To begin, Joel served a fresh salad of nectarine, wakame and radish with honeyed ginger and sesame oil, tamari coated seeds, and raisins. The dish had a lot of potential, particularly the pairing of the nectarine and wakame, but may have been better served by the use of daikon rather than radish. It should be noted, however, that daikon had sadly been unavailable at the markets that day. I found the seeds and raisins to be an interesting component, and certainly very tasty, but I am not sure that they added anything to the salad itself, which was complicated enough. Better, I think, to use them as a pre-appetiser. In all, however, with a bit of fine-tuning, this could have been an excellent dish.
Next we had a personal favourite of mine, soba noodles, of which I have many fond memories, invariably alongside warm sake and cold nights in Tokyo. Flavoured with miso and coconut oil, the noodles had a pleasant oiliness and were very more-ish, but were a touch overdone. Typically soba should be quite firm to the bite. With three side dishes, the dish was intricate and interesting. The first, sesame and soy marinated white cabbage was just right; the second, pickled ginger, always welcome; and the third, soy and wasabi flavoured granny smith apple puree, extremely adventurous and well worth the effort. It could only have been improved with the use of firmer apples, more experimentation and perhaps a touch of mirin. Again, all that was needed here was a little bit of refinement, and more confidence with cooking times.
The third course was nori hand rolls filled with avocado and hatcho miso paste, pureed pumpkin, red capsicum and cucumber. Probably too complicated, but valiant. The dish would have been better had the nori been toasted, and the pumpkin not pureed. The high water content of pumpkin almost guarantees excessive absorption by the seaweed. The avocado was excellent and I would have preferred a simpler mix of ingredients with that as a base.
For dessert Joel served up a cherry and mint jelly with fresh smashed cherries and a coconut milk granita. Points have to be given for a first experimentation with agar-agar, but unfortunately this did not turn out well. Coconut milk is such a strong flavour that care has to be taken with its use and I am not sure of the wisdom of using it as a sole ingredient. I also find cherries to be invariably better when fresh and unadulterated.
On the whole, this was a worthwhile exercise that certainly allowed me to experience flavour and ingredient combinations that I have never contemplated before. My only words of advice would be to caution against unnecessary complication. Japanese food, as in Japanese culture, is a celebration of the appearance of simple perfection. For those, such a myself, without the ability or inclination to aspire to such a lofty ideal, it is better to stick to simple ingredients prepared simply. However, without experimentation, the world would be much duller place . . . .