Little did two-time Academy Award-winner Robert De Niro realise that pairing a Japanese chef with a hip crowd and celebrity following would result in 22 restaurants in the Nobu group.
More recently, with his Korean heritage in a New York setting David Chang’s pork buns became a global phenomenon, while Roy Choi’s Kimchi Quesadilla from his Kogi LA food truck speaks three languages. Miami’s first Asian-inspired gastropub, Pubbelly quickly became well-known for its patés, duck and pork rillettes, terrines, sausages, and pickles as it did for its ramen and udon, and dumplings filled with short-rib and corn or pastrami and sauerkraut.
In Australia, celebrity chef Manu Feildel’s Duck In Duck Out pop-up, next to the Surry Hills Hotel, on the border of Sydney’s Chinatown, speaks loudly in an Aussie-Asian accent with European and American influences. Menu items including confit duck legs on milkbun burgers with Asian slaw and duck bao buns alongside duck hot dogs.
“Like any cuisine, French or Indonesian or Thai, you have to learn the classics first,” says chef Phil Davenport who developed the menu with Feidel.
Moving to Asia eight years ago, and working at Bali’s Ku De Ta, opened Davenport’s eyes to a vast array of new ingredients and methods he now uses at both Surry Hills and his new cafe Mentmore and Morley in Rosebery, while he showcases it via an online series The Toque 12.
“If I want to learn Indonesian or Thai, I have to learn their classics first,” he says, “Everyone has had a banh mi (pork roll) with the rustic approach, but you can modernise by using that brioche bun, and the best paté you can find, making it more modern.
“At Duck In Duck Out, with the Quack Daddy we take a Thal classic and turn it into an easy going burger with a nice celeriac remoulade, red onion jam and all of that traditional stuff just packed into a beautiful roll,” he says.
Chase Kojima, from Sokyo at The Star, delivers Japanese fusion in breakfast dishes of Eggs Benedict with streaky American-style bacon, poached egg, edamame, miso hollandaise and ponzu pearls on brioche.
“For me to make anything has to be tasting good and with Japanese components... that’s why I put miso in the hollandaise,” says the US-born chef who lists the Nobu group on his CV as well as Kiyomo at Jupiters on the Gold Coast. “I just thought how can I make even better and maybe a bit richer, like doing it with brioche instead of an English muffin.”
The latest twist for the Japanese chef is burger joint Gojima a few doors down from Sokyo. On the menu is a sushi rice bun stuffed with two Angus beef patties, cheese, pickles and a nori wrapping.
“A lot of people commented that it’s like a Japanese big Mac, which I take as a compliment,” he says.
In Melbourne, kewpie mayo, slaw and coriander give an Asian twist to the Victa, a chicken burger with a difference at Fat Bobs in Moorabbin and Nchry’s Umami Burger in Albert Park offers a wagyu and Angus beef pattie with umami rub on brioche bun.
At Ponsonby Road’s The Blue Breeze Inn, Auckland chef Che Barrington’s nod to his global travels are reflected in dishes such as kingfish carpaccio, nashi pear, smoked beetroot and kimchi sour salts or Hot and Numbing Wild Boar with water chestnut, coriander and soy custard.
Today Asian mash-ups have filtered down to everywhere from pubs and clubs to pop-ups, from Sydney Icebergs chef Monty Koludrovic who has introduced sandwiches onto the menu at The Dolphin Hotel, with egg salad, chive sprouts and Kewpie mayo on white loaf are feature while hole-in-the-wall Green Room Burger Bar in Margaret River, offers a sticky pork belly burger with Asian slaw and lime aioli.
And when you consider Australia’s nearest neighbour, Southeast Asia, comprises 11 countries, we barely scratch the surface of the adopted flavours we can choose from.