Tucked just around the corner from traffic-heavy Military Road, Japaz is a small restaurant with a warm, rustic interior of dark wood notes and exposed brick walls. We walk in to find we are seated next to Penguin Says Feed Me! and Sir D for the evening as well as being in close proximity of other food-photo-taking individuals. These shenanigans seem to have the couple at the table on our other side quite bemused and I catch their gaze constantly being thrown in our direction. At one stage I even hear the gentleman at the table say, “Oh, they can’t eat yet until they’ve taken their photos!” Quite a correct observation indeed.
On the menu is an eight-course meal created especially for this event accompanied by five matching sakes. However upon consulting the printed menu provided, we discover there are actually six sakes on offer with one making two appearances – served cold then hot – including a cloudy variety which has been used in a sake sangria.
The sangria served in flute glasses is light and fizzy from the addition of lemonade with green apple and orange bits floating about as well as what appears to be shredded basil. It’s sweet and girly and makes the perfect summer cocktail. This has been paired with the ‘Gaspacho with Soumen Noodle’, which sees a twirl of thin slippery noodles covered with refreshing raw tomato soup anointed with a drizzle of herb oil and a clove of black garlic. The garlic is earthy and sweet, although a little hard to mash up with the small fork in the martini glass, and adds a mellow garlic flavour without the usual edge.
This is followed up by ‘Sashimi of lobster with crushed Spanish Gordal olives & tomato seed dressing’. A base of lobster sashimi is topped with chopped mild green olives and topped with a chopped tomato and shaved onion salad. The onion appears to have been soused in something beforehand as its usual in-your-face bite has been completely mellowed but its texture retained to contrast that of the lobster. My only complaint? More lobster please!
The lobster is paired with a sake that I describe to Monsieur Poisson as tasting like ‘man’ as it seems quite oaky and musty to me. Around this time some sourdough bread appears alongside some grassy green olive oil for dipping, and I take some to mop up the dressing from the lobster. The next course of ‘Pâté de foie gras with roasted beetroot & orange dressed with 12 year Spanish muscatel vinegar on pan con tomate’ comes with its own baton of toasted bread replete with diagonal charred grill marks resting on several cubes of beetroot sweet and mellow from their roasting. A pod of broad beans sits alongside.
The accompanying sake for the pâté I find tastes like a strong spirit on its own, however it does help to cut through the fattiness of the pâté. The next sake paired with the ‘Twice-cooked pork belly with jamon Iberico, truffle sand & asparagus, warm melon sauce’ I like much better with its apple-y spicy flavours. The fruitiness of the sake ties in with the sweet nubbins of rockmelon in the dish which taste quite sweet on their own, but are a perfect match for the pork belly ‘sandwich’ with salty jamon and truffle filling.
The sourdough bread comes in handy for soaking up some of the melon sauce and pork belly juices before we are presented with the ‘Roast duck breast with escalivada, ginger miso sauce’. Sliced perfectly pink duck breast sits on a bed of grilled capsicum and eggplant (aubergine!) before being enrobed in a thick ginger miso sauce. It is pleasantly not as salty as I expect but a bit heavy on the ginger, although I may be biased here as I’m not a big fan of strong ginger flavours.
Our final meat course is ‘Grilled Wagyu beef, reduction of Pedro Ximnez and ponzu sauce’. The meat is soft and cooked to a medium while being surrounded by a thick, sweet and sticky, spicy glaze. What it is sitting on causes a bit of confusion – we are variously told it is ponzu (perhaps they meant yuzu?) or daikon mixed with seaweed and chilli. It has a mildly tart taste with a hint of spiciness with the texture of citrus pulp. The accompanying sake is a warmed version of the one paired with the lobster and the change in temperature makes its flavours much bolder.
Before dessert is served there is a cheese platter of ‘Cabra Rulo & Manchego’ with sliced pear and dates. The former is a goat’s cheese which has been grilled. It is crumbly in texture and quite strong for my uninitiated palate. The Manchego is a slightly rubbery sheep’s milk cheese much milder in flavour, but I struggle to finish either as I find cheese to be quite filling, especially at the end of a meal.
We come full circle with the presentation of dessert in martini glasses. It is described to us as ‘Liquid biscuit with strawberry coulis and brandy ice-cream’. The layered dessert has a quenelle of ice-cream in a pool of coulis which is sitting atop a base of what we assume is the ‘liquid biscuit’ component. It tastes like a mildy-spiced biscuit which has been blitzed then liquefied but there is no way we would have picked this had we not been told beforehand! Monsieur Poisson rounds of his meal with a caffe latte served in a most retro-style cup along with irregular cubes of white sugar.
I have very little experience with consuming sake, so it was a great chance to get to try different varieties in the one evening. Apart from being able to compare and contrast the sakes, it was also of course an enjoyable evening of Spanish food served with a Japanese twist. Thank you to Chef Hiro for his kindly discounted offer and hospitality, as well as his generous gift of a bottle of sweet muscat vinegar at the end of the evening. We will be returning soon to sample the standard menu.
165 Wycombe Rd (near cnr Military Rd), Neutral Bay NSW
Tel: (02) 9904 0688
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 6pm til late (dinner only)