Walking through car parks, down dark alleyways, or through nondescript supermarket corridors to find hidden eateries is commonplace in Tokyo, the home of omakase dining. Some of the best places are located in five-star hotels: these are high-end and high-spend, and you can wait months to secure a reservation.

The Michelin guide describes omakase as a formal Japanese dining experience in which guests leave themselves in the hands of a chef and receive a meal that is seasonal, elegant, artistic, and uses the finest ingredients available. Typically, these are small venues with limited capacity, as part of the experience is to sit at the bar as you watch a series of small, simple or interesting (and occasionally weird or challenging) dishes prepared right in front of you.

Through my travels I’ve been fortunate to sit at some of the best of those bars in Japan, watching sushi masters and chefs displaying the perfection of their craft. One of these was Ippoh, based in the revered Aman Hotel in Tokyo. This experience is etched in my memory. Each dish was an absolute delight, with ingredients so fresh some were flipping their way over the preparation board only moments before being served.

We’re not in Tokyo tonight, but we are walking across a darkish car park and into a nondescript commercial building, adjacent to a bunch of consulting rooms, fitness centre and events facility, just off Portrush Road. An obscure emblematic sign next to glass doors simply reads “YUKI, Japanese Fine Dining”. I’ve been excited to relive those omakase memories since I heard Yuki had opened a sister venue to their more casual Yuki in the Hills in Aldgate. For the record, I’ve always been happy dining there: they dish up some great sushi and sashimi, izakaya-style dishes, and a decent range of ramen.

Down the hill in Burnside, they’ve aimed for an upscale experience, promising “Adelaide’s first Japanese authentic omakase restaurant”.

Inside, we find a stark space with tiled floors, a minimalist fit-out and a counter along one wall, with just a handful of tables sitting beneath curtained windows. We’re seated at one of the lower tables, which is a shame because we’ll miss all of that preparation action. Soon, though, we’re distracted by the arrival of a tasting menu that reads as though we’re in for an interesting series of dishes, structured as a four-course meal, with an option to match each course with sake.

The dining room at Yuki in Burnside. Supplied image

The first is the zensai course – that is, a selection of three appetisers. Sadly, two out of three are not appetising at all. Diced octopus is up first. The only other ingredient of note is chopped onion, that is, well, a bit oniony. The tiny segments of braised octopus are chewy. And that’s about that. We move on to a nearby silver Chinese spoon, piled with a concoction of mashed tofu and cream cheese with some kind of mushy green leaves (spinach, perhaps, but it’s difficult to tell) in the mix. This usually light and creamy dish has been weighted down by the unnecessary addition of cream cheese. Given that this course has arrived quite quickly after ordering, I expect it may have been made in advance and, while it is supposed to be served cold, it should be prepared fresh to avoid becoming soggy. But here we are: it’s not a pleasant mouthful to swallow.

Each serving in this first course is quite small, for which I’m unfortunately grateful.

Relief comes in the form of a dish called nanban, with petite pieces of fish that have been fried and then marinated. This is another dish purposely served cold that comes together as a little salad, with shredded carrot and onion combined with a sweet and sour dressing. Flavoursome, textural and balanced, it is washed down with the first sake, which we are told is ‘fruity and dry’ as it’s poured. I suppose it’s a match, but one we’re given little description about before our waiter whisks away the bottle.

Yuki’s zensai course. Supplied image

Next is the sashimi course: in any omakase, it is the most important. This is the part where species selection, knife skills and light-handed flavours or seasonings that aim to let the star of the course shine would usually come into play. From our low seats, we’ve missed the knife skills. What arrives is two tiny bites of bluefin tuna, cubed and dipped in a light soy sauce, and three slivers of King George whiting without any seasoning, plated next to a dollop of wasabi. They are, sadly, uninspired. And worse, quite tasteless.

We’re halfway through the four courses at this point and have had barely a few mouthfuls of each. This is the abridged version of the omakase – four courses, served Wednesday to Friday nights only, for $89, as opposed to the full omakase experience ($180), but it still has me wondering what is coming next to prop up this so-far-meagre meal.

Omakase is meant to test your tastebuds; it’s meant to delight and excite the diner. But in an effort to introduce some kind of (humorous?) fusion, we’re now served the strangest of things.

First is crumbed and deep-fried fish (five cubes, resembling nuggets) next to a ‘house-made’ tartare sauce. They’ve used tuna (another strange move) and served this with a sake we’re told is ‘dry’. It’s not. The tuna is, though.

The promise of Wagyu has our hopes up. This is served sukiyaki style (in kind of a soy-based soup) with yuba (dried beancurd) leek (I only find two pieces), Chinese cabbage (a bit mushy) and daikon (it’s there). The thin slices of Wagyu beef are nice, tender, but a bit over-boiled.

Next, two tempura prawns are perched on a rice bowl with ‘yuki special seasoning’. The prawns are fine. The rice is fine. Any seasoning is missed.

A side that is labelled on the menu as miso soup is there, but something seems to be missing here, too. In fact, everything seems to be missing, including the miso. It looks and tastes like hot water with chives floating desperately in the clear liquid. There’s no dashi flavour, no salt, no other ingredients. Where’s the tofu? The nori? The usual greens? That delicious salty umami flavour that makes a good miso? It’s another miss.

Tempura prawns with a strangely watery miso soup. Photo: Paul Wood/InReview

Dessert is only worth mentioning because tonight they’ve run out of the pear caramel semifreddo listed on the menu. Instead, we’re presented with two bite-sized slices of spongy egg cake that are served next to wasabi ice cream. It’s barely green, and it’s barely there.

Sponge cake with wasabi ice cream. Photo: Paul Wood/InReview

As we leave, I ponder, would the full omakase have been any different?

Did we miss the good bits? Or should Yuki in Burnside scrap the lot and start again?

Yuki in Burnside

548 Portrush Road
(08) 72250378
Open: Wed- Sun 5:30-10pm

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