RAKU - Zensational Japanese Dining In Canberra

More than just a delightful Japanese meal, RAKU is a breath of fresh air and adds on to a refined and contemporary Japanese dining scene in Canberra, thanks to its masterful culinary skills, artisanal presentation, carefully considered combination of flavours and quality from the freshest produce delivered to your table. mylifestylenews writes.

Ideally lying in the heart of the bustling and dining precinct on Bunda street Canberra, the prime location is not only in the highly sought-after restaurant location for enthusiastic diners who enjoy dining out (even on week nights), as a passer-by you will have noticed that they are always full over lunch, late lunch and dinner. When you have friends telling you that they can’t get a table ahead of time, that restaurant must be doing something right. Anticipation is killing you and paying a visit to RAKU will definitely arouse your curiosity and further explore or enhance your dining adventure especially when the Canberra dining scene has been booming with a more diverse gastronomy culture of late.

With winter approaching, the preferred entrance is now off to the side in the Canberra Centre mall for a more sensible reason, by preventing the cold temperature air hauling in especially when the main entrance glass door opens regularly. RAKU presents a stylish yet understated minimalistic interior aesthetic, following the restaurant footprint, the entire dining area may not be on the large size yet the interior is very simple and uncluttered. In keeping with the Zen atmosphere, there are small details of design elements with a lot of wooden based structures crossed over the clean and slick Japanese slash Scandic chic setting that are easily found throughout the entire restaurant furniture and table setting, which showcases the artistic manner paying homage to the Japanese tradition and spirit.

Right across the communal modern Sushi bar seating area is where the big action takes place. A complete open bar and kitchen is also flaming up the flavours from its gigantic robata grill to the handcrafted sashimi and nigiri for you to marvel at the culinary team’s performance skill by creating those visually stunning dishes before it is presented to your table. This may well be an opportunity to make some new friends that share the similar guilty pleasure dining experience together. Nonetheless, these most wanted hot seats in the house also is another way to communicate directly to the chef for your preference and to create your most desired meal more exclusively. Contrasting the darker tone stone floor are the piping long bamboo sticks horizontally hung above the ceiling in the entire dining room which adds a rustic rural motif against the contemporary modern featured glass wall all along the back with an open kitchen visible from most angles.

Separating you from the main dining area is divided private booth settings which offer you a more intimate dining experience. We were adjourned to one of these cozy booths that comfortably sits a party of six if you may. Due to the restaurant being so busy on a week night, there is a constant hum of chatter along with some background music that is not intrusive in any way, so you are able to have enjoyable conversations over dinner. Japanese food is popular and most likeable by many of us for its seasonal and freshest ingredients used in its unique culinary, meticulous execution from preparation to arty presentation as well as the nongovernmental approach. With Chef Hao-approved ingredients mainly sourced from small and unique local fresh produce by delivering the “first bite of love” like works of art with simple and traditional flavours.

RAKU showcases classic modern Japanese food focused on seasonal local-garden-to-plate philosophy with the menu designed to be shared. If you haven’t been to RAKU and are eager to explore a little further, the Royal Tasting Menu (for a minimum of 2 people) would be the perfect vehicle to introduce you to the RAKU approach to Japanese gastronomy. This menu consists of nearly 12-courses, some of which are grouped together to assist with some premium wine pairing and encompasses a wide selection of seafood to red meats, seasonal vegetables as well as some delightful sweet ending, so a surfeit of riches to try and enjoy. Dim and soft spot lighting highlights every dish brought to the table yet the surrounds still embrace its warm Zen like ambience and contemporary chic. Food presentation is quite meticulously placed and laid on each stoneware plate, not only highlighting the organic approach of the food but also the “zensation” of color on each ingredient used to whet your appetite.

