Happy New Year!
It’s a steamy Friday night and we are back in the questing saddle, trotting gently down the hill towards St Peters. There was a shower earlier in the evening that failed to do anything about the temperature or the humidity, but it’s good to kick off the weekend with a beer and a meal with friends. Tonight it’s Ichioku Teppanyaki, which I am looking forward to with a kind of hopeful trepidation, the way you do when you know things are going to be messy and embarrassing – but hopefully fun as well. We have teppanyaked before, but it was a long time ago when the Stropette and the Stropolina were youngsters, and I seem to remember it may have involved a birthday celebration and a bunch of young girls who mostly weren’t ours. In my blurred memory it is a piece of theatre with plenty of flying food, squealing children, and bemused parents, in which the actual eating plays only a very minor role.
We have company tonight in the form of great friends Anna and Wendy, and our mature and sophisticated party is a far cry from the squealing children. A point that is brought home to us by the chef/performer who asks if we want to “play or eat.” To Anna and Wendy’s horror, Strop and I immediately say “Play!” No one can say we didn’t ask for it.
Ichioku is a fairly unprepossessing place. There is a big room with a two central barbecues, and seats around the edge. It has bright fluorescent lighting which made it easy to see that Strop was the only one there when I arrived a few minutes late, having polished off a therapeutic schooner up the road at the Social Club. It is a bit hot and stuffy inside with the barbecue so close, but once the action starts we don’t really notice. The menu includes a variety of banquets and set menus as well as a short a la carte section. We opt for one of the banquets, mainly because it means we don’t have to make any decisions, and anyway food isn’t really the main game here. The banquet comes with entrees and dessert, which we are going to need. Strop had been hoping to have cocktails for dessert, up the road at Earl’s Juke Joint, but this promising plan proves to be both brilliant and completely impractical because Anna and Wendy are both driving.
The four of us get on with compulsory Christmas catch-up chatter while the food starts to arrive. First up are an unremarkable salad and a very nice bowl of miso soup, which proves to be surprisingly refreshing given the heat. Next up are little spring rolls and crisped-up gyoza which disappear rapidly as the conversation moves on to the staple subject of people of our age: who has been diagnosed with what. Our displays of medical terminology are happily interrupted by the arrival of the main event in the form of a man who had been a waiter earlier when we arrived, but was now a black-clad barbecue ninja, armed with a glistening pair of razor sharp paint-scrapers, and a dishcloth. There is a lot of clanging of the paint-scrapers, and the odd, slightly terrifying ball of flames, as he prepares the cooking surface. Chicken breasts and prawns are cooked quickly and skilfully, the cleaning and preparation of the prawns in particular, is a master-class in paint-scraper prowess. Happily, this protein-rich part of the meal is delivered to our plates in a conventional manner. Next up is the beef, which is a tasty but relatively uneventful precursor to the (… drum-roll) eggs. This is where our host puts the P in play and the Fs in flying-food. There is a demonstration of egg balancing, an opportunity to catch raw eggs in bowls – or on your shirt if you prefer. Then there is the ever-popular omelette-machine-gun event, complete with reverse fire to surprise the unwary audience. At some stage during this all-action section there was a bit of fried rice cooking too. The uneventful dessert (ice-cream with raspberry topping) was a welcome relief.
Ichioku doesn’t seem to be thriving. There weren’t many punters for a Friday night, just two other groups beside ours. I suspect that the market for flying food circus is either limited or cyclical. I don’t think people are lining up to get egg all over themselves more than once. If you do feel like a bit of play with food, it is worth noting that Ichioku is BYO and the nearest bottle shop is a fair hike in either direction, so it’s best to stock up on the way to the restaurant.
Next up is an apparently un-named café.