Tetsuya Wakuda wants a drink. A good drink in a good bar. He's having such a tough time finding a bar in Sydney that fits the bill - and is open in the small hours when he finishes work - that he's thinking of opening one of his own. But before you leap from your seat, it's best you know that 'Tetsuya's Bar' (or the Wakuda Arms, or the Soy and Mirin, if you will) is, for now, merely a sparkle in Australia's most-celebrated chef's eye. What we can give you in the meantime, though, is a bit of insight into what Wakuda likes in a drink and a few tastes to try for yourself.
It's a little-known fact that, after cooking and fishing, cocktails are one of Wakuda's main passions. It wasn't until he moved to Australia and started mixing with the chef community, though, that his interest was piqued. "It was going to the States 15 years ago or more when I started to try cocktails and thought, 'Gee, this is nice'," he says. "And then it was going to Japan and being taken, over the past 10 years, say, to those top-level bars that really got me interested. The Japanese cocktail is something you must experience."
It's the attention to detail that sets Japanese cocktails apart, says Wakuda. The ice, for example. Ice is delivered to the better Tokyo bars in large blocks, but if they're not cut right the bars will send them back, as chefs might do with inferior produce. "They break the good ice down into little blocks, wash them and then put them back in the freezer to 'tighten it up', as they say," he explains. "It means the ice melts much slower, and it's perfectly clear. These guys can see the grain in the ice. That's how they cut it. Watching them work is amazing."
While he has a lot of time for Tokyo haunts such as Ginza's Star Bar, Roppongi's Baccarat-owned B bar, as well as the likes of the bar attached to Alain Ducasse's restaurant at Paris's Hotel Plaza Athénée, one of his favourite drinking holes is a lot closer to home: the bar at Tetsuya's. Although it's for guests of the restaurant only, it still does cocktails. "Mostly people order apéritifs and Champagne," Wakuda says, "but the Teaser is popular - it's got a light style, with the apple juice and so on, and the Ying Sling, with the lychees and Campari, is up there."
Wakuda works with his bartenders to put the drinks together. "I'll say I like the tastes of amaretto and pineapple, perhaps, and I'll ask what they can do with that," he says. "It's a nice collaboration. You see a good chef when the produce comes in, and they're excited and already thinking of what they can do with it. The guys are exactly like that in the bar."
We asked Wakuda to share some of his favourites, matched with some great snacking suggestions, and we think you'll enjoy the results. As he says, "We don't have the throw-the-bottle-in-the-air stuff; we're more interested in slowly and quietly making the drink well, so that when you get it, you think, ah, beautiful."
Tetsuya Wakuda on his dream Sydney bar "I really want a bar. A good cocktail bar. Maybe I'll bring somebody over from Tokyo one day. Who knows? I just want somewhere really simple, with a personal approach. I'd like a quiet atmosphere. I like the Observatory Hotel bar here in Sydney - not for the décor, but because the atmosphere is warm without being noisy. I want to be able to talk, and that's very hard to find.
"We don't have a bar like that here that's open late. In Paris, I normally go to the bar inside the Plaza Athénée attached to Alain Ducasse's restaurant. Even their mixed drinks are good. Something simple there, like a whisky sour, they always get the proper mix, and the right amount of ice. They get it right.
"I like the very light aperitif-style of cocktail, and then perhaps at the end of the night something slightly sweet to finish. A liquid dessert, in a sense.
"Campari, grapefruit and a tiny amount of tonic water with crushed ice. In a small glass on a hot day, we've served this as part of the menu in the restaurant, and it has been quite successful. It's a small, simple thing, but I like the slight bitterness to it. That's the sort of cocktail I like.
"Henri Krug visited us 10 years ago and he asked us to make aperitifs with his Cognac, so we crushed ice and mixed Cognac with a very small amount of tonic water. That quinine taste with XO Cognac is a very nice effect.
"Each cocktail needs to be served in a proper glass with proper accessories - stirrers, whatever. In food we look for all sorts of plates and bowls, and I think cocktails should be no different.
"We talk here about using a certain shape of Riedel glass for a particular wine. A lot of the good cocktail bars in Tokyo do the same thing with cocktails and use very good quality glassware with all their drinks. It makes sense. The Baccarat's B Bar is of very good quality. That stuff is very hard to get here, of course, and every time someone dropped a glass it'd cost you $400.
"I'd also like very nice nibbles. Not just peanuts, but not complicated things. When you sit down, out comes a few slices of jamón Ibérico, or whatever it may be. Like tapas, but very sophisticated and up-market. Beautiful tiny sandwiches, crusts off, things like that. That's something we lack here.
"Ideally, I like somewhere that can pour me a good glass of wine, but also has a full cocktail bar with it. You're not going to have dozens of them, so even if they're a little bit expensive, it doesn't matter, so long as they're made well."
Tetsuya's, 529 Kent St, Sydney, (02) 9267 2900, www.tetsuyas.com.