“Mod Oz movement puts Aussie cuisine on world stage.” -Australian Trade Commission at the 2009 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago
By Erza S.T.
In recent years, the Mod Oz concept has been adopted as the latest trend in the culinary landscape of Australia. Mod Oz is Australia’s take on modern cuisine, which draws from culinary methods inspired by immigrants from nations such as Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Italy and Greece. In using these methods, they use indigenous spices, native flavours and local ingredients that reveal the distinctive characteristics of the areas from which they come. Simply put, Mod Oz is the new black of Australian cuisine.
On a recent visit to Australia – thanks to a generous invitation from Tourism Australia and Qantas – I was introduced to two of Australia’s most famous institutions that are using the Mod Oz concept as their base. The first, Tetsuya’s in Sydney, is without a doubt a senior player, and has been around the industry for almost a decade. It has become one of the country’s crown jewels when it comes to fine dining. The other is the Taxi Dining Room, which is pretty much a newcomer to Melbourne, but has managed to win the hearts of many Melburnians in the past five years. Both are renown for the Japanese influences on their menu.
The following is how I see the Mod Oz concept being implemented at the two restaurants mentioned above, through the palate of an Asian food aficionado.
Tetsuya and his Restaurant
Tetsuya Wakuda is, without a doubt, one of the best-loved international representatives of Australia’s bourgeoning dining scene. What started back in 1989 as a small shop front has now become one of the world’s most renowned fine dining institutions, serving only the best quality food one can get.
We can say that Tetsuya’s cuisine uses a Japanese philosophy of natural seasonal flavours enhanced by classic French techniques, and using the country’s magnificent produce; from dairy products to greens and event wines. Tetsuya’s pristine creations were proven to me during my last visit there in May 2009, after I chose to go with his famous degustation set.
Dishes like tartare of tuna with fresh wasabi and marinated fillet of trevally with preserved lemon set on sushi rice, and tataki of venison with rosemary and honey really show us the applications of the Mod Oz concept. The heavy use of Japanese flavours in the cuisine is obvious, although done in a western way. The result on my taste buds was just this exquisite mouth-watering sensation.
Tetsuya’s signature dishes, the confit of ocean trout served with unpasteurised ocean trout roe -which is heavenly smooth, and both main courses, the double-cooked deboned spatchcock with braised daikon and bread sauce followed by a grilled fillet of grain-fed beef with sansho and shiitake mushrooms, really showed us how great Tetsuya is as the mastermind behind all of these creations.
With an impressive wine collection (from French and Australian selections) combined with flawless dish after dish served to perfection by the friendly and knowledgeable waiters and waitresses, made me more then willing to pay AU$ 195 to enjoy Tetsuya’s thirteen course degustation menu. I understand now why they are always full and why it sometimes takes six months to get a table here. It is worth it!
529 Kent Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Taxi Dining Room
If you ask a Melburnian what is the restaurant that can be put on the same level as Tetsuya’s, I bet they will say, “Taxi Dining Room on Federation Square.” This contemporary-look restaurant was the brainchild of Paul Mathis until he relinquished it very recently.
Like Tetsuya’s, Taxi Dining Room also offers Mod Oz cuisine influenced by Japanese flavours. Under the creative hand of Chef Michael Lambie, (originally from the UK), the menus reflect the high quality seasonal products and excellent seafood that are available in Melbourne.
However, on my last visit there I found their menu to be actually more Pan-Asian cuisine then just Japanese. Yes, they have some selections of sushi that are obviously Japanese, and other items that are using the Mod Oz concept, such as their fantastic kingfish sashimi with ponzu jelly, spring onion and caviar. However, I found that much of the other menu had many Asian influences. Dishes such as crispy Szechwan duck with lime pickle, Vietnamese salad and sesame tamarind sauce, and Taxi’s roast kurobuta pork, wombok salad, apple sauce and hoi sin are obvious.
This finding doesn’t mean that the food here is no good. It’s actually the opposite. Chef Lambie surely understands his spices and creates a perfect marriage of all these ingredients using the Mod Oz concept. It is without surprise that this restaurant was awarded the Two Hats awards from 2006 to 2008 by The Age Good Food Guide.
Taxi Dining Room
Cnr Swanston and Flinders St
Melbourne Vic 3000