38-42 Bridge St Sydney, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Mon - Thu 12–3pm, 5:30–10pm ; Fri 12–3pm, 5:30–10:30pm ; Sat 12–3pm, 5:30–10pm ; Sun 12–3pm, 5:30–9:30pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access, Bar|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9247 8166|
0 minutes, 26 seconds - that's how long it takes for a bottle of chilled, crisp, lightly hoppy Kujukuri Ocean Beer Pilsener to arrive at the table after pressing "Order" on the touchscreen menu pad at Yayoi. Wow.
04min, 04s - next up is gyu tataki ($16), thin slices of lightly seared beef topped with icy-cold grated daikon and tangy cubes of ponzu jelly draped on limbs of out-of-season asparagus. It's light, clean and quick.
The food may be fast, but it has taken some time for Australia to be targeted by Plenus Co Ltd, which runs or franchises up to 3000 Yayoiken and Hotto Motto outlets in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore.
What used to be Wagamama in Bridge Street is now Australia's first Yayoi, a concept restaurant specialising in teishoku, or set-menu dining. Think big trays of small dishes built around a primary dish of fish, meat or noodles. A big colour picture menu makes it easy to find what you want, then you look for it on the touchscreen pad, and tap to buy.
The large, L-shaped room is lined with blonde-wood tables and chairs, lightened by pale walls and floor-to-ceiling windows, with an unlikely communal table tucked away on the path to the kitchens and loos. It's pleasant, understated and designed for efficiency, with the one grace note a shelf of lovely ceramics by potter Morimitsu Hosokawa, son of former prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa.
10min, 57s - it's a bit of a thrill getting a big tray of food all to yourself, like sitting in business class on JAL.
A teishoku tray of salt-grilled mackerel ($23) holds a delicate chawanmushi (a little pot of steamed egg custard), a nicely balanced miso soup, boiled spinach and Japanese pickles, as well as the fish. It's hard to overcook an oily fish like mackers, but they've come close.
00min, 30s - the time spent wondering where to put the touchscreen tablet when the table is completely covered with trays. On the floor? Not very hygienic. My wife puts it in her bag. Probably not ideal.
01min, 56s - an Invivo 2013 sauvignon blanc from Marlborough ($10 a glass, $50 a bottle) reminds me of the early days of Cloudy Bay with its intense, pronounced passionfruit character.
There's a short list of light to medium-bodied wines, a half-dozen beers and a nice Bishonen Junmai Ginjo Sake ($3 a glass) that slips down easily. Good luck with the touchscreen malarkey after a few of those.
20min, 00s - the polished kinme rice is a star in its own right, cooked at the table (dinners only) for 20 minutes in a sweet little wooden-topped rice cooker.
A wagyu sukiyaki ($33) teishoku comes spot on time, the steamy, stewy hotpot of thinly-sliced wagyu beef and soupy udon noodles also holding a shimmering slow-poached, runny egg, little knots of my favourite konnyaku yam noodles (shirataki), tofu, straggly onions and enoki mushrooms, with soup and pickles on the side. The beef is a tough chew, but you'd forgive anything that makes you feel you're in JAL business class.
06min, 15s - a small, bittersweet, dessert of squishy-jelly warabi-mochi ($8) made with bracken starch is totally charming, elegantly accompanied by a tea bowl of frothily whisked uji green tea from Kyoto.
00min, 12s - the fastest thing of all is the bill.
While the food feels a little lifeless and done ahead, it's filling and reasonably priced, and the dining experience presses enough of the buttons of Japan's extraordinary food culture to transcend the reality of standard Japanese fare. And did I mention it was fast?
Best bit: Timing how long the food takes to arrive.
Worst bit: There's nowhere to put your iPad.
Go-to dish: Wagyu sukiyaki teishoku $33
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.