Okami, 84 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 9078 0888
As we depart Footscray’s new Japanese establishment, I ask Bennie what he made of our meal …
“It was a bit shopping centre,” he replies after a moment of pondering.
“But it got better as it went on.”
He’s right on both counts.
Okami replaces 1 + 1 Dumpling Noodles on Hopkins Street, right in the guts of Footscray.
It is a sister restaurant to establishments in Hampton, Caulfield and Wantirna.
The place has been done over in a rather nice and sleek way.
Ordering a la carte can be done at Okami, which is a dinner only eatery and also (perhaps temporarily) cash only.
But judging by the number of patrons in the place on our Monday night and those I observed a few nights earlier on a packed-house Saturday, Okami Footscray is already a big hit based on its all-you-can-eat deal for $29.80 per person.
So that’s what we do, too.
The result is one of our more unusual dining experiences.
How does it work?
This is not a buffet.
Instead, patrons order from a separate all-you-can-eat menu (see below) that nevertheless seems to feature just about everything the restaurant serves.
The line-up is long and features many well-known Japanese dishes ranging from starters through to ice-cream.
Some of meatier and more substantial dishes are offered in two sizes, though pondering portion sizes seems odd in this context.
The first thing we want to know is: Once we’ve ordered, is that it – can we order no more?
Our waitperson is ready for that: Yes, we can order as many times as we like.
We end up ordering twice for savouries and once for sweets.
Bizarrely, the menu comes with the following warning: “Please Do not Waste Food, Any Food Waste Over 200g May Charge Extra.”
Wow, I wonder how that works.
If a table has been unable to consume all it has ordered, what do the staff do – wheel out the scales?
It comes across as a bluff and a warning, one that surely would be very difficult to enforce.
And if it was, who decides what the “extra” charges are – and on what basis?
We order a stack of smaller dishes and larger ones to share that range from awful to delicious, largely progressing as per Bennie’s summation from not good to better to very good in order of arrival.
And arrive our selections do – in such quick succession we struggle to keep up.
Several of the garnishes and salady bits are overbearing and/or lame.
Seaweed salad has all the flavours we expect but is drab.
Sushi is edible but dull.
The nigiri is too hard and too cold, and I doubt very much if it has been made fresh for us.
This is where Bennie’s “shopping centre” quip is most relevant.
Though the same can be said of our seafood tempura.
Freshly fried, yes, but lacklustre – a couple of vegetable pieces and a prawn for each of us.
The eggplant salad is topped by a profusion of carrot strands.
The cross-cut eggplant is a mix of crunchy and chewy but falls a long way short of the sort of melt-in-your-mouth sensations we expect of this dish.
There is little that is overtly seafoodish about our prawn gyoza but they taste fine, though the outer edges of the pastry are too chewy.
Chawan mushi is tiny and lacking any seafood, chicken or other – but the custard does have good flavour.
Miso soup is unmemorable.
Bedraggled leaves are draped over four pieces of beef carpaccio that taste wonderful – this marinated meat is Bennie’s favourite part of the night.
Miso beef is fine and tender, though the miso sauce is not a an integrated part of the dish and the meat is a tad overcooked for my tastes.
Now we’re cooking!
Or rather, deep-frying!
The batter on our chicken karaage is quite thick but overall this dish pleases us.
It’s hot and fresh; the chicken is tender though not particularly flavoursome.
The chicken katsu also delights.
The coating is crisp and hot, and the tangy sauce makes the whole lot sing.
Cold soba (buckwheat) noodles present as a mess but are lovely, the vibrant sesame dressing nicely abetting the pickled ginger and bean sprouts.
Green tea and black sesame ice-creams are both described on the menu as homemade.
We know not if these are actually made in-house – but we really enjoy them anyway.
Have we enjoyed our dinner?
Yes, but …
Have we got our money’s worth?
Yes, but …
Have we left any potentially surcharge-liable food?
Long-time CTS readers will be aware that notions such as plating, presentation, decor, ambience, elegance, style and class don’t feature very high on our list of eating-out criteria.
But experiencing the Okami all-you-can-eat deal makes us realise that when it comes to Japanese food, they have a big role to play – even for us.
Okami mileage will vary depending on individual customer concerns.
For most people, we suspect a satisfying time can be had through savvy ordering, even if the food often seems rushed and wanting more refinement.
But there’s no doubt that for many, Okami will be a popular and regular feasting point.
Indeed, it already is.