Tetsuya’s: is it worth it?

Even since it has slipped from three hats to two in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, Tetsuya’s holds a certain allure as a Great Restaurant. At a time when I could never imagine being able to pay to eat there, I was paid about 10% of the cost of the evening to babysit the children of lucky Tetsuya’s diners, who returned from dinner with stories of ice cream made from blue cheese.

And while we ate nothing of the sort last weekend, we did begin our degustation with the unexpectedly beautiful combination of chilled pea soup with chocolate mousse.

Tetsuya’s needs a serious occasion, because ten courses at Tetsuya’s is a serious investment – not only financially ($210 for ten courses, degustation only; $97+ for a flight of matching wines) but in time and consumption. We had an excellent excuse for such investment: the 30th birthday of a very close friend of my boyfriend’s, with a trip to Tetsuya’s his only birthday wish.

There is a lot of food and a lot of wine (an exquisite sake, two whites, two reds and sticky), and we spent over four hours ingesting in the corner of what looks a little like a darkened gallery. It is a subdued space, with well-rehearsed waiters who apologise a little too much for interrupting conversations in order to explain dishes. It is the perfect place for long, rambling, increasingly jolly conversations – for us, among old and new friends – about the food, the wine and everything else. It is a place for celebrations, in which it did not seem all that silly to make a birthday toast with every new glass of wine.

Every dish is perfectly constructed; many are interesting and most are delicious. It makes for a wonderful adventure of an evening, something that every food-lover should do once. And yet this is the interesting part, the once. I understood, by the end of the evening, what the SMH reviewers were getting at in stripping the third hat. In a sense, it is unfair. There is nothing lacking and it would be hard to find better food anywhere. And yet, it lacks something that is hard to define. There is a little too much food; it demands a little too much of its diners; it could be a little more fun. There is something pre-GFC about Tetsuya’s. I was craving fewer ingredients, simpler things, a touch more humour.

And yet, that signature dish, the perfectly cooked, silken ocean trout – a generous hunk of fish (perhaps the only larger serve of the evening) – is so fabulous and memorable that it justifies the endeavour. If you can, and the occasion warrants it, do go; go once, go solemnly, and then laugh louder than the table next to you.

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