watching!
In true G.G. style, I'd already stalked out the menu and spoken to several sources about the must order items. Although there are some Sydney classics incorporated onto the menu, there are also items on the bar menu that are unique to Brisbane, and at the moment, Shinichi is working on a new menu that will have some more exclusively Brisbane additions.
C was dining with me, and he likes a little bit of Sashimi but not too much, so I had to think of cooked options too. As it was my d-day (dreaded day also known to some as a birthday) I decided to have a cocktail too, even though it was lunch time. Ah, what the heck- who am I kidding?! You all know I would have had one anyway! At $18 a Japanese silk caught my eye - a mix of Tanqueray gin, elderflower and aperol with peach bitters, mandarin, garnished with a lavender flower. A lovely refreshing drink for a summers day with the elderflower shining through. C decided on one of the beers on offer - an Asahi from memory.
The alcohol list is seriously impressive. I know basically nothing about Sake and Shochu except that there are really bad versions available cheaply and some beautifully complex, gorgeous varities available, if you have someone to lead the way. Sake's Sake sommelier Miriam McLachlan is the go to lady. I saw her around the restaurant, and she obviously loves what she does. Having been trained at one of London's most impressive Japanese restaurants, her knowledge is seemingly never-ending and her passion is palpable.
I resolved to get into the Sake menu at my next visit (more about that later) so I could stick to drinking birthday cocktails at this visit. If you are wanting to blow some big bucks, I would ask Miriam's advice and get stuck into the Premium Sake collection which looks enchanting.
There were so many items on the menu that I wanted to try, but finally came to a conclusion about which we would choose that day, and which we would have to earmark for later.
Sashimi wise, the snapper white soy ($18) sounded great and lived up to the expectation. Thin snapper sashimi slices topped with sesame seeds, chives, yuzu juice and a white soy dressing was so soft it was sensual, with a nice tang from the yuzu juice. I would devour about ten of these dishes if I could- but that wouldn't leave room for anything else, say the salt and pepper tofu ($11), which was next on my list!
Now C is not traditionally a fan of any soft of tofu, but this dish won him over- crispy and salty on the outside and silky on the inside, this was a dish for the senses to enjoy. The perfectly light batter was note worthy.
The Steamed prawn dumplings ($16) are a Sydney favourite but left me underwhelmed. I found the Chinese-inspired shumai with spicy ponzu to be ok, but nothing speah. I probably wouldn't order these again. I found that the dumpling were cooked well, but the flavour lacked any kind of distinctiveness from the dough, which is something I look for in a dumpling.
Sashimi tacos ($15) were SUPER cute. Almost worth getting just to look at. The tasty tuna and salmon sashimi filling made them definitely worth while. I loved the freshness of the accompanying tomato salsa and the Kozaemon Junma sake shooters were a nice touch of JapMex.
The Tonkatsu cups were one dish that Kay raved about, so I ordered confidently. Panko-fried pork belly & spring-onion bites, served in lettuce cups with mustard miso and Japanese barbecue sauce ($15) were promising but a little small for my liking (ha - I love pork belllllly). Pork could have spent a little extra time in the fryer to 'crisp' them up a little more, but overall good flavours.
The nasu miso ($9) grilled Japanese eggplant, sweet den miso and sesame seeds was absolutely delightful. I love eggplant and this had the beautiful still half firm, half silken texture with a moreish mix of miso and seasme on top. Such full flavours left me wanting a whole lot more.
Popcorn shrimp sounds like something KFC may feature as a special version along side their popcorn chicken. Don't be put off. Whilst similar in concept, the shrimp is awesomely good. Perfect poppedness - the tempura perfectly paired with the prawn. Dressed in a spicy, creamy sauce, this dish will disappear in minutes off the table. At $27, it's a decent sized serving, and whilst, by this stage we were waning, we were also determined not to let one bite go to waste. This is a really great, if not a little naughty dish. I'd hate to think how many plates I would devour after a couple more drinks.
Throughout the meal service was attentive and friendly, but I will say, at this stage they just did not have the timings down pat. All our food arrived within minutes of each other, and at one point, we had every dish on the table at once. That is just far too fast, and whilst this may be appreciated if you were having to rush back to the office, we didn't and wanted a long lunch, which didn't really happen. These things take time to pan out, and in the scheme of opening week failures, rates pretty low, as most of the food was great. I'd like to pop back another lunch time to see if this is sorted out, because I know it isn't a problem at dinner time.
Dinner time..... which leads me to my 2nd visit to Sake. So, my friend Denea from Gourmet Rabbit called me to let me know she was coming to QLD for the weekend and wanted to hang out. She was lucky enough to score an invitation from Sake's lovely PR person Lindy and invited me to come along as her plus one. After my first experience I was keen to head back, so this was the perfect opportunity. We had an incredible evening, talking at length with Shinichi (who is a really great guy), Miriam and Rob (the restaurant manager). The boys at the bar mixed us up some creative cocktails and Miriam talked us through some really lovely Sakes that complimented the food beautifully. We didn't order off the menu, Shinichi sent out what he thought we may like. I know, lucky girls, right!?!?The ocean trout with sweet pea puree and butter soy mushrooms was a standout. It's on the menu now. Order it. Seriously. Am I gushing? Well I should be! Really honestly, one of the nicest nights I have had at a restaurant- and I learnt so much. My favourite type of experience. My curiosity about food can never be cured!
I'm really interested in learning more about Sakes now and excited to see what Shinichi comes up with for the new menu. We were lucky enough to try another style of eggplant (I hope he puts it onto the menu because it was DIVINE) and some squid that managed to capture C's attention with it's smoky taste. Oh wait- that was on our third visit. That's right, after our second visit, we were so impressed we wanted to head back for another drink just to show our gratitude, and sneaky Shinichi spotted us and sent out some treats for us to try. It was so nice to see Shinichi so passionate about the food, and a team full of staff who know their stuff and are really keen on giving diners a great all round experience. Which is what I had on all visits. And what I hope to have on future visits, of which there will be many.
This is one establishment that knocks out top shelf food without the pomp and price. My birthday meal was very reasonably priced, especially given the quality of food and service we received. I'm totally happy that Shaun Presland chose Brisbane to be the next base for Sake, because I think it could become one of my favourite restaurants. Modern Japanese cuisine with a touch of flair in a comfortable yet funky setting.
When to go: Whenever you get the chance. A great place to head for a special celebration.
45 Eagle Street,
Eagle Street Pier Brisbane QLD 4000
P: 07 3339 0999
G.G.'s first visit was unannounced and paid for.
2nd Visit was courtesy of Sake Restaurant.