I haven’t been eating out lately due to health reasons, but after seeing WAQU’s gorgeous summer menu, I knew I had to try it. It was a celebration of sorts – for my finishing four years of undergraduate studies! Woohoo. Bit premature to call it a graduation dinner though, because the actual ceremony isn’t until next April or something. It was also just really nice to get some fresh air, since being home for long stretches of time trying to rest and make a speedy recovery has been making me feel really glum (a process which I think is, ironically enough, being slowed down by my anxiety to recover ASAP).
WAQU actually doesn’t have an a la carte menu for dinner, offering only the seven course degustation. It costs $72 per person normally, but with our Entertainment Book offer which gave us 25% off, it was around $54 pp. For those of you without the book, there is also a 7th Year Anniversary special offer of $60 pp, which goes until Sunday 25th of November (and a three course lunch menu option with a complimentary glass of wine, priced at $35 pp).
Our degustation started off with a fresh oyster in tosazu jelly. I really don’t know how they packed so much flavour into one small mouthful. Tosazu is a light Japanese dressing which consists of rice vinegar and soy sauce. The jelly was cool and briny and tangy with vinegar, but not overbearingly so because of the hint of miso. A really refreshing starter.
It was one of those delightful experiences where you find yourself trying to savour as much of the flavour as you can, but it’s disappearing oh-so-quickly, and you try to understand what’s going on in your mouth, but there’s just so much going on and, no – it’s gone! Sadly, the jelly was so strongly flavoured that I didn’t taste much of the oyster, but I know a lot of people don’t like the taste (for instance my own boyfriend), so I didn’t mind.
I also really enjoyed the second course, which was a rich and smoky soup of Jerusalem artichoke, layered with a mushroom puree. We were told by the manager to stir before drinking, as the mushroom puree had settled on the bottom of the martini glass.
Unfortunately, the prawn primavera was not so satisfactory. The primavera is meant to be a radiant and sparkling dish symbolic of spring. Both The Boyfriend and I felt that something was lacking. While it succeeded in looking the part, by trying to pare back in terms of flavour, it ended up being lacklustre. It felt dry and plain rather than fresh. A hint of lemon or mint somewhere may have done the trick.
Also – this is going to sound so nitpicky, but the scallop gnocci tasted just like frozen fishballs from the supermarket. Really, I expected more from a degustation dinner at a modern restaurant like WAQU.
Our next course was the cured salmon. This, I had high expectations for – and I was pleasantly surprised! The squid ink sauce and salmon were balanced out perfectly by the sweetness of the onion and tiny morsels of fragrant ginger in the couscous. The shungiku (green) sauce, more commonly known as garland chrysanthemum or Japanese-green or crown daisy, was also very fragrant, though The Boyfriend really disliked it.
In fact, this was probably his least favourite dish out of the whole degustation, whilst being one of my favourites! The only thing I really had a problem with was that the salmon itself was on the verge of being overpowered by the other elements when it was meant to be the highlight of the dish.
Course four offers a choice between barramundi and snapper, The Boyfriend and I tried one of each. We were agreed for once on the fact that the barramundi was the nicer of the two, in every way. We were really shocked that our snapper came out cold - not sure if that was on purpose, but we concluded it probably wasn’t.
The prawn sauce and hazelnut puree in the snapper dish had a soft and slightly nutty flavour which, when combined with the roasted turnip, left an overly sweet taste in the mouth. It was balanced out a little with the pencil leek, but the cold fish which left me really disappointed in the end.
The barramundi, on the other hand, came out not piping hot, but at least pleasantly warm. The asparagus was soft, and the parsley puree had a fuller flavour, more tangy and with a slight citrus which went well with the fish. The barramundi itself was cooked wonderfully, especially the crisp skin.
For course five we had to choose between four options: lamb, pork loin, wagyu sirloin or beef tenderloin. Really not good for me, as I’m meant to be avoiding red meat – but I assumed (correctly) that it would only be a tiny morsel anyway, I went for the pork loin. I love a good crispy-skin pork belly!
This dish was pretty to look at, but again, something of a disappointment. The individual elements were all lovely, especially the passionfruit foam and apple balsamic puree. However, the pork was tough and hard to chew instead of melting in my mouth as I thought it would. At least the crackling was decent and crisp!
The Boyfriend ordered his favourite, lamb. This was one of the best dishes of the night, though ironically, it was also the least Japanese. The lamb was tender and well-seasoned, and went down well with the red capsicum puree and vinegared pomegranate seeds. The blue cheese croquette was amazing, but possibly only because I love cheese so much.
And dessert – the highlight! WAQU’s ginger lemon tart was the perfect way to finish off our summer degustation. All the elements went so well together, and the freeze dry mango and ginger candy added that extra bit of texture and zing. There’s really not much else I can say, other than that it was fabulous and we both scraped our plates clean. The Boyfriend remarked that he would “gladly have had two of those” (and knowing by now how picky he is with food, that’s a high compliment!)
WAQU manages to be sleek and modern, yet warm and inviting at the same time – and I think that aesthetic really shines through in everything from its interior design to its dishes, which are carefully explained by the waiting staff.
One thing I disliked was that the information provided on their website and the actual in-restaurant offers was inconsistent. I was led to believe from the website that the main menu would be a six-course summer dinner priced at $68, but once we arrived, we were informed that only the seven course meal was available.
I might have been peeved if I hadn’t been looking forward to dining at this place so much. There are only so many places in Sydney where you can get “contemporary cuisine with a fine Japanese touch”, as WAQU describes itself, for such a reasonable price!
» WAQU is located at 308 Pacific Hwy Crows Nest NSW 2065, (02)9906 7736