We challenge anyone to find sushi of this quality elsewhere in the world at these prices – why Tasmania has the world’s happiest man and why Steve, our resident chef became ‘Beef’ in one blink….
Steve – a fellow chef and devoted food person (but now we call him ‘Beef’ and you’ll find out why if you read on) – and I are on a mission to visit Masaaki Koyoma’s tiny sushi restaurant in Geeveston, a backwater about 45 minutes’ pleasant drive south of Tassie’s capital, Hobart. Masaaki is now famous, having left his home in Japan for a new life in Australia with his Australian wife. Lucky Geeveston was the home they chose, and the site for this humble wonder of an ancient art.
Word of really good food travels. Masaaki is a star – feted around the world and has been visited by some chef greats, including Rick Stein and Tetsuya. So it’s no wonder that when we arrive at his tiny shrine to sushi at noon, having booked two weeks in advance, the queue of the faithful is already 3 deep and snaking out the door into the car park.
Beef and I wait obediently in the queue like a couple of idiots until I realize that the queue is for take-away, and there is a tiny T-shaped alcove to the right of the servery that hosts the dine-ins. We move into the shop, and there’s Masaaki, at the back of an open kitchen the size of a shoebox that almost yells precision and preparation. He can see every customer as they file in, and he greets them with warmth and bonhomie. He has one kitchen hand, plus a Japanese lady who looks after the diners, and another Australian lady who serves the take-away customers over a stainless steel cold display cabinet. The space is function itself, and Masaaki presides over his minute kingdom like a benevolent, joyous Buddha.
We find our table ourselves, noting the name scribbled on a torn piece of paper: “Beef”. Ah, yes, Steve – sounds like, looks like… Bwaaahaaha!
Seated at the wooden table and benches, we survey the scene. Seats 20, at a push. Our table has a Kikkoman soy sauce bottle, which contains not Kikkoman but something superior (it makes me laugh when I read on the bottle, is printed: “Refill only with Kikkoman”), wooden chopsticks, and that’s it. Basic.
We order the only drink, apart from water, that is offered: “Home Made Ginger Beer by Cody from GlenDevie, Tasmania”. It’s good, and quirky. And soon, the show begins. Our host explains the M.O., bending down politely to be on our level, a move and gentle politeness that are quintessentially Japanese. She explains that there is no menu. We get what we get. There are only two courses – the first, Miso soup, and then the star, Masaaki’s Sushi Platter. Fine, bring it on.
The miso arrives within a few minutes, and it is hot, delicious, based on white miso broth, with the unusual addition of carrots, fresh from Masaaki’s garden. It has the traditional seaweed and spring onion garnishes, and is a great prelude to the symphony that follows.
We expect to wait a good while as Masaaki stands, unhurried, personally making all the offerings. But within about ten minutes, arrives a beautiful large rectangular platter of superb produce treated with respect and inspiration. The sushi and sashimi is varied, heart-stoppingly fresh, sublime. Nine items, with garnishes, each.
Dear foodie peeps, prepare to salivate!
Stand-outs are thin slices of duck breast in a light soy broth garnished with a creamy boiled quail’s egg; salmon (Sake Nigiri) with a touch of Masaaki’s special paste (a mix of garlic, onion, ginger, miso) that has been blow-torched to warm perfection. His Inari Nigiri, rice wrapped with paper-thin tofu topped with slivered toasted almonds is the best in that genre I’ve eaten, and the Maguro Sashimi boasts brine fresh tuna, cut with precision and great skill. I won’t describe every bite – too much for this particular piece, and the dishes vary with the seasons of course. Memorable are the garnishes: finely shredded beet, radish, red cabbage and carrot; wasabi that has texture and bite; pickled ginger with pink silken slices of fresh local ginger; and some unidentifiable but delicious leaves and ferns straight out of Masaaki’s garden that morning.
I lived in Japan for some years and loved the food and the people. I was taught that if I wanted to make sushi, the rice has to be washed five – yes – five times, then soaked for an hour before it makes its way to the rice cooker. Then it must be cooled quickly, using a fan to wave air across it to bring down the temperature. It’s a process, and helps if you’re an obsessive. And therein lies the secret, I think.
As we drive out of this engaging and quirky town where large hand carved wooden sculptures dot the streetscapes in a nod to a big logging past, I can only ponder on Masaaki and the inner glow that beams from him. Cooking at this level is an organic, living thing. Chefs are artists. The business is an art form and chefs have been known to kill themselves in their pursuit of perfection. We all have good days and bad days, but a chef at this level is not allowed a bad day. That can be the beginning of the end of a business. I think Masaaki has chosen his path, as well as the way he walks it, carefully, as with everything he does.
Masaaki is a happy man – he shines from within – living a life he chose in a place he loves, doing things his way, and surrounded by worshipful devotees who get it. Yep. In humble little Tassie, they get it. In the hospitality industry, for this man, this is as good as it gets.
Price? Ridiculously cheap for the quality. Our lunch for two courses was $30 per head. Ginger beer extra. A price level that is amazing in itself.
Masaaki’s Restaurant is located at 20B Church Street Geeveston, TAS 7116. Ph: 0408 712 340. Open Fridays and Saturdays only for lunch. Open Sunday 8.30am-1pm at the Bathurst Street Farmgate Market, Hobart for take-away, and expect a 40 minute wait with the faithful who are patient beyond belief.
So tell me, food peeps, do you have a fave sushi place that would go close? Does Masaaki have a rival? Tell all… And if you like this post, please share. We love to spread the word.