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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Kawa-Sake revisited

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

It’s been a while since our first visit to Kawa-Sake so we’re glad to be back.

There’s a difference this time, though – we’re guests of management.

Instead of seeing us muddle through what is quite an extensive menu, manager Lucy is keen to place before us an array of her specific choices (full disclosure below).

We are most emphatically up for it.

Everything we have is good. Some of it is very good – especially the seafood.

Tuna tataki ($16.90, top picture) is meltingly tender inside and with just a sliver of tasty seared crust – quite different from the overtly garlicky beef dish of the same description.

Sashimi (various prices) – only two (regulation) species of fish but big serves and oh-so-fresh.

Bennie is taking with increasing gusto to raw fish – not his favourite thing by any means, but he’s getting there.

And Lucy admires his chopstick skills!

Likewise, he barely notices the gooey bits as we each devour a crispy, delicious soft shell crab ($8.80).

Ebi tempura ($8.50) is three good and big prawns in unoily batter.

Salmon age roll ($15) is described to us as “sushi for people who maybe don’t like eating raw fish”. I have no problem with that approach, but this crusty ball seems a bit of a blur to me, with no real distinct flavours.

Calamari skewers ($3.90) are chewy and nice, but maybe could do with some more of that chargrilled zing.

Sake-marinated quail (three for $16.80) are sticky, yummy and a nice counterpoint to all the seafood we’ve been gobbling.

It doesn’t take too much looking to find comments from people who really don’t like the food at Kawa-Sake – or the very place itself, including the decor, service and general approach.

There’s some, too, who seem hung up on the fact the place is run by people who are not born-and-bred in Japan.

If you’re fussy about notions of purity when it comes to Japanese food, or the people who make it and serve it, then maybe Kawa-Sake is not for you.

In the meantime … the staff are lovely, the service is good and – despite it being a tight fit space-wise – it’s very family friendly.

Our meal at Kawa-Sake was provided free of charge by the owner in return for a story on Consider The Sauce. The dishes in our meal were selected by management. Kawa-Sake has not been given any editorial control of this post.

Kawa-Sake Sushi Boat & Grill Bar on Urbanspoon

Kawa-Sake Sushi Boat & Grill Bar

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

So excited had we been about the opening of this flash-but-cool Japanese noshery in Yarraville as the fit-out was still being completed, that we fully expected to be front of the queue on opening night.

Such did not turn out to be the case, and indeed the opening night was put forward a couple of weeks and a new, better name chosen.

But it is with springs in our steps, smiles on our dials and hearty appetites on board that we head up Anderson St.

It’s a full week after opening night and we’re happy with that.

As well, having stuck my head in the previous week very briefly, I have a hunch that space is going to be an issue, so Monday night feels right.

Having spied some beautiful sushi rolls on my earlier visit and having checked out the menu – and its prices – I’m bracing for a food-and-drink bill that will bust above all our usual limits.

After all, with food this pretty and sexy going by endlessly, the same temptations exist as do in any sushi train joint or even tapas bar.

Happily, courtesy of a cash gift from Bennie’s Grandma on the occasion of his father’s birthday the previous week, we’re all cashed up and ready to go.

It’s a relief to be entering Kawa-Sake knowing there will be no need for me to keep a mental abacus going as I fret over the mounting financial toll.

As I hint above, this is a small space, but it appears to be well used.

There’s an oval bar with stools around which the sushi boats sail and tables – mostly for two – along a wall adorned with a gorgeous hand-painted Japanese scene.

The other side of the room appears to be only used by the staff.

The sushi chef works at one end of the bar, and behind him is what appears to be a small kitchen for other dishes.

As we enter, the restaurant is as empty as the dozen sushi boats going around.

But within quite a short time, the restaurant is humming, most bar stools are taken and even most of the tables.

And the boats are being loaded.

My understanding is that these vessels contain dishes almost all of which are already listed on the laminated menu, which we find to represent a very accurate picture of the food we receive during the course of a highly enjoyable meal.

The boat plates are all black but the different prices are denoted by lettering in four different colours.

As they are bereft of cargo as we settle in, we order first from the menu. There have always been a few things we were always going to order, and happily they are the cheaper end of what’s available.

Seaweed salad ($5.50) is the standard offering – except for the simple fact it’s better.

More slippery and slithery than the usual, seemingly both sweeter and saltier, with a lovely chilli tease from the visible chill flakes, this finds both Bennie and I nodding our heads vigourously.

Miso soup ($3.80) is also a standard affair, with the beautifully delicate tofu a highlight.

“This tofu is really good!” Bennie enthuses.

(Wow – a lot has changed in a year!)

If there is a disappointment in our meal, it is the gyoza ($7.90 for five).

They’re OK, but the filling seems to be pork  and pork alone – no other textures or even seasoning. There’s a stickyish sauce in attendance, but I prefer the more traditional method of dipping them in a more vinegary and thinner sauce.

I concede, therefore, my ambivalance about the dumplings could have as much to do with my expectations as anything else.

Tofu Wrapped ($5.50), described as tofu and avocado with special sauce (which seems to be a creamy mayo with just the slightest hint of chilli), is definitely one of the more distinctive Japanese dishes we’ve tried.

