There are many in the industry who know about and respect the accomplished career of Chef Darren Templeman, who has worked for the likes of legendary Chefs Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Bruno Loubet. That somewhat brutal era in the competitive Michelin fueled kitchens of London were definitely not for the faint hearted, however those who survived it left with an unbreakable culinary skillset preparing them well for their next career progression. Fortunately times changed, and Chef Templeman moved on opening the French styled Restaurant Atelier in Newtown instantly caught the attention of respected food critic Matthew Evans, before moving to Glebe. For those who knew, it was a Francophile’s delight, but glimmers of a transition, almost a restlessness, could be seen in some of the dishes that broke away from the traditions.
Later after Atelier closed, the Chef’s ability to command big brigades and restaurants back in London didn’t go unnoticed by the bigger players in Sydney, and he was recruited to head up O Bar and Dining, Infinity, and most recently Botswana Butchery. However, it was really the quality stagiaire spent with Michelin restaurant accredited Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa that sparked a culinary epiphany towards a more Japanese styled cuisine. After slowly developing and refining that transition, the recent opening of Izy Aki presented the perfect opportunity to showcase that evolution.
The beautiful heritage bones of the former Sailor’s Thai site in The Rocks has been thoughtfully reconfigured to provide an intimate room that sets the scene for the $160 omakase style menu which features a hitlist of premium ingredients sourced daily for the exceptional bespoke experience that is provided. The line between style and substance is danced masterfully. Front of House is run by the charming Frenchman Aurelien Jeffredo, whose personality and exceptional bar skills shine, whilst Chef Templeman finishes your dishes at the sought after counter seating which accommodates ten. The boutique beverage list is kept agile enough to move with the omakase offerings, whilst the supporting kitchen is run by two of Sydney’s emerging talents, so the professional team of four is as independent as it gets! With Spring now upon us, the newly opened walk-up Verandah space will offer its own menu and cocktail list.
The omakase menu changes daily, so trying to capture one point in time does not properly do it justice, however the now signature sublime chawanmushi with king crab, caviar and ginger dashi, served very specifically at room temperature, is an absolute standout. It’s the Chefs respectful take and acknowledgment of the immense influence working with Chef Narisawa had on him. It is a memorable symphony of nuanced textures and flavours that simply leaves you speechless at how an expat Englishman has so cleverly interpreted this revered Japanese staple at the very highest level. Perhaps, it speaks poetically of how food transcends and overcomes all stereotypes and boundaries.
Just when you think you have recovered from that blissful moment, a playful Yakisoba style cacio e pepe with lashings of seductive Tasmanian truffle takes one’s breath immediately away, straight from left field! It is utterly divine, and the closest definition of more-ish that can be found. The evolving menu is full of surprises, like the attention grabbing starter of wakame seasoned English crumpet with smoked eel, black garlic and trout roe, or Chef Daseul Bonnie’s generational family recipe of stunning white kimchi. It accompanies the premium wagyu selection astutely grilled on the hibachi and seasoned on point, served with Japanese wasabi and ponzu marinated tomatoes. Speaking of which, the wagyu tongue, is an absolute revelation – inspired by the Chefs recent visit to a dedicated tongue restaurant in Japan.
It would be remiss not to mention that the heavenly light Hokkiado cheesecake soufflé is a lovely way to finish the omakase journey. Four dedicated individuals have poured their hearts and soul into Izi Aki, and it shows. This is accompanied by technical execution at the highest level, and it deserves serious attention. The thoughtful sourcing of produce and depth of preparation behind every course is evident, as are the detailed and well-considered constructs. A dining partner recently referred to it as the most exciting food they had tasted in a very long time, and it is hard not to disagree, when something is as fresh and exciting as Izy Aki is – and let’s be honest we all deserve some excitement after the two lockdowns we endured.
Should you need any more motivation about going, a portion of all profits go into the reforestation of the Daintree, with each panel behind the room length banquette seating in the restaurant representing one hundred thousand new trees, the ultimate target being one million. One panel is already coloured, with nine to go, so you can leave not only immensely satisfied with the food, but also having contributed to the restoration of a treasured and delicate eco system. Now that’s what I call guilt free dining!
By Dane Richards
Cadmans Cottage Stairs, 106B George St, The Rocks NSW 2000
Opening times: Wednesday to Saturday from 6pm
Image credits: Mary-Jane Kanatas