There’s Japanese … and then there’s Japanese

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Kuni’s, 56 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9663 7243

This particular foray to the CBD is about nothing more than spending Grandma’s money on a much-desired comic book.

Bennie’s accepts with good grace my point that perhaps a book or even an electronic game would be a better and more long-lasting present than a comic book – even if it is one that has won a Pulitzer Prize.

Accepts with good grace if note an entirely convincing display of agreement.

The first likely shop we enter does not have the desired item in stock, the second one does.

By the time we’ve made our way from Flinders Street Station to Spring Street, we’ve been up and down many laneways and in and out of many book and record shops just for the fun of it.

I’m somewhat amazed we’ve done so with me keeping my credit card in my wallet.

We stop for a coffee at Pelligrini’s and then it’s most certainly time for lunch.

Bennie loves Japanese food – particularly our local haunts Ebi and Ajitoya.

We both love them.

 

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But as far as I am aware, he’s never dined in a swish CBD Japanese eatery.

Kuni’s seems to get mentioned less than some others when it comes to naming Melbourne’s more venerable Japanese restaurants.

As a one-time regular customer, I’m not sure why that is.

On the basis of our wonderful lunch, my affection for the place is only enhanced – the tranquil elegance, the service, the very good food and its pricing are a real kick.

We stick to the compact meals offered on the lunch list, Bennie’s selection pretty much a given considering his fascination for all things bento.

 

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After slurping up his fine miso soup, he tucks with relish into his bento of the day ($19) of beef teriyaki, sashimi, tempura and some salady things.

It’s cost a few bucks more than a bento deal might in less storied and more cheap-eats style Japanese places, but the quality is there.

 

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My own tempura lunch deal ($22) also begins with miso soup along with marinated bean sprouts and a beaut chawanmushi.

There’s not a lot of content in my savoury custard, but it’s so silky and sensual, I simply do not care.

 

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My tempura offering is superb – as good as I’ve had, hot, ungreasy and featuring a wealth of vegetables and seafood.

In addition, I get spinach with a sesame dressing and some pickled zucchini.

What a simple and lovely lunch it’s been for two lads leg-weary from retail therapy!

Check out the Kuni’s website here.

 

Kuni's on Urbanspoon

Mall rice goes nice … well actually, it’s just OK

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Rice Workshop, Highpoint. Phone: 9318 8368

Highpoint, two days before Christmas?

Clearly, I am out of my mind.

But I don’t feel like driving to Carlton or getting the train to the CBD.

I want to get a couple a couple of Stephen King books for Bennie, and a few bits and pieces for other folks and other reasons.

Where else am I to go?

Bookshops, western suburbs – not the strongest of relationships.

I am delighted and surprised to find the crowds light-on and chilled-out – hey, this is way better than your average Saturday in here!

After securing my books – including a prime piece of holiday season escapist trash for myself – I start hankering for lunch, and wondering if there is anything around acceptable in the same way this place and this place are.

Putting the word “workshop” in a franchise outfit’s name is a wheeze, of course, designed to suggest there’s something going on beyond shopping centre food.

That’s not the case … but you can eat well here, based on the yumminess of my chicken katsu curry bowl.

 

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I’m very glad I’ve ordered the regular size for $7.90 rather than the large for $9.40, as it’s a big serve that I fail to fully consume.

There’s a generous number of well-cooked, crunchy chicken pieces.

The smooth Japanese-style curry gravy is mildly spiced and has a few chunks of carrot in it.

The whole deal is topped by some crunchy pickled ginger.

Not bad!

As well as the made-to-order range of rice, noodle and salad dishes, the display cabinet at front hosts a number of fried and grilled items.

On the basis of …

 

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… a dismal tempura prawn and …

 

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… a bitter-tasting seaweed salad, CTS recommends sticking with the bowled line-up.

That way you’ll avoid the typical shopping centre plastic overkill as well!

Check out the Rice Workshop website – including menu – here.

 

Rice Workshop - High Point on Urbanspoon

 

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Guest post – Yarraville Japanese

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Kenny says: Laura is a long-time CTS reader and commenter. We have yet to meet face-to-face – but she’s promised to attend a CTS Feast next year! We discovered early on there’s way less than one degree of separation between us – her sister was a wonderful colleague of mine at the Geelong Advertiser. Alison is still there! In the meantime, our inter-action has lately become a little more chatty, culminating in her asking if I had a recent menu from Kawa-Sake. I told her, no; in fact, we haven’t been to that Yarraville eatery for more than two years. Laura made her own arrangements – and reported back. My next question was obvious: “Did you take pics?” From there, it was easy to tempt her into writing her very own CTS post. Thank you! We love a guest post …

Kawa-Sake Sushi Boat & Grill Bar, 3 Anderson Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9687 8690

Words and photographs: Laura Esperanza

Being my birthday week, the choice for takeout dinner was mine.