The smooth mixture in the bowl is spooned on to the accompanying seaweed sheets, which are then rolled up and eaten – a bit like making your own rice paper rolls.

The process is foreign to us, so consequently we struggle a bit. The filling is nice enough but maybe a bit on the bland side.

Interesting rather than captivating.

At this point, we opt to choose two of the sushi boat offerings.

Kawa-Sake Rolls (above, $9.50) are grilled salmon skin, eel and avocado wrapped in salmon.

Orchid Rolls (below, $7) are pickled radish, tofu, cucumber, cream cheese wrapped in avocado.

Both are very classy and enjoyable sushi efforts, with the salmon skin adding a crunchy, chewy texture to the former.

“That tempura looks good!” says Bennie, spying the portion being provided to a couple of nearby fellow sushi bar patrons.

He’s wrong – it doesn’t look good; it looks fantastic.

So we have no hesitation in ordering it.

This is the star of our meal – yet it’s quite unlike any tempura we’ve tried previously.

That’s for the simple reason that the batter is of the panko variety rather than your usual tempura batter.

The batter is crunchy and virtually grease-free, the vegetables are hot and mostly crunchy, too.

There’s capsicum, pumpkin, green beans, zucchini – all brilliant.

At $11.80, it’s pleasingly priced.

And we’re starting to understand that vegetarians and those seeking lighter fare are well catered for at Kawa-Sake.

The knockout blow of deliciousness is delivered by the black sesame ice-cream ($6.50), ordered at Bennie’s insistence but with zero protestations from his dad.

It’s fabulous, although I confess to never having tried anything like it before.

It’s a little bit nutty, a little bit chocolate-y … and speaks eloquently of some similar flavour I cannot identify.

So … our first meal at Kawa-Sake, destined to be a Yarravile fixture, has been an outright winner.

There’s been areas of the menu we have not breached.

There’s sushi platters going for $18.80, $37.80 and $49.80 that look sublime.

There’s skewers in the $3-5 range – beef, squid, chicken, scallops, octopus balls.

There’s even salads – tuna/salmon and mushroom, both for $12.80.

Downsides? I struggle to find any.

The pickled ginger served with our soy sauce seemed to have been put in bowls and left out in the open air for some time, so was dried out and rather unappetising.

I wish we’d been offered dedicated dipping sauces with the gyoza and our wonderful tempura.

The cans of Coke were $3.50, but we’ve paid as much for much less soft drink twice on recent jaunts elsewhere, so actually count that pricing as a win.

The service was friendly and efficient, if a little on the nervous side – understandable, that.

And our dishes arrived briskly and with good pacing, a hiccup with the ice-cream aside.

As we conclude our dinner and arrange to pay for it, Bennie and I speculate over the damage done.

He reckons $50.

His dad reckons much closer to $100.

The bill is $70, although it’s only once home that I realise we have not been charged for the seaweed salad.

It’s been worth every cent.

Kawa-Sake is very highly recommended by Team Consider The Sauce.

We’d advise, though, a cavalier attitude towards the prices to be paid.

Just go for it, if you are able to do so – penny-pinching here is liable to be a frustrating experience.

We’d also advise folks to pick their time to visit with some care.

It’s a lovely room, but it’s already apparent that takeaway patrons lingering just inside the door are interacting with staff and eat-in customers in awkward ways.

As well, any time at weekends is likely to be on the crazy side.

So for locals especially, it’s simple – early in the week, early in the night.

Or for lunch!

Kawa-Sake Sushi Boat & Grill Bar on Urbanspoon

Yarraville sushi boat update

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Read our first official review HERE.

So Team CTS dropped into the new Yarraville Japanese restaurant today (Saturday, July 6) to get the latest lowdown.

We had another enjoyable chat with Lucy as we admired the fit-out, which is now complete.

No photos, as we don’t want to spoil the surprise – suffice to say it looks absolutely lovely!

Here’s what we learned:

Opening night for the restaurant (at 3 Anderson St) is scheduled to be Monday, July 16.

The phone number is 9787 8690.

The uninspired Little Tokyo name has been ditched for the much more distinctive and evocative Kawa-Sake Sushi Boat & Grill Bar. Kawa means “river”.

The restaurant will seat 46, including outdoor seating. The sushi boat bar will accommodate 16.

Lucy and her colleagues are in the midst of testing all dishes and nailing down every process and routine.

There’s a website – here – but not a lot of action going on there yet.

Gogo Sushi

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Gogo Sushi, 212 Swanston St, Melbourne. Phone: 9876 2130

Memory is a fickle, changeable thing, but I seem to recall there used to be more sushi train outfits scattered around Melbourne a decade and more ago.

These days, as far as I know, Gogo Sushi is the only one of its kind in or near the CBD.

Our immediate neighbourhood is about to undergo a significant change in that regard, with a Japanese outfit with “sushi boat” soon to open.

In the meantime, a visit to ACMI for a holiday movie presents us with an opportunity to visit what was once quite a regular for us.

Gogo Sushi is a popular place and high turnover means the food is invariably fresh.

In addition to the ever-moving feast before us, they make up rice bowls and the like if specifically ordered.

It’s good, honest fare, even if lacking some of the exquisite refinement and flavours found in more formal Japanese restaurants.

