A decade ago Testuya moved from its suburban setting into the Suntory building in the central business district. This is a much larger and grander, affair, previously a conventional Japanese restaurant. The new Testuya has five main dining rooms spread over two floors, plus three private dining rooms. My table looked out directly on to an attractive Japanese garden, complete with water features and carefully arranged rocks. As many as 120 diners can be seated at once, and despite this the tables are very generously spaced, covered with perfectly ironed crisp white linen tablecloths. The kitchen has 20 chefs working at any one time, and offers a no-choice tasting menu at AUD 210, with wine pairing at an additional AUD 95.
The wine list had around 600 different wines listed, starting at AUD 45. Example wines included Felton Road Pinot Noir 2009 at AUD 120 for a wine that you can buy in a UK shop for AUD 42, my favorite Jermann Vintage Tunina 2006 at AUD 195 for a wine that retails at AUD 58 in the UK, and J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese 2006 at AUD 185 for a wine you can pick up for AUD 45 in a UK Hugh street. Remember that local Australian wine prices are higher than the UK due to effective tax rate of 41% on every bottle (with an additional duty on foreign wines). The list extends up to grander wines such as Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 at AUD 320 for a wine that retails in the UK at AUD 170, Henschke Hill of Grace 1990 at AUD 1,650 compared to a UK retail price of AUD 753, and Petrus 1988 at AUD 6,200 for a wine that would set you back AUD 2,036. Bread was a choice of sourdough and Italian white bread, the sourdough considerably the better of the of two (5/10 average). The bread is bought in, which seems an obvious potential area for improvement; the tiny kitchen in the previous premises is hardly a constraint here.
The meal began with a cup of old potato soup containing a coddled quail egg; this was a pleasant dish, the chilled soup well seasoned (6/10). This was followed by a cup of steamed custard with avruga (herring roe).This was a comforting dish, the custard having good texture (8/10). Sashimi of kingfish was excellent, the fish sliced very thin and served with a dressing of orange and black beans and a little green salad. The dressing worked well and the fish was of high quality (easily 8/10).
Next was the signature Tasmanian ocean trout confit, the trout coated on the top with kombu (Japanese seaweed) on a bed of shaved fennel and ocean trout caviar, and a separate side salad. This continues to be a very good dish indeed all these years on, the saltiness of the kombu balancing the trout, the texture of the crunchy fennel a texture contrast, the caviar providing an additional flavour note (9/10).
This was followed by fillet of snapper with smoked red peppers and scampi from New Zealand. I enjoyed this dish very much, the snapper timed precisely, the scampi having good taste and the smokiness of the peppers working well with seafood (9/10). Next was steamed spanner crab from Queensland, served with foie gras and silken tofu. The crab was garnished with coriander and was a very pleasant dish, if not quite as exciting as the previous two courses (7/10).
I preferred breast of quail, served with jamin Iberico and puffed rice. The puffed rice gave a crunchy texture and the quail had very good flavour, the excellent quality ham adding a further layer of taste (8/10). Poached breast of spatchcock was cooked with a crust of Manjimup black truffles from western Australia, with a salad of nettles and hazelnuts. The seasoning of the dish was precise, and again the texture balance was good, the hazelnuts giving a firm contrast to the texture of the chicken (8/10). Rack of lamb was served with heirloom carrots, olive and sheep yoghurt. The carrots had particularly good taste, the lamb cooked pink and tasting good rather than remarkable (7/10).
There were two dessert courses. The first had two elements: one a shot glass of hay infused ice cream with sorrel granita, the other a brûlée of bread and butter pudding. I dislike shrubbery in my desserts, so I find the former difficult to score, but the bread and butter pudding brûlée had nice texture (7/10). I preferred the final dessert, pave of chocolate with creak cheese ice cream, garnished with cinnamon twigs. The chocolate had terrific texture, silky and with lovely flavour, the ice cream a good foil to its richness (9/10).
Coffee came with some capable macaroons. Service was impeccable throughout the meal, dishes arriving at a steady pace, the topping up of water, bread and wine faultless, the staff friendly. It is easy to see why Tetsuya has a global reputation, with a very enjoyable overall experience today.
Below are notes from my previous visits in the 1990s.
Tetsuya was rated the one world-class Australian restaurant, with a fusion of French and Japanese cooking. Weekend evening meals are booked up as much as two months ahead. It is a fixed, no-choice menu, and the same menu was on offer as the last time I ate here five months earlier. The first dish had many facets: cold vichyssoise poured over some aubergine (very good), scallop served in its shell with a black bean sauce (9/10), cooked eel sushi-style on perfect rice with slivers of cucumber (8/10) and raw John Dory (3/5), and finally a single prawn served in its shell (8/10). My wife had tuna while I had the duck, served very rare with a tomato sauce and tapenade (6/10).
The best dish of the evening was stunning duck slices in a fan and an intense jus (10/10), and preceding this was a little fillet of veal with wasabe mustard sauce (10/10). Yet prawns with angel hair pasta was really only fair, the pasta a little undercooked though the prawns were good (2/10). Similarly desserts were around 4/10 only: chocolate sponge served with chocolate ice cream and passion fruit sorbet, floating islands, a raspberry tart (the best dish) with vanilla cream, and a creme brulee, and a chunk of mango, some lychees and some cherries (all in good condition). 4/10 for desserts overall. There was also the vile blue cheese and vanilla bavarois, an idea that should have stayed locked away in the kitchen if ever there was one.
This was a mixed meal with real touches of brilliance on show. There is a great wine list, with even Krug by the glass, but the matching wines were rather disappointing - stick to a bottle you like. Also, don’t forget that you are allowed to bring your own wine at no corkage, an opportunity to drink something serious. Coffee was good with rich chocolate truffles and squares of chocolate with nuts (6/10), bread rather ordinary (bought in, really only 2/10). Service was very good. The menu here was identical to the last visit, and dishes off this menu were noticeably less good, so I wonder how wide his abilities stretch - cooking the same dish for lunch and dinner every day for two years gives you plenty of chance to practice. Still probably the best restaurant in town - certainly with the most original cooking.