As you know, Japanese food is my religion. No wait, chocolate is. But so is Japanese food okay?! On my first trip to the glorious Yayoi a walk away from Circular Quay, I fell for its simplistic, clean decor, the theatre of the way delicate food is brought to your table and that dream-inducing rice cooked the traditional way while you wait apprehensively for 20 minutes to lift the lid.
So I’ve been focusing on cheap eats recently as I have become the biggest cheapskate saving up for my trip to France. More on that later. So it’s safe to say I don’t fork out more than $15 for a meal out these days so this was particularly special. I gathered two of my fave Japanophiles and we planned to go to the recently opened Yayoi at the Galeries, the original beauty’s sister restaurant. I left the booking too late and was told they wouldn’t have any free tables. Enter: the panic. Luckily I realised that Yayoi Garden might have something for us and they did! Exit: the panic. The first thing I noticed was that the entrance has been redesigned to create a more elegant and refined setting. Think black-lined windows, glass panes and more elaborate table arrangements than previously. We all adored the colourful crane chopstick holders and Japanese earthenware plates. I don’t know what I think about fake flame candles though ha! Service was patient, swift and approachable. Menus have also been revamped and the fancy iPads are no longer a mainstay.
We were all at different levels of hungry (I was at level 1: HANGRY) so couldn’t wait to devour some food. The menu is no longer fixated on teishoku (set meals) but now involves a six-course and eight-course option, share plates of sashimi and sushi, rice, soup, main dishes and teishoku. I ordered the Unagi Hitsumabushi ($22) – grilled eel pieces with rice and a dashi broth to be poured over the top. Friend #1 went with Miso Pork Fillet Katsu-toji Jyu ($23) from the teishoku menu. Clearly Friend #1 was hungrier than I was. Awkward. Friend #2 was the least famished so Chicken Nanban ($16) with house-made nanban sauce (the best version of tartare you could imagine) was plenty. When this came out, we were more amazed by the spectacular silver curved plate than the meal itself, which was quite small. But with the richness of the nutty, mellow tartare sauce and soft tempura-coated chicken thigh, it was clear we didn’t need a bigger portion. Yum – this was definitely a winner. I didn’t mind some sections of ‘soggy’ tempura which had absorbed the dashi broth underneath but friend #2 would’ve preferred a crunchier batter. God we are petty folk. Moving along! Friend #1 was in her own little world enjoying her generous and unctuously soft pork fillets with creamy egg layered over the top. But I think I won the jackpot – warm, plump grains of rice with silky soft and sweet grilled eel and an umami kick from the broth. Oh my gawd wow. I think I had to take a few moments just to appreciate how breathtaking this meal was. It wasn’t the biggest portion but it made me feel satisfied and not bursting at the seams which is never a bad thing. The girls ordered the fruity Junmai Daiginjo sake ($36 for 150ml) which arrived in the cutest ice-filled box with a sign informing us of what this style was. I’m not much of a sake-lover so I passed but they seemed to love it so a big thumbs up for the drinks menu. After some time, we decided to head off into the night, the wind taking us in all directions as we walked to Central to let our tummies rest. My expectations were far exceeded so I’m even more curious to try the restaurant at the Galeries hopefully soon.