Tayta, the best of both worlds

Tayta, the best of both worlds

I fell in love this week, not with a person but with a cuisine.

Nikkei. ‘The Fusion Cuisine You Didn’t Know You Needed’, says Vogue magazine.

And I am not alone in my passion. Italian-born Adriano Antonini discovered and fell in love with Nikkei cuisine while working as a sommelier in London hot spot Coya, a restaurant that rode the wave of Nikkei popularity and served the cuisine to perfection.

From Dubai to the Caymans, where he managed a 5-star hotel and was sommelier in a fine dining Peruvian restaurant, Adriano was so taken with the cuisine that he sought out Nikkei restaurants wherever he travelled. He also began cooking the cuisine himself with the dream that one day he would be able to open his own Nikkei restaurant.

While working in the Caymans, Adriano met his Gold Coast-born wife Kaitlin. As their children grew older, the couple decided to move their family back to Kaitlin’s birthplace, settling in with Adriano being Venue manager of Yamagen, before taking the opportunity to open their own restaurant.

“Italian cuisine may seem like the obvious choice for me, but I fell in love with Nikkei cuisine,” Adriano tells us. “I wanted to bring that cuisine to the Gold Coast. It’s the cuisine taking the world by storm, revered in capital cities around the world, but little known in Australia,” he adds.

While Nikkei may seem like a ‘trendy riff’ on Japanese-Peruvian flavours, the cuisine has solid cultural origins. The word ‘Nikkei’, literally meaning ‘a Japanese emigrant’, is used to describe the cuisine that originated in 1889 when thousands of Japanese workers migrated to Peru to find work. Their resulting cuisine was one borne of necessity. In their new land, the ‘Nikkei’ cooked Japanese food using Peruvian ingredients from the surrounding countryside.

They created dishes that carried the best of both worlds: the simplicity and precision of Japanese culinary techniques and the flavoursome chillies, tubers, pulses and fresh seafood of Peru. Not only was a new cuisine born but Peruvians, in turn, gained from the cultural exchange, with seafood (formerly fed to the dogs) becoming a dietary staple. Over a century later, Nikkei is now accepted as an integral part of Peruvian culture.

Naming their restaurant ‘Tayta’, the Quechuan (pre-Incan) term for ‘Father’ or ‘God’, Adriano and Kaitlin’s restaurant is only the fourth Nikkei restaurant in Australia.

Adriano completed a complete refit of the long narrow space, formerly home to a Brazilian restaurant, choosing an eclectic mix of timber dining settings offset by luxurious aqua velvet chairs to seat 44 diners. Pops of greenery and burnished gold textured walls metaphorically represent the crucible of cultures, the mix of colours and textures swirling together to welcome us into a bar that would be at home in any major city backstreet. 

Divided into ten sections, the menu reflects its varied origins. However, though we think we understand dishes such as ceviche, nigiri and tempura, we find a twist to each dish.

Past the best local produce prepared with the precision of Japanese technique then plated and presented with elegant style, the sauce is an essential component. Piquante rather than hot, accompanying sauces add a rainbow of colours and flavours to be mopped up by corn, tempura, beef and chicken. Oysters are served ‘acevichado’ (in truffled ponzu). Kingfish ceviche is presented in ‘leche de tigre’, a fish stock that Peruvians have traditionally drunk.

Local kingfish, scallops and prawn tempura are served with aji de verde, a fragrant sauce that gets its colour from coriander and a little kick from Aji Amarillo, a Peruvian chilli. Teriyaki sauce sits beside aji, and crispy quinoa beside rice crackers accompanying some of the dishes. And despite the seeming incongruence of the two cuisines, the oppositional elements enhance each other to bring an entrancing new dining experience.

“With fresh seafood, fragrant chilies, and umami-rich misos and dashi broths, Nikkei is a ‘best of’ culinary highlight reel of Peru and Japan that is over 100 years in the making.” Claudia McNeilly said in an article in Vogue, 2017.

Of course, the meal is helped along by pisco sours (my favourite being the hibiscus sour), the more the merrier, as well as a well-curated wine and sake list for those who prefer a more traditional tipple.

While the quality and authenticity of Tayta’s Nikkei food is crucial to their success, Adriano stresses that it’s all about the experience. High quality ingredients, unique flavours, a bespoke music playlist and full service all play a part of making a visit to Tayta a relaxed fine dining experience.

Nikkei. What was once a cuisine of necessity has now become a cuisine of passion.

It doesn’t take us long to reflect that this is the cuisine we’ve been missing, and there’s no turning back from here.

We can blame Covid for keeping this ‘culinary goldmine’ from us for so long. But now that it’s here, it’s time to revel in this joyful culinary gift.

Tayta Bar & Restaurant, 2243 Gold Coast Highway, Mermaid Beach QLD 4218, Ph: 07 5632 9129 Open: Tues to Sat 5pm – 10pm

Open: Tues to Sat 5pm – 10pm
2243 Gold Coast Highway, Mermaid Beach QLD 4218