This post is a paid collaboration with SkyCity Entertainment Group. R18. Drink Responsibly.
MASU by Nic Watt is well known as being the best in Auckland when it comes to Japanese cuisine with their restaurant and bar located in the Federal Street dining precinct, part of SkyCity Auckland. Their philosophy is simple – use fresh local ingredients, enhance the natural flavours of each dish and let the food speak for itself. The interior is a reflection of their pure approach to cuisine with the simple and natural decor. It’s a beautifully bold and dramatically different style of Japanese dining, right in the heart of Auckland.
When I’m wanting the best of the best of my favourite food – sashimi, I head to MASU. Their sashimi platters are beautifully presented and they have the most extensive selection of sashimi to choose from. I love knowing that my fish is being sourced from the freshest product from the best fishing grounds around the country and MASU’s sashimi chefs have had years of training and refinement before they are allowed to prepare, slice and serve in front of guests. How’s that for uniqueness!?
I planned a mid-week lunch at MASU with one of my best friends Loic, who I actually met over a Japanese dinner before we started a love affair of food, together. He’s a foodie at heart too and I love being able to enjoy new cuisines with someone who has a passion and interest for it as much as I do!
We chose our seats, requesting to sit around the open kitchen where we could see the chefs preparing all the food. Something about seeing the food you’re about to enjoy being made is really interesting to me. We were presented with the menus which had both A La Carte and the option of two tasting menus. The Masu Shomi Tasting Menu is a set menu made up of dishes from the A La Carte menu and the Shefu Tokusen Tasting Menu is a menu with all unique dishes that don’t feature on the A La Carte Menu. They also had an extensive drinks menu with cocktails, wine, beer and sake.
When it comes to Japanese, I’m very much a creature of habit and don’t tend to venture out past sashimi or sushi, so I was super excited to try out the brand new tasting menu, Shefu Tokusen Tasting Menu that MASU had just launched the week prior.
The Shefu Tokusen menu was designed by Executive Chef, Chris Will and his team and is designed to take you on a journey to explore the different regions and cuisine of Japan. You can see a preview of the Shefu Tokusen menu here. The menu is made up of snacks, five courses and dessert and is $140pp. In addition, if you choose to add the beverage matches that come in a tasting glass size for each dish (which we did) then it’s an additional $80pp.
With this being a tasting menu, they’re designed to be eaten over a longer period of time (generally two and a half to three hours) so I’d recommend if you try this out assuring you have plenty of flexibility so you can truly enjoy the experience. I love this style of eating, small plates and being grazed over a long time is such a unique experience!
The first part of the tasting menu involves is made up of a selection of snacks and these were all beautifully presented in a bento box.
All the snacks were paired with our first beverage that was a tasting glass of the Kumeu River Estate 2017 – Kumeu.
The first was smoked fish served on a nori rice crackers with wasabi. This was nice light snack to start. The second was a Kaipara oysters with yuzu and truffle served in the full shell which was something I’d never seen done before! When you peeled off the top shell, the oyster was nestled underneath like a little surprise.
The final snack was a sake lees, Kagoshima wagyu fat butter served with kumara bread. This was the most devine butter ever! The richness of wagyu fat made it different to any other butter I’d tried before. I was lathering it onto the kumara bread with the wooden spoon provided. The bread was so soft and the butter just melted into it. I was fighting Loic for the last bits, that’s how tasty it was!
Course one came in two parts, both paired with Elephant Hill Tempranillo Rose 2017 – Hawkes Bay. I love Rose and this was a great way for the fruitiness of the wine to bring up the umami flavour from the dishes. It also balanced the acidity of the umeboshi well.
The first was a chutoro tartare wrapped in daikon with whisky barrel shoyu. The shoyu is aged in Japanese mizunara hard wood whisky barrel oak. All Haku shoyu are made in Kyoto by the craft master using age-old techniques. The shoyu was delicately brushed across each parcel before being served. It was fresh, biting through the daikon to enjoy the tartare inside.
The second was an ora king salmon oshizushi which is layered and pressed style sushi cut into perfect squares. It was served with umeboshi, a Japanese plum which has been salted and dried. The best umeboshi comes from Wakayama prefecture in Japan. I’m a huge fan of salmon, so I loved this bite size dish.
Course two also came in two parts. These were paired with Ranman Funaoroshi Junmai Namachozo – Akita. The Umami flavour from the sake complements the wakame soy and also the sweet nuttiness intensifies the spiciness coming from the prawn dishes.
