Friday, January 18, 2019

Tetsuya's - Sydney

Tetsuya’s is probably Sydney’s best-known restaurant. Notwithstanding Australian Masterchef’s huge influence on our knowledge of all things Australian, Tetsuya’s is foremost in the mind of the well heeled gastronome. Being used to the difficulty in snagging tables at the world’s better restaurants, we made a booking at Tetsuya’s very early on. We were looking very forward to this meal.

As I write this, we have been in Australia for only 3 days. Upto now, while all the food and restaurants seem attractive, there is really no discernable Australian cuisine. I would say that a majority of the restaurants that we see all feature a combination of, steaks or pork ribs, pizza, pasta, grilled fish, fish and chips, pies, Schnitzel and burgers. Much like a slightly more non vegetarian Indigo Deli without the “tikkha”. Of course, the food is much better than at Indigo Deli, but you get the picture. All very “friendly” food. Tetsuya’s too has no real Australian heritage. The food is Japanese and French, quite schizophrenic. The owner Tetsuya Wakuda is 60, and was born in Japan. He moved to Australia in his early 20’s and after working with Tony Bilson, was greatly influenced by French Cuisine. Today, Tetsuya’s is exactly that, a Japanese French restaurant with Australian ingredients.

The restaurant is quite large for a fine dining restaurant with some 4 dining rooms of varying sizes plus, private dining. A heritage bungalow with a large Japanese garden houses the restaurant on a busy street in Sydney CBD. It was a short walk from our hotel. The restaurant has only one menu – a 8 course degustation at a fixed price comprising of 4 fish, 2 meat, 1 pre-dessert and 1 dessert. We were welcomed by heavily accented European staff, nope not Australian. We were shown to our tables in one of the dining rooms.

What was most peculiar, and certainly something we have never experienced before, is that the entire dining room was seated on tables with chairs looking out of the restaurant into the Japanese garden. One side of the dining room had floor to ceiling windows. While our table had unrestricted views of the garden, the table behind us had a view of my bald patch as well as the garden. Disconcertingly, the waitstaff approach you from behind. We have never had this kind of experience. Down under! Things go topsy turvy.

The tables had tablecloth, though the cutlery was really poor quality stainless steel. Kishco has a similar design. Strange.

The meal started. The food was good, when the kitchen decided to serve us, that is. Here are photos of what we ate. I am not going to describe each dish. But after the photos, you can read what we experienced and what our opinion of the evening was.

My view of the Zen Garden. I looked at this for 3 hours, except when I went to the kitchen.

Tuna with Daikon and Wasabi - Uncooked

Grilled Octopus - Cooked earlier assembly job

Confit of Ocean Trout with Salad of Apple & Wiltop -Cooked earlier assembly job. The most photographed dish in the world, allegedly. 

Compensatory visit to the kitchen, mid meal

Imperador [a type of fish] with Smoked Macadamia and Black Garlic. A hot dish

Duck Breast with Salt Baked Beetroot, Parsley Root and Blood Plum. Hot dish

Salt Bush Lamb Rack with Watercress & Charred Leek. Hot dish

Strawberries with Tarragon & Sumac Sorbet

I did not take a photograph of the dessert which was Chocolate Stone with Honey and Milk. I was too upset to do so. Just wanted to eat the bloody thing and go home.

The service. While the staff was kind, engaging in conversation and had a sense of humor, there were (a) not enough staff and (b) consequently were inefficient. Wine topping up was poor, with glasses remaining empty for long periods. Folks, simple economics, if you get us to drink more wine, alcohol loosens wallets. Get it? That means more profits for you and more pay.

There was a huge problem somewhere. Either the kitchen could not cope or did not care or there was miscommunication between front of house and the kitchen. We had an 8 pm table and serving the 8 courses took over 3 hours. That is long, very long, Not only was it long but the gaps between courses was at one stage 40 minutes. I kid you not. When this was pointed out to the staff, as a sort of compensation, we were taken to see the kitchen! Midway thru our meal. Really.

