Visit to Industry Zen Restaurant – Auckland – March 20th 2011
Jenny and I were invited by TVNZ to go to Auckland to discuss the coloured horseradish con that has been inflicted on the general public since 1945.
Anyway we turned up at the TVNZ building, only to be whipped away to the Industry Zen Restaurant for the interview because they had fresh wasabi on the menu.
We got there before it was even open, and TVNZ set up all their cameras and lighting and we chatted while we waited for the interviewing journalist turning up.
The restaurant attempted to recreate the atmosphere of an old Japanese Inn, and in some ways it succeeded, although I thought that leaving the ceiling as bare concrete festooned with lighting and power cables destroyed the look. The chairs around the bar were just solid blocks of wood and after a period of time they were exceedingly uncomfortable. They were also very small to balance a decent sized Kiwi rump on and I was pleased to get to sit in a comfortable chair at the dining table. The sitting benches around the wall of the bar were also narrow and obviously designed for the smaller Japanese frame.
The overall ambience was very good and the staff were very friendly and helpful.
When we finally decided to eat, we were shown to the dining area and then seated in a quiet area with the usual Japanese minimalistic decorations. There were no cutlery or condiments on the table, although I am sure that they would have been forthcoming if required. Chopsticks and napkins were all in a wooden tray in the centre of the table.
As we were there for lunch Jenny decided to have Sashimi and Tempura combo, and I had the Sushi and Tempura combo, washed down with a Sapporo draft beer. We made sure that the waitress knew that we wanted the grated fresh wasabi with our meals.
Before we started we were served a salad starter which consisted of 4 different types of dressed salad on a four cavity dish. The salads were lovely and cleansed the palate ready for the main selection that followed.
They served Jenny’s meal first on a multi-tiered wooden lacquered tray with a bonsai tree overlooking the salmon sashimi. All the sashimi and tempura items were on separate little bowls and dishes with the pickled ginger and a tiny piece of wasabi. A bowl of light soy sauce completed the arrangement.
My meal was served on a similar tray but I didn’t have the bonsai – there wasn’t any room as it was filled with lovely delights.
Overall the meal was probably the best Japanese meal that I have ever eaten in a restaurant – even those I visited in Japan.
Anyway, enough of the food – I was there to have a look at the wasabi on offer.
I had asked for the grated fresh wasabi and there was a tiny pile supplied on the pickled ginger plate. The texture was coarse, it obviously had been grated on a cheese grater of some sort and not a sharkskin grater. In fact, when we asked a demonstration of the chef grating it, they had to send home to get a sharkskin grater as they didn’t want to show us grating the wasabi using a cheese grater. There was also confusion over whether all the chefs were able to grate the wasabi or if there was a designated wasabi grater who was not in the Restaurant.
Back to the pile of wasabi on the plate, the flavour was nice, but watery. I was left with the impression that the texture and feel on the tongue was very similar to the tubes of frozen fresh wasabi that are sometimes available. The flavour of the wasabi pile went very quickly as well, after about six minutes there was no taste to speak of – this is also normally an indication that the paste has been frozen.
The wasabi paste that was hidden under the salmon and shrimp nigiri sushi was a different matter entirely. This was strong and kept its sinus tingling ability right until the end of the meal. Looking under the salmon and shrimp there were noticeable differences both in texture and colouring. The texture was a lot finer and the colour slightly darker than the wasabi on the plate. I would not have been surprised if this was the coloured horseradish powder mixed with water.
We asked to see the wasabi rhizome and they were able to produce two. One was fat and almost the size of my hand, but the petiole (stalk) scars were far enough apart that my thumb fitted between them quite easily. The leaf stalk attachment to the rhizome was very wide. All of this indicates that the plant was grown very quickly and this may be the reason why the wasabi on the plate lost its flavor so quickly. [Although, I think that my original impression that the grated wasabi may have been frozen the night before, as the grater was not in the Restaurant, is correct].
The other rhizome was a lot smaller, about the thickness of my thumb. Both rhizomes had been sharpened to a point and had the hardened whitish look that vegetables get when left uncovered in the fridge. Obviously, no one had explained how to store fresh wasabi rhizomes correctly.
We enjoyed the meal and the friendly staff. I would certainly come back again and try some of the other offerings. The prices were quite reasonable for the lunch menu. Just to come to try the fresh wasabi on offer I would probably give it a miss if it wasn’t for the fabulous food that surrounded the wasabi.
p.s. the beer was good too.
p.p.s. Didn’t get any photographs as we managed to leave the camera at home. 🙁