To say wasabi is hot may be an obvious statement, but for the Noosa restaurant of the same name, it's an appropriate sentiment. Drawing from the qualities implied by its fiery namesake, Wasabi has blazed a path for contemporary Japanese cuisine in Australia.
Unlike wasabi, though, which mellows on the palate after an initial burst of intensity, the restaurant has continued to burn brightly since it was established in 2003. Owner and restaurateur Danielle Gjestland was just 24 when she dreamed up the concept. Now 35, she says it has been a "massive learning curve".
"We've been fortunate to have survived for 11 years which, in restaurant years, is about a million."
Showing a keen interest in Japanese cuisine from an early age, Gjestland felt it was what Sunshine Beach – Wasabi's original location – needed; she hoped to bring the textural and gustatory complexities of Japanese food to south-east Queensland, where such cuisine was distinctly absent.
Wasabi has since filled that gap successfully, garnering two hats in the Australian Good Food Guide. With stunning views of Noosa River, it is a testament to the region's beauty and its fresh produce. A variety of fish – from tuna to cuttlefish – is sourced from the Mooloolaba fishing port and served fresh daily.
While the restaurant has evolved organically over time, one thing remains unchanged: a strong commitment to traditional Japanese flavours. For Gjestland, it's all about balancing a contemporary sensibility with traditional approaches.
The Omakase menu, she says, reflects this fine balance, featuring dishes chosen by the chef.
"Our ultimate goal is that whatever dish you're eating has the feeling or the essence of Japanese cuisine. So while our presentation can be quite contemporary and modern, usually our ingredients or our combinations of ingredients are extremely traditional," she says.
It all starts from the ground up. The restaurant sources much of its produce from its farm at Honeysuckle Hill, growing Japanese herbs and vegetables, which vary seasonally.
The restaurant sources much of its produce from its farm at Honeysuckle Hill, growing Japanese herbs and vegetables, which vary seasonally.
The aim is to use as much of the plant as possible. Daikon, for example, is a particularly versatile winter vegetable, and its roots, leaves, flowers and seeds can all be used to complement a dish. "What we're trying to do is use the whole plant from the beginning of its life to its end," Gjestland says.
It's this respect for the produce that is at the heart of Wasabi's ethos. "That's what [the] Japanese are known for – sourcing really fantastic products ... treating them with respect, simply, cleanly, and presenting them in their best possible light."
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