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October 24, 2014

Culinary acrobatics

by Katey Baddeley 6 June 2012

Whoever coined the cliché; "food is not to be played with," has obviously never revelled in the culinary acrobatics of Chef Qingxan Qian at Wasabi Tepanyaki in Dickson. When offered the opportunity to go for the dining profile I almost fell off my seat with excitement, fervently flapping my hands in similar fashion to a symbol-clanging toy monkey. One of those things I’d always yearned for but never quite consummated, tepanyaki even made it to my hastily scribbled, mental bucket list of things to do before turning 30, where life as I know it comes to a screaming halt and irresponsible frivolity becomes a prohibition. Needless to say, my fantastical illusory of flying eggs, flaming fish and sizzling steaks were steeped with self-inflicted expectations of enormity I feared almost impossible to meet.


Clearly I had nothing to fear. The cosy dining space closely encompasses a pair of generous level grill plates, each sizeable enough to feed 10 people simultaneously and, coupled with contemporary pod-like chairs and appetizing red napkins the experience was already feeling like a summer family barbeque, only vastly more sophisticated and with agreeable dining companions.


The menu offers an exciting array of “sets” to choose from. Titillatingly entitled Wasabi, Kanji, Kaisen and Mikado, the technical extravagance and grade of ingredient varies across the lists. We settled on the Kanji set, which is a very well balanced selection, suited to a Tepanyaki first timer such as myself and is inclusive of Miso soup, Yakitori (grilled chicken skewers and vegetable medley), grilled fish, king prawn, chicken teriyaki, eye fillet steak, mixed vegetables and “entertainment” fried rice.


Still not fully aware of just how entertaining the evening would be, I took a precautionary scan of the wine list which quickly morphed into a wide eyed oggle of disbelief. Prestigious Reds by the likes of Henschke and Penfolds dot the page, as do note-worthy whites by Peter Lehman and Lindeman’s. Being a sucker for authenticity however, I turned over to select from a full page of Sake options, each accompanied by a detailed description of tasting notes and sensory impact. One fiery vase of potentially potent “Hiroshima” later, we were ready for the show.


Things started out simply enough. We were provided with a lip smacking moreish cup of steaming miso soup whilst Qingxan Qian spiced up the hot plate. This is a man clearly passionate about his craft, chatting happily to us with light hearted jokes and friendly, welcoming conversation as he began prepping ingredients. The resulting sizzle had my full attention, as the show suddenly started with a hugely impressive wall of flames, licking greedily across the grill and reaching powerful heights all the way to the necessary range-hood overhead.


Vegetables were chopped right there in front of us with practiced finesse, seasoned, sautéed, dressed and placed still steaming on our plates. Mushrooms have never tasted so good! Eggs for the entertainment fried rice were cracked through audience participation via an accurate flick of the chef’s wrist, some serious hang time and the hand eye co-ordination of 3 daring diners. Egg cracking was just the beginning, with the artfully combined rice piled into bowls and tossed with an acrobatic flip for me to catch, using another bowl as keepers glove! Fried rice is great any day, but tastes infinitely better with the knowledge it’s defied gravity to reach my chopsticks.


The Yakitori chicken skewers had a subtly expected chargrill flavour, balanced perfectly by its soft supple texture and dripping sweetness of Wasabi’s special marinade. The eye fillet steak transformed from slabs of meat to bite sized morsels before our eyes and melted into a sizzling garlic infused mouthful of pure heaven upon application to tongue. The grilled fish had such a delicate crust it looked as though it had been wrapped in bronzed gossamer lace and the Teriyaki chicken was the best I could ever hope to taste, finished perfectly with a nutty sprinkle of beady sesame confetti, achieving the utopian equilibrium of sweet, sour, spicy and mild. A tasty medley of Asian vegetables were flourished up as a perfect ending to an unbelievable experience, along with a bow and many thanks from Qingxan Qian (or James, he told me with a smile). A professional to the very end, he wrote (upside-down) “Thank you and Goodnight” in a beautiful, perfectly legible script using a squeezy bottle of salt. The only other person I know of to achieve that skillset is Leonardo da Vinci and I doubt he could have pulled off upside-down back to front words in the medium of salt, over a searing tepanyaki grill. He just used a pencil.


If you’re going to dine out just once this year, make it an unforgettable experience with Wasabi Tepanyaki, It was the most restaurant fun I’ve ever had. The only down-side of the evening was the realisation my cooking at home could be so much better…


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