In its earlier days, Gogo Sushi used to price the sushi train items according to plate colour, with basics about $2 and more for flashier servings with more expensive seafood.

These days, all plates are $3.50 – which can make for an expensive meal if you let things get out of hand.

As it is, for this lunch we spend a touch over $30 in about 15 minutes flat. And we’re still hungry.

In that way, sushi boat meals are a bit like tapas – easy to spend big – except worse, as it’s all there all the time right in front of you.

There’s a couple of other things that really annoy me about Gogo Sushi and mean I’ll never have much love for the place – even if it’s a pleasure to take Bennie somewhere he so obviously delights in.

They don’t provide water.

And the non-Japanese soft drink options are restricted to those tiny bottles of Coke, lemonade and Fanta – for the same price, $3.50, as the sushi.

Ouch!

Still, we have a nice time during our over-too-soon lunch.

Bennie gets to practise his chopstick skills.

And he even opts for some sushi involving raw fish, instead of the more usual line-up of fried items.

That’s progress!

Gogo Sushi on Urbanspoon

Sushi boat docking at Yarraville

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LATEST UP DATE (JUNE 7) HERE.

Picking up dinner makings, Bennie and I spy activity in one of the shops at the slightly dowdy end of Anderson St in Yarraville.

What was once a furniture store now has a papered-over window above which we see paper lanterns of Asian derivation.

Of course, we enter to get the low down.

Inside, we meet Lucy, one half of the couple that will soon be opening a restaurant called Little Tokyo.

Scheduled for a June 21 opening, it’ll have all the usual Japanese stuff like miso soup and tempura.

But it’ll also have a grill station turning out yakitori-style goodies.

And – get this! – the central feature of the joint, which will seat about 40 people inside, will be a sushi boat we see taking shape before us as we talk.

Lucy and her family live locally.

She tells me that despite the fact they’re Vietnamese, they’ve all had a long-standing love of Japanese food.

“We just want people to really enjoy the healthy food here,” she says.

Expect a pricing range that’ll go from about $4 for the cheapest entrée up to about $22 for the most expensive meal.

Lucy tells us their Japanese chef has come from Germany and that we should expect sushi that is “different” in a very good way.

And she says she and her husband have put a lot of time and heaps love into seeking out just the right furniture, fittings and decorations.

We’re so excited that June 21 seems like a long way away.

We tell Lucy to expect us hungry lads on opening night.

Who’s up for joining us?

Peko Peko

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Pop culture shrine, Japan-Taiwan-style, at Peko Peko in South Melbourne.

Pop culture shrine, Japan-Taiwan-style, at Peko Peko in South Melbourne.

Peko Peko, 190 Wells St, South Melbourne. Phone: 9686 1109

Peko Peko is tucked away in a back street near the junction of Domain and St Kilda roads.

This is a surprisingly large part of South Melbourne that seems to go largely unnoticed by the rest of Melbourne – unless we’re whizzing along Kingsway or headed for the South Melbourne Market or the gardens.

But, of course, it’s teeming with life and people.

Yes, a stack of office workers of various kinds, but there’s also a lot of apartment blocks hereabouts.

For those reasons, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by the presence of lovely Asian joint like Peko Peko here.

But I am.

Perhaps that can be put down to lingering memories of a previous life spent working amid the eating blandness of the Southbank neighbourhood just up the road.

Peko Peko is done out in nice Asian cafe style.

It’s comprehensively packed for this week-day lunchtime, and I suspect it’s the same at night.

It’s menu is long and varied, though it concentrates on dishes of Taiwanese and Japanese derivation and has items that broaden their base quite a bit.

The prices surprise, too. The average price of the many main meals seems to be about $10-12 – no more than you’d pay for similar food in the CBD or the west.

The serves are big and generous.

The entrees include more than a handful of spring roll variations, as well as Peko Sausage (“unique house-made  Taiwanese sausage”).

Curries all seem to be of the Japanese persuasion, while main meals can be had as either in bowls or in Peko Boxes, which turn out to be the familiar bento boxes of laminated legend.

My lunch companion chooses one of the left-field dishes – Singapore noodles ($10).

Singapore noodles at Peko Peko in South Melbourne.

Singapore noodles at Peko Peko in South Melbourne.

She’s had it before so knows well what she’s getting into, and enjoys it accordingly. It seems more stuffed with goodies than most of its kind.

Yours truly goes for menu item No.1 – Pork Chop Addiction ($12.50), described as “traditional Taiwanese deep-fried pork cutlet, served w. pickled cabbage”.

Pork Chop Addiction at Peko Peko in South Melbourne.

Pork Chop Addiction at Peko Peko in South Melbourne.

The spring roll – hard to tell if it’s filled with pumpkin or carrot or both – is just OK.

The salady, cold beans are wonderful, tossed in – I’m guessing – some sort of sesame dressing.

The cabbage pickles lack any sort of pickle punch.

The deep-fried pork cutlet is heart attack material – and there’s a huge amount of it.

It’s crispy and nice, with a flavour that comes down to – I later discover – salt, pepper, garlic and five-spice. It’s also on the fatty side.

Still … a fruit salad dinner for me beckons tonight!

