Sunday, 6 November 2011

Tokyo Underground by Minus 8 - Crave SIFF 2011

M Central Apartment

***Updated 08/11 - some corrections on the facts, thanks Chef Anton for pointing them out :D***

A little statistical fact to start this post :
Crave SIFF 2010 event visited = 14 and in 2011 , event visited = 3.
Sad or what ? Failed big time as a foodie T__T

With me taking on a new role at work since mid July , it comes with odd working hours of 6.30am - 6.00pm.
Which means that I'm zonked out by 9.00pm every night , hence ruling out any dinners or Sugar Hits during this year's festival.
Managed to do one Sugar Hit at Shangri-La, a pop-up dinner and lunch degustation , the last 2 falls on weekends so I can keep my head off the plate.

Noren ; Wet hand towel ; Decorative Grill ; Candlelit Hallway

Pop-up dinner appears to be the "IT" thing at the moment, there were a lot of to choose from at this year's SIFF and one of the few that caught my interest was Tokyo Underground by Minus 8 that promises intimate izakaya style dinner using the freshest seasonal ingredients. 

As usual, the dinner location was not revealed until the day before the actual dinner - I was hoping and praying that it will be somewhere local (to me).
Guess what ! The location was at M Central apartments in Pyrmont that is only a few blocks up from where I live.
That doesn't mean I would walk there though, come summer night and walking ? No way Jose ! So I drove and turns out finding parking took longer to walk LOL 
Oh well, c'est la vie, non ?

Rice Crisps, Wasabi Salt

Once all 3 of us  (me, fluffymakan and lifeis2munch) were present, we walked up to the buzzer and entered the apartment number that was given in the email. I was hoping we have to say a secret code word or entry would be denied hehehehe :P

The sleek, little but cosy apartment was filled with 12 excited diners, seated around a long table. 
We nibbled on deliciously light, crisp and spicy rice crisps tossed in wasabi salt.
There was just a slight kick from the wasabi, and the best thing is, once the basket was empty it was refilled with more !

Tonight's Dinner Menu in Kanji
(also acts as our place mat)

Tokyo Underground dinner is a pop-up dinner event by Minus 8, a company that offers bespoke dining experience, be it for corporate events, dining with friends or just when you want to impress that special someone <3
Behind all this is the uber talented Chef Anton Verplak who has many years of experience working around the world, including the Michelin starred Nobu in London.
After a brief intro on what we will be expecting for dinner, the Chef returns to the kitchen which is right next to dining room, no doors, no window, we can see all the actions in the kitchen just from where we sat - excellent !!

Dunalley Oysters
umeboshi, cucumber

Our first course were oysters from Dunalley, Tasmania - served with white soy sauce (which is white due to its higher wheat than soy bean content), diced cucumber and a dollop of umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum).
The oysters were plump and juicy and the condiments complimented its natural flavours, a lovely fresh start to whet our taste buds for the night. 

In the previous 2 dinners, the starter was swordfish toro (belly), sadly there were none available that morning so we had the oysters instead. 

Chef Anton and his Suribachi

Before the next course was brought out, the Chef brought out the suribachi (Japanese mortar ) which was used to make the gomadare (sesame sauce) for...

Handmade Silken Tofu
asparagus, spring beans and buds, white sesame & toasted sesame

The very silky smooth handmade tofu, served with crisp asparagus, spring beans and its buds.
The gomadare was made by grinding white sesame seed in the suribachi, add some dashi (stock) until you get the consistency you are after.
The sauce is a little thin to my liking, that doesn't mean it's any less delicious though. Just make it harder to slurp every last drop of it.
Thankfully, they realised that and passed us some spoons to drink up the sauce - yay !

Hooray for tea spoon ! 

The Chef popped out of his kitchen again, this time bringing out a fresh wasabi , the complete plant with leaves, stalk and root stem.  
The wasabi was from Tasmania where 3 farmers are trading as one to ensure there is a constant supply of it. 
Wasabi plants takes 2 years to harvest so the hefty price tag of $130 - $150/kg comes to no surprise.
There are 2 types of wasabi being farmed, one has a greener appearance and the other is paler in comparison but has a sweeter flavour, which is the one we are having tonight.
Beside just using the stem that is grated, stalks can be pickled, the leaves and flowers are edible as well. 
Apparently the farmers are trying to get a wasabi with the more vibrant green colour but the sweet profile of the others.

Ocean Trout Confit ; Freshly Grated Wasabi ; Checking the Confit ; Flaking the Confit

"Please feel free to come over to the kitchen to take some photos, better lighting here"....*whoosh*....within a minute I was standing there with my big ass camera in hand of course. 
They even offered to pose the wasabi grating action so I can take photo of it, thank you !!!

Working in a house kitchen like this means that it will be hard to maintain the right temperature to cook the ocean trout confit. The Chef had to take the pot on and off the burners to ensure the correct cooking temperature. He was worried that it wouldn't come out perfectly - as you can see, there is really nothing to worry about Chef ! The confit was cooked to perfection :)

Plating up the perfectly cooked confit

Pipette filled with Soy Sauce

The next dish of "scattered sushi" aka Chirashi zushi originated in Osaka.

'Scattered Sushi'
confit ocean trout, ikura, Tasmanian wasabi, freeze dried shoyu

The ocean trout simply melts in your mouth and the sushi rice was delicious. Each grain was plump and glistening with the just the right amount of sushi vinegar. 
The wasabi was indeed sweeter than usual with just a little bit of heat. The juicy roe added the welcomed saltiness with each burst and let's not forget the soy sauce pipette - add as much or as little as you wish. 
There was not a single grain of rice, or anything else in fact on everyone's plate. We just wanted more of the chirashi , a big bowl would be nice...mmm....

For the next course, we were told they will fry the chicken in 2 batches to make sure we got them piping hot, so please be patient.
Easier said than done....
Smelling the deep fried chicken and seeing some diners get theirs first gave me food envy.....thank goodness the next lot was served within minutes *crisis solved*.

Tatsuta Burrawong Chicken 
kabosu pepper, daikon threads, lime & coriander sprouts

The chicken were from Burrawong, a farm near Campsey Kempsey we were told where the they adopt sustainable (farming? chicken raising?) and they are fed special diet to make them taste more delicious. 
The chicken were indeed delicious, arrived piping hot and it was really juicy and sweet. The batter was lightly seasoned and the spritz of fresh lime helps to zing up the fried pieces.
What makes this dish tasted so much better was the little humble green lump at the bottom corner there.
A blend of Kabosu and pepper - the citrusy aroma of the kabosu and the super hot pepper was just delicious ! You don't need much of it at all, a tiny bit of the paste delivers the flavour and heat :)

'Tea Time'
shaved QLD squid, Fukushima koshihikari, toasted seaweed,  Tasmanian wasabi, mitsuba, ichiban dashi tea

It's ochazuke time !! 

First, each of us got a pot each of the "tea" - hot dashi (broth) made from the finest katsuobushi (bonito flakes)  from Hokkaido, there was no blood line present on the flakes at all, so the flavour was very clean and pure. 

Ariake Bay Nori

Secondly - a spoon with a piece of nori was placed on our mats - this high quality nori was from Ariake Bay.  
Chef Anton wanted us to taste the delicate flavour of the nori on its own, hence we got this piece on a spoon. 

Bowl of Goodness

Third and definitely not the least, steamed koshihikari rice, with shaved squid and of course the nori.

Pour the "tea" and....


The dashi was amazing, jam packed with flavour that has great umami to it. 
The squid was so tender and has a nice bite to it, the sprig of mistsuba added an lovely herby note and the finely shredded nori brings the flavour of the sea to the dish.
Oh, and there was a little bit of the Tasmanian wasabi in it as well, which gives a pleasant kick every now and then.
This is what I'd call comfort food - so healthy and delicious.

Plating up the dessert

'Spring Frost'
frozen green tea & toasted rice pannacotta, shortbread, strawberry, white chocolate snow

The last dish of the night is inspired by spring break in Hokkaido, frozen genmaicha and green tea pannacotta that was just amazing. The flavour of the roasted tea really shines through and the texture was perfect, so creamy and melts in your mouth. 
Accompanied by sweet strawberry compote, crumbly buttery shortbread, a covering of white chocolate snow that is equally delicious and finally a sprig of lemon balm and edible flowers.

The lemon balm and flowers , like almost all of the herbs (especially the unique Japanese ones) and greens used are grown in their own little garden. Fresh and locally produced :)

"Thank You"

How cute is that ? A little white envelope saying "Thank You" for us to put in the bill - which comes to $70  $80 per person for the meals, B.Y.O. alcoholic beverages. 
Excellent value for the meals and experience we had that night - lots of fun, good food and great company.

Chef Anton and his 2 assistants welcomed us to their "apartment" with warmth and you can see the passion he has for foods. He is always on the look out for new ingredients and ways to make things better, as he said it "nothing is perfect, there is always room for improvement".
Although I think all of us that were there that night can say that every single dish was PERFECT !!!
Thank you for a great night and wonderful foods !!!

Minus 8 does have pop-up dinners outside food festival month, so check out their website and join their mailing list for up coming dinners.

Minus 8


  1. i was dying to go to this! great post all the food looks freaking delicious!

  2. Beautiful photos, Monica ! Wah, October again, about 1 year since I came back, time flies ! wanna go back :)

  3. ohhh the scattered sushi and spring frost definitely caught my eye! checking out their website now haha

  4. suze : not to worry, Minus 8 will have more pop-up dinners - yay to that !!

    Ja : how are you !!! I's crazy how time pass so quickly, you should come back for next year's festival :)

    betty : hahahahaha we should go for their other dinners ;)

  5. I saw the fried chicken and froze (accidental pun, lol). It looks utterly dericious!

  6. helen : lol it was super good...plump and juicy..yummm...