The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Monday, 12 March 2007

Flatt's Restaurant

Flatt's by the Sea is a fantastic little place owned by Ben Flatt, a chef from Sydney, and his Japanese wife Chikako who speaks fluent English. Apart from running the bakery and cafe, they also run a little minshuku (Japanese-style inn) and restaurant, serving only three groups of diners each night and reservations are very important. Restricting the number of dinner guests ensures an intimate atmosphere, and allows Ben and Chikako to give a personal attention to each guests in terms of cooking and serving.

Ben is truly passionate about food, and it shows through his creations. Most of the ingredients for the meal have been hand-picked and hand-prepared by the family, and the dinner course showcases the local specialties. Chikako's parents run a mminshuku nearby and they are real foodies too. According to Ben, his mother-in-law has a food calendar in her mind, and have a date to harvest each type of food at their prime. And if they weren't at their prime, she'd trial another date the following year until she got the date right). That is the epitome of labour of love.

I often buy their baked goods, and we've eaten lunch here before so we know that dinner would be good. We didn't realise just how good it was. Foodies from all over Japan visit this tiny place to sample Ben's cooking, and we are lucky that this place is literally on our doorstep. Tetsuya Wakuda of the world famous and critically acclaimed Tetsuya's in Sydney, has even dined at Flatt's and gave his approval over the food (I wonder if Ben was crazy nervous cooking for this famous chef).

That Saturday happened to be Hina Matsuri (Girls' Festival), and households with daughters will often display a doll showcase. Inside Flatt's, there was a beautiful doll display, and we had a cultural discussion with Chikako about the Girls' Festival and how it is celebrated.

The first course

The meal began with Creamy Potato Soup with Shirako. "Shirako" literally means 'white children', and is the soft roe (more correctly, the sperm) of a fish. It sounds gross, but the shirako complemented the potato soup very well, lending a creamy texture and eggy taste to the soup. The soup was seasoned with the locally-produced ishiri which is a Noto fish sauce made with iwashi (sardines). The soup was served in beautiful Wajima lacquerware, which was a nice touch to complement our visit to the Wajima Lacquerware Centre earlier in the day.

Snails and foccacia

We're only onto the second course, and I can imagine some of you squirming in your seats. First fish sperm, then snails? These Garlic Sazae (sea snails) were prepared French-style, with a delicious homemade sweet mustard sauce. The snails were nicely prepared, not too greasy and not too chewy. And the sweet mustard sauce was so yummy, that I sopped it all up with the freshly baked foccacia bread that was served with the snails.

Handmade Tagliorini

Can you believe that we still have not yet arrived at the main course? And I was getting quite full already! We were served some beautiful creamy Squid Tagliarini complete with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and some nori (toasted seaweed) flakes. The pasta handmade on the day by Ben himself, and freshly made pasta is always good. The squids were done just right - not overcooked and not chewy. The pasta sauce was a little too rich and creamy for my taste (especially when I was already getting full), but Rob thought it was delicious and was more than happy to finish off my plate.

The star of the meal

For the main course, we were presented with Grilled Madai (sea bream). The fish was so nicely done that the flesh literally melted in my mouth. A brief research on the internet reveals that madai is also known in Japan as the king of fish. So Ben did well by choosing madai to feature as the main star of the meal. The sauce was a lovely light sauce which allowed the taste and texture of the fish to shine through. (It never fail to break my heart whenever chefs drown fish in heavy sauce or batter). The fish was "done to perfection" (Rob's words). The side dish of salad was dressed with some homemade persimmon vinegar, which did not have a harsh taste and was pleasant to the palate.

Towards the end

Chikako came out to enquire whether we still had room for pizza. Chris and I were done, but Rob was keen to have the pizza (and why not, since it would not cost any extra). The pizza, also handmade, was simply topped with cheese, tomatoes and some olive bits. What can I say? It fell victim to Rob's stomach.


Dessert was White Chocolate Passionfruit slice. It had a chocolate base and a mousse-like creamy filling with a passionfruit centre. It was lovely, but was a little too milky for my liking. Needless to say, Rob was more than happy to finish off the remainder of my dessert.

It was a fantastic meal and for only 4000yen (~AU$40) per person (it's an additional 4500yen to stay overnight at the minshuku, which also includes a delicious and filling Japanese-style breakfast). The menu changes seasonally to use only the best ingredients in each season and our only regret is not coming here earlier to sample the summer and autumn menu. We will definitely come here again.

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