Richard Cornish, 28 August 2021
In this region, we pride ourselves on our vineyards, forests and rugged landscapes, mineral springs, and our food culture. Our towns and villages are dotted with award-winning restaurants, cooking schools and artisan food stores founded by outstanding chefs. Some are born here. Some are attracted by the lifestyle. Others spend half a lifetime learning skills in the best kitchens overseas before returning here to cook some of the best food in the nation.
There is an air of Zen about Aaron Schembri's Daylesford restaurant, Kadota.
From the Japanese maples by the herb garden to the gracious bow from Japanese-born front of house manager and co-owner Risa Kadota. She and her husband Aaron Schembri opened Kadota Japanese restaurant on the site of former Kazuki's earlier this year.
Aaron returned to his hometown after cooking under the guidance of the chefs some of the best restaurants in Melbourne and Japan. These have included George Calombaris at The Press Club, Joe Grbac at Saxe, and Hajime Yoneda at his eponymous Michelin three-star restaurant in Osaka.
Aaron and Risa share a vision to present Japanese food to their guests in a measured and sensually aware Japanese-inspired aesthetic of seasonal dining. Dishes have included Hokkaido scallops served with rose and ponzu and finely sliced sashimi laid out like jewels on a block of salt. "Detail and beauty are essential to what we are trying to achieve here," says Aaron. He shows the blackened shou sugi ban timber walls, made from sheets of charred timber taken from trees felled in the Wombat gardens.
Detail and professionalism sit at the heart of everything Aaron does. Aaron's herb teas are served in wood-fired earthenware Bizen teacups from Japan. The wooden chopsticks are carved in Ballarat. This spring, Aaron and Risa present a new 10-course menu served with matching teas, wine, and sake. "I so look forward to spring," he says. "New life, new growth, a new season of different flavours."