Peko Peko is a bit out of the way for us, but I have an inkling we may return – Bennie will love the pop culture shrine at the pay point and I’m learning he’ll eat just about anything, no questions asked, if it’s in one of those bento boxes.

Peko Peko on Urbanspoon

Ajitoya, Seddon Festival

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Hillbilly llama at Seddon Festival, 2012.

Ajitoya, 82 Charles St, Seddon. Phone: 9687 1027

Seddon Festival 2012, Harris Reserve, Seddon

Decisions, decisions …

The final cricket match of the season seen off, we are left with three delicious prospects for the remainder of our Saturday.

There’s the famed multicultural celebration called the Pako Festa in Geelong.

But a voluntary drive to that city when so many are mandatory means that idea is likely to remain a mere flicker of possibility.

There’s a more monocultural celebration going at the junction of Lonsdale and Russell streets in the Melbourne CBD.

But finally, especially given the rising temperature, we settle – much to Bennie’s satisfaction – on our local Seddon Festival.

A short, sweaty stroll up Gamon St and we’re there.

We’d already decided that in case the festival’s food offerings do not appeal that it’s best to have a Plan B ready to roll.

The fest food stalls seem more like snacky territory than the lunch proper we are desirous of.

Plan B is Ajitoya.

We had reviewed Ajitoya just a day or so after it opened, and have been back for a few meals since.

We’ve enjoyed seeing the place evolve and grow courtesy of soulful Facebook updates.

It’s time for another look.

Due to the heat and appetites of only medium stature, we stick with basic lunch orders rather than $16-21 sets.

Zaru soba at Ajitoya in Seddon

Bennie had some weeks earlier absorbed my enthusiasm about the cold Japanese noodles served here so has no hesitation in ordering the zaru soba ($13).

He loves it to pieces, merrily dipping the superb noodles in the soy-based dipping sauce into which he has stirred wasabi and spring onion slices.

There is something paradoxically both exotic and plain as can be about this dish, and it’s a winner for sure on a hot day.

Can I tell you how much I love my son and what he’s achieving?

In recent months, he’s gone from being a non-lover, non-eater of capsicum and tofu to happily eating just about all forms of both – and has even taught himself to use chopsticks, as he does here!

His father improvises by ordering miso soup ($4) and a trio of salads ($9).

Trio of salads and miso soup at Ajitoya in Seddon.

The miso soup is fine, the salads are something else again.

They are listed as …

Lightly shredded chicken salad with wasabi dressing.

Buckwheat soba noodles with pickled mustard greens, mayo and spice

Leafy hijiku with lightly fried tofu with daikon ginger vinaigrette.

OK … the chicken salad also has cabbage along with soy/tamari in the dressing; and the noodles have little or no pickle flavour, but do have a tingling chilli hit.

But I adore the way the three salads, and their distinctive dressings, work together – marvellous harmony!

This is another light and great meal for a hot day.

Ajitoya’s Adam tells me he’d have the whole counter cabinet chockers with salads if he had his way, but customer demand dictates sushi rolls remain a mainstay of the business.

I vote for more salads!

He also tells me he and Maya have learned to avoid too constant scanning of what different folk are saying about them at Urbanspoon. Yes, it can do a head in.

One customer, for instance, posted a review there on her mobile saying the food was fine, “but a bit pricey for what you get”.

Other customers have told them their prices are too cheap!

Looks, it’s true a short drive away you can get pho and the like for significantly less than you pay here.

At the same time, though, there are four places within a couple of blocks where you can pay quite a lot more for restaurant food.

Perhaps it’s the very cafe, if very chic, vibe or the display cabinet of sushi rolls that leads people to expect big serves for under $10 here.

Whatever … we have no issue whatsoever with the pricing, especially given the quality and presentation of the food, along with the service.

Ajitoya … don’t think of it as a cafe. This is a Japanese restaurant serving restaurant-quality Japanese food.

Back at the festival, the heat is killing and things don’t seem to have gotten any more lively.

The lawn expanses, subject to the full blast of the unrelenting sun, are unpeopled.

Shade is at a premium.

Everyone is doing it hard – including the panting inhabitants of the animal farm.

Even the music has a sort of desultory, “can we really be bothered with this?” air about it.

Nevertheless, we spend an enjoyable couple of hours taking it all in, talking to friends we meet and just generally hanging out.

Food-wise, we make do with a yummy $5 serve of churros with chocolate dipping sauce from the nice people at Sourdough Kitchen.

ajitoya on Urbanspoon

Matsu Hashi

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388-390 Queens Parade, Fitzroy North. Phone: 9482 3388

We pay far too much – certainly more than we’ve planned on – for too much food.

This is largely our own fault.

With our wits about us, we may have realised that – of course – banquet menus are priced per person.

But our wits are elsewhere, left somewhere behind us as we rode the Capital City Trail from Flinders St station, alongside the Yarra, past the Collingwood Children’s Farm and Abbotsford Convent and onwards.

Unfortunately, somewhere past Dights Falls the terrible signposting – or, more to the point, total lack of signposts – led us astray, requiring a long, sweaty and boring ride along Heidelberg Rd before we make Queens Parade. Oddly, everyone thinks of this as Clifton Hill yet officially it’s Fitzroy North.

