Friday, 13 December 2013

Kabuki - Amazing teppanyaki and a show to remember

Is there anything better than the end of year Christmas lunch for seeing out the working year with a bang?  After eleven and a half months of hard yakka and spending more time with your work mates that you sometimes do with family, it's just great to unwind and have some fun.  When it was time to pick our lunch venue for our Christmas lunch, I decided to take a back seat from the recommendations game and let the team sort out our destination.  I was really happy that the team had picked an old favourite to visit, a restaurant I hadn't visited in about five years.

Kabuki is one of those restaurants that's been a part of the Brisbane dining scene, with little fanfare, for as long as I can remember.  It's such a part of the zeitgeist in Brisbane that it's kind of faded into the background, a place to go for special occasions.  The thing I love most about Kabuki is its style of Japanese cooking called teppanyaki, which uses an iron griddle to cook the food.  Typically the griddle becomes the centre of attention, with highly skilled teppanyaki chefs stealing the show with highly developed knife and cooking skills that need to be seen to be believed.

My team is quite geographically diverse and trying to get the team together at the same time sometimes can be a little bit like herding cats!  Finding Kabuki can be a little confusing the first time, its actually part of the Stamford Hotel, but it's located around the corner and I had some fun with the team explaining where it actually was!  But find it they did and as we all started to congregate out the front of Kabuki, I received a call from inside the restaurant checking that we were still coming in for lunch.  I had a big grin on my face as I walked in the front door and said that we were definitely still coming for lunch.  We were bang on our midday reservation and one of the first groups to be seated.

The layout of Kabuki is quite interesting, there are about a eight large griddles on one side of the restaurant, taking up a heap of space, with some a la carte seats for those less adventurous and wanting a more traditional sit down meal.  Each of the stations are set out quite a bit like Texas Hold'em tables and arranged in big arcs around the griddles.   The table seat about ten people, so our group of eight slipped nicely into one of the stations and we didn't need to share.  The only other diners at a table taken were mid way through their meal and we started to get a feel for what our next hour and a half would be like.

There is a range of set menus available for lunch at Kabuki, which vary in price from low, medium and high. There is no need for the whole group to get the same set menu as each of the three menus build on the last, so when we selected a range from the set menu, the team at Kabuki didn't bat an eyelid.  Being the greedy guts that I am, I went for the Kikyo selection, which gave me the most food from any of the choices.  Shortly after our orders were taken the appetiser of bamboo shoots and carrot dipped in teriyaki sauce was delivered.  This was a very simple dish that was designed to whet your appetite for the meal to come.

As soon as our appetiser was delivered, our teppanyaki chef for the day magically appeared, one second the space was empty, then the next we had our chef.  Chef Grant looked familiar to me and I quizzed him about his tenure at Kabuki and was surprised and delighted that he was into his fifteenth year at Kabuki.  I'd had Grant serve me many times in the past and I knew we were in for a treat, this guy was an amazing chef.  As Grant was setting up for our hot courses, the last of our starters arrived, which was a garden salad.  Again, this was a very simple salad with pea shoots, tomato and mixed leaves that came with a dollop of a tangy mayonnaise.  It was nice, but we were not there for the salads, we wanted meat and a great show and the salad was a little bit of a distraction.

The skill in most teppanyaki chefs is with their knife skills and the theatre that comes along.  Grant had a plate of prawns and demonstrated both when he skinned, beheaded and deveined the prawns in a flash, in fact it was so quick and skilful that if you blinked you would have missed it.  At the same time that the prawns were underway, Grant also got the scallops and salmon steaks underway.  By this time there were bangs and slices as Grant's tools of trade were flying around like he was in a ninja movie.  It was pretty cool.

The next round of food that was presented was the local king prawns and the Tasmanian salmon.  There is a simplicity and beauty with teppanyaki style food, the prawns and salmon were cooked with a touch of teriyaki sauce, just to add a little saltiness.  The idea is for the ingredients to speak for themselves and the salmon not only spoke, it sang.  It was fresh and wonderful but the only problem with salmon filets in teppanyaki bars it trying to eat with chopsticks, you kind of need to use them as a knife as well.  MP said it best when we ribbed him about not using chopsticks..... why use them when a fork is so much more effective!  The prawns were fresh and quite lovely, with just a hint of the saltiness from the sea, and much easier to eat with chopsticks than the salmon.

