Sooper dooper new Japanese joint

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Shinmai Tasty, 44 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9317 3830

My first visit to Shinmai Tasty, the new Japanese eatery at Edgewater, was meant to be all about reconnaissance* – checking the joint out for a more in-depth subsequent look with more people on hand.

I had a lovely lunch, though to be truthful its three elements were enjoyed as something of a mixed bag – miso soup (OK but not great), bento (OK but not great) and dessert (sensational).

 

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But there was something about the place and its happy, obliging staff that made me hasten about organising that return visit.

I felt a buzz of real excitement and an urgent desire to explore the menu in much greater depth.

That menu is a smartly devised two-page affair that runs fromh sushi and sashimi and starters through to salads, mains, bentos and dessert.

There are many classic dishes to be had and a few that appeal through unusuality.

But my excitement was based around more than that – it was and is also very much about the decor and the fabulous artwork.

 

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The dining room is long, with one whole wall – opposite the bar/bench seating – adorned with two utterly gorgeous murals.

Normally, as regular readers well know, decor and artwork aren’t high on the CTS agenda.

But in this case they have massive impact, being wonderful eye candy on the one hand and bespeaking, on the other, a determination to provide an all-inclusive environment to enjoy eating Japanese food.

The art approach even extends to the loo (see below)!

Obviously, I am no expert on Japanese art of any kind, so I know not if this style of painting has a name. It’s not in the manga or anime style, though I do detect a connection with the settings portrayed in the Studio Ghibli films.

On to the food!

Here’s a round-up of what was tried over both visits – luckily I booked for the second, as it ended up with a group of seven (including myself) that made merry during a busy Mother’s Day lunch session.

 

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Miso soup ($3.50 but served free with bentos) – very nice without being great, but certainly packed with lots of seaweed and very fine tofu cubes.

 

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Nasu kara chips ($8.50) – just as well several serves of these eggplant chips were ordered as they proved a big hit and were, to my mind, stupendously fine.

The tempura batter was very good and the long eggplant strands within cooked to molten, delicious perfection.

Served with mayo and dusted with just the right amount of chilli powder.

A knock-out dish!

 

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Edemame ($5) – salt-spirinkled soy beans, a nice snacky diversion for us all as we awaited our more serious, substantial fare.

 

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Wagyu beef tataki ($16.50) – I am used to beef tataki variations being heavily marinated, very garlicky and (usually) served with a raw egg.

This was something different and lighter, the beautiful beef having something of citrus tang about it.

Good for sharing!

 

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I tasted neither the agedashi tofu ($9.50) nor …

 

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… the mixed tempura ($14.50), but the very happy recipient of both could hardly have been more emphatic in declaring both outright winners.

 

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The sushi fan orderers of the mixed sushi/shashimi ($38) were a little underwhelmed.

Big tick for the sashimi; “indifferent” the word used to describe the sushi.

 

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My soy udon soup chicken ($16.50) was superb, with super broth that was both delicate and robustly flavoured.

Along with the fat, slippery noodles and a goodly amount of seaweed, right there in the middle was a whole chicken thigh – a first for me, that I can recall, in a lifetime of eating soup noodles of various kinds.

I wondered how I was going to eat it – but it was so beautifully cooked, not to mention supremely tasty, that I had no trouble getting the meat from the bones.

 

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On the first visit, I enjoyed the sashimi bento ($22.50) with its OK sushi, fine sashimi, very enjoyable sushi rice, seaweed salad, grapes and unmemorable salady bits.

 

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That was mirrored in the second meal by various of my pals ordering bentos of the beef teriyaki ($20.50) …

 

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… chicken teriyaki ($19.50) and …

 

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… unagi (eel, $23.50) varieties, with their respective owners all happy with their lots.

 

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First time around, I was presented with a complementary green tea brulee that I was, in any case, preparing to order!

I loved it then – so creamy and scrumptious, and an outright bargain at $5.90.

Those we ordered for our Sunday lunch were a little below that standard, being – to our collective mind – a little grainy in the texture department.

Still, I’d order it again in a heartbeat!

 

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The green tea and hojicha (another variety of (roasted) green tea) ice-creams we are presented without ordering or paying were fine.

Why the complementary ice-cream?

Maybe because it was Mother’s Day, maybe because we were a largish group, maybe because they’d figured out a blogger/reviewer was part of that group.

I say the above merely to make clear that the mileage of individual patrons and groups may vary in this regard.

 

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As, I hope, the above words make clear, not everything we tried at Shinmai Tasty unequivocally hit the spot.

But some dishes did just that.

We reckon this is a very welcome addition to the Japanese options available in the western suburbs and, in fact, fits in right nicely with the likes of Chiba, Ebi and Ajitoya.

Highly recommended, it is.

My heartfelt thanks to Liana, Dev, Christine, Julian, Eliza and Josh for enabling such an in-depth story!

***

*Haha – I can’t believe spelt that word correctly first time!

 

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All you can eat Japanese

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okami17

 

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Seaweed salad has all the flavours we expect but is drab.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Chawan mushi is tiny and lacking any seafood, chicken or other – but the custard does have good flavour.

 

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Miso soup is unmemorable.

 

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Bedraggled leaves are draped over four pieces of beef carpaccio that taste wonderful – this marinated meat is Bennie’s favourite part of the night.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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The chicken katsu also delights.

The coating is crisp and hot, and the tangy sauce makes the whole lot sing.

 

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Cold soba (buckwheat) noodles present as a mess but are lovely, the vibrant sesame dressing nicely abetting the pickled ginger and bean sprouts.

 

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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?

No.

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.

 

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Beaut bento, better burger

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Searz Caffi, 39 Challis Street, Newport. Phone: 9399 2393

The Challis Street shops in Newport – off Mason Street – are the sort of strip we’ve been driving by for years just for a look every now and then to see if there’s anything cooking.

On Challis Street, there never has been.

And now there is.

Searz is a very fine local cafe.

It serves (see menu below) standard-range cafe breakfasts and mains such as a caesar salad, a burrito bowl and fish ‘n’ chips.

But running through the mains and the smaller (“tapas”) dishes are Japanese/Korean influences.

We find our meals of two visits, the service and timing, the whole experience to be absolutely top notch.

 

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The bento special no doubt changes periodically.

This version has fish three different ways – teriyaki salmon, battered cod with wasabi mayo and grilled gemfish with Korean chilli sauce.

They are all delicious and beautifully cooked.

There’s about half a dozen different kind of pickle, some of which I love, some of which I could do without.

The house-made zucchini pickles are very fine.

The bento mix is completed by good salad and rice.

This bento, given the quality of the seafood involved, would be right at home in a bona fide Japanese restaurant.

And the price, $18, is grand.

 

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Bennie’s bibimbap $16) is a doozy, too.

He loves the finely cooked beef and mushrooms, the salady bits, egg, enokis and more.

Unlike so many versions of this dish, this one has enough fluid action going on that it is a well-lubricated “sweet and spicy” treat right to the bottom of the bowl.

 

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But however fine his bibimbap, Bennie is openly envious of my “1010 burger” ($15) – and so he should be.

Despite the burger burn-out factor of the past year or so, this strikes us as being a superb.

It’s a 9/10 burger and chips combo that scrubs up much better than many of those to be had at more storied burger joints around Melbourne.

There’s more of those zucchini pickles in there.

And there’s “Searz aiolio”, tomato relish and the usual, standard salad accessories.

The meat patty is thick, juicy and screaming with beefy flavour.

Gosh, it’s fantastic.

The chips are hot, fresh and very plentiful.

Searz is a prime example of everything a neighbourhood cafe should be.

And the food, what we have enjoyed of it, rocks.

 

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Meal of the week No.6: Ebi

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f&c

 

The dinner hour for CTS and, we suspect, many other bloggers and foodies is somewhere between 6pm and 7pm.

For some, this is the legacy of having – or having had – very young children.

Perhaps “available light” has something to do with it.

I’ve even heard of bloggers who only do lunch for that very reason!

But a big part of it for us is … we’re hungry for food, hungry for adventure.

So 8pm seems way too late, especially on a work/school night.

The Mediterranean post-sietsa 9pm or later?

Unimaginable!

Early evening dining also means missing rush hour and always getting a seat.

In the case of tiny Ebi in West Footcray, that latter point is no small thing.

Entering by myself and taking a seat at the bar, I go through the usual routine … look at the display cabinet, consult the blackboard menu, peruse the regular menu, before saying …

“I’ll have fish and chips thanks, John – large!”

John: “How did I know you were going to say that?!”

Me: “Hmmpf! You must have other regulars who always order the same thing?”

The genial, chrome-domed Ebi host the proceeds to count off a long list of regulars with whom he is on first-name terms and their invariable choices – “fish three ways”, vegetable balls, udon, bento and so it goes.

Everyone gets their own groove on at Ebi …

Good bento, great price

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chiba24

 

Chiba, 19 Hall Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9326 0248

Consider The Sauce has checked out the smaller, takeaway-oriented Chiba joint on Puckle Street – it was, mind you, many moons ago – but never the Chiba proper on Hall Street.

I am gently encouraged by this blog’s very fine pal, Nat Stockley, who works in this neighbourhood and who has explored its nourishment offerings in forensic depth.

Chiba, he opines, offers good, solid Japanese food at good prices.

He is, as ever, entirely correct.

I order for a mid-week day-off lunch, following Nat’s suggestion, the bento.

There’s nothing adventurous about it – but it is a fine feed well done.

And at $15, it’s super cheap – especially considering it is served to me in a full-service Japanese restaurant.

You’ll pay the same – or more – in less salubrious settings and get no service for your trouble.

 

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Good miso soup, with just green onion and tofu cubes, gets proceedings underway.

 

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The bento itself has …

Four pieces of salmon sashimi.

A very mini mini-spring roll and two pieces of nicely-crumbed and deep-fried white fish.

Mildy flavoured and rather finely-diced chicken teriyaki.

Rice.

Just OK tempura consisting of three parts vegetables and one part prawn.

If anything, the shredded cabbage under the fried fish and spring roll is the highlight, anointed as it is with a tangy, whizzed dressing of carrot, vinegar and seasonings.

Nice!

A simple fruit offerings of bite-sized cubes of three different varieties melon completes my meal.

Check out the Chiba website here.

There’s Japanese … and then there’s Japanese

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kunis21

 

Kuni’s, 56 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9663 7243

This particular foray to the CBD is about nothing more than spending Grandma’s money on a much-desired comic book.

Bennie’s accepts with good grace my point that perhaps a book or even an electronic game would be a better and more long-lasting present than a comic book – even if it is one that has won a Pulitzer Prize.

Accepts with good grace if note an entirely convincing display of agreement.

The first likely shop we enter does not have the desired item in stock, the second one does.

By the time we’ve made our way from Flinders Street Station to Spring Street, we’ve been up and down many laneways and in and out of many book and record shops just for the fun of it.

I’m somewhat amazed we’ve done so with me keeping my credit card in my wallet.

We stop for a coffee at Pelligrini’s and then it’s most certainly time for lunch.

Bennie loves Japanese food – particularly our local haunts Ebi and Ajitoya.

We both love them.

 

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But as far as I am aware, he’s never dined in a swish CBD Japanese eatery.

Kuni’s seems to get mentioned less than some others when it comes to naming Melbourne’s more venerable Japanese restaurants.

As a one-time regular customer, I’m not sure why that is.

On the basis of our wonderful lunch, my affection for the place is only enhanced – the tranquil elegance, the service, the very good food and its pricing are a real kick.

We stick to the compact meals offered on the lunch list, Bennie’s selection pretty much a given considering his fascination for all things bento.

 

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After slurping up his fine miso soup, he tucks with relish into his bento of the day ($19) of beef teriyaki, sashimi, tempura and some salady things.

It’s cost a few bucks more than a bento deal might in less storied and more cheap-eats style Japanese places, but the quality is there.

 

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My own tempura lunch deal ($22) also begins with miso soup along with marinated bean sprouts and a beaut chawanmushