For over thirty years, Yamagen has been a major contender in Japanese dining on the Gold Coast. Established for the opening of Daikyo’s Gold Coast International in 1987, the restaurant was a celebration of the Gold Coast’s flourishing relationship with Japan. An integral part of the city’s first five-star hotel, Gold Coast International heralded a wave of Japanese investment, tourism and goodwill between the nations.
With a top Japanese chef, Satoru Nagashima, brought from Japan to manage the restaurant, Yamagen became our first fine dining Japanese restaurant, its traditional cuisine regarded as innovative by Gold Coast diners.
Along with a retro refurbish by new owners AHL, in 2011 GCI was rebranded the QT Gold Coast.
2017 saw Yamagen’s redesign by internationally renowned designer, Nic Graham bring it vibrant new life with ‘boisterous welcomes, smoking kushiyaki grills and the electric vibe of downtown Toyko’ now open in Surfers Paradise.
“We wanted to keep the name and change the look to pay homage to Yamagen’s heritage and what it’s all about,” Food & Beverage Manager Warren Lindsay tells us.
After crossing QT’s Calypso Terrace, huge doors slide back to reveal the expansive bar, one of three unique spaces (the bar, sushi counter and table-seki). Home to 65 Japanese whiskies including limited editions worth a small fortune, the bar also offers intriguing Japanese-influenced cocktails, Japanese spirits and a long list of craft beers. Using flavours typical of traditional Japan in new ways, it’s the perfect place to begin and end your Yamagen experience.
The bar also brings our introduction to the cultural referencing present throughout both the restaurant and its menu. We have entered a puzzle, with each part of the venue a piece to be placed. The bar is of pivotal importance to this izakaya. Lighting entrapped in fishermen’s nets is our first clue, balanced by a flashy modern bar. In a mix of traditional and modern, we are entering an ‘old school’ izakaya transported into the 21st century, yet essentially bearing the same purpose. With Japanese hospitality and cutting edge food, guests are assured of a good time.
At the bar, we also encounter our first tastes of the menu: Sashimi tacos of salmon and tuna, modern tones achieved through watermelon radish and yuzu avocado in a crispy rice and sesame seed casing. They’re light and irresistible; a great temptation to squander one’s appetite on starters, but there’s much more to come.
Bar snacks are only the first step on Yamagen’s culinary journey, guided by the capable hands of chefs Yoshihiro Yamazaki (20 years at Yamagen), Mitsuo Yoshino (a 27-year Yamagen veteran), Kei Sato and Shintaro Kosugi, led by internationally experienced Head Chef Adam Lane (ex-Kiyomi). Beverage pairings are available throughout the menu, chosen from an international selection.
When we move past the glass-enclosed kushiage station with chefs cooking on the robata grill, we arrive at ‘The Sushi’, an exclusive 15-person L-shaped bar, the second dining area of the restaurant.
Here sushi master Mitsuo Yoshino presents us with sushi and aburi so delicious that we could stay forever: Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare with yuzu avocado, sesame and wakame served on dry ice in a deconstructed presentation ready for us to ‘make-our-own’ assembly; paper thin Hiramasa kingfish with jalapeno and yuzu ponzo laid out in a perfect circle, followed by an aburi tasting platter of salmon, scallop, kingfish and scampi, matched to a Laurent-Perrier cuvée rosé.
Beautifully plated, the dishes are a blend of traditional and modern flavours and presentation, formality mixed with dramatic interactive style dining, matched perfectly with drinks from an excellent wine and cocktail list.
Stemming the flow of omakase is a task we’re up to. Our chopsticks spend little time resting on their pebbles!
Beyond is the third area, a 70-seat dining room or seki, surrounded by graphics giving reference to Japanese pop culture, balanced by a Japanese Zen garden beyond the floor to ceiling glass. The menu path widens to include Crispy tempura bugs, Prawn noodle dumplings and other grilled dishes cooked over binchotan coals: Yakitori chicken, Tsukune (chicken meatballs) Pork belly and Haloumi with smoked honey and bonito, paired with an Antonio Arrez tempranillo. The new menu also features Master Kobe Wagyu MS9+ straight from the kushiyaki grill.
We finish with dessert and plum liqueur, where beauty of taste lies in the unknown. Skip over the Yonuts and Mochi ravioli, the prettiest of the desserts. In the far plainer Miso caramel chocolate fondant and the aptly named unappealing ‘Pebbles’, treasure lies. Intriguing tastes and unusual textures provide surprise and delight.
Much like the Yamagen experience, really.
“Regardless of where you start or finish, Yamagen embodies true Japanese omote-nashi – the art of hospitality. It’s all about exceptional food, an electric atmosphere and an interactive dining experience.”
Follow the path. Sample the pieces. The total picture equates to this: dining at Yamagen is an unrivalled pleasure.
QT Gold Coast, 7 Staghorn Ave, Surfers Paradise Ph: 07 5584 1200
Open: Tues – Sun 5pm to late
NOTE: Good Food Gold Coast dined as a guest of Yamagen. Photo of the bar attributed to Yamagen.