2019/04/26

2 gourmet hotspots in Oceania

2 hats restaurant LuMi in Sydney & 3 hats restaurant Kazuya in Auckland

When my husband and I travel the world, exploring the local culinary scene is always on our agenda. Our month-long journey in Oceania (see outline) was no exception to that. And if I had to name my two favorite high-end restaurants, I do not have to think long. Restaurant LuMi in Sydney and Restaurant Kazuya in Auckland are both places where culinary magic is performed. While LuMi boasts modern Italian food with a Japanese twist, Kazuya captivates with its European Japanese fusion cuisine.

General

When it comes to the kind of cuisine, both restaurants play in the top league. In terms of rating system for restaurants, there is no Michelin or Gault-Millau guide in Australia and New Zealand. Instead, they have a hat rating here. Oceania’s finest restaurants are awarded either three, two or one hat(s), whereby the three-hatted rating is the maximum and it is approaching world class standard. The rating system was implemented in Australia by Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, in New Zealand by Cuisine, all owned by Fairfax Media.

In Australia, seven restaurants nationally achieved the top accolade of three hats and in New Zealand, there are the four of them, one out of these is Restaurant Kazuya in Auckland. Restaurant LuMi in Sydney got two hats, this repeatedly since its opening in 2014.

Apart from being recognized as top restaurants, both have one other feature in common, and this is their style of cuisine. While the chef at LuMi, Federico Zanellato, is an Italian with love of Japanese cuisine, the chef at Kazuya, Kazuya Yamauchi, is a Japanese who spent ten years working at an Italian restaurant in Tokyo, and both are into fusion cuisine.

In the following I will go into my dining experiences at both restaurants, starting with the one at LuMi for the simple reason that our trip began in Australia and ended in New Zealand. It has nothing to do with my preferences, I cannot possibly say which one I loved more, they were both stellar!

LuMi Bar & Dining, Sydney/Australia (2 hats)

Before opening his own restaurant on Sydney Harbor, he ticked off time in famous kitchens at Noma in Copenhagen, at Attica in Melbourne and at Ryugin in Tokyo after having started his career in Rome/Italy. Working in Japan seemed to make a big impression on him as he chose to fuse his Italian origins with this far eastern cuisine.

Location/Ambiance

If you could wish for a preferred location in Sydney, then it would be this one, on the wharf at Pyrmont.
The glass-fronted restaurant in a modern stand-alone building by the water offers an enchanting view of harbor and city lights.
Lumi means small lights in Italian and there are many of them hanging from the restaurant’s ceiling and contributing to a much-needed contrast to the heavy use of steel throughout the restaurant. There is a large open kitchen that occupies the entire length of the restaurant and lets the guests participate in the happenings there. It is a modern dining-spot with a cool vibe.
Staff is aligned with the atmosphere that prevails in this lively open space, smooth yet energetic. A nice touch was it, that sometimes the chef or another cook delivered a dish to the table. Even when the power went out in the whole neighborhood for about twenty minutes, they continued acting with confidence, admirably!

Food concept/Pricing

On offer at LuMi is contemporary Italian food with a Japanese twist, and this only on the basis of tasting menus. There are three of them and it depends on the day of the week and the time of day which one(s) you can resp. must choose (no choice on Saturday for dinner). The price range is from 125 AUD (89 USD) to 185 AUD (131 USD). While eating here is quite an expensive affair, it is totally worth it, be it for the cuisine’s creativity, the exciting dining experience and the staff’s amiability.

Tasting Menu Experience

My husband and I dined at LuMi on a Sunday evening, so we had the choice between two menus, the more comprehensive Chef’s Menu or the smaller Experience. We went for the latter as we ate out during all the nights of our month-long trip through Australia and New Zealand (here our outline).

If I count in all the snacks as one course and the petit fours as another, then we had a nine-course menu.

The dinner started furiously with a series of snacks, tuna tartare in a sweet potato cone, a Jerusalem artichoke crisp with Swiss brown mushrooms; Italian gunkan, a sushi boat with an Italian twist consisting of sea urchin, nori and buffalo cheese; chawanmushi, a Japanese egg custard with a Parma ham basis, and of course the signature rye and spelt brioche with koji (fermented) butter.
Each of the snacks provided plenty excitement to our taste buds and made us gasp at the ingenuity of the chef.

Next was a vegetable dish with asparagus, smoked macadamia chunks and macadamia milk,
followed by a snapper ceviche
and ravioli filled with pork, fennel and candied orange.
All three courses opened up new worlds of taste for us, never before had we eaten anything like this!