We hungrily check out the available options with some dismay – mostly a whole lot of lookalike cafes and a couple of fish and chip shops.

The we spot it – a Japanese restaurant!

It looks like the real deal, too – sushi clock, handsome wooden sushi boats lined up behind the sushi bar, music ranging from highly synthesised Asian pop to classic, timeless Richard Clayderman orchestral pap.

Whatever happened to Richard Clayderman? I wonder if his music has ever been a fixture of cheap, middle-of-the-road (of course!) Asian restaurants in other parts of the world?

Hindsight will tell us we would’ve been much better of with the standard ($14.80) or deluxe ($18.80) bentos from the lunch menu. Or one of the rice/don bowls – about $10 with bento soup.

But we’re a little addled from our long ride, so much fresh air and sunshine, even if it is a perfect day for a bike ride.

So we go for the chiba banquet at $32. It’s one of four that range up to $60 per person.

We both distinctly recall – Bennie adamantly so – our waitress saying: “One chiba banquet to share?” – and us both nodding eagerly in agreement.

But it’s obvious once our parade of food starts arriving that we’re in for the full whack when it comes time to pay. (There’s no EFTPOS here, by the way, but credit cards are fine.)

This sort of spread at $16 a head would be incredible, surreal, ridiculous – even if a single person portion was shared.

At $32 each, though, it’s less impressive.

It’s a fair price for the quantity, but there’s an unevenness about the flavours and textures that’s disappointing.

The miso soup is outstanding – just the right kind of hot and offering plentiful greens, mushrooms and tofu. To my delight, Bennie is getting pretty hip with chopsticks these days and even slurping up tofu – though the mushies remain a step too far. All in good time!

The sushi rolls are just OK, and disappointingly make prominent use of that dastardly seafood extender stuff. The best thing going here is the non-commercial and very tasty pickled ginger.

The gyoza – two each – are likewise just OK. Maybe this the kind of Japanese food is what’s required for your standard suburban establishment, but we’d like a bit more zing.

And so it goes with the harumaki. The spring rolls are fresh, hot and grease-free, but the filling seems more carrot and far less of the advertised seafood. That’s how they taste, anyway.

The tempura – one each of prawn, pumpkin, zucchini and carrot – is another highlight. It, too, is hot, fresh and unoily.

The serve of beef teriyaki is huge. The beef is tender but tasteless.

We’ve often found at other Japanese places the quickly cooked mess of bean sprouts and other finely sliced vegetables is a real knockout; here it is – like it’s cattle collaborator – bland and even a little on the bitter side.

Being no fan of green tea ice cream I have no idea whether our serves are of in-house derivation or a commercial product. In any case, Bennie happily downs both generous serves.

So, yes, that’s a lot of food – even for $32 each.

Our earlier exertions have whetted our appetites so we effortlessly eat just about everything that is put before us, although beef and side vegetables defeat us.

But we’d not go out of our way to eat again here.

Especially when our western suburbs home patch has the likes of Ebi Fine Foods and Ajitoya doing such grand things when it comes to Japanese food.

So cool – the west has become something of Japanese tucker hotspot!

Refreshed after our lacklustre lunch, we rejoin the Capital City Trail – past Nicholson, Lygon, Royal Parade, the zoo – mostly donwhill – and on to Dynon Rd.

 We make it home without assistance from the Met.

The Matsu Hashi website – including PDF of entire menu – is here.

Matsu Hashi on Urbanspoon

Nourishment, various

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Under-11 cricket, Hansen Reserve, West Footscray

Hound Dog’s Bop Shop, 313 Victoria St,  West Melbourne. Phone: 9329 5362

Sushi Kissaten, Shop 26-27, F Shed, Queen Victoria Market , Melbourne. Phone: 9328 8809

As a parent, I’d love to be able to say – with a straight, sincere face – that the sacrifices and time spent fostering my son’s growth, development and happiness are nothing but a matter of sheer joy.

That, however, would be an outright lie.

It is, therefore, with some wonderment that I can say that time spent attending the Saturday morning cricket matches, supporting him and his team and watching their skills develop has very quickly become a sublime pleasure.

The start is early enough to leave room for other activities – and we have a few planned for today.

The previous week we’d been at ground adjacent Altona Beach, upon which I had a nice mid-game walk/paddle.

Today we’re at Hansen Reserve in West Footscray.

There’s shade trees and a nice breeze.

In the corner, wedged between two different industrial and/or commerce properties, I find a beaut picnic table and two attached bench seats that will surely come in handy in the forthcoming holiday break.

The park bench I choose manages to contrive shade coverage for most of the morning and the cooling breeze takes care of the rest.

Although not an ardent cricket fan, I’ve been around more than long enough to be able to effortlessly switch into the rhythm of reading but looking up just a ball is about to be bowled.

In this case, the subject of my attention is the latest tome by Stephen King.

As with cricket, I am no diehard King fan, but have read many of his books with pleasure and more.

Enough, in fact, to rate him as a master storyteller – and perhaps the greatest living American author.

A few months previously I was surprised when friend, learning of my King fandom, pronounced: “But he’s just a horror writer!”

Well, it’s been a long time since I considered King merely that.

In this case, I tumble right in, breaching the 100th page as the match progresses.

