The ancient pairing of feng and shui has always played a central role in Chinese life. It dictates how we arrange our furniture, choose our home, and even position our graves. In sum, it is an all-encompassing life philosophy that –if you’re an adherent – decides your levels of Qi, or life-force. Accordingly, it’s an easy-to-understand concept that should not be toyed with, which is unfortunately exactly what the newly opened Kazu (the restaurant’s name comes from the amalgamation of the Japanese words ‘kaze’ and ‘mizu’, meaning ‘wind’ and ‘water’) has chosen to do with robatayaki.
Occupying the top two floors of the Soho Square building (which seems to have had a revolving tenancy policy since opening), there are two parts to the establishment: the third floor robatayaki, and a fourth floor bar with semi-open terrace. Commonly abbreviated to just robata, ‘robatayaki’ is the Japanese art of grilling over an open flame, think of it as oriental-style BBQ. The traditional robata has three main ingredients: a horseshoe-shaped counter set around an open hearth, simply prepared food, and long metal skewers on which to cook it. On these criteria, Kazu scores one out of three – the counter runs parallel to the fire, and is separated from customers by a glass window, while simple is perhaps not the word for the food – plain would be a more apt description. However, there are most definitely skewers.
We began with an order of Californian maki ($80): an ‘inside-out’ sushi roll filled with cucumber, avocado and crab. Now, we’d describe the taste to you, but we honestly can’t remember – it was that forgettable. The next course was a miniscule helping of bland chilled tofu ($40), which we almost mistook for a complimentary appetiser. But, we reminded ourselves, this is a robata, therefore the chef’s probably focusing all his attention on the grill, not these side distractions.
Hence, it was time for a triple skewered whammy of yakitori ($45), jumbo prawn ($75) and beef skewer ($60). With an inability to see the flaming process from our seat (despite being the only patrons, we had been seated on the furthest table from the grill), it was with lip-smacking anticipation (and increasing hunger) that we awaited the next course. They duly arrived in a convoy of platters, which, rapidly deskewered, we dove into. One after the other, we were disappointed by dull, flavourless meat that not even the lightly sweet marinade could save: three for nothing – Kazu.
Thank goodness, then, we’d ordered the asparagus ($50). Barbequed and coated in a light drizzle of sweet sauce, it had what all preceding dishes had lacked – taste. But honestly, how does one mess up asparagus? Still famished, we were compelled to order a serving of Fu Yong Somen ($80), eel omelette cooked over somen noodles, which sated our hunger, if not our palette.
Feeling the need for something (anything) that we could write about without feeling disappointment, we summoned the waiter and sombrely asked for the banana tempura. At $90 it felt like an extravagance, but surely fried fruit coated in cinnamon and honey couldn’t be bland? The answer is: it wasn’t. The disappointment was: it tried too hard. Overly saccharine, we knocked back the last of our sh????ch???? ($88) and requested the bill, which came to a mind-bogglingly overpriced $669.
Financially shaken, but gluttons for punishment, we felt compelled to round off our meal with a visit to the fourth floor bar – we’ve always found a cold bottle of Asahi ($51) helps us forget. Our impression? The partly-covered space is an excellent place to wind up the evening, people watch, and generally soak up the night sounds of NoHo – who would’ve thought that a meal so bad could lead to a drink so good?
3-4/F Soho Square, 21 Lyndhurst Tce, Central, 2543 0505. Meal for two: around $650. Sun-Thu 11.30am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11.30am-late.