Now, here is what I find strange. The restaurant serves only the 8 course degustation menu. This is quite unlike most top end restaurants which have an A La Carte plus at least one or two additional tasting menus. This means the kitchen is cooking (i) several different dishes (ii) the same dish in different portion sizes – an A La Carte portion will be larger than a taster portion and (iii) the kitchen has to maintain the flow and sequencing when simultaneously cooking an A La Carte and a Tasting menu. All this is challenging. Here at Tetsuya’s its just one menu and they made a real hash serving it. A table seated an hour after us was eating the same course as us about 2 hours into our dinner! Obviously, they had a very different dining experience from ours. Did the kitchen just say fuck it, let’s group the tables together as we can make our lives easier? I have no idea. But something was wrong – hence the kitchen visit as an apology. Look at the websites of any reasonable restaurant whether Restaurant Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, or Core by Clare Smyth or Alain Ducasse or even A Wong. Multiple menus are par for the course at this level.

Almost every top end restaurant you go to will give you an amuse bouche or two. Here nothing, absolutely nothing.

To make matters worse, if you look at the dishes, of the 6 savory courses, the Tuna is uncooked, the Octopus grilled well in advance as is the Confit Ocean Trout. These are just assembly jobs and a matter of opening a fridge door. That is 3 cold dishes. After that you have just 3 dishes that are actually cooked a la minute – the Imperador with Smoked Macadamia, the Duck Breast and the Lamb Rack. The desserts come from a separate kitchen. Both desserts were cold, hence, just assembly jobs no cooking a la minute. You are not talking Souffle or Tarte Tatin. Why could the kitchen not cope with this sort of menu. There is no element of surprise, ok, you may get a couple of last minute food allergy changes but having a set menu with 50% cold assembly job food surely is something a kitchen of this caliber should execute with consummate ease. But no! we endured long pauses, and 3 hours of sitting. Boss, try sitting in your best clothes for 3 hours on your best behavior, nursing wine, smiling on demand and occasionally being fed. It is not fun. I am serious. Just try it, sit at your dining table for 3 hours and smile at your wife, children and whoever passes by during this time.

To conclude, a very strange evening. Decent food but marred by some serious service issues. The seating and being served from behind was weird. A vastly overrated restaurant. There are plenty others doing as good, if not better, serving more complex food with more complex menus. Frankly, most others even cook the food for you and don’t do an assembly job.

One last point. I really do not get aspects of Japanese food at all. The object of going to a restaurant is getting something cooked. It is not sourcing. That is basic. You have to source. But then you have to cook. Knife skills I understand, but here none were on offer. Saying you are serving Japanese food and then going about it in such a lazy or uncaring way with this hype I do not get.

Not recommended.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Hardik Pandya & Dr Abraham Samuel - Both victims of the new India

The two events, one being Hardik Pandya’s “comments” on the Koffee with Karan show and the other being “denial of immigration” [sic] to Dr. Abraham Samuel for not knowing Hindi are the provocations for this post.

Let me take Hardik first. I do not normally watch the show Koffee with Karan. Seeing an entire episode is an impossibility. Once social media was frothing, I caught a re-run to see what the palaver was about.

The show defines the words vapid, empty, snowflake and airhead. Fluff, pure and simple fluff is what the show is. Obviously, the show has an audience, but I cannot figure who that is. On the one hand the show features Bollywood stars, and is telecast in English. So, a large audience is removed as they cannot understand English. Then, the show has its participants dressed in the most expensive designer wear, which is unaffordable for 95% of us. The participants speak about hook ups, affairs and travel, after which, they have a contest to dial up friends. This is the sort of drivel the show contains, all of which is of no relevance to the audience, nor, is any of this attainable by 95% of the audience. This show, is, by no stretch of any imagination, intellectual.

On this platform you have a 9th Standard pass cricketer being interviewed. He has never claimed to be Einstein and neither has he been accused of being Einstein. For God’s sake being a 9th Standard student, he has barely any education. He admits on the show that he can read English, and can barely read Hindi or Gujarati. To me that is disturbing. What he said about girls was silly and only braggadocio. Assuming all he said was true, please consider this gem.

“At a party my parents asked me acha tera wala (women) kaun sa hai so I said yeh, yeh, yeh (pointing out women) and they were like waah proud of u beta.”

