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!