My good old, faithful of choice is always Japanese – in fact, sashimi and sushi were on the menu for lunch that day – and Kawa-Sake Sushi Boat & Grill Bar was featured top of the list based on past experience and close proximity.

I did, however, email Kenny to get his opinion on something local and I considered Ajitoya in Charles Street, Seddon, but it was not an option – being a Monday, they were closed.

As we wanted takeout, the plan was to get my hands on a copy of their menu, dial ahead and the partner N would collect on the way home from work.

 

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I couldn’t locate a menu online and was messaged a copy of their menu on my phone after a call and follow-up reminder a few hours later (I had actually given up having Japanese until I got the text sometime after 6pm).

The plan was for collection at 7.40pm. N was running 10 minutes late and I called ahead to change the pick up time to 8.10pm (always try to have contingency plan!) so that the food wouldn’t be cold.

By 7.50pm, N called to say that the meeting had run late and we would be lucky to collect the food by 8.20pm.  I didn’t worry about calling back and resolved not to be stressed as it was out of my control.

Arriving home with dinner, Japanese beer and a bottle of vino, we were back on track to tuck into the meal.

We drank the beer out of champagne glasses (celebratory birthday week, after all) and started on our feast.

 

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I ordered us a grilled beef with teriyaki sauce skewer for the partner ($3.90), the old favourite, seaweed salad ($4.50), and the Kawa-Sake sushi platter ($49.80).

Yes, total treat territory – but, again, birthday week.

The sushi platter consisted of three different raw fishes, four nigri, ebi tempura (crispy large prawns in tempura and darn good), salmon age rolls (fried roll with salmon, avocado, eel) , chicken tempura inside out, and prawn avo sushi.

I’m told the teriayki beef skewer tasted like sesame with a light sauce – not too heavy and very tasty.

Next choice was the prawn tempura – always a past winner. It had a cripsy, light batter, was tasty and we enjoyed the extra mayo to dip in.

It had a nice, crunchy texture and was a winner all round. Even though I’m not into fried foods, it was very light.

The salmon age roll with chili mayo was very tasty and was combined with eel. The rice was a little dry but it was picked up 20 minutes late, second call around.

The prawn avo sushi was fresh and enjoyable.

 

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My two least enjoyable dishes were the fried salmon, eel and avo as it had a crispy, thicker batter (too heavy for my liking) and seaweed salad, which was quite tasty and zesty but too runny to be enjoyed it without dropping liquid in the journey from chopsticks to mouth.

Overall I find Kawa-Sake a safe and winning option whenever we have it, either in the restaurant or take out.

While it’s not the most amazing Japanese I’ve had, it has so far had a 100 per cent pass rate and is a fresh and convenient option.

Is it the cheapest?

No.

Have I had better?

Yes.

Would I go back again?

Absolutely.

See earlier reviews here and here.

 

Kawa-Sake Sushi Boat & Grill Bar on Urbanspoon

Good, fresh Japanese in Moonee Ponds

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I Dream Of Sushi, 6 Margaret Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9375 7951

I Dream Of Sushi is a brand new – Nat and I hit it for lunch on opening day – Japanese joint tucked just around the corner from Puckle Street, with a branch of Yim Yam and a fine fish and chippery nearby.

As this is his work nighbourhood, Nat has been watching developments with great interest as he sometimes gets cranky with despair and boredom concerning the same old same old lunchtime routines hereabouts.

The place is done in cheerful cafe style and the staff are on the go and smiling.

I suspect that, not unlike another Japanese CTS favourite, I Dream Of Sushi delivers sushi rolls not out of any great passion about doing so but because to do otherwise would be commercial suicide.

In any case, he and I happily focus on the rest of the menu (see below), which covers a tight but appealing range of smaller dishes and a line-up of rice bowls.

We do real good.

My miso soup ($3.50) is regulation but very good, with deep miso flavour.

 

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Gyoza ($6.50), too, are orthodox but also yummy with a nice garlickiness.

 

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Tofu salad ($10) is a winner and just the sort of light, healthy lunch I’ve been desiring.

The greens, tomatoes, cucumber and radishes are super-fresh and the dressing tangy.

 

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Nat is very happy with his salmon sashimi (12 pieces for $10).

 

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But it’s his teri may don ($12) of “tender chicken thigh cooked in sweet soy on steamed rice w/- Japanese may” that does it for him.

“I’ve hit the bullseye,” he happily proclaims.

I Dream Of Sushi is pitching itself cleverly for the local lunch market – it’ll do fine.

And, yep, Nat will be back.

 

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As we are wrapping things up, we get talking to Catherine and Barb, for whom this is a family affair – they could hardly be prouder of what Acko, Yagu, Miho and Con are doing!

