One of Canberra’s most-experienced food critics and this paper’s longest-serving columnist, WENDY JOHNSON indulges herself with her top eating experiences for 2018
I ADORE the way quality Japanese chefs worship food. They treat it with such passion and respect.
Head sushi chef Hao Chen at the relatively new Raku in the city is a master with his sushi blade and it’s fascinating to sit at the bar and watch the team carve out beautiful food, plated to perfection. It’s a true art form.
Raku is modern Japanese and every aspect of the restaurant has been carefully thought through – the food, the drink, the interior design. A row of private rooms are at the back of the restaurant and to the right are large communal tables. Smaller tables are to the left, as you first enter, with small stools.
The menu is extensive and sharing is the name of the game. Raku features a traditional robata grill and sushi bar. “Raku” is a type of Japanese earthenware (lead-glazed), which is important to tea ceremonies. Simple and natural, raku has been used by Zen Buddhist masters. Food looks gorgeous on it.
We started our culinary journey with three succulent Canadian scallops (some of the best in the world), with jalapeno (for a bit of bite) and green apple (for freshness) with a dollop of creamy garlic mayo (quite subtle). This is a star dish on the menu’s seafood section ($24 to $41).
Next up was the Tasmanian salmon tartar with yuzu miso and amazing pitch black, crunchy squid ink crackers – light and airy ($18). Tartar is only fabulous if the produce is fabulous. Raku excels here.
The gyuu tataki was another amazing combination of flavours ($19). The seared 150-day, Angus beef striploin was cut beautifully and we adored the black truffle dressing, pickled onion and fun, little, garlic chips ($19).
We were keen on some veggies and weren’t disappointed with the seasonal vegetable tempura, served with a smoky dashi broth ($15).
We loved everything but the most amazing dish of all was the beef cheeks. OMG. The braised 400-day, grain-fed Wagyu cheeks take three hours to cook and fall apart on the plate ($28). The wasabi sour cream was sensational.
Saki features on the drinks list, but that’s no surprise. So do Japanese whiskies, interesting beers, mocktails and stellar wines. The list includes hand-picked Canberra district wines, many other Australian top labels and a smaller selection from overseas.
The music is pretty cool. Reggae, African and a mix of other genres were all on the play list but it works somehow. Expect the unexpected.
The staff are highly knowledgeable and super friendly but we found the service a bit slow. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t want to be rushed, but our patience was almost tested a couple of times.
Raku, 148 Bunda Street, Canberra. Call 6248 6869. Open seven days, 10am to 11pm. Fully licensed.