Shop 194, 81 Hopkins St, Footscray. Phone: 9687 1088
Best to be upfront about it: If you hold to notions of purity when it comes to Japanese food, if you like real Japanese tucker – not Japanese-style – then Sekai will likely disappoint.
It is, by our reckoning at least, firmly of the latter persuasion – but our latest visit there tasted fine and seemed more, ahem, “Japanese” than the lacklustre “sushi rolls” hordes the have become so popular as lunchtime fare.
As such, Sekai is virtually identical to many ramen/udon joints found the length and breadth of Melbourne’s CBD.
Nor would I go as far as one punter at Urbanspoon, who opined there was “nothing Japanese about it”.
Our visit came about by way of Bennie’s determination to eat “on the other side of the street”, indicating the Footscray Market – and less restaurant-cluttered – side of Hopkins St.
On a much earlier visit, just after it had opened, I had the gyu tan don – ox tongue in red wine sauce on rice ($10). It was wonderful.
This time, with son on hand, a mandatory order was always going to be a serve of their seaweed salad ($4).
Bennie loves it, and I do too, so I figured it was about time to find out what makes this dish tick – and if, as I suspected, it wasn’t half as healthy as it appears to be at first blush. Could something as slinky, sexy and delicious be all good?
Some subsequent research reveals that other than seaweed, the dressing commonly includes sugar, vinegar, a little chilli, sesame oil and seeds, soy sauce and even dashi.
Far from the evil I feared, then.
In any case, the Sekai version was sensational – more coarse and crunchy than we’re used to, but every mouthful was a slithery taste delight, with a lovely balance of sweet and sour flavours. It lasted – maybe – two minutes.
I really dig the way Bennie is fast developing a feel and intuition for what will work for him when scanning a menu.
A paternal guiding hand is still sometimes required, but this time he got it right – his katsu don ($8.50) was just what he needed and desired.
A generous serve of crunchily crumbed pork doused in tonkatsu sauce rested atop what amounts to an omelette laced with carrot, peas and red onion, which in turn sat on a solid bed of rice.
Bennie loved it.
My pork ramen ($9) was more murky when it comes to matters of Japanese heritage – another Urbanspoon poster had a point when he quipped: “Ramen?? More like 2 minute noodles…”
It’s true the broth seemed more Sino than Nippon, and had little or no miso/soy tang, while the noodles likewise seemed far from authentic.
But it tasted good, the roast pork being generous of serve, both tender and chewy – and profoundly unlike Chinese roast pork. Greenery came via some nice spinach.
It was a quick, cheap and satisfying lunch.
If you’re happy with Japanese-style food and are prepared to select carefully, Sekai remains worthy of consideration.