Tidal rave

Tsunami must have exerted a spell on us. Despite service which would at times have made even Basil Fawlty wince, we were charmed and delighted by the whole experience. Tsunami’s food helped. It was magnificent – plated-up with the precision of a Swiss watch and made on produce so fresh it was bracing.

The X factor though was front-of-house man, Brett Carboni. He weaved magic with his perfectly pitched service – solicitous, jolly, not overbearing, playful, informative and sincere in a way that the “have a nice day” crowd just don’t get.

But try and get a drink! We discovered later that one of the waiting staff had called in sick, which part way explained our being left abandoned when we first arrived.

Tsunami is a restaurant in two parts. The front section is a slick, designer space with large windows to Glyde Street and with a takeaway section to the side.

The rear section is intimate and overlooks a paved courtyard through floor to ceiling glass. The décor here is a little dishevelled, but in a homely way. It’s like having dinner in your gran’s back room. An open fire and two sofas create the comfort zone.

The star at Tsunami is the food.

All the dishes are numbered, which reminded our dinner chum Charlie of a game he used to play with mates, where they would pick a number at random prior to going to the local Chinese and then have to eat whatever dish corresponded, come what may.

This may have been a little problematical at Tsunami where number 4 is so foul that even when I attempted to order it mine host pleaded with me not to. The menu describes number 4, the Natto, as “smelly like a first year uni student’s socks” and “tastes really weird”. Further enquiries determined that the taste and the smell may have been the lesser evils, as it was smothered in a gelatinous fermented substance, the textural equivalent of internal body fluids.

Brett Carboni says the Natto is one of the ‘hard core’ Japanese dishes, which average western palates would have trouble with. He cheerily admits it’s on the menu for a bit of a laugh, but its inclusion is dynamic evidence of the authenticity of Tsunami’s food.

The food deserves to be raved about. This is especially so when Tsunami’s food is placed in the context of the recent proliferation of sushi bars and Japanese restaurants, many of which serve sub-standard food.

At Tsunami, one very quickly realises that much of the sushi, sashimi and ngiri one has eaten over the years is just barely OK. For a western palate, unschooled in the finer points of Japanese cuisine, it’s not until one eats the best that one realises so much of what has gone before has been rubbish.

We started with the combination sushi platter ($15.50), the tuna and salmon sashimi ($14.00) and the unagi ($12.50)

– a grilled eel dish.

When you plate up what is essentially raw fish and cold rice, any imperfection or flaw is difficult to hide.

Both the sushi and sashimi dishes were extraordinarily fresh. The raw fish was served (as it should be) at room temperature. The rice in the ngiri and under the fish had crisp starchy flavours – as opposed to the dense, floury characters that old rice displays – and just the right amount of ‘stickiness’. The fish, especially the tuna, was of the highest order. However, as any sushi chef will tell you, it is knife skills that turn great fish into extra-ordinary fish, and chef Mukeki Otsuka is a master of the blade.

The eel flesh was so light it was not unlike a slightly fishy quenelle. It literally melted in the mouth. The thin fillet was coated in a light teriyaki style marinade which lifted the dark flavours of the eel.

Suffice to say, all three entrées were plated up beautifully. The sashimi fillets were made to look like rose buds growing from the plate.

Main courses were suki-udon ($14.50) – a large bowl of broth with noodles and finely sliced teriyaki style beef – and the hitori sukiyaki ($16.50), a variant of the famous Japanese cook-in-the-pot sukiyaki.

The suki-udon was a reminder that almost all Asian countries have a version of this style of cooking.

There’s the laksa in Singapore and Malaysia, the pho in Vietnam and the literally hundreds of noodle dishes in regional Chinese cuisine. They are all meals in a bowl. The suki-udon was based on a light soy-flavoured broth and filled to overflowing with fresh bean shoots, cubes of tofu, spinach leaves, supermodel thin slices of grilled beef and a huge mound of thick, lustrous fresh udon noodles. It was authentic and absolutely superb.

Likewise, the sukiyaki delivered a similar impact. Brought to the table in a large cast iron nabe (cooking pot), the sukiyaki broth held sliced chicken, a mixture of vegetables and handfuls of very fine noodles. As with most Japanese cooking the flavours were subtle, but once the palate became accustom-ed to the delicacy and fineness of the dish, its complexities begin to show themselves. The sukiyaki was served with a dish of steamed rice on the side. At the price, both these dishes represented good value for money.

Charlie had the ribs ($16.50), the only non-Japanese meal on the menu and a concession to those who may not like Japanese. It was not an heroic success, but was an honest rend-ition of the Tuscan style pork ribs alla griglia.

Towards the end of main course, Brett Carboni took to the upright piano and was bashing out show tunes from ’60s movies, just for his own pleasure it seemed. There was no sense that he was performing for us.

It’s the sort of touch that very few restaura-teurs or restaurants could pull off, but in the ever so daggy back room at Tsunami, it was an intimate and engaging moment.

Dessert took some getting. After waiting and waiting and waiting, I went in search of a waiter. No luck there, so I took it direct to the kitchen. Curiously – given my abhorrence of shabby service – I didn’t particularly mind. It seemed almost the natural thing, in a restaurant where the host plays the piano and conversation between tables is encouraged.

There is only one dessert in four variants. We had the mango icecream, the ginger icecream and the green tea icecream ($6.50). They were all home-made and with a lightly milky texture not unlike the gelati one buys in Florence. The ginger ice in particular was stunning. The green tea icecream was a lurid green and like Japanese green tea, dusty and tannic on the palate: very, very adult.

The wine list is small but well formed. Japanese beer is a very good accompaniment to the raw fish dishes and there is a small selection to choose from.

The food is excellent, probably the best Japanese I’ve had in Perth in at least a dec-ade. The experience is decidedly un-Japanese and that’s the secret of Tsunami’s success. Carboni and his partners have gone for a décor and style of service which quite deliberately eschews the standard theme park style one expects in a Japanese restaurant.

And it’s fun.

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