Surviving the mean streets of Honeysuckle’s restaurant row is quite a feat.
The fact that Nagisa Japanese Restaurant has been open for more than 10 years is an implicit testament to its ability to give the people what they want, while maintaining a quality offering that’s unique enough for the city’s, reasonably circumspect diners.
Once experienced, who doesn't love a salty bowl of edamame washed down with a frosty pint of Suntory pilsner?
Seven days a week you can dine within the modish black confines of Nagisa's indoor dining space, beneath sawdust coloured canvas sails and some dimly lit, low-hanging Edison-era light globes.
Cane-coloured hard back chairs and a couple of long timber bench seats (which could do with a cushion or two) are divided by a series of sleek black tables that are set with a menu, a small slate tile, a little white ceramic bowl, and wooden chopsticks.
An intriguing row of colourfully labelled saké bottles adorn the top shelf above the front-bar, which provides an insight into the well-stocked cellar. This includes a number of outstanding Japanese craft beers, whiskeys, and wines curated by Yohei Namba. Energetic, beat-driven house music plays overhead and contributes to the restaurant's modern ambience.
Unlike dining in Japan, where, typically, a restaurant will specialise in one dish or a single cuisine, the Nagisa dinner menu manages to meld many styles to achieve “a rich series of wonderful collisions”, conceived of and executed by chef Tetsuhiko Namba and chef Chris Schofield.
There are plenty of fresh land and seafood options, including entree-size sashimi, nigiri, and carpaccio, plus main-size whole roast snapper, spiced pork belly, wagyu beef tataki and a green salad. There are a few vegetarian options, including an ochazuke of assorted greens, kaki-age tempura, rice, sliced nori, umekyu paste, pickles, and toasted sesame in a broth of kombu green tea. Since sharing food is more fun, my dining associate and I order a broad sweep of cold and hot dishes to explore and enjoy.
We start with the sashimi taster consisting of two pieces each of tuna, kingfish, and salmon, served on a mound of crushed iced alongside a pile of shredded daikon, pickled ginger, and a dollop of wasabi. Each thinly sliced piece of fish is as fresh as the last and almost dissolves in your mouth. The pickled ginger enlivens while the daikon adds crunch. Mix a generous amount of the wasabi into the soy sauce for heat and enhanced flavour.
A tray of pan-seared Hokaido scallops arrives between mouthfuls of delicate sashimi. Served on the half shell, each scallop is topped with a paper-thin slice of crunchy radish, a dab of pear puree and yuzu wasabi cream, a slice of pickled cucumber and honeydew melon, plus a few micro-herbs.
There’s a lot happening, but it’s all for the benefit of the senses; soft and creamy textures harmonise with the fresh snap and crunch of the radish, cucumber and melon and the sweet, crisp char of the pan-seared scallop is brightened by the slightly sweetened tang of the yuzu butter.
A small cup of saké accompanies the scallops and tastes of slightly sour sliced green apple.
Next is a bowl of spice and soy marinated tofu, slightly charred on top, served in a watery broth of tentsuyu sauce next to a stack of shredded daikon, ginger and chives. The charcoal agedashi tofu is gorgeous, soft and viscid, like eating silk or lace; super subtle and delicate, quietly refined, with sweet and smoky flavours that whisper delicious secrets between your cheeks. The nuance of the tofu is contrasted with loud, crunchy pieces of fried chicken karaage, which is marinated in soy and ginger and a traditional Japanese shio-koji seasoning. These moist, bite-sized morsels get dipped into a small bowl of spicy satay mayonnaise to create a wonderful collision of styles, indeed.
We finish with the dengaku eggplant; half a roasted eggplant glazed with white and dengaku miso, and a sprinkle of toasted sesame, accompanied by a few scrumptiously savoury lotus root crisps. The dish is a warm farewell to winter; sweet teriyaki flavours are rendered into the meaty textures of the eggplant, which make for a tasty, though, heavy and hearty dish, when compared with the salubrious qualities of the rest of our meal.
We briefly return to the three remaining slices of fresh sashimi, which get pleasurably washed down by a few gulps of refreshing Suntory beer.
We shall return soon to experience chef Namba's Teppanyaki Bar.
- Nagisa, N2/1 Honeysuckle Dr, Newcastle, Mon-Sun 11:30am-9:30pm, Sun 11:30am-3pm
- Owner: Tetsuhiko Namba
- Drinks: Excellent selection of Japanese craft beer, whiskey and sake, cocktails, tea, soft drinks, juices
- Vegetarian: Yes
- Bottom Line: $120 for two incl. drinks
- Wheelchair Access: Yes.
- Do Try: Sashimi taster with charcoal agedashi tofu