It took me three years to realise that the rice is more important than the fish." Our white-jacketed sushi chef places another perfectly formed piece of nigiri sushi before me. He's been studying how to perform this alchemy since 2013, regularly putting in 16-hour days, and has picked up a trick or two. His satisfaction is palpable as we admire the hapuka topping, a dab of fiery chartreuse yuzukosho adding vibrancy to its lightly scored flesh.
I'm sitting at Komeyui's sleek timber counter, midway through a $150 omakase (chef's choice) menu. It's brightly lit, in contrast to the moodier dining room where well-spaced round tables are arrayed beneath a charcoal-hued ceiling. It's part of the ceremony of omakase to watch the chefs' hand movements, who look like they're communing in secret sign language, as they deftly form rice balls for each nigiri.
Our menu explains the meaning behind Komeyui's name. "Kome" means rice and "yui" means knot, or "to bring something together". Just behind the sushi counter, a traditional hagama rice cooker with a timber lid sits in view. This hagama is digitally timed, unlike the centuries-old original. The resulting grains, Yumepirika rice imported from Hokkaido, are plump, well-seasoned, almost sweet, holding magically together in all 10 pieces of nigiri and yet never feeling overly compacted.
The omakase starts with an oyster "boat", an OTT treat of a single Smoky Bay oyster topped with a pink curl of raw ama ebi shrimp, fat orange salmon pearls and black caviar.
There are several ways to tackle the menu. A five-course "chef signature" menu offers foie gras chawanmushi steamed custard and char-grilled sirloin as well as nigiri and sashimi, while à la carte options cover the gamut from sushi rolls to gyoza.
On a Sunday night this restrained yet sharply detailed room, with its serene white orchid display and garden glimpses, is busy. Black-clad waitstaff are plentiful, smiley and attentive. My Shirataki Junmai sake is poured into a massive wine glass – the better to enjoy its aroma – and served cold to accompany the starting sashimi.
It's a pretty straight bat selection of four jewel-fresh Australian species, white or goldband snapper, some silver skin still attached, yellowfin tuna, Tasmanian salmon and kingfish from South Australia. The pieces arrive on a hand-painted ceramic bowl, garnished with a sliver of lime, a frilly thatch of green tosaka seaweed and a watermelon radish slice, the only other adornment is a splodge of wasabi.
Ten pieces of nigiri follow, delivered the instant they're crafted. Toppings include Crystal Bay prawn, crudo scallops with blobs of torched foie gras, eel, blow-torched soy-brushed salmon belly, toasted sesame-sprinkled tuna shoulder, caviar-topped tuna belly and melt-in-the mouth fatty tuna "scrape" scattered with chives.
A ball of matcha ice-cream acts like an exclamation point, marking the end of the omakase. It's flanked by berries and drizzled in a salty caramel that's Vegemite-laced. It's a perfect illustration of how the fusion of disparate elements is often greater than the sum of the parts, a philosophy that's demonstrated across Komeyui's menu.