After the game, we head straight to Hound Dog’s Bop Shop in West Melbourne.

Denys Williams has been running this glorious emporium for something like 30 years, but will be closing up shop on December 24.

I think he’s had enough, although I suspect the ease of online buying has something to do with his decision, too.

That’ll leave a mighty big hole in the lives of several generations of roots music fans in Melbourne and around Australia for whom Hound Dog’s has long been a magnet stuffed with all sorts of rockabilly, country, western swing, bluegrass, doo wop, soul, pop, gospel, R&B and blues goodies and much, much more.

I remember when I first entered Hound Dog’s upon my arrival in Melbourne in the mid-1980s.

I looked around for a few minutes and then hastily departed. Spending any time at all in a place brimming with such musical riches while being flat broke was just too painful.

In subsequent years, indeed decades, Hound Dog’s became a focal point, a place of good friends made, a gazillions beers drunk and countless records – vinyl and CD – purchased and discussed.

For a while there, my life and musical interests took me elsewhere, but recent years have seen me once again become a regular.

The Hound Dog’s farewells have begun, overseen today by the continuation of a long and venerable tradition – a gig out front.

In this case, it is the mighty Dancehall Racketeers doing the business, laying down some fine western swing.

For most long-time customers and friends of Hound Dog’s it’s been a while since the joint was a social magnet, so it’s good to catch up with old friends not seen, in most cases, for many years.

It’s especially nifty to catch with my old mate Peter Bruce.

Now a retired taxi driver, Peter – from what I can tell – has become something of a man about town. Or, perhaps more accurately, a man about the country.

Moreover, I am delighted to find that he, too, has become a blogger.

I Was A Teenage Rail Fan details at glorious length his railways fandom, he being one of quite a few Hound Dog’s regulars who have always had a thing about trains.

“Trainspotters” has never been a term that fits for these folks!

It’s time for lunch, so Bennie and I head up and down Victoria St towards Victoria Market.

We are amazed at the number of eating places that are closed on a Saturday just before Christmas.

We’d love to hang for a while at Dolcetti but move on after confirming our fears that it’s sweeties only.

Thus it is rather by accident that we end up at Sushi Kissaten, which is part of a foodie laneway at the market but which has a street frontage not too far from the Spanish donut operation.

Apart from sushi rolls, the menu is pretty basic – various don dishes for $9.50 and three bento offerings – curry chicken, teriyaki chicken and beef – for $11.50.

Chicken teriyaki for him, beef for me, please.

Our bentos are identical, even if the protein components are different.

This is not like teriyaki like we have been served before elsewhere – like my beef, it’s more of stew with sweet onion strands.

In both cases, OK-to-good but nothing really notable.

The rest of our bentos are better – very good, in fact, especially for the price.

Rice with pickle; two excellent pieces of roe-crusted sushi; two hot, fresh but rather anonymous spring rolls; two deep-fried and very tasty dumplings encasing cellophane noodles and prawn; an elongated crumbed offering of what could be fish but may be, ahem, seafood stick; salad bits and pieces.

It’s good and we’re happy, especially considering our rather haphazard lunch hunt in an area all hustle and bustle with pre-Christmas activity.

As I say to Bennie: “With a bit more effort we may’ve done better – but we could also have done a whole lot worse around here!”

We wouldn’t go out of our way to get to Sushi Kissaten, but it works for us on the day.

Back at Hound Dog’s, we catch a few tunes by second band of the day, the Starliners, before saying our goodbyes and heading home.

Back in Yarraville, it’s serious chill time.

Into the old iron pot go a pound of red beans soaked overnight, hambone trimmings, celery, onion, green capsicum, garlic, sugar, vinegar, bay leaves, thyme, ground allspice and ground cloves – it’s red beans and rice New Orleans-style for dinner tonight!

Sushi Kissaten on Urbanspoon

ajitoya

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82 Charles St, Seddon. Phone: 96871027

New review can be found here.

Adam and Maya have lived in Yarraville for five years, and for all of that time they’ve been thinking surely someone will get some Japanese action going in the neighbourhood in terms of eating out.

Nobody did … so they did!

They’ve been open for about a week when I visit and things are going good for them.

The concise yet astutely chosen Japanese grocery lines reflect Maya’s frustration about having to travel to Prahran, Moonee Ponds or Kyoto for the right products.

Adam tells me they were quite keen to do without selling the ubiquitous sushi rolls. But the fact they’re selling very briskly probably puts them in the category of things that simply can’t be avoided if you’re going into the Japanese eatery business.

For the time being,  they’re set up for providing quick, fine and affordable lunches and takeaway on a Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-7pm basis.

Adam tells me, though, that there’s space left in their musings and space on the premises, too, for a move towards more substantial dinner fare should things go well.

Adam’s background includes stints at Blue Train and Big Mouth while Maya has worked at Izakaya Den.

The ajitoya motto: “Does this train go to Osaka?” … that being something Adam was asked at least a gazillion times a day when he lived in Japan for three years.

Along with the rolls, the display cabinet holds four osozai, or salads. The soba noodles, coleslaw, salmon sashimi tataki and vegetables with sesame sauce dressing in shabu shabu style all look very lovely.

Being of robust appetite, I head straight for the menu section that details the bento meal combos.