The first was a crispy deep fried udon, fried whole prawn and sour dashi. I loved the fried combination of prawns with the udon, which looked like chips and added crunch! The prawn tails were detached making it easy to eat and the meat was soft and flavourful. Kagawa, also known as ‘Udon Ken’, is famous for udon noodles and there are over 600 udon restaurants in the prefecture.
The second was a Cloudy Bay storm clam with wakame soy butter. These were so stunningly presented, served on beds of salt, on top of a wooden board inside a shell like platter, piping hot and garnished with greens. I love seafood so these were a favourite of mine. They were meaty and creamy from the soy butter. Hokkaido in Japan is renowned for tasty local seafood with the surrounding seas. Delicious grilled seafood is always a local’s favourite and I think I’d get along perfectly there!
Course three was the highlight for me and my absolute favourite from the entire menu. This was paired with Zenkuro ‘Wakatipu Sleeping Giant’ Junmai – Queenstown. The sake pairing is designed to harmonise the cha soba and duck flavours. The citrusy notes from the sake matches the yuzu and subtle flavours from the dashi broth.
The dish was a combination of cha soba noodles with duck breast and yuzu. I’ve never really been a fan of duck, but this dish changed everything. I’ve always thought that duck was too rich, but this had the right ratio of meat and fat for me. The dashi broth had me slurping up the soba – I couldn’t get enough! Soba is buckwheat noodles well known for being a healthier choice. It’s a famous local speciality of Nagano using clean water from neighbouring mountains.
Course four had two parts. These were paired with Akitu A2 2017 – Wanaka, a red wine elegant enough not to overpower the wagyu beef tsukune along with tonkatsu dipping sauce, the fruits add complexity to the dishes.
The first was a shiitake mushroom kushiage which a panko crumbed mushrooms, on a skewer and deep fried. It was served with a tonkatsu dipping sauce which was similar to a BBQ sauce to me. I loved this combination, especially because the texture of shiitake mushrooms replicates that of meat, however, is a vegetable. Kushi-age is also one of the most commonly found foods across Osaka. Over the years panko crumbed deep-fried food have become popular all over Japan.
The second was a Kagoshima wagyu beef tsukune with egg yolk and soy. This one was the most interesting to me – mostly because of the raw egg yolk. The egg yolk has been drizzled with soy and the wagyu beef was in meatball form on a stick. We were advised the best way to eat this was to stir the wagyu beef stick into the egg yolk and mix before enjoying!
Course five was the final meat dish before dessert and the most substantial of the courses. This was paired with Craggy Range ‘Te Kahu’ Merlot 2016 – Hawkes Bay, and what’s a better match for grilled lamb than Merlot? The fruitiness of this wine really complements the sweetness of the spring onion and ginger miso.
It was a dish of robata lamb with spring onion and teriyaki along with grilled rice and ginger miso. The lamb chops were cooked to perfection. Hokkaido in Japan is also famous for lamb grilled on a sizzling wire rack. It’s their soul food! My soul was definitely feeling it with every bite. The rice balls served as part of this dish were grilled and drizzled with ginger miso and paired with the lamb was rich and filling. Niigata prefecture produces one of Japan’s most famous rice brands as well as having rice balls as their speciality. There were also pickled vegetables served alongside, to break through the richness.
The final part of the tasting menu was a spectacular finish with both savoury and sweet treats served spectacularly!
The first was taiyaki, a Japanese-shaped cake, this one replicating a snapper. It was filled with azuki beans and matcha. Unlike traditional cakes or pancake batter, these are a little more dense and are a popular street snack in Tokyo. Alongside this, an ice dessert platter including ice-cream, sorbet, fresh fruit and custard was served to enjoy with the taiyaki.
This was paired with Takara Shirakabegura ‘Mio’ Sparkling – Kyoto. This was a sparkling sake and I’d previously never heard of, let alone tasted, a sparkling sake. The toasty notes of the taiyaki go brilliantly well with the fizzy texture of the sparkling sake. Also the fruitness of the sake will bring up the fruity flavours from the dessert platter.
Overall, I loved this new tasting menu from MASU. It really got me to step outside my comfort zone with Japanese cuisine and explore new and exciting dishes. Although I loved all the dishes, a stand out dish from the menu for me was course three – the duck with cha soba noodles. This really just had me wanting more and was a dish I’d come back for over and over again. I’m glad we decided to go with the beverage match and would 100% recommend it for anyone who might be unsure. With a range of wines and sake from both Japan and locally sourced, I loved exploring the different flavour combinations. Plus, I didn’t even know sparkling sake was a thing until tasting this menu.