 

I Dream of Sushi on Urbanspoon

 

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Fabulous and fancy @ Ebi

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Ebi Fine Food, 18A Essex St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 3300

Consider The Sauce loves Ebi; we adore the place, its charming host, the perfect fish and chips and bentos.

But $120 for a tricked-up degustation men?

Not exactly regular fare for CTS, as regular readers will understand.

How to justify such extravagance?

Birthday prezzie?

A few days out, but what the hey …

Tax return treat?

Having only just got all the required documentation in the one room, I haven’t even really started on this year’s effort yet …

Celebratory outing based on good results in the “scary medical tests” department?

Truth is, tonight’s Ebi event – the first of its kind – is simply too tempting to pass up.

I’m tingling with excitement at seeing John spread his wings with the sort of ritzy food, time – and labour-intensive sauces, and superior and refined ingredients of the kind that rarely come my way.

And I’m looking forward to sharing the experience with what I assume will be a small audience of Ebi regulars/fans and doing so with some classy beer, sake and wine on hand … though I suspect the booze may be wasted on a wine prol such as myself.

I’m expecting food that displays strong influences from both Japan and France – and maybe even Italy.

And so it largely proves to be …

Sharing the bar stools with me are Jake and Kim, on one side, with Daniel and Tom on the other.

 

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The table for two behind us is soon filled, to my happy delight, with CTS pals Justin and Sasha!

Wonderful!

And so it begins …

This is no ordinary degustation bash. For starters, the price is way less than those sought for most of the famed and storied options available elsewhere.

There’s the same paper serviettes as ever.

And John himself acts not just as chef but also waiter, maitre’d, busboy and dishwasher.

Frankly, I’d not be comfortable with a more formal arrangement.

 

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Spherified edamame with sea salt crystals is as out-there as tonight’s fare is to get – John even uses the word “Bulli” in relation to it. It’s a gorgeous, slippery, crunchy mouthful with pronounced edamame flavour served with Koshihikari Echigo rice beer.

 

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Anchovy and parmesan straws are rich, buttery and crumbly, the anchovies supplying just the right kind of salty flavour explosion.

 

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Seared Hokkaido scallops with soy wasabi butter are such a hit – for good reason – that John quickly whips up another round for us!

 

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Grilled, salted salmon belly is profoundly exquisite and served with Osakazuki Junmai Ginjo Sake.

 

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Lobster? CTS? Blimey!

Butter-poached crayfish is a dream, served with a yuzu kosho sauce that exhibits just the right kind of tartness to match the seafood’s sweetness.

John describes the sauce as made with a fruit that is a mix of lemon, lime and orange blended with salt and chilli.

This is served with a just-right Borgo Bello Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie 2012.

 

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We’re about to move into significantly more robust and richer territory …

 

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Duck and porcini kamameshi comes with blackcurrant jus.

Kamameshi turns out to be a sort-of Japanese version of the universal rice dish and is very much like risotto – it’s wonderful, too, as is the juicy duck.

(Served with Wynns Coonawarra Shiraz 1998.)

 

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Ahhh – the best of all!

Wagyu fillet with roast marrow, shallot and herb tartlet comes also with roast beetroot and organic kale.

It’s all terrific, the beef ultra-succulent and the tart pastry so very rich.

Served with Wynns Coonawarra black label Cabernet sauvignon 1997.

 

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And to finish …

Ginger and ume bombe with “plum” ice-cream, sponge and meringue – just my kind of grown-up, not-too-sweet dessert; served with lovely Osakazuki Umeshu (“plum liquor”).

So … has it been worth it?

Yes.

I’ve loved the food, the company, the conversation and the liquid accompaniments.

It’s been a beaut experience!

But we’ll still be loving those bentos and fish and chips …

And, yes, there may be more such events at Ebi.

See earlier stories here and here.

 

Ebi Fine Food on Urbanspoon

 

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Wayo wow in Flemo

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Wayo Japanese Dining, 286 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 5484

Ahh, 286 Racecourse Road …

For many years it was the site of this site’s preferred charcoal chicken shop.

Its products were not in any way different or better than those of most similar places.

But when the mood for such trashy food was upon us, we always received a warm welcome there.

And they served their in-house food on real plates with real cutlery.

But now it’s the home of a chic new Japanese eatery.

It looks good, and we enjoy the service and the promptness with which our food is delivered to us.

And on the basis of our first lunch there, we reckon that if Wayo was situated in, say, the CBD, Fitzroy or Prahran, the queues would already be forming.

There’s a few sushi rolls in the display cabinet, but mostly the menu sticks to some basic yet enticing bowls and grills.

The entree list numbers 12 – order all or most of them and you’d have a mighty spread of Japanese-style tapas for a table of four or so punters.

From that list we choose charcoal grilled vegetables (large serve, $13.50) as a shared starter.