They include karaage, agedashi tofu, sushi or a combination of three salads. With each comes rice, miso soup and a choice of one osozai, and mostly costing $16.

My miso soup is fine, of a good temperature and boasting a profusion of squishy tofu bits.

The coleslaw is everything I hope it will be, full of flavour from the sesame dressing and having that superb wilted crunchiness that only the Japanese and certain European cuisines seem capable of.

The fried chicken is little less tanned than is usually the case – maybe it was the first batch of the day? – but the coating is delicate and the chicken is just as juicy and flavoursome as I could want, beaut smeared with the dab of mayo on the side.

I suspect Adam and Maya are likely to find they were not alone in fervently wishing for a Japanese dining option in the neighbourhood, and certainly I’ll be returning very soon with Bennie – he’ll love the chook, but I reckon I’ll go for the clean and fresh salad combo.

Ms Baklover at Footscray Food Blog loves ajitoya, too, as you can discover by reading her review.

And check out the ajitoya Facebook page here.

Ajitoya on Urbanspoon

Ebi Fine Food

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

It’s been a year since Consider The Sauce started and what a fabulous time we’ve had.

Right from the start, though, and without thinking too hard about it or really trying, we have instinctively tried to find our own way, avoiding places and businesses that are too regularly lauded, reviewed and serially blogged, sometimes to excess.

Some things, however, simply can’t be denied.

The pleasures, personality, character, pricing and, well, fine foods make Ebi Fine Foods one of them.

As regulars know, this West Footscray Japanese eatery-cum-fish ‘n’ chip shop is on the diminutive side.

Seating is restricted to half a dozen or so stools facing the kitchen, two two-person tables inside and a couple of bigger tables on the footpath outside.

We’re casual visitors, though, and have never bothered booking. Our early-ish dinner times usually see us right, anyhow.

This night, though, we’re hitting the joint after 7pm, the result of an inspired spur-of-the-moment decision after football practice.

Our luck holds as we gleefully snag the last pair of stools at the bar.

It’s busy, busy, busy.

The place is doing a roaring takeaway trade.

The banter flies between boss man John and regular customers coming and going.

Happily, all this activity falls well on the right side of adding to the experience, as opposed to falling into the simply-too-much bag.

I fancy straying into the Japanese territory on the menu, instead of the fish and chips I’ve had every other time we’ve been here.

Bennie insists on ordering the bento of the day.

So there I am … once again ordering the fish and chips I’ve had every other time we’ve been here.

No problem!

My large serve ($12.50) involves two mindblowingly scrumptious chunks of the fish of the day, gurnard. The batter is crispy and holds well to the fish, the white flesh of which is superbly cooked, being tender yet also offering just the right amount of resistance to the bite.

Oh my!

My plate of joy is completed by a piece each of tofu and the eggy slice usually found on sushi, two kinds of pickle (preserved and freshly made), some good greenery and lovely mayo for fish and chip dipping purposes.

If the handsome bowl of chips on the side are a few percentage points below the state-of-the-art levels that are routine here, they’re so close it matters not.

Bennie’s bento ($15) is equally fabulous, mostly attended by the same Japanese bits and pieces as my fried platter – with a few different twists.

One is a smallish half-bulb of grilled eggplant with a gooey miso sauce – nasu dengaku. Watching this being sucked up by the lad is profoundly enjoyable, as this is the only place in the entire known universe that Bennie will not only eat eggplant but be thrilled by it.

His slow-cooked boneless beef ribs in red miso consist of two hearty meat pieces that come across as a Japanense version of Italy’s osso buco. A with the fish, the meat is tender but with just the right amount of bitey-ness.

The gravy is sweet, sticky, unctuous, delicious.

Quite apart from the quality of the food and the experience here, the prices are astonishing.

Price is relative, of course – the previous night we’d eaten a rice dish at Pandu’s, one that could feed both of us no problem for a cost of $8.90.

But still …

Fish, chips of this quality, with such lovely trimmings for $12.50? Insane, amazing!

Similarly for Bennie’s bento at a price of $15. You’ll find cheaper bentos in the CBD, but none matching the quality of food found here. And at places such as Kuni’s, you can pay a whole bunch more.

As our dinner activities wind down, from the general banter going on it becomes apparent that for a bloke sitting at one of the tables behind us this is the third dinner here this week.

A small part of me thinks: “Geez, mate, get a life!”

The rest of me is envious.

Here’s a tip:

According to the yet-to-be-completed website address found on John’s business card, it seems he’s soon to go mobile.

Ebi Fine Food on Urbanspoon

Kuni’s

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56 Little Bourke St, Melbourne. Phone: 9663 7243

The news at the dentist is not good.

Well, it’s probably pretty much OK for him, but not me, his long-time customer/client/patient/whatever.

What smug presumption had led me to believe would be a replaced filling worth a few hundred dollars turns out to be crown work going way over a grand.

This rather wipes out the satisfaction of hearing, later in the day, exactly how much the taxman is going to reimburse me this year.

Turns out my dentist is going to get more than half of it.

So it goes … what to do when in the CBD and needing a few rough edges finessed off the day?

Lunch, of course!

Before the advent of Bennie, I worked in or near the CBD for 20 years or so, even living in Flinders Lane for a couple.

