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!
Thanks mate, another terrific informative and entertaining post
I look forward to checking it out when I am back from my US holiday…thanks for checking it out for us 🙂
I’m going to check it out soon with a friend – can’t wait! We’re planning to go on a Friday night so it sounds like it could be crazy busy. Oh well – all part of the fun!
Hooray! Can’t wait to check it out!
Cute little place! Love the mural on the wall there, thanks for sharing 🙂
Had lunch here today, and while I generally respect your opinions, you’re completely and totally off the mark here. The food at Kawa-Sake is as terrible as the eye-scorchingly fluorescent pink cherry blossoms-and-Fuji mural on the wall, and for the same reason, namely that the people running this restaurant do not have the faintest clue about Japanese food.
One by one. The sushi is actually the least bad thing here, although the only even approximately authentic options are salmon and tuna, and even a $11 combo box at Sushi Sushi (not a paragon of authenticity either, mind you) is better value than paying $20 for a plate at Kawa-Sake. The breadcrumb “tempura” is nothing of the sort, a terrible mess of soggy vegetables with more grease than a bad chippie, and yes, the lack of any dipping sauce would be criminal even if it was decent. Last and least, my (Japanese) wife and I pretty much fell off our stools laughing when we saw the “Tofu Wrapped”: I’m not sure what avocado and mushy bites of tofu drowned in Thousand Island dressing is supposed to be, but it sure as hell isn’t Japanese!
Upsides? I struggle to find any. Steer clear.
Hello there and thanks for commenting! Judging by your comment and some at Urbanspoon (both for and against), this place seems destined to generate polarised opinions. As noted above, our tempura was crisp, crunchy and ungreasy. We loved it! And we care not if the use of panko crumbs means it is technically “not tempura”.
I can understand some people not liking the place. But I sense that a lot of the criticism is going to be based around notions of authenticity – that what they are delivering is not Japanese.
In our experience, that would exclude many, perhaps even most, “Japanese” restaurants in Melbourne.
We’re not experts on Japanese food by any means. But as for “thousand island dressing”, I wonder just how “authentic” the prolific use of mayo in Japanese food is.
But then … we like the mural!
I went to Kawa-Sake for lunch yesterday after given them two weeks to settle down and it was still pack busy, however comfortable. Most of the customers leaving tips on the tables and appears to be extremely happy with the food. I give the yakitori chicken, the takoyaki skewers and Kawa-Sake Platter with the salmon freshly melted in my mouth a thumb up.
The oil painting on the wall is gorgeous and given Yarraville is in desperate need of a place like this, I feel they did an excellent job. The atmosphere is warm and comfortable and the restaurant use of space is very clever.
Good on them and definitely be back!!!!!
Hi Ashley – thanks for contributing!
You’re absolutely right: many, perhaps even most, “Japanese” restaurants in Melbourne are nothing of the sort. Using authentic ingredients and hiring Japanese chefs costs too much, and there’s not enough of a resident Japanese population to drive demand for it the same way there is for eg. real Korean or Vietnamese food. But we’ve sampled a fair few across all price brackets, and Kawa-Sake is among the worst, both in terms of food quality (terrible) and price (not cheap).
There are plenty of Japanese fusion restaurants in Melbourne that brand themselves as such and maintain a modicum of respect for the original, eg. Wabi Sabi Salon on Smith St, and I’m perfectly fine with that (and an occasional customer). Neither do I write lengthy griping comments on blogs about generic Asian fusion places like Yarraville’s Sumo or Jasmine Inn; the laksas and char kway teows in both bear virtually no relation to the real thing in Singapore, but then, neither of them claims that it does.
But a restaurant passing itself off as “Japanese” when the food they serve is manifestly not really gets my goat! They call themselves a Japanese restaurant, brand the place with a way-over-the-top Japanese theme and label their food with Japanese names, so yes, I expect Japanese food. Wouldn’t you complain if you went to an Italian restaurant, ordered a pizza margherita off the menu written in Italian, and got soggy pita bread doused with ketchup and cheddar?
And oh, mayonnaise is not used particularly prolifically in actual Japanese food, like all dairy products it’s a fairly modern import to the country. In Japan you’ll find it with takoyaki, okonomiyaki and Japanese-style potato salad, but the idea of slathering it all over sushi as commonly found in Melbourne is pretty much unknown.
Interesting comments. I’m sure you’ll be unsurprised to know I’ve had my share of pizza and pasta around Melbourne in, ahem, “Italian” places that bore only the most tenuous relation to Italian food. And regardless of definitions, I’ve certainly had much, much worse meals – be they Japanese, “Japanese” or unJapanese – than we had a Kawa-Sake. I’ve re-read my review several times. It’s upbeat and half-full in approach. But it is an entirely accurate reflection of our time there. I guess we’ll be going back … and you won’t! 🙂