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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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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Master Shifu

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Master Shifu, GO6 47-57 Tom Roberts Parade, Point Cook. Phone: 9395 3888

When it comes to choosing eateries to frequent, everyone judges books by their covers.

Unless, of course, there are other factors influencing the decision-making process – things such as recommendations, word of mouth and reviews.

But choosing a place at which to eat on a casual basis?

There’s myriad factors that come into play as we stand outside this or that restaurant, all of them feeding into split-second and intuition-laden decisions.

Is the place clean, or are there leftovers dishes and food on a table – or more than one table?

Is there a menu in the window for perusal?

Are there staff nearby to welcome incoming customers?

Are there any customers at all?

Are the windows clean or grubby?

These and many more are part of the process.

For these sorts of reasons, and perhaps unfairly, we’ve come to think of Point Cook as rather an arid wasteland when it come to persuing our cheap eats jollies.

This is largely based on extensive window-shopping on several occasions at Point Cook Town Centre.

Nothing has ever jumped out at us, and what seem like rather hefty prices have regularly seen us looking further afield.

So I was rather entranced when I got into a foodiness conversation with one of the blokes who came to install our pay TV set-up in our new abode.

He told me he was a Point Cook resident, had a background in the hospitality business (as did his daughter) and was quite conversant with eating out across a wide swathe of the west and eating styles and genres.

When we canvassed Point Cook itself, I was in the process of rolling my eyes – as if to say, “Basket case!” – when my new friend said: “Yes, but …”

He went on to extoll the virtues of a Chinese place, a little ways removed from Point Cook Town Centre, that makes it own dumplings.

Dumplings? Point Cook!

Golly!

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And so it is that we’re on the prowl in Point Cook with more optimism than has previously been the case.

After parking at the compact shopping and food precinct at the corner of Boardwalk Boulevard and Tom Roberts Parade, we have a wander around and are surprised by what we find.

There’s those kinds of places you’d expect – pizza and fish-and-chip joints, bakery, charcoal chicken shop and so on.

But we also happily spy an Indian place, a nondescript noodle shop that offers a kimchi noodle dish and what just may be a grouse Malaysian-style curry, a Turkish eatery and the dumpling outfit that has been the destination of our journey.

But there’s also a Japanese emporium.

We literally toss a coin – one of the 10 cent variety, to  be specific.

Heads it is, so Japanese for lunch for us today.

The dumplings will have to wait for another day.

Master Shifu is a big and roomy restaurant located in the ground floor of a rather ugly, angular modern building.

As we amble in, a few tables are being utilised and we are quickly greeted by a staff member who continues to take pretty good care of us for the duration of our visit.

Suburban Japanese?

Well, yes, there are sushi rolls at the counter.

And on the menu there’s tempura, bentos, teriyaki, don rice dishes and Japanese-style curry.

But there’s other items that set Master Shifu apart from and above typical expectations for such a place.

Gyu tan – ox tongue marinated in red wine and tossed in chilli in spring onion, and listed as both an entree and rice bowl offering – is not an unusual dish, but it’s not that common, either.

Unfortunately, our bid to try it one way or the other is thwarted by its temporary unavailability.

On the specials list there’s more dishes to intrigue: Gyoza ramen, ginseng ramen and cha soba – “Cool green tea soba noodle with chef’s special sauce and raw eggs”.

A shared bowl of miso soup is nicely priced at $2.50 but is rather undistinguished.

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The seaweed salad ($4) is better, looking luminously green in the direct sunlight in which we are sitting. The seaweed is generously dressed and sits on a small bed of mixed greens.

From the specials list, I choose Cool Noodle (top photo) – “Seaweed, squid, Japanese pickle, boiled egg, cucumber and noodle in cold home made stock”.

We’ve never see a Japanese dish such as this!

On a bed of cold, white squiggly noodles, the other protagonists are fresh as can be – with the exception (naturally) of the pickled/preserved and chewy squid.

The seaweed appears to be a no show, but in addition to the other promised ingredients there is a single, nice crumbed prawn.

The sauce, we are told, is made with soy sauce, sesame (perhaps something akin to tahini?) and peanuts. It’s good and smooth.

I toss the lot of it over my noodle dish and eat my lunch with chopsticks – but, oddly, it seems more like a pasta dish than a noodle one.

I’d loved to be able report that my cold noodle fare rocks my world – but it does not. I enjoy it, but would not order it again.

Put this down to personal preference – certainly, I am excited by being served such an unusual dish that is so fresh and wonderfully presented in such unexpected surrounds. Such augurs well for returns visits and the chance to try some of the other less familiar offerings.

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Bennie opts for the more orthodox – pork tonkatsu don ($9.80.

It’s a doozy.

The crumbed pork is plentiful and delicious.

The egg/omelette is still runny and seeps into the rice, while the lightly cooked  red onions slices provide texture.

At Urbanspoon, you’ll find a number of “diner reviews” for Master Shifu.

Some are from happy customers. Some, though, are from customers far less so, particularly in reference to service.

As noted above, we have been more than happy in that regard on what appears to quite a busy Anzac Day lunch time.

At Urbanspoon, too, is this comment:

“Rude people, fake japanese food! the restaurant is operated by a bunch of chinese.”

We’ve addressed the topic of authenticity before here at Consider The Sauce, but continue to find this sort of comment puzzling, idiotic and ugly.

Such views seem out of whack of how we all live in a multicultural society.

And while I don’t have facts and figures to back me up, I’m under the strong impression that Japanese eateries come in for more of this kind of stick than, say, those of Italian or Indian persuasions.

What such view seems to suggest is that we should have some sort of ethnic apartheid in our restaurants, both in the kitchens and front of house.

Or at least in our Japanese restaurants.

Um, no thanks!

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After leaving Master Shifu, we stroll a few metres across the way to check out a cavernous Asian supermarket called Asian Supermarket.

To my thoroughly untutored eye, this place houses more Asian exotica of a marinated, canned, fermented, bottled, pickled and variously prepared nature than I have ever before seen in one place.

Bennie loves it, of course, so I indulge him with an Asian soft drink.

Labelled as involving basil seeds and honey, it looks fantastical.

But it tastes better than some of the outlandish things he has developed a yen for, though it tastes to me very much of lychees!

On the way back to the car, we also check out what I’m guessing is Melbourne’s biggest IGA.

As we wander about, I say to Bennie: “Other dads take their sons to the footy or a movie – I take you to supermarkets!”

After we’ve both cracked up, I continue: “And the funny thing is … I don’t think you even mind any more!”

Master Shifu on Urbanspoon

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Ebi Fine Food

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

It’s been a while since we’ve been to Ebi.

And circumstances are similar to those of the previous occasion we wrote about the place – it’s post-football practice; indeed this has been the first practice for the 2013 season.

We’re actually headed for another option in Ashley St, but then we’re tootling up Essex St and the inevitable happens.

“Ebi,” says Bennie with a question mark and raised eyebrows.

Why not?

Besides, the lad has been proclaiming for a couple of weeks that his next foodie barrier for removal will be his resistance to fish.

Actually, he’s been able to enjoy salmon and some kinds of sushi for a while now. But big hunks of white fish and F&C in particular? Hmmm, dodgy.

And what better place than Ebi to put that hoodoo to bed?

As we enter, boss man John is fooling around with an app on his iPhone.

Called Manga Camera, it transforms photos into trippy B&W and places them in any one of what looks like about 100 manga-style frames.

It’s kooky fun!

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Bennie’s large fish and chips ($15) features two handsome pieces of john dory. I don’t try it, but gosh it looks magnificent.

Bennie hoovers it up. So much for THAT particular food phobia. Next!

The typically excellent chips I do help myself to, with the pair of us madly dipping them into the rich, gooey mayo.