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The vegetables – wonderfully including fennel – are beautifully cooked, taste as good and go great with the dark, lusty sesame sauce.

The only quibble we have is with what seems to be a rather steep price.

Bennie chooses a simple bowl of curry with rice ($10; the same meal is available with chicken cutlet for $14).

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The lad is a little underwhlemed.

He reckons the beef quotient is neither here nor there.

But it tastes good to me, the gravy being a rich brown, deep of flavour and – of course – of only mild spiciness.

Maybe he’s outright envious of his dad’s meal.

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Charcoal grilled chicken ($13) with yakiniku BBQ sauce is a delight.

The miso soup appears as if it may be quite a class above that served in most cheap Japanese places, stuffed as it is with onion chunks and more.

But we both find it a tad flavourless.

I suspect this style of miso soup is supposed to look and taste just as we have been provided, but we miss that miso tang nevertheless.

The thigh pieces are much better – only lightly grilled, they boast splendid chook flavour.

That flavour is quite subtle, though, so I may have been better off choosing one of the other, less robust sauces available.

Quite apart from our meals and experience in general, it’s the attention to detail at Wayo that really impresses.

It would be easy to bluntly dismiss, for instance, my serve of potato salad as just a pile cold mashed spud.

But that would be to ignore the skill with which the potato has been cooked and dressed to be fully tender yet maintain such a wonderful, grainy texture.

Likewise with the green salad provided with both our meals – the ingredients are super fresh, well-balanced and dressed with a delicacy seldom seen in such contexts.

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We like, too, the rustic wooden tables.

Blogger note of appreciation: They are non-reflective!

Even the handsome wooden chop sticks and soup spoons add their own touch of joy and class to the Wayo experience.

We suggest the Wayo crew might want to place a sign somewhere that says something along the lines of:

“1. Please order at counter.

 2. Please pay when ordering.

 3. Cash only.

 4. Thank you!”

That way any potential confusion, embarrassment or disappointment may be avoided!

Even with the minor caveats expressed above, we are very eager to return.

Wayo Japanese Dining on Urbanspoon

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Charcoal Fusion

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char4

Charcoal Fusion, 300 Point Cook Rd, Point Cook (Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre). Phone: 9394 8509

Put aside bias against shopping centres and malls in the eternal search for foodiness.

Because outside our truly inner west haunts such as Yarraville, Footscray and Flemington, where there are older neighbourhoods suitable for hosting food enclaves, there ARE no older areas to play that role.

In places such as Point Cook or, say, Caroline Springs, food outlets have to go somewhere and it seems the only place they can go is the local shopping centre.

(Alfrieda St and surrounds in St Albans seems to be a notable exception to this truism.)

That’s what I’ve been telling myself for the past couple of years.

But the simple fact is it’s been more a theory than something I’ve found to be true in adventures that have taken Team Consider The Sauce across wide swathes of the inner and outer west.

But at Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre I find, to my delight, vindication for my theory.

Not only do I find the target of today’s outing, a swish, newish Japanese joint called Charcoal Fusion, but also – nearby – not one, but two Malaysian places.

Charcoal Fusion? Sounds like a chicken shop, eh?

It’s not – it IS a full-range Japanese restaurant with skewers at night (that’s where the “Charcoal” bit comes in) and teppanyaki.

But today I’ll be enjoying the much more homely and smaller lunch list that has various don/rice dishes and noodles such as yakisoba (list below).

In a bid to drum up some lunchtime trade, these are being offered at $8 instead of the listed $12.

On the basis of my lovely lunch, I reckon this is a red-hot bargain.

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The lovely and welcoming manager/owner, long-time Point Cook resident Jenny, started her new venture inspired by the lack of eating-out options in the area.

She agrees business people such as herself have little option when it comes to location in such an area.

And with this territory comes myriad challenges and restrictions – Jenny, for instance, must adhere to the general opening hours for the centre as a whole.

Miso soup is not listed but my request for it is cheerfully and agreeably met.

It’s super, especially at $2 – quite dark, deep of flavour and hiding a good amount of seaweed and tofu in its depths.

My curry don with crispy chicken is also very, very fine.

The curry is a deep khaki, sticky and studded with tender potato pieces. It’s a classic curry, Japanese-style, with a chilli hit that manages to be both low-key and pleasingly intense.

The crispy chicken is rather profoundly uncrispy. But it is also unoily, delicate, freshly cooked and delicious.

The salad bits are dressed with a sesame concoction. I discard two rather tired slices of cucumber and find the rest go real swell mixed in with the spuds in the curry gravy.

The accompanying mound of rice is topped with pickled ginger that is red rather than usual pink, and nicely chewy instead of outright crisp.

I love a bargain lunch – and even at the full whack of $12 this would fully qualify.

Charcoal Fusion on Urbanspoon

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