As we settle into a pre-dinner cocktail in the adjoining Cicada Bar, we overhear a fellow diner wondering how on earth he's going to get through 13 courses in the one sitting at Mu Omakase tonight.
Sure, the current robatayaki menu looks imposing, but knowing you're in the safe hands of the Chairman Group should put your mind at ease. If there's one hospitality group in Canberra that's been getting things right for decades now, it's Josiah Li's team.
Omakase translates as "I'll leave it up to you", which has been my favourite way of eating out for years now. When many restaurants moved to set menus after lockdown I was one diner who didn't complain. I love not having to make decisions, I love putting my trust in the team in the kitchen, I love the chance to taste a myriad of things I probably never would have ordered myself.
Floor manager Jasmine Choi explains how the night will work. We're a little disappointed we're not in the actual restaurant space as booked. Here, all 12 diners are seated around a wooden bar where you can watch the chefs prepare dishes in front of you. I like the idea of communal dining but tonight there's some issues with the air conditioning so we're all in the dining space in the Cicada Bar. It's a versatile space, with sections on different levels, some able to be curtained off and hidden away. It's a quiet Tuesday night so we don't complain as it makes more sense as Choi works the floor by herself, with efficiency and style. Chef Chuck Yu makes an appearance on the floor too throughout the night, and he's happy to talk you through dishes and technique. There's been something communal about it anyway which has added to the whole experience in a wonderful way.
It's hard, here, to decide how best to continue this review. It would be lazy in some way to give a blow-by-blow description of each plate. That would do the whole experience a disservice. The menu is more than individual plates, more a journey, using that overused word, through technique and quality produce. Each plate is a surprise, each plate has something to treasure, something to excite. Let me talk about a few favourites perhaps.
To start, there's a chrysanthemum tea soup, with dashi. It cleanses the palette and warms up the taste buds at the same time, both refreshing and flavourful. We both comment it would be the perfect starter to every meal. In many ways, it represents what the whole menu is about. Quality produce, where little has been done to it, with a focus on flavour always.
There's a little bowl of chawanmushi, a savoury egg custard of sorts, rich but with a light consistency. It's topped by a few pieces of scampi and delicate slices of morel mushrooms. Again, just a few quality ingredients left to speak for themselves.
Choi has also served us a plate of tsukemono, or pickles, to reset our palates as needed. There's a selection of tomatoes, radish and capsicum and she keeps them topped up throughout the night. They are a welcome touch after the richer dishes such as the blue-fin otoro, which is a cut from the fattiest part of the tuna. Here it's served on top of a sous-vide egg yolk atop a slice of nori.
There are only two dishes on the menu not featuring seafood. One is a duck breast udon, where Choi pours the lapsang tea broth into the bowl at the table. It's one of the favourites of the night. A little theatre with well-cooked duck and tender noodles.
The other is a wagyu dish, it too is delicious, but oddly outshone by the accompanying aged, plum-cured chilled tomatoes, which burst in your mouth, zesty and fruity at the same time.
Highlights from other dishes include a buttery corn puree under a tender scallop; a tosazu broth featuring yuzu kosho, a citrusy-chilli-salty condiment, that has us drinking out of the bowl once the kingfish is eaten; confit lobster in a bonito hollandaise; some spanner crab rice where tiny sakura dried prawns provide a little texture.
My favourite dish of the night is the Patagonian toothfish on a bed of sweet, white saikyo miso and a housemade hazelnut miso which gives the whole dish a depth of flavour on many different levels. The fish itself is perfectly cooked, a thick, generous piece with a crispy skin from the grill. Don't let a drop of the miso remain on the plate.
Finishing any meal on a dessert is always nice. Here it's a little dish of amaretto miso ice cream served on top of some genmai, which are little bubbles of roasted popped brown rice. Crunchy and nutty, there's something rather nostalgic about them.
While the focus has been on the food tonight, the drinks menu is substantial. There's a great selection of sake, alongside wine and beers, cocktails back at the Cicada Bar too if you want to kick on after dinner.
Mu Omakase was recently awarded its first hat in the Good Food Guide Awards and rightly so. It might be easy to balk at $165pp - which is paid when you book, drinks are paid for on the right - but it kind of works out to $12 a plate. And when each plate is as close to perfection as these ones are, it's extremely good value. I don't know why it's taken us so long to get there.
Address: 1 Constitution Place, Canberra
Hours: Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday. One 7pm sitting, Tuesday to Thursday. 6pm and 8pm sittings Friday to Saturday
Chef: Chuck Yu
Dietary: Mention when booking
Noise: Not a problem
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.