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.
I’ve never seen any mention of an extra charge for food wastage in Australia but it is used in various places that have buffets in China where I spent several years back in the noughties. It actually makes sense from a Chinese proprietors point of view because Chinese culture demands that a host really lays it on when it comes to banquets. I was often amazed and horrified at the amount of food that would sometimes be ordered then go untouched. Indeed it is considered poor form if a guest cleans up his plate – it is an indication to the host that the guest is saying that he wasn’t fed enough.
So, in this case I wonder who is actually running the place. Many Japanese restaurants in Australia may have Japanese waitresses etc but often the boss is Chinese.
I doubt very much that this place will have any real problems with people over ordering. Australians generally don’t like to waste food – certainly not in the quantities that would raise the ire of the restaurateur.
Hi Pablo! Yes, well this may be a new angle on me but another pal has pointed out on FB that he’s seen it many times in Asia – and that scales are indeed used. Agree – don’t think it’ll be a problem here.
Hmmm, so you got your 30 bucks’ worth? Will probably give Okami a try but in these situations I can never help but do some quick comparisons of $78 worth of food (cost for 2 adults and a child at Okami):
* enough food for 5 or 6 people from nearby Vietnamese places
* 3 dosai and a family-size biryani from Dosa Hut
* 3 pizzas at Ovest
* 6 dishes from many Ethiopian restaurants
Hi Juz! Good points!
Anything to discourage food waste is O K I reckon.
A LONG WAY FROM FOOTSCRAY —Dont shoot me down ‘ cos Ive wandered across the Pacific !
In Memphis Tennessee 2 totally authentic ” soul food ” restaurants , well off the well- worn tourist triangle ~of ~Sun Studios , Graceland , Beale Street — offer all you can eat buffets at low prices. Prices are a reflection of the local demographic , not of the quality or variety on offer.
Four Ways Grille and Gay Hawk Diner ( Yes , that is its’ name) each may charge $2 for what they consider over- exuberance on the patrons part ~~ or as my Mum said ” eyes bigger than belly”
Both restaurants are long established and family run. The warmth of the welcome is genuine . The food , plentiful , fresh and just that – food with ” soul” based on using lower cost ingredients , as that was all that could be afforded .
To charge for wastage , gluttony at family run , genuine , restaurants is totally warranted.
Whether it is at what appears from your review to be a formulaic experience is still not OK .
Do they provide the pack your own take away polystyrene trays , or does this encourage over – ordering ?
Hi Tony and thanks for that! Yes, I can see the sense in it – particularly in the face of mindless, aspirational gluttony.
I had to make an unexpected visit to Collins Street this afternoon. While he was fixing me up, my Chinese heritage dentist told me he was quite familiar with such procedures in places such as Malaysia.
And BTW, the incredible response today to this story – mostly on various FB pages – makes it clear that for many people considerations such as elegance and presentation are a complete irrelevance when contemplating such an all-you-can-eat offer!
RIP 1+1 how I miss thee! Spicy lamb soup with Hand made noodles never to be had again!
Agreed. The cumin lamb skewers and the laaaamb dumplings!
I can’t BELIEVE 1+1 is gone. Is t really gone?! Really really?! Have they not just moved?!