The passage of the Victorian seasons is captured skilfully in plate after delicious plate at this fabulous Japanese restaurant. If you ever needed an excuse to visit Daylesford, dinner at Kadota is it.
Location: 1 Camp St, Daylesford, VIC 3460 Ph: (03) 5348 1218
When a food-loving friend tells you that they had ‘probably the best Japanese meal’ they’d ever eaten at Kadota Restaurant in Daylesford, you make sure that you book a table there the next time you’re in Spa Country. Especially when said friend has actually been to Japan.
Update: We are pleased to share that the talented team at Kadota have been awarded 2 Hats in The Age Good Food Guide Awards 2023. Well deserved!
Daylesford restaurants come in all shapes and sizes and offer fare to suit every budget and a range of cuisines and tastes. From pizzas and toasted focaccia through to fine French, sunny Mediterranean and refined Modern Australian in stunning surrounds, an eatery has to be really noteworthy to stand out from the crowd.
Happily, Kadota Restaurant shines bright even amongst the most exulted company. It is run by a husband and wife team – Aaron Schembri from Daylesford and Risa Kadota of Okayama – who met whilst working in fine dining in Japan. Named for Risa’s family, Kadota is a perfect marriage of Japanese flavours and techniques and local produce.
At the core of Kadota is the very Japanese concept of Omotenashi, which means ‘honest service and honest food’. It sounds so simple, yet very few restaurants manage to truly achieve it. And certainly not with the grace that the team at Kadota do.
At Kadota Restaurant, the food flowing over the pass alters with the seasons. Our visit coincided with the “Aki” 2022 set menu.
A set menu is the only option at Kadota and by the time you hit the 4th course, you’ll be very glad that’s the case. The meal develops and builds as you move from delicate dish to delicate dish. To interfere with the order of courses would spoil the joy of putting yourself in the hands of a kitchen that truly understands how various flavours and textures work together.
We opened with Osuimono. The lightest of broths, fragrant with Shungiku, Celery, Wakame & Shitake Oil. So clear, so gentle and so delicious.
Our hand-made bowls drained, we moved on to Sashimi. Plump, shower-fresh pieces of fish arranged on a bed of crushed ice. The accompanying Freshly Grated Tasmanian Wasabi released pure, clean heat into our nasal passages and reminded me how much I love the thrill of a wasabi-rush.
A pearly, opaque-centred Hokkaido Scallop sang with the addition of Lemon Chutney, Wasabi Oil and the tender crunch of just-pickled Cucumber. However, the real stroke of genius was the Scallop Crackling. What part of the scallop it came from, I’ve no idea, but what it gave in terms of both texture and flavour was brilliant.
Lastly, came a NZ Clam, wafer-thin strips of Victorian Calamari, Tomato, Avruga & Konbu. The giving flesh of the calamari and slight bounce to the clam combined perfectly with the pop of fish eggs and sweetness of tomato.
The Sashimi Course over, we moved on from delicate seafood carrying the breath of the sea and headed into richer waters with a cracking Murray Cod dish.
A succulent medallion of barely cooked (and so expertly cooked) Murray Cod sat on Yuzu Braised Fennel with Daikon & Whipped Cod Roe. Our waitress then completed it with a pale lemon-yellow sauce that managed to be creamy, light and perfumed all at once. And boy did it look gorgeous! I may have found a new contender for my Death Row Last Meal.
After the glory of the Murray Cod we were presented with a bowl Akita-Komachi Rice. This is considered a premium rice in Japan – more than worthy of its starring role on a menu such as this one. It came with a selection of condiments, allowing us to augment its subtle flavour as we wished. In a seperate dish sat a fat, silky Dumpling, dense with Free Range Pork.
Serving the rice like this, where it is clearly held in reverence, made the act of eating such a simple staple a contemplative experience.
Our final main course was Chicken. A moist, burnished-skinned chunk of chook matched with nutty Amaranth, silky Jerusalem Artichoke puree and Hazelnut, ringing a Truffled Yolk. All these elements were pulled together by a luscious, sticky, umami-rich jus. If I could have picked my plate up and licked it, I would have.
And so we came to the last plate. Deceptively titled Pumpkin, it proved – like so many dishes at Kadota Restaurant – to be so much more.
Discs of Cardamom Poached Pumpkin, Mugi-Cha ice cream, Pickled Prune, Nuts & Meringue. I’m generally not a fan of Japanese dessert, however this one was delicious.
A quick note for the ever-famished.
If you feel that this wouldn’t be sufficient for quell your hunger, never fear. There are a number of ‘Extras’ that you can add to supplement your meal. These include tempting morsels such as Scallops and/or Oysters. There is even a Sher Wagyu MS9+ option that can be introduced as a main.
When we dined, we ate the ‘Classic Menu’ ($110pp). However, the kitchen also offers a Luxury Menu ($170pp) and a dedicated Vegetarian Menu ($110pp).
The Wine list leans towards local drops, though we love that a 3 Japanese vinos have made the journey. Pleasingly, the menu also places the bottles that are available by the glass at the start.
However, the real stars of the drinks section are the sakes.
In fact, dinner comes with the option of Sake Pairing at $60pp. If you like sake, I urge you to try it. Not only did the sakes compliment the food, but hearing about their provenance and flavour profile from the wait staff really elevated the whole dining experience.
Traditional Japanese aesthetics seem so simple, yet are incredibly hard to achieve. Happily, Kadota Restaurant manages to capture that much-coveted, but difficult to create, sense of harmony with ease.
The result is that a zen-like quality pervades the air of the Kadota dining room just as much as it does the food.
The restaurant space is uncluttered with bare wooden tables and chairs. It’s a place of natural, muted tones. There’s a dark feature wall which, on closer inspection, is made of burnt wood. Apparently, it’s local timber which has been charred using the Japanese Yakisugi method. It’s a striking piece of interior design and brings warmth to the room.
The light fittings are equally unusual. Cables drape the ceiling, their globes defused by organic, pottery shades. They reminded me of clumps of coral.
This is a space more suited to intimate couples’ dinners, or small groups, rather than big, rowdy get togethers.
Finally, I have to talk about the service at Kadota Restaurant.
It was sublime.
Each dish was presented with knowledge and care. We were fortunate to have Risa pour us a number of our sakes and her enthusiasm for, and expertise about, each bottle was truly engaging. Chef Aaron also made a visit to the tables in the dining room to serve a course – despite being flat-out in an under-manned kitchen.
And this is a major point. When we visited Kadota Restaurant, they were desperately short of staff. Well, you never would have known.
Kadota Restaurant fully deserves all the accolades and awards that have been heaped on it since it opened.
It offers a genuinely authentic Japanese dining experience that truly embraces the principles of Omotenashi.
If you crave clean, perfectly-balanced Japanese food, prepared and served with respect for the beauty of the produce, make the trip to Daylesford.
Since writing this, Kadota Restaurant has gained another prize – Best Japanese and position No.25 – in the Herald Sun’s 100 Most Delicious Restaurants in Victoria.