Handmade tea vessels and sake bottles. Spoons, whittled from a single piece of wood by his 67-year-old father. Washi paper – with hay throughout – for wallpaper. It’s all about the details at Yu Sasaki’s second, and namesake, space. Behind a noren (Japanese curtain) and a roller door, a tiny restaurant transports visitors to Japan via a wraparound bar made of Tasmanian oak.
For Sasaki – whose cafe Cre Asion became popular for its quality matcha drinks and sweets – memories and reverence for his hometown are at the core of his 25-seater restaurant, which opened this week (reservations are highly recommended). In the mountainous Shimane Prefecture where Sasaki grew up, he was exposed to quality produce and craftspeople.
“When I was young, I didn’t really go out to restaurants or fine dining [places]. I ate food at home prepared by my mother and grandmother using everything fresh and made from scratch,” he says.
The daily-changing menu is a fusion of his Japanese style and Australian produce – what is available from his fishmonger and (mostly organic) farms. It is separated into five sections: meat, seafood, vegetable, sides, and hitokuchigashi, or sweeter things that can be eaten in one bite. A vegetable offering might be soft, smoked eggplant on a round of buckwheat (a grain his hometown is famous for), topped with a sake, plum and dashi jelly. A meat selection might be grilled duck, sliced to reveal its pinkness, alongside meatballs and delicate rounds of leek.
“The produce will speak for itself, but if it’s not strong enough, it’s our time [as chefs] to help bring out more flavours,” says Sasaki.
But the concept goes beyond food. Celebrating his hometown – from local pottery, to the tea (whether sencha with sakura leaves, or hojicha) from Tousuien Tea Company in Izumo City – is what the humble, wildly creative Sasaki is most happy about.
“The main reason I opened this restaurant is not about expressing my ideas and talent; it’s more about the other people [from my hometown],” he says. “[A restaurant] can be a platform for people to come together.”
102/21 Alberta Street, Sydney
(02) 8068 9774
Mon to Sat 5.30pm–10pm