193 Symonds Street
(09) 377 8537
Tuesday - Thursday, Saturday
6pm - late
12pm - 2.30pm, 6pm - late
Kazuya doesn’t look like a restaurant from the outside, it looks like a day spa. That’s probably why it took me so long to find it, and even longer to try it. The front door is massive, and it leads you into a narrow dark wooden corridor, at the end of which there is a bar and then a tiny restaurant, with no more than five tables nestled in plush leather booths. Even once you’re inside, Kazuya is still a mystery. Staff appear silently, and there is only the hint of a kitchen through a crack in one wall.
Sometimes fine dining experiences are so polished you feel as if you’re in a play, and that all of your lines were given to you weeks before in preparation. Not so with Kazuya, it’s polished, but not perfect, and that’s a good thing, because it gives the dining experience a playfulness that I’ve not come across anywhere else in the city. Head chef Kazuya Yamauchi seeks to make people smile with his food. He starts with an amuse bouche, for my visit it was a tiny balloon of cauliflower soup – a cauliflower explosion that made every pair of eyes sitting at our table widen.
The elaborate presentation of each dish is unlike anything I’d ever seen. I think one of my favourites is a dish simply called Texture. Thirty seasonal vegetables with prosciutto, served on a big wide plate like a palette. It’s an experience, picking up each vegetable with chopsticks and first, wondering what it is (maybe a lotus root, or a lone lentil, or a beet) and then second, marveling at the flavour and yes, the texture. It is more than a dish, it’s a game. I wish dinner could always be a game.
At Kazuya, I’ve tried delicately smoked salmon that was served in a smoking glass, and a delicious petite four with surprise popping candy within that crackled so loudly in my mouth I was momentarily shocked. I nearly leapt from my chair in excitement when the cheese trolley came around before the dessert course. A board laden with some of the most delightful cheeses I’ve seen. It was sweet and novel, that cheese trolley, and really difficult not to partake of.
Given that this is a Japanese restaurant with a Japanese chef, the sake list is impressive, and the sommelier, Mojo Hariuchi, very knowledgeable about how it should be enjoyed (slowly). When I say that this a Japanese restaurant, I don’t mean that the food is particularly Japanese. This food defies category, it’s pure entertainment.