<Signature Merimbula Rock Oysters>
These gourmet delights of Merimbula rock oysters from NSW are known for their superior light silky meat texture and flavours that reflect the quality of the sparkling waters of Merimbula Lake well accompanied by the RAKU signature cucumber and Tosazu dressing – a light Japanese dressing of fermented vinegar, mirin, and bonito dashi stock. Fresh and delicious, the flavour of the sauce and embellishments was so piquant to kick start a delightful palate.

<South Australian Kingfish Sashimi with Truffle Yuzu Sauce>
If oysters are not your cup of “seafood”, ask the server and they can be substituted with an alternative that suits. The thinly sliced Kingfish is light, refreshing and delightful on the palate. With all the basic ingredients and distinctive natural aroma complimenting the truffle and extremely finely chopped shallots as well as the refreshing and citrusy flavour from the Yuzu that gives a distinctive combination of organic flavour.

<New Zealand Snapper Sashimi & Wagyu Bresaola>
A complex and flavorsome combination of truffled ponzu, tiny puffed potatoes and the seven ingredients Japanese spice mixture shichimi to accompany the main ingredients and add depth to the flavours. The snapper and air-dried wagyu slice individually are fantastic, when you combine them together with a mouthful of the other ingredients, the wagyu was a little overpowering but texturally the crunch of both wagyu and puffed potatoes and the smoothness of the snapper creates quite a complexity that may not please everyone. While the bresaola also gives a light hint of bitterness in flavour besides being just a garnish that in fact contributes an extra kick to the entire combination. A great creation nonetheless!

<Tuna Sashimi>
Given that most people only know to enjoy tuna deeply drenched or dive into the soy sauce (please do not make this attempt in front of your Japanese friends, their eyes will instantly pop out), RAKU tuna sashimi is accompanied by yuzu and ginger sorbet which is plated on top of wasabi oil. Now this may all sound a little over the top, but trust us, it is pitch perfect and an utter delight. Try the wasabi bit by bit to suit your palate. This is a revelation on the tongue and is a sensational dish from beginning to end. An absolute stunner! 

All of the three starters were well paired with the dry yet fruity with a fine line of mineral Billecarte-Salmon champagne that can be perfectly paired with most seafood dishes.

<Sashimi Santen>
The sashimi santen was composed of kingfish, Tasmanian salmon and tuna well presented on a large stoneware bowl and neatly lays on top of shaved ice and one of which was in blue. It was fresh, generous in portion and perfectly sliced for a satisfying mouthful. To enjoy a good sashimi – a reminder once again not to drench your perfect cut of good quality sashimi with too much soy sauce or wasabi and let the organic flavour speak by itself, especially the creamy and firm texture of the Kingfish which was a standout.

<RAKU Signature Nigiri>
Nigiri is not sushi, it is a more refined, delicate and meticulously handcrafted a-la-minute perfect mouthful enjoyment that shall be consumed right away after the admiration of its artful presentation. RAKU signature scampi nigiri grated foie gras is to die for, so rich in flavour and texture and so moreish. The toro was slightly torched for the smoky palate effect and the rice was round and firm, sticking well along with ginger on the side as a palate cleanser of the light fattiness from the toro derived from the best cut of the belly which is the best way to enjoy a good toro. This is an absolute winning dish and you will crave for more.

Both sashimi and nigri dishes were well paired with the 2018 Alsace Marcel Deiss “Ribeauville” Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc Riesling. The white flowers, citrus and a hint of pear, feija and spices was delicious, wonderfully harmonizing with the sashimi and nigiri with a long, clean and palatable finish.

<Canadian Scallops>
For the first warm cooked dish came the Canadian scallops, served with jalapeno, green apple and garlic mayonnaise and hit the spot. The scallop was firm but tender and juicy on the bite, elevated by the accompanying ingredients to create a rounded flavour that was very enjoyable.

<Spicy Crispy Tofu >
This deep-fried tofu with spicy avocado salsa, chilli julienne and barley miso was supposedly to deliver a more complex and dominating palate with a distinctive and memorable flavour to please, however, such a combination of ingredients used was rather bland. We enjoyed this more by just savoring the fresh tofu alone that gives a pleasant bean taste to it.

<Taiwanese Eel>
The eel is served with fennel, mustard seeds and tomato salsa, which may have been a reason for the eel to taste a bit soggy, as the salsa was sat on top and drenched the eel. Taiwanese eel was used instead of the Japanese eel for a firmer and creamy sweet texture, the skin was also less crispy on the outside somehow and was the least favorite dish on the entire tasting menu not worthy of all that had preceded this dish. Both Tofu and eel was delightfully paired with 2020 Chateau de Pibarnon for its silky and round palate with a perfumed wild berry and floral aroma, provençal herbs and pulpy texture, with a fresh and savory drive.

<Shiro Kin 8+ Wagyu Striploin>
This is a definite highlight of the menu, the Shiro Kin Wagyu 8+ Striploin served with rhubarb salt, ponzu and wasabi on the side. It is a dish that will not be easily forgotten. The meat is superbly cooked and packed full of flavour with the right amount of marble fat and meat that will leave you wanting more. Every mouthful is memorable for its triumph of flavours and texture, served with a side of beautifully charred broccolini with Momori miso - an unrefined miso with a more rustic consommé taste and is subtle with its own texture and depth of flavour – much to enjoy! 

An absolute well paired with the stylish and powerful woodsy spice notes 2020 Bannockburn Pinot Noir. You gotta love it!

<Seasonal Sorbet >
The same or similar yuzu sorbet served for the tuna sashimi without the wasabi was served again as palate cleanser. Still a pleasant refreshing palate before dessert is served.

<Japanese Whisky Chocolate Fondant >
Beautifully executed! The chocolate fondant was accompanied with a sticky miso caramel and Nikka “from the barrel” ice cream. This is decadently delicious with an alcoholic kick from the whiskey. A wonderful twist on the usual chocolate fondant you may recall in any other French bistros or Italian ristorantes. Paired with 2021 Tasmania Coal River Valley Frogmore Creek Ice Riesling with mandarin aromas and subtle sweet honey and apple tropical crisp flavours.

The service was attentive on the whole and was well done especially when Nic, the General Manager was doing his rounds by keeping an eye on the ground alongside with his dedicated service team but a few details were missed. Cutlery was not placed before the sorbet was served, a lack of knowledge about some ingredients used as garnish and as the wines were poured, we weren’t offered to sample especially when the pouring of the champagne was not on pointe and each wine pouring without the label facing you instead of twisting it around, so a big assumption that they were spot on in such regards which is not always the case with some premium wines served.

RAKU is name after a Japanese style of pottery created by hand without a mould and is fired in open flames for its unpredictable texture, patterns and vibrant colours through the master and skillful technique that was originally developed by a single family in the 16th century. The culinary team helmed by Chef Hao adapted the traditional spirit and essence, combining the precision and culinary history and spent hours mastering the plating techniques to get things right to set your taste buds singing. The food is a knockout overall and while you may think the courses are small, this tasting menu ends up delivering a lot more food than you realise, but in a slow food experience way, so you have time to dwell on what just excited your palate and share your thoughts with each other. Every chef has their secret weapon and the RAKU culinary team is not only paying homage to the ingredients and product, but being masterly transformed into the taste that you would embrace with the lingering post-dining effect that encourages you to talk about it over and over again, so they have nailed it!

Tried & Tested:
Location: 5/5
Design & Decor: 4/5
Food & Beverage: 4.5/5
Service: 4/5
Value For Money: 4.5/5
Experience: 4.5/5

148, Bunda Street,
Canberra, ACT
Tel: +61 2 6248 6869
Reviews are based on actual day of visit and experience. mylifestylenews reserves the right of final decision in case of any disputes. All images are photographed by mylifestylenews team without any photoshop enhancement and are the property owned by mylifestylenews unless otherwise stated. 

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