The first Yayoi to launch outside of Asia swung open its doors on Bridge Street in June 2014, recently undergoing a refurbishment and reopening in September as Yayoi Garden. During the refurb, another Yayoi launched, this time at Galeries, as a 67-seater where diners order from iPads.
The restaurants are owned by one of Japan’s largest foodservice operators, Plenus Aust, which serves more than 300 million meals in Japan alone through its Yayoi-Ken and Hotto Motto restaurants.
We talk to Takeshi Tabuchi, CEO of Plenus Aust about the business' decision to launch in Australia and its steadfast commitment to traditional Japanese cuisine.
WHY DID YAYOI DECIDE TO EXPAND INTO AUSTRALIA?
Australia was the first Western (culture) country for us to open Yayoi. It seems to us that the Australian market is open to different cultures and cuisines. Sushi is almost an Australian food these days; it is part of the lifestyle. Also, the Australian restaurant scene is very sophisticated, with a great variety and great quality of food on offer.
We are different from other Japanese competitors in terms of authenticity.
We are from Japan, people in Japan eat at one of our restaurants almost every day. We thought the Australian market would understand and recognise this authenticity and know they are enjoying real and honest Japanese cuisine.
WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE AUSTRALIAN RESTAURANT SCENE?
The variety of food, its authenticity and a clear sophistication. Thai, Vietnamese, Greek and Italian – there are so many different kinds of restaurants with a real quality about the cuisine. What impressed us was that the Australian market appreciates and enjoys authenticity. The dining experience in Australia is a mix of food, service and the atmosphere, and it appears that all three ingredients are key to success.
WHAT ARE THE KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE DINING SCENE IN AUSTRALIA AND THAT OF JAPAN?
Australia offers a more diverse dining experience. Japan is still more traditional in its offering. Customer service in Australia is friendlier, whilst service in Japan focuses more on politeness. What we aim to do is to bring the best of both styles of service to our tables in Australia.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE FOOD OFFERING AT YAYOI AND YAYOI GARDEN?
In Yayoi Garden, we have wide variety of food from fresh seafood to our famous signature Sukiyaki. With our extensive sake list, guests can experience sake pairing too. Yayoi Garden is about enjoying the experience in a group, or even special day or first date. Most of our dishes at Yayoi Garden are for sharing.
Yayoi Galeries is a different offering. We offer our Teishoku, or the set meal dining experience, and is the staple of the Japanese diet. The Teishoku is all about enjoying our well-balanced meals. We also offer some of the super foods including “natto” and “tororo” in Yayoi Galeries.
Our recipes are from our kitchens in Japan, as are many of the base products we use in our preparation – they are our own products. Customers who have dined at Yayoi in Japan, or other parts of Asia and Australia comment on the consistency. Recipes are not tweaked to suit perceived local tastes, ensuring a completely authentic experience for the diner.
In both restaurants, we want our guests to enjoy the true Japanese dining experience, just like they would get in Japan.
YOU HAVE AN EXTENSIVE SAKE OFFERING AT YAYOI. DO YOU THINK AUSTRALIANS ARE WELL EDUCATED ON SAKE?
More and more Australians are now interested in sake. We found it interesting that some people think of sake as a Japanese vodka. In fact, it is more like a wine, not as strong as a spirit and not meant to be consumed in a shot. There is definitely room for improvement and we are happy to help. We hold sake masterclasses from time to time with our sake suppliers.
We’re also excited that some of our sake makers are making the trip to Australia early next year and we are hoping to hold some events while they’re here. If you have any interest or want to know more about sake there’s nothing like talking to the makers.
Australian have an existing strong knowledge and understanding of wine already so we think sake has great potential in the Australian market.
THE RICE YOU HAVE AT YAYOI IS QUITE INNOVATIVE – CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY?
Rice is a key element of the Teishoku. Without rice there is no Teishoku.
Our rice is called Kinme Rice, a delicious, almost sweet grain that retains the health benefits of brown rice with the digestibility of white rice.
Somewhat like coffee, we source our rice from a number of different regions throughout Japan and blend it to create our Kinme rice. We account for over one percent of all of Japan’s rice consumption, so a lot of Japanese love Kinme.
We have a research and development facility dedicated solely to our rice. We take rice very seriously and ensure our product is the best it can be, all year round.
AT YAYOI, DINERS ORDER WITH IPADS. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO INTRODUCE IPADS AT THE RESTAURANT? WHY NOT AT YAYOI GARDEN?
The Galeries is a busy destination, and our customers demand speed and convenience. Our menu offers pictures of the dishes, so it’s not hard for customers to order by themselves.
At Yayoi Garden, we also offer our menu with pictures. Our offering at Garden however is more complex and the menu changes regularly. We like to talk to our diners about our sake offering, how you pick sake and how to pair it with textures and flavours you like.
Yayoi at the Galeries and Yayoi Garden are different concepts, and we feel the iPad model suits the Galeries well.
DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER PLANS FOR EXPANSION IN AUSTRALIA?
Certainly yes. Although our main focus right now is Sydney.