Teriyaki chicken was the the next off the griddle and, like the fish course before it, the chicken was cooked with a flurry of knife cuts and banging around as the show continued.  This time the cooking also included a massive pile of vegetables that got the 'chop suey' treatment.  I found the chicken to be incredibly tender and probably the tastiest of the dishes of the day.  The chicken went really well with the trio of sauces that came with the meal, in particular the sauce that tasked a lot like peanut sauce but in reality had no nuts involved in its process.  The cooked vegetables that accompanied the teriyaki chicken was OK, but I also found this to be a little bit of a distraction.

The best part about going to Kabuki for it's teppanyaki is watching and getting involved in the preparation of the special fried rice.  If you have never been before, it's worth the price of admission on its own.  The process starts off when you are given huge bibs to put on before the chef plants some eggs on the griddle and then starts to flip them at you while you try to catch them in tiny little bowls.  If you're not careful, you can definitely wear some egg.  Once you've been embarrassed (or not if you've caught the egg), its time to get the 'chop suey' skills going again, which sees the egg cooked then sliced and diced into bits.  This normally sees the egg bits flying to most parts of the table and in our case it went everywhere (including the lens of my camera).  The final part of the puzzle comes once the rice is added and cooked and it's again time to do some catching, this time with a full bowl of rice flying through the air.  It's quite a messy show, but really enjoyable.  My only issue with the rice is that it's all show and I found the rice to be a bit bland.

The excitement of the rice over it was time for the final piece of the puzzle, with the wagyu beef sirloin to be cooked.  Looking at the sirloin before it went onto the griddle I noticed that there was not an ounce of fat in the meat, in fact there was no fat at all.  I found this to be a little confusing as most of the wagyu I've ever had has that lovely marbling that gives it so much of it's flavour.  Once the sirloin went through its teppanyaki transformation on the griddle, it was lovely and lean and very soft, but what I'm not sure about was whether it was really wagyu?

The show was over and we were all feeling quite sated from a lovely meal and a very entertaining show.  As Grant was cleaning up his mess, we all had our desserts delivered.  Most of the team went with the seasonal fresh fruits, but I wanted something a little sweeter to finish so opted for the green tea ice cream.  I'm a big fan of green tea ice cream, which is funny because I don't like green tea the drink.  The ice cream was lovely and creamy but it came covered in red beans, which is an acquired taste which I have not acquired, so I scraped those off and left them in the bowl.

It was time to finish up at Kabuki and continue onto the team building activity for the day, which in this case was ten pin bowling.  I'd had a really great time at Kabuki and thought that the food was nice, but a little on the boring side.  The flavours of each of the dishes was very similar, with most of the dishes cooked in either teriyaki or soy sauce.  The real reason why you come to teppanyaki is for the show and we had been given a spectacular one by our chef Grant.

I also found that while we were all having a great time, it was really hard to speak to everyone in the team with the tables not that conducive to chatting to anyone a couple of seats away.  There is an interesting dichotomy in that.  Kabuki is perfect for a team get together for fun and sharing the same experience, but at the same time its difficult to really engage with each other.  The tables and set up really are designed to focus in on the chef.

That said, we all had a fantastic time and left the restaurant buzzing.  There is a certain level of energy that comes from watching a master chef in action, knives flipping from hand to hand and food sailing through the air.  Grant certainly fits the bill as a master teppanyaki chef, but after fifteen years at Kabuki, you would hope so!  In some ways the teppanyaki frenzy was a little bit like our work year, a frenzy of hard work and sweat.  At least we have the Christmas period to regroup and energise for another big year in 2014.

A nice clean griddle before the show got underway.
I'm all for chopsticks when eating Japanese.
Our ingredients for the day.  The wagyu looks incredibly lean but I wonder..
Grant about to go crazy cooking up a storm
Grants mad knife skills made easy work of the prawns.  His hands were a blur all day
What would a Japanese meal be without Miso soup?
The chicken teriyaki was the pick of the dishes for me
The eggs are getting ready to fly
Yep, that egg goes into that cup.  Or not, some people wear the egg too!
Shortly after this show we were all wearing the egg!
Someone call the fire brigade!
A clever trick, this was written upside down and back to front.  It kind of says thank you very much
Each of the stations has it's own little wooden hut.  Very Japanese
Yep, we left a mess when we left
Kabuki Japanese Restaurant on UrbanspoonKabuki Japanese

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