Dining at Wafu is a bit like flying with Tiger or Easyjet – you’ll get the benefits only if you successfully navigate the rules. For those who fall between the (many) cracks, humiliation, frustration and financial penalties await. The completely gluten free menu is wonderful for coeliacs (it’s also dairy free, wheat free and egg free) but it’s far from a casual experience.
The reviews of Wafu are hilariously intense – people are polarised and the reactions are strong:
‘Wafu is the most pretentious, disappointing, and infuriating Sydney dining experience I have ever had.’
‘I have never been anywhere so bizare (sic.) in my life’ to:
‘Eating at Wafu is a unique, exquisite experience, not only is the food delicious, but it also exudes the love and care with which Yukako prepares it.’
The Wafu website is even more of an oddity – ‘NOT WELCOME ANY MORE!’ screams the front page in big bold capitals before bemoaning the lack of member integrity. Members are inducted at an elimination-style cooking workshop – general punters such as myself can come on Saturdays and Mondays for ‘vegan nights’.
So – a vegan and a coeliac walk into a restaurant. We were super reverent, it reminded me of my church-going childhood. There were only two other diners (when we arrived and for the whole night) but we were still ignored for a few minutes before being greeted by Yukako (the owner & only staff member), who asked if we had doggie bags. I showed her one, ‘Do you have two?’ she needed to know. We did. Phew! First hurdle. ‘Do you know about chewing?’ Yes, we said, trying to keep a straight face, we’ve been practising. ‘How many times?’ Jeepers., lucky we knew the answer (30 btw), we were in!
Enjoying the unusual experience of being able to eat a set menu without any ingredient dramas, we were blown away by the tastiness of the colourful first course. It was a mix of mainly raw or slightly cooked food bulging with nutrients. Hello tempura – it’s been too long! Curly kale, eggplant, tofu, sushi…
Yukako served the tamari sauce with a giggle and said to only pour what you need – now listen up – don’t be fooled by the girly japanese routine, there’s a review out there saying that a diner was told to drink a bowl of sauce because he had poured too much. Seasonings are food and food at Wafu is not to be wasted.
In principle this is great to see. I’m what Oprah would call a ‘clean plater’ and have often been horrified at food wastage. One of the hardest things about being gluten free is been that I can no longer hoover up my children’s leftovers and I’ve often been looked down upon as stingy or poor in restaurants when I’ve asked to take-away the leftovers.
The other rules at Wafu are pretty sensible too – for anyone who has ever vomited and been astounded at how ‘whole’ the food seems, it’s a good idea to be mindful of chewing and give your digestion a leg up.
Wafu is an educational centre as much as it is a restaurant. Yukako frequently visited our table and talked extensively about her ideals. She happily volunteered the ingredients for anything we liked (the miso & agave sauce was our favourite + the tempura flour was brown rice, cornflour and buckwheat). Yukako spoke with evangelical fervour, often looking upward with her eyes closed in concentration, she is particularly aggrieved by restaurants that claim to be organic and eco-friendly but waste lots of food, cook with aluminium and wash with harmful detergents – fair point. It’s not like you’re being asked to stand on one leg or paint yourself blue – the requests are in your own interest, ‘for your own good’ as your mother would say.
We learnt that it’s hard to eat beans with chopsticks, or to chew sweet potato 30 times. I wasn’t a big fan of the orange soy cake dessert and forgot that I wasn’t supposed to ‘wash food down’ with water – we both lost it then and laughed till there were tears.
We got a discount for being good girls and eating or taking all our food. I definitely crunched up my cereal more than usual the next morning. If you can avoid a militant showdown from Wafu it’s somewhere everyone should go to at least once.
Just don’t forget your ‘sturdy’ container or ‘doggie bag’ – and it’s not for your dog btw.
460 Cleveland Street