90 Federal Street
(09) 363 6278
Monday - Saturday
12.30am - 3pm, 5.30pm - late
11am - 3pm, 5.30pm - late
It was clear from the moment MASU opened its doors that chef Nic Watt was obsessed with simplicity and gutsy flavours, but also that he had an incredible eye for detail, respect for traditional Japanese cuisine and flare for drama. This is the first Robata restaurant in Auckland, a traditional Japanese style of cooking that centers around the robata or “hearth” – a grill that infuses quality ingredients with a smokiness and depth of flavour that fairly punches you in the tastebuds.
From afar, Masu is a glimmering glass box, the bar is the focus upon entry, with specialty sake (including Masu’s own brand) lining the shelves. There is a fascinating block of deoxidised ice sitting on a chopping board at the bar, and the team hack off huge chunks of it with a gleaming saw throughout service – the sound stops the whole dining room, it’s a spectacle.
The moment you step into the restaurant itself, the incredible aroma of the robata grill will sweep you off your feet. The scent has a savoury, smokiness about it that left me instantly ravenous. I observed the huge team of chefs in the open kitchen over the course of an entire evening and came to the conclusion that mastering the art of the robata grill is an exercise in precision and patience.
I love the chairs at Masu. I love the plates. I love the thick wooden kitchen bar and the huge table in the private dining room that’s carved from one single giant tree. Nic Watt commissioned a famous Japanese calligrapher to create the glowing work that hangs above the chef’s table, and collected rare Obi sashes to adorn the private dining room (and the coffee machine too, if you look closely).
Now the food. They serve colourful, vibrant sashimi and nigiri, you can see the sushi chefs preparing it before your eyes. Sashimi is a dish that can’t hide behind seasonings and sauces, it relies entirely on one thing, freshness, and Masu has some of the freshest sashimi I’ve come across. If you ask for the full works, your sashimi comes in a boat, with huge chunks of ice sitting in it like icebergs. It’s carried across the dining room on waiters’ shoulders.
The robata grill gives dishes a wonderful depth of flavour. This form of cooking sees each dish basted almost continuously in sauces, resulting in a perfect flavour infusion. The yakitori chicken skewers were meltingly tender, and the black cod marinated with saikyo miso and yuzu was a showstopper. I’ve tried the clams tobanyaki as well, emerging in a closed bowl that’s opened to reveal steaming shellfish cooked simply with garlic, green chilli and ponzu butter.
I’d advise you to go to Masu for the food alone, but if you want more reasons, go because the interior is casual but exciting with just the right level of polish. The wine and sake lists are backed up by passionate staff who love Asian food and wine/sake matching. And go because it’s the kind of restaurant that combines comfort with excitement and adventure.