Bennie’s meal is completed with usual fine salad of Japanese bits and pieces.

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My bento of grilled, salted salmon with mustard miso ($17) has those salad bits and more – pickles preserved and fresh; crunchy lotus root crisps; potato salad in the Japanese style; half a mini-eggplant smothered in a miso sauce; great rice … it’s all terrific.

The salmon is not notably “salted”, or not so I can taste anyway, and is quite well cooked by normal standards for this species. But it’s a long way short of overcooked and works a delicious treat with the tangy mustard miso sauce.

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John also lays on us a complementary serve of his famed vegetable balls ($5), the snack instrumental is getting the whole Ebi thing going in the first place.

Bennie’s an old hand at these and makes his pair do a remarkably quick disappearing act.

I like them but for me they don’t have much of a “wow” factor. And the gooey innards whisper to me “uncooked”, which I know is both unfair and untrue.

But there you go …

It’s been fabulous to visit an old friend.

As I say to John in an email exchange later in the night, blogging keeps us on the move and few places qualify as regulars.

Ebi is one we certainly wish were so.

Ebi Fine Food on Urbanspoon

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Wabi Sabi Salon

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Wabi Sabi Salon, 94 Smith St, Collingwood. Phone: 9417 6119

A trip across town to visit Books For Cooks allows an opportunity to have a look at a neighbourhood that was once as familiar to me as any in Melbourne.

The area around the nexus of Smith and Gertrude streets in Collingwood/Fitzroy has certainly changed a lot since I lived in the area after moving to Melbourne in the late 1980s.

There’s not a trace, so far as I can tell, of the Eastern European vibe that was then a bit part of Gertrude St experience.

The area has even changed a bit since the end a few years back of a radio gig that saw me visiting – and eating – on a weekly basis for decades.

There’s an intriguing range of retail establishments.

And there’s eating houses – lots and lots of them.

And while there’s a few closed at Monday lunchtime, most are open and doing brisk business.

I choose one such and proceed to be knocked out by the quality of the meal that unfolds.

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Wabi Sabi Salon is a long-time Smith St resident and feels like it.

There’s no stainless steel here. Instead, there’s funky old floorboards, Japanese adornments on the walls and deep, cool shadows.

I’m tempted to say it feels like old, authentic Japan, but as I’ve never been to that country I’d be crapping on.

But you get the drift … it’s got a nice lived-in feel.

As with its neighbouring joints, Wabi Sabi is quite busy for a Monday, and as ever there’s a constant stream of regulars stopping by the counter at the front to obtain takeaway sushi rolls.

I vaguely recall a few concerns about service and lengthy waiting times from previous visits, but have no such problems this time.

I yearn for a lightish meal, so order the vegetable bento ($16). More than that, I do something very unusual for me – I order it with brown rice.

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My lunch starts with a very fine bowl of miso soup – studded with a lightweight quotient of seaweed and chewy tofu, it’s of just the right temperature and boasts intense flavour.

My bento (top photo) is even better.

In fact, it’s superb – and puts to utter shame bentos shoved out all over the city in the sort of cheap ‘n’ cheerful “Japanese” joints found in alleyways and food halls.

A crunchy, fresh salad of leaves with a few small tomato pieces and a smooth, creamy sesame dressing.

Two crisp gyoza-style dumplings that are both cold and delicious.

A small bowl of slithery buckwheat noodles in tangy dressing, joined by an even smaller serve of some sort of vermicelli matched with the same chewy tofu found in the soup.

Nutty brown rice topped with black sesame seeds.

And, finally and best of all, a wonderful stew of carrots, beans, lotus root, broccoli and several large chunks of incredibly lovely tofu, soft and silky on the inside and with slightly crusted outsides, all swimming in a light broth that is eventually mopped up with the rice.

I’m not too proud to request a spoon for just that purpose.

Check out the Wabi Sabi website, including full dinner and lunch menus, here.

Wabi Sabi Salon on Urbanspoon

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