Even since the move way out west, we made frequent CBD trips for wing chun and other adventures and chores. The martial arts logistics are beyond us, for the time being, so a city visit has become something of a novelty.

In my CBD years, Kuni’s was a favourite and a regular. I hit it for lunch often, and sometimes two or more times a week. It’s an old campaigner in terms of Chinatown in general and CBD Japanese eateries in particular, though it never seems get the same reverential press as the likes of Kenzan and Hanabishi.

On those working week lunches so long ago I almost always made a point of being on my ownsome, with a book or newspapers for company, as I sat at one of the stools at Kuni’s sushi bar.

I was on nodding familiarity with a number of other regulars who adhered to the same routine as I. There seemed to be a sort of unspoken expectation that this was our own individual hideaway and secret. A refuge, if you like, wherein conversation was to be discouraged.

The sushi bar at Kuni’s – sigh! – is where I head to sup and sip the devastating dentist visit out of mind, body and soul, with a copy of hot-off-presses GRAM Magazine for reading purposes.

LIke many other Melbourne stalwarts, not much has changed at Kuni’s over the years, though some remodelling has seen those stools have been replaced by ordinary chairs.

And the prices have crept up, of course. The daily bento is $19. Teishoku dishes such as wafu steak or sukiyaki with rice and miso soup are all $20 or more. Yakisoba noodles are $16 and most of the various sushi/sashimi combos at or around the $30 mark.

There’s cheaper Japanese places in the vicinity, but there’s a sure pleasure to be had at chowing down in a real dinkum bona fide Japanese restaurant.

So much so I am happy to pay $18 for the vegetable set, enjoy every bite and sip and consider it money very well spent, even if just for old time’s sake and assured banishment of the Dentistry Blues.

The miso soup is good, the right temperature and studded with tiny cubes of tofu, though lacking seaweed or mushrooms.

The tempura I eat first while it’s hot and crispy. It’s very good and made up of a piece apiece of pumpkin, potato, carrot, green bean and capsicum.

The agedashi tofu is beaut, the two still-crunchy chubby chunks of silken tofu swimming in a broth of dashi and mirin and topped with a sludge of finely grated daikon and also ginger. Quite refined and mild of flavour, I love it.

The sesame spinach is just OK, its coldness lending it a clamminess that seems out of step with the other, fine dishes.

My three pieces of cucumber-stuffed hosomaki sushi are fine, and have a little mound of pickled ginger for company.

A bowl of rice, which as per usual I only nibble at, and that’s it.

It’s been a delight to revisit an old friend and find that some things never, or hardly ever, change.

Crown work clocking in at $1200 or more? I’ll worry about that in a few weeks’ time!

The Kuni’s website is here.

Kuni's on Urbanspoon

Chiba Sushi Bar

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43 Puckle St, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9326 2916

Japanese curry? Doesn’t get discussed by curry nuts in the same zealous manner as spice-laden dishes from throughout Asia – and, these days, the rest of the world – does it?

And while I’ve known folks who have lived in or spent some time in Japan who have a soft spot for that nation’s version of curry, for me it’s always been a matter “prefer others” when it comes to Japanese food.

Today, though, I take the plunge.

The lure isn’t desire or appetite. It’s the description propped on the counter at Chiba Sushi Bar:

Now that sounds good for lunch on a bleak and chilly day.

And so it proves to be.

Chiba Sushi Bar is the sibling of Chiba Japanese Restaurant in Hall St, a block over from Puckle.

During my half-hour or so in the place, it does a brisk and pretty much non-stop trade in sushi rolls, the popularity of which is also reflected by some rave reviews at the joint’s entry at Urbanspoon.

Perhaps there’s quite a lot to be said about takeaway sushi rolls purchased from an establishment that has real and meaningful ties to a more formal and proper Japanese restaurant.

Along with the rolls, they serve a small range of other dishes – katsu curry, chicken katsu curry,  tofu and vegetable curry, unadon – on rice, also with miso soup as part of the partaking fee.

My soup is good and hot, with some diced tofu but minus all but the barest glimpses of greenery. Sadly, it is served in a polystyrene cup.

I also get a Japanese soft drink of the peach persuasion. Getting into the fizzy sweetness defies my best efforts, so the staff eventually show me how – by pushing the marble at the top down, where it rattles around as you quaff. Neato and refreshing but at a price ($3.50).

My pork curry and rice, annoyingly, comes served in plastic and looks a rather modest serving.

It’s fantastic and the serve size proves more than adequate!

The root vegetables – potato and carrot only, as far as I can tell – are finely diced and meltingly tender, so much so that they are virtually part of the gravy. The pork pieces are likewise tender.

The gravy itself is blazingly hot and stays so until the very final mouthful. My ragout/curry has a nice but mild chilli undertow.

Calling this a curry in the same sense as we think of India, Thailand or Malaysia is a stretch. But taken on its own terms, it’s a winning lunch.

Well satisfied, I depart knowing I’ll forever remember this as The Day I Learned To Love Japanese Curry.

UPDATE: A friend has just informed that Japan-style curry sauce comes, she thinks, from a tube. Well, it’s pre-made anyway – check out this wikipedia entry.

You know what? I don’t care!

Chiba Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon