Queensland restaurateur Danielle Gjestland is a standout dynamo. Her Wasabi Restaurant and Bar concept opened on Sunshine Beach almost 12 years ago. Since then it has grown into an internationally recognised Queensland food institution, presenting the most impeccably appealing and flavoursome Japanese dishes and sake that we’ve ever laid our lips upon.
Today the restaurant has expanded both its dining concept and floor space within a waterside Noosa Sound property, featuring a series of louvred bays and raised windows that open the restaurant up to nature, connecting diners with the fresh sea air and ‘on top of the water’ Noosa River views. Danielle leads a masterful team comprising Japanese sushi chef Jiro Numata, head chef Zeb Gilbert and sommelier Drew Mackie. Together they and additional floor staff work together as a well-oiled machine. The service is on-the-ball, understated perfection, delivering food triggering taste sensations that leave a lasting emotional impression.
Danielle was just 23 years of age when she hit the ‘go’ button and began crafting Wasabi. She says people thought that she was mad opening a Japanese restaurant in such a small area.
‘At the time, people weren’t ready for Wasabi: believe it or not, when we opened a lot of clients actually asked to have their sashimi grilled, which was a bit… “Really? I think we’re missing the concept here!”’
On the day we visited we were amazed at the beautifully fresh tuna, coral trout and red emperor; all three caught locally at Sunshine Reef, coming in via the local fishing port of Mooloolaba.
‘They have a big tuna and swordfish operation and they catch pinch maguro (bluefin tuna), all of our reef fish,’ says Danielle. ‘The prawns and cuttlefish are local also – pretty much everything – it’s brilliant that we have access to such fresh daily local produce. On top of this, we grow our own Japanese vegetables on my family’s Honeysuckle Hill Farm. We irrigate with water from our natural spring and compost the vegetable peelings and off-cuts from the restaurant using the Japanese Bokashi method, which retains all nutrients, organic material and microbes. People really feel that Wasabi offers a sense of place – as they’ve truly enjoyed tasting what Noosa is all about.’
We are offered tastings from the Omakase menu (let the chef decide) and begin with the strikingly visual Sennen Dai: coral trout with kinome, ume and myoga take, presented on a locally crafted ceramic plate inspired by oyster shells. The trout is clean, its texture silk.
The ume (plum) combined with dried, fermented tuna flakes has a slightly smoky and charred flavour offset by the bright and clean minty/lemon zest combination of the kinome herb and myoga take (young Japanese ginger stems). We’re fortunate to have this paired with a rare family selection Hakkaisan brewery Junmai Ginjo sake, milled to 40 per cent grain remaining. Known as the ‘diamond heart’ this utterly perfected sake is an exclusive personal import, sent directly from the brewery owners to Danielle. It’s clean, exceedingly well balanced and also minerally, with a soft cherry and citrus palate; combined with the Sennen Dai it makes an outstanding first tasting.
Next up a Sashimi Trio: yellowfin tuna with wasabi stem; red emperor with shiso (leaf) and karasumi (smoked mullet roe); and ocean trout with yuzu and kyona (similar to mustard). The tuna, the most robust tasting of the three, is paired with the softer than usual kick of wasabi stem as it is rounder and more delicate in flavour than a commercial paste. The red emperor is made punchy and lively with the incredible aniseed, coriander, lime and hot pepper flavour combination that is the shiso leaf. The buttery textured, fuller flavoured ocean trout is made brighter and cleaner on the palate with the clever addition of the yuzu citrus. We’re pleasantly surprised at the pairing of the NZ Cloudy Bay 2011 Te Koko sauvignon blanc. Boasting 24 months on lees and subtle fragrances, this wine is all things nice: soft citrus, grapefruit and just a light touch of passionfruit aromas lift from the glass. But it is no soft touch: fine mineral and earthy layers also are present. With a well-developed low acidic palate, it is round and creamy, its fine French oak elements lingering in its lengthy finish.
Next up we sample Soba: charcoal soba noodles, legumes, kinoko mushroom, mushroom tea, soba seeds. It is a beautifully presented dish, decorated with legumes, small flowers, delicate kinoko and nasturtium leaves. It is light and fresh to the palate with its garden greens but combines with the accompanying pot of mushroom tea to create a rich umami sensation.
Ramu, a tender revolution in Aussie lamb, steals the show: soy and Okinawa black sugar braised lamb, grilled over binchōtan (Japanese white charcoal) is robust, sticky, sweet, smoky, succulent and flavourful. I have to ask myself: ‘Can lamb get any better than this?’
Served with a dressing of 10-year-old black rice vinegar and bincho shallot: round, deep, lightly tangy and yet again another divine treat, it is balanced with daikon pods and fresh daikon radish. Sommelier Drew pours a Cullen Cabernet – a mid-weight wine with soft tannins and a velvety mouthfeel that doesn’t overcomplicate things.
Wasabi is graced with many fine concepts and clever additional layers such as the binchōtan mineral water – something you’ll notice as you pass the waiter’s station. The binchōtan charcoal works to re-mineralise the water and balance its PH levels. It’s a neat trick and the stems of binchōtan in the water jugs have great beauty.
Our cleansing finale is the Alpine Strawberry Sorbet, with tiny fresh alpine strawberries dressing the bowl. Found in both Europe and Japan, these miniature beauties grow from runners, not seed, and have a taste similar to pineapples. Our experience is complete: we have been seriously wowed. Hitting the number one spot with a bullet, Wasabi Restaurant and Bar is, without doubt, an exemplary travel experience.
Wasabi Restaurant & Bar
2 Quamby Pl, Noosa Sound, Queensland
07 5449 2443