Dec 6, 2020 Restaurants
There comes a point towards the tail-end of a meal at Masu’s new Japanese Yum Cha where you’re absolutely stuffed to the gills, happily satisfied on sashimi, yakitori, and flutes of Perrier-Jouët champagne. You swear, profusely, that you’re done. But then the trolley rolls around again, heaving with saucers of tasty bites, and you think: one more?
Sunday morning brunches at Masu look a little different now, with chef/restaurateur Nic Watt introducing a brand-new concept to Auckland (and maybe the world) by combining the fun interactive nature of yum cha with Japanese cuisine. “You Google Japanese yum cha and tell me there’s someone else on this globe that’s doing it,” Watt jokes.
The concept is simple, familiar to those already accustomed to yum cha, leaning into the tradition and theatrics of the trolley. Here, though, the trolley is cold, the food presented kaiten-sushi-style on small plates, so you can start the meal off with slices of tuna, kingfish and salmon. The day we went, our table was populated quickly with the above, plus maki rolls of soft-shell crab and crispy prawn – deep-fried, saltiness that counteracts nicely with the freshness of raw fish.
Soon after that, you’ll want to start ordering hot dishes from the kitchen. Some of the offerings on the menu are signatures from Masu’s normal dining service, but a fair few are unique to yum cha, such as family-style sharing plates of yakisoba, okonomiyaki and curry udon that work well with the format. That was deliberate, on Watt’s part. “It’s so much more convivial to have food going down the table,” he says. Understandably, this type of eating is best in large groups.
Also notable are the black-cod croquettes, fried crisp on the outside but with soft and buttery insides. Our favourites, though, came from the “Robata Grill” section of the menu, especially the new izakaya-style additions like chicken-skin yakitori, which were deliciously smoky, and the classic Masu eggplant with gingery miso, decadent and moreish.
It’s a slick, efficient operation: dishes from the trolley get explained to you at the table, making service feel personal and considered, plus you can watch the chefs work at their stations in the open kitchen, which only adds to the experience.
And it is an experience. Apart from the food, the dining room is buzzing with the busyness of everything that’s going on, which has always been one of the appeals of a regular yum cha outing. Even the trolley, created specifically for Masu’s yum cha, is a fun point-of-difference. “We’ve got two custom-made trolleys, because we couldn’t find what we wanted,” Watt says. “I chopped down four girls bikes to make these.”
To end the meal, a colourful dessert trolley eventually found its way to our table. It had rows of neat matcha crepe cakes, sandwiched with yuzu cream; mugs of fruity chawanmushi; and layers of shiro miso pavolva dotted with berries. We say take one of each, but if you have to choose… pavlova, all the way.
This article was created in partnership with Masu.