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Never heard of Shimane? Not to worry - Yu Sasaki has transplanted much of it into his Sydney restaurant. Take a seat here and you'll discover details that provide links to the chef's family and their way of life in the small prefecture north of Hiroshima. "It's considered a small Kyoto," says Sasaki, adding that "it has one of the biggest tea cultures that remain in daily life".
The sencha tea comes from a farm owned by a friend of Sasaki's father. It's custom-blended with fragrant yuzu, sakura and ginger picked in the region. The restaurant's aesthetics are also anything but generic: the subtle, hay-textured washi paper on the walls was made by a family acquaintance, and his father spent six months carefully carving the restaurant's 300 pieces of cutlery and 40 wooden trays out of local black persimmon wood, which has natural marks resembling calligraphy brushstrokes. Sasaki and his architect cousin Natsumi Yawata oversaw their design because his father couldn't be trusted, says Sasaki. "He doesn't have good taste," he says with a laugh.
Sasaki didn't hold back on cost. "The plates and pottery - I spent close to $25,000," he says. "For a small restaurant, it's a lot." The teapots alone came from four different artisan workshops. A striking example from the Sodeshi pottery studio has an especially long handle, like an elephant's trunk, and is splashed with marks symbolising bamboo leaves and the sun. Sasaki shipped carefully wrapped the objects from Japan, praying none would break in transit. The final shipment - which took two months - was nerve-wracking, but the lot, including one-of-a-kind restaurant tables made by his father's woodwork teacher, arrived unscathed.
The iron candleholder and coat hooks in the restaurant were forged by blacksmith Kaji Kobo Hiromitsu. The studio, which once produced samurai swords, dates back to the 1830s, and uses a traditional method with foot-powered bellows.
Sasaki also made a stop at Sodeshi, which has supplied his other Sydney venue, Cre Asion, with homewares since 2013. "The pottery around my hometown is a mixture of Western influence combined with the Japanese tradition," he says, pointing out that British potter Bernard Howell Leach has taught in the area, as has Sori Yanagi (creator of the Butterfly stool).
"The restaurant is a mixture of different things. Every item we use has a story itself, which is something we should tell people," he says. "That's one of the reasons I started up this restaurant. We should tell the story in every single item."
Sasaki, 102/21 Alberta St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 8068 9774, sasaki.com.au. Open Mon-Sat 5.30pm-10pm.
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