What happens when you give a world-class Japanese chef free rein to cook his favourite dishes for you while you sit and watch him in his kitchen? Welcome to omakase at Besuto Sydney.
Stepping from the small lift secreted in a laneway courtyard not 200m from Circular Quay, we find ourselves in the Zen garden of Besuto’s reception. The tinkle of the tsukubai bamboo waterfall into its stone basin plays in our ears heralding the beginning of this omakase experience.
We pass through a doorway half concealed by a traditional noren curtain into the dining room.
Through the muted jazz and chatter from the restaurant, we take in the scene.
It’s an unusual venue because rather than seating and tables for patrons, it’s the kitchen that takes up most of the space.
In fact, only a dozen place-settings line the counter surrounding the kitchen, all within reach of the chef, who serves the food as he makes it.
This is how omakase works.
Omakase at Besuto Sydney
The meal begins with a glass of French Champagne.
Our chef—and co-owner of Besuto—Chef Hiro Fujita strikes an imposing figure as he stands before us, prepping various elements. But it’s not long before he’s cracking jokes, smiling and showing off his incredible skills.
Next to him, his sous chef Hirofumi Kano works quietly, almost shyly.
Over on our side from the kitchen, we chat to Besuto’s other co-owner Joel Best about pairings. Joel is also the restaurant’s sommelier and it’s he who has stocked the shelves with the impressive array of rare Japanese whisky and sake, and who has carefully selected the wines the restaurant serves.
We decide to have the sake pairing, though the wine pairing is very tempting too.
Joel warns us that we’ll be having a different sake with almost every dish. And there are 18 courses.
Christina and I thank our stars we’re not driving.
What’s The Food Like At Besuto?
Chefs, gourmands and hospos will tell you that we eat with our eyes; but when you experience omakase at Besuto Sydney, you eat with your imagination too.
From the very first dish to the last, you’re senses are close to the point of overwhelm. Perfectly plated and exquisitely cooked, the food here is simply beautiful.
The meal kicks off with a rich creamy oyster from Tasmania topped with a fine, sweet jelly and a Champagne flute of a sake from Niigata made specially to go with oysters.
Next is a colourful display of Tasmanian tiger prawn, Hokkaido scallop, salmon roe and tender kelp with a saki, this time from Gifu.
From there, things begin to blur. Flavours, textures, colour and remarkable ingredients—not to mention sake like we’ve never tasted before—kaleidoscope as they’re passed to us by Chef Hiro or are placed delicately on the presentation slate before of us.
Slow-cooked abalone, fresh sea urchin, savoury custard with shredded mud crab, toothfish marinated and richly glazed, high-marble wagyu, smoky dashi miso with delicate pipis, prawn and branzino sashimi—and of course more and more sake.
Some sake comes in little glasses, others come in tin pots coated in gold or silver. Others in earthenware.
Some sake is from Niigata, another is from Miyagi. Others are from Okayama, Yamaguchi, Hokkaido, Ibaraki, Fukui, Hyogo and Yamagata. But each and every one has a different nuance that matches the food in front of us, lifting umami, accentuating sourness, emulsifying salt content, tempering sweetness.
Then Chef Hiro presents the sashimi platter. A fascinating array of perfectly sliced raw seafood that Sous Chef Hiro has been working diligently on for some time.
Within the selection is something very special: extremely expensive tuna belly from a 19-year-old fish. Only two places in the country have access to this kind of delicacy: the high-rollers’ lounge in Sydney’s Crown Casino and Besuto.
We’re also treated to one of my favourite fish from Japanese cuisine: grilled eel. But instead of unagi, which is freshwater eel, we have saltwater anago from Aomori Prefecture in northern Honshu.
This is much fluffier and less fishy than unagi. And it makes us want to visit Aomori even more.
The Art Of Omakase
A bit like a degustation menu, omakase, which translates as ‘I leave it up to you’, is where the chef brings out a host of dishes for you and you don’t really get a choice.
The biggest difference is that omakase is only Japanese, whereas degustations can be from any cuisine.
Also, the chef that makes the food also presents it to you. There’s a wonderful food theatre to omakase and you feel a connection with your chef that’s rare in most other restaurant situations.
Besuto only serves omakase style and doesn’t offer a la carte options. In fact if you have food intolerances or are a picky eater, omakase might not be the best option for you.
As your booking confirmation email (which doesn’t pull any punches btw!) will tell you, food at Besuto always contains raw and cooked seafood, shellfish, sesame, gluten, nuts, dairy, meat and a few other triggers and allergens at some point in your meal.
Also, proceedings begin promptly so don’t be late. In fact, they want you there five minutes early. What’s more, there’s a minimum spend, a severe cancelation policy and no children are allowed.
It’s all wonderfully Japanese and so direct. And though it sounds like it’s going to be a strict, sombre affair, in reality, omakase at Besuto is a joyful experience and a lot of fun. The email is just clarifying everything so everyone knows where they stand. It’s actually quite reassuring.