246 Burwood Road Burwood, NSW 2134
MY FRIEND MARY HAD warned me: ''Don't wear your best frock.''
We're heading to Fuji Teppanyaki on Burwood's multicultural eat strip for a Friday night family dinner. We're the first diners to arrive, at 6.30pm, and our initial impressions aren't great. The cavernous main room is all tiled walls and floors with three teppanyaki grills each surrounded by seating (on slightly stained chairs) for up to eight.
But cheap and cheerful is what we came for. The Sakura menu is a bargain, with a small salad, miso soup, a ''daily entree'' that turns out to be spring rolls, lovely light tempura vegetables, then the teppanyaki options - fish, prawns, teriyaki chicken and miso yaki steak - cooked on the griddle in front of us.
A children's menu has the same entree, chicken, steak and fried rice, plus ice-cream.
The a la carte route is more expensive, but you can enjoy sushi and sashimi and additional teppanyaki dishes, including lobster, scallops, octopus, lamb, wagyu beef and duck.
The wine list has an excellent collection with nothing more than $39.
Our Japanese chef introduces himself as Aaron - ''that's my English name'' - and sets to work. The simple salad of lettuce and tomato drizzled with mayonnaise, and steaming soup arrive quickly from the kitchen, followed by the spring rolls. Everything else is cooked on the grill. A thoughtful waitress sees the children struggling with their chopsticks and brings shorter ones.
The cooked fish and meat are placed carefully onto crackle-glazed ceramic plates. The basa (or Vietnamese catfish), was flaccid and forgettable, but the single prawn doused in butter and morsels of chicken basted with a rich teriyaki marinade are flavoursome and tender. Miso-laced beef is good but surprisingly chewy for what looks like prime fillet.
And then it starts to get messy. ''Do you want to play a funny game?'' Aaron asks. He tosses each of us a small rice bowl which we use to catch raw eggs. Lulu, 5, is pumped and declares, ''I'm a good teppanyaki catcher'', as she skilfully lands her eggs. Unfortunately, Archie, 7, has less luck and is inconsolable when his eggs hit the floor. Suddenly those tiles - and Mary's warning - make a lot of sense.
Aaron tries his trick again, flicking pieces of fried egg this time. I try to catch it in my mouth, but end up, literally, with egg on my face. Entire bowls of fried rice are tossed next, with varying degrees of success. Archie is seasoned with a fine spray of white flecks.
If the idea of throwing (wasting) food concerns you, it's probably not for you. But the kids are mesmerised by this interactive dining and eat everything (that lands) on their plates.
As Japanese dining goes, it's good value and great fun. Just don't wear your best dress.
Do … Go with a large group and a sense of humour.
Don't … Expect to leave with clean clothes.
Dish … Sakura menu.
Vibe … Informal and entertaining, but can get raucous when the food acrobatics start.