Now, how many movies have you seen in the past about teenagers coming of age. From the mild Grease, to Saturday Night Fever to Dirty Dancing and several more where boys talk about “going all the way”, “getting to third base” etc. How many rap songs and today’s music is similar in braggadocio? Our children watch such films and listen to such songs. We don’t seem to have a problem. But suddenly when Hardik, I repeat, a 9th Standard functionally literate cricketer spouts we get our chuddies all twisted

No, I am not saying – give him a break. That is not my point. My point is twofold. First, since when does a 9th Standard functionally literate cricketer become a role model for us or our children? In fact, he should be anything but one. Should a 9th Standard functionally literate be a role model? Who is to tell India’s youths, similarly placed, from villages and small towns, that don’t look at Hardik as a role model. Compare Hardik with a hugely more erudite Javagal Srinath with an engineering degree in Instrumentation, or Anil Kumble a Mechanical Engineer or even K Shrikant an Electrical Engineer. These are role models. Why do we have this obsession of treating every celebrity as a role model. Salman? I mean come on. I am unsure if even Salman or Hardik regard themselves as one. But we, in our wooly headed way want to bestow “role model” on them. I mean why not the morning newspaper delivery boy – see how hard he works, see how disciplined he is waking up at the crack of dawn to deliver papers, see how after delivery he goes to school!!! I mean come on. All this is admirable and should be encouraged. But role model? Hardik’s parents encouraged him to become a cricketer but role model? 

My second point is, how the intellectuals have double standards. I am sure you must have heard the Voltaire argument ad nauseum. For those readers who live under rocks, Voltaire was a French philosopher who once said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This is used by our intellectuals to argue against any ban on free speech. Does Hardik not have the Voltaire right? Our intellectuals say that Indians are very sensitive and thin skinned. I agree. Suddenly we find that a fluff show Koffee with Karan with a 9th Standard functionally literate cricketer spouting rubbish is deeply upsetting. I mean really come on.

Just a social media driven storm in a tea cup. However, this will not die. We should have a debate or three on TV at Prime Time and I am sure our worthy top journalists – Shobhaa De, Karan Thapar, Tavleen Singh et al as well as some feminists will write a few hundred words on this absolute drivel.

Now let us turn our attention to another gem. Abraham Samuel who describes himself as [BTech MSc MIET. Biotechnologist, Biomedical Engineer, PhD Chemistry Student. Biopharma & Scientific R&D, Chromatography, Spectroscopy, GxP] in other words, not stupid, and certainly role model worthy. Abraham was stopped at immigration in Mumbai. Pausing here for a moment. I am proceeding on the footing that what has been published in the newspapers is the Gospel. I am NOT questioning it.

Abraham Samuel was LEAVING INDIA, yes, LEAVING INDIA from Mumbai airport. He has an Indian passport. The words used are immigration, which is incorrect. It should be emigration – i.e. leaving. Anyway, while leaving India, the officer asked Abraham Samuel a question in Hindi to which he replied that he speaks English and Tamil but not Hindi. Samuel was harassed, allegedly abused, supervisors were summoned and eventually, he was allowed to go. Samuel tweets –

“The only reason i left was because my flight was scheduled to be boarded at 1:00 AM. Otherwise i would have stayed to lodge a formal complaint against this nincampoop! How do idiots like him make way into the Indian government? (sic)”

Once again, assuming all this is true and factually correct, I am aghast, and very angry.

I travel out of the country fairly often. Over the past few months I have noticed that when leaving, yes leaving, the country I am asked (i) where I am going and (ii) what is the purpose of my visit. On one trip my answer of “Bologna and holiday” did fuck with the mind of the ninacampoop as he had never heard of Bologna. My question is why? Honestly, for the love of God, why should I be asked this when I am an Indian leaving with a valid visa for my destination? I presume Abraham Samuel was asked the same thing in Hindi which caused this furore.

Secondly, I was aghast at the explanations put out by the immigration guys. This was reported in the Times of India, the venerable Lady of Bori Bunder. I quote.

“Refuting the tweets an immigration officer said, “They were doing their duty. They have to cross check with flyers as some Sri Lankans had tried to clear immigration check with fake Indian passports. Many Lankans have been caught with fake passports, so methods are used to verify and check if the flyer is really an Indian.”

Stunning, simply stunning. Straight from the highly trained brain of a 9th Standard functionally literate. These very gentlemen are protecting our borders from illegal immigrants. A method to check if a person is Indian is to speak to him in Hindi. Absolutely fucking brilliant! Sometimes I wonder why Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar was given the Bharat Ratna. We have un-named worthiness among us.

This my dear readers, is our India today.