We proceeded with hapuka, a moist, many-layered local fish, in cream and curled in pickled daikon radish
before coming to the final savory course, smoked quail, serving up different parts of the bird, including the quail foot, and combined with beetroot.

LuMi did not disappoint in the department of desserts, either … First was sudachi ice cream, made from the Japanese sudachi citrus fruit, coming out with an awesome caramelized white chocolate crisp and finalized with keffir lime dust, what a wonderful combination!
Second was a meringue with liquorice flavor paired with coconut ice cream and a passionfruit sauce, which worked astonishingly well, although I am not a liquorice lover.
The ingenious meal came to an end with a frangipane tart in combination with pineapple and toasted kombu (seaweed based) cream for the two of us.

Overall

This meal makes it into the category “most memorable dinners ever”. Chef Federico Zanellato marries Italian and Japanese cuisine in a way that something truly extraordinary comes out of it. The result may be adventurous every now and then yet harmonious most of time.

Kazuya Restaurant, Auckland/New Zealand (3 hats)

Kazuya Yamauchi is, as you could guess from his name, Japanese, and started his culinary career in a high-end Italian restaurant in Tokyo. While coming in contact with other European cuisines and techniques at the time, he implemented them in his style of cooking without neglecting the culinary traditions of his home country. After moving to Auckland, he worked at two Asian fusion restaurants before opening his own place in 2012.

Location/Ambiance

Restaurant Kazuya’s location is by no means as hip as the one of his colleague in Australia. When my husband and I arrived by taxi, we did not even realize we were standing right in front of the building. An unassuming place with a plain white shopfront in a nondescript area was not what we expected.

Once inside, everything changed! The room is small – it seats probably less than 30 diners – and is rather dark, the lighting is dim, and the interiors are kept in chocolate and cream shades. You are cocooned in generously proportioned leather booths, which give quite a lot of privacy. The décor is inspired by Japanese traditionalism yet with many modern touches.
Staff was earnest yet gracious. Every course was presented with an explanation and delivered to our table white-gloved. The atmosphere was serene, almost solemn, which suited the place just right. A really nice touch was the fact that the chef said goodbye to us at the door when we left.

Food concept/pricing

Chef Kazuya Yamauchi combines European techniques and food with Japanese ones. For me it was difficult to determine which influence prevails. Compared with chef Federico Zanellato at LuMi in Sydney I got the impression that Kazuya’s style of cuisine is less Japanese, but I am not really a big connoisseur of far eastern culinary art – not yet at least, I hope this shortcoming will be fixed with my trip to Japan later this year …

With regard to pricing, it is for sure one of the best value high end degustation in town! The full degustation with ten courses amounts to 165 NZD (113 USD), seven to 125 NZD (86 USD) and five to 100 NZD (69 USD).

7-course degustation menu

My husband and I opted for the “golden middle”, i.e. seven courses.

First and last impressions matter most, and everything was done just perfect in this respect, a pre-dinner ball of soup which exploded when we bit and a basket with delicious European style bread at the beginning as well as a foamy-fruity pre-dessert and some sweet treats to round up the feast!
In between, a greatest-hit album of dishes, starting with spanner crab – a local species –, ratatouille, egg yolk confit, spiced cream and almond, what a harmonious mélange, my husband and I were deeply impressed!
Next was a variation of scallop, cuttlefish, daikon radish, seasoned with yuzu citrus and mustard.
We proceeded with a magnificent mix of Italian, local and Japanese food, pasta with whitebait – immature fry of fish, often seen in Oceania –, soy milk broth, spinach and chrysanthemum.
A cult dish at Kazuya is “Texture”, over 30 textured seasonal vegetables combined with prosciutto, showing the chef’s great skill of texture and flavor.
The fish was snapper paired with cauliflower, lemon, bottarga (Mediterranean caviar), beurre blanc and nori,
the meat was black angus beef in combination with taro (starchy root), asparagus, purple kumara (sweet potato), mushroom and jus,
both well composed and immaculately done.

The final course featured a cotton cheesecake (the Japanese counterpart, which is lighter and with a fluffy texture) in liaison with strawberry, white bean cream, mochi (sweet Japanese rice cake) and hazelnuts, what a great end to a brilliant meal!

Overall

What sets Kazuya Yamauchi apart from other fusion style chefs is his ability to create dishes that are extremely well-balanced yet makes you marvel at his creative genius. His cuisine combines European recipes with modernist techniques and exacting Japanese presentation, and this in a very undercover location and at reasonable prices. A visit here is an absolute must for every fine dining lover going to Auckland!

Date of visit: November 2018


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