The trend towards dish-specific Japanese restaurants is gaining traction in Adelaide, but this old favourite continues to serve up a bit of everything – just as it’s done since 2007.
Surfing Adelaide’s never-ending wave of new venue openings is both a blessing and a curse. Here’s a tough question: where was your go-to for a quick dinner, say, five years ago?
If you’ve got a penchant for Japanese food, chances are that Wasai Japanese Kitchen comes to mind.
In recent years a throng of new Japanese eateries with exclusive dedications to the likes of ramen, tempura and yakitori have opened, mimicking the dish-specific (or even one-dish) trend of restaurants in Japan.
But when Alix and Tsuyoshi Yumita opened Wasai just off Gouger Street 11 years ago, Japanese food was unchartered territory for a lot of Adelaideans, and we certainly weren’t ready for a dish- or even region-specific restaurant.
“You could probably count them on one hand,” says Alix of the other Japanese restaurants around at the time.
“When we opened we were a bit old school and had a bit of everything,” says Alix. And it’s still true of the menu today. The bare bones of it haven’t really changed since 2007 – it continues to represent a fairly comprehensive cross-section of dishes from across Japan.
Sushi and sashimi boats are their most-photographed offering, Alix assures us. But they were around years before Instagram. Rather than chase trends, Wasai – ever the quiet achiever – focuses on maintaining good-quality food that’s consistent and comes without a soaring price tag.
But when I hear Wasai, I think one thing: aburi (flame-seared) salmon roll. Alix considers them a pioneer of the roll in Adelaide. “Aburi salmon was kind of around when we opened, but it was mostly the nigiri style,” she says. “[Chef Tsuyoshi] spent a lot of time playing around with different techniques [for the roll].”
Unsurprisingly, his creation hasn’t budged since day one. It’s garnered a cult following, and it’s standard practice for a table to order multiple serves. Wasai’s California roll – stuffed with crabstick and avocado – is draped with thinly sliced salmon, then torched. Each piece is crowned with a daub of Japanese mayonnaise and sweet soy sauce.
Another standout is the nasu dengaku. Half an eggplant is scored, deep-fried, then lathered with a super-sweet miso paste that slowly seeps into the flesh. It’s outrageously good for how simple it appears.
The kitchen operates Tuesday to Saturday from 5.30pm to 9pm. It’s a good place to eat when you’ve got somewhere to be, or you’re in a one-hour park. Wasai’s operation usually runs like clockwork, and service is lightning fast
Despite that, the quality of service doesn’t often lapse. “This is hospitality, after all,” says front-of-house manager Den Yang, who’s been at Wasai for nearly a decade. “I’ve had customers come in when they were dating, then suddenly they’re married, then they have kids and come in for dinner with the whole family.”
Photography: Tomas Telegramma