In March this year, iconic Japanese restaurant Yamagen quietly closed its doors, undergoing a stunning four month transformation that will see the electric vibe of downtown Tokyo brought right to Surfers Paradise at QT Gold Coast.
Black netting light shades hang like lanterns from the ceiling, which in turn is covered in colourful prints that reflect the distinctive retro QT vibe. High glass display cases exhibit neat rows of Sake bottles. The warm lighting from old-fashioned bulbs glints off the collection of reflective black surfaces within the venue, red accents dotted throughout. Internationally renowned designer Nic Graham has cleverly utilised the available space, creating three distinct areas: the bar, the sushi counter and table-seki, or restaurant area.
The bar is our first stop, where we sample ‘Sake It To Me’, a sweet and refreshing mix of Tanqeray Gin, sake, lemon, cucumber and dill. QT mixologist Jordan Melling advises us that the venue now holds the largest collection of Japanese whiskies in Queensland. Food arrives;- sashimi tacos, delicate pieces of tuna or salmon served in fried, savoury dumpling wrappers with a black and white sesame crust, and raw tuna ngiri with crispy rice. The perfect bar snacks.
The sushi counter seats a neat fifteen, and when we arrive, sushi master Mitsuo Yoshino, who has been with Yamagen for decades, is already hard at work putting the finishing touches on a range of divine and authentic omakase – a stream of market fresh sashimi and sushi. The paper-thin Kingfish slices swim in a light soy, topped simply with the barest sliver of jalapeno. Kingfish again becomes the star tossed in a miso caramel, topped with tiny slivers of crunchy potato. The tender and lightly-torched Aburi selection melts in the mouth. A delicate touch has been applied to the Tuna Tartare, served with a variety of sauces and accompaniments. It’s clear that all the proteins are of the highest quality, and treated with a deft hand. The house sommelier matches Laurent-perrier cuvee rose champagne and a delicately flavoured Ippin junmai daiginjo sake with the sashimi course, an ideal pairing.
Finally we move into the table-seki area, a larger space which can accomodate 76 diners. The floor-length glass walls allow patrons to view their very own Japanese garden, replete with white rocks and bamboo. Separated from the outside world by a sturdy bamboo fence, you can easily forget that you’re in heart of Surfers Paradise. If you haven’t tried Moreton Bay Bugs tempura style, then it’s high time you did. Served simply with spicy salt and soy for dipping, this dish is one of our favourites of the evening. The tender steamed prawn noodle dumplings arrive, and the house made ponzu shines. The Chateau Berne “romance” rose matches nicely with the lighter dishes.
Tosa binchotan is a prized Japanese white charcoal, used masterfully by Chef Kei Sato as he grills the chicken and leek, chicken meatball, pork belly and – unexpectedly – haloumi skewers that follow. Again, the yakitori sauce is made in-house, and the charcoal lends its unique smoke to the dishes. A wine with more body is clearly required for the heartier fare, and the sommelier again makes an excellent choice in the Bodegas Arrez ‘bermejo’ tempranillo from Valencia. An unlikely pairing, but one that definitely works. The new menu will also feature Master Kobe Wagyu MS9+ straight from the kushiyaki grill.
After our Yuzu chu palate cleanser (a citrus liqueur) it’s dessert time. Yonuts are simply small sweet fried donuts filled with a yuzu custard, a crowd pleaser. The Mochi Raviolini and Pebbles are more traditional Japanese desserts with flavours of green tea and sesame featuring heavily. Our pick of the night however was the Miso Caramel Chocolate Fondant with goma icecream: a melt-in-the-mouth concoction, full of that rich sweetness and unique umami that comes from miso-based dessert.
A final stop at the bar for a light Japanese whiskey finishes off a divine evening. Whether sashimi is your jam or you’re keen for a modern and innovative Japanese meal, the new Yamagen offers diners a decadent and delicious food adventure, with more than a splash of fun. Regardless of where you start or finish, Yamagen embodies true Japanese omote-nashi – the art of hospitality. It’s all about exceptional food, an electric atmosphere and an interactive dining experience.
Yamagen is open for dinner seven nights a week from 5.00pm from July 28, 2017.
IMAGES (c) Marj Osborne, Good Food Gold Coast. Venue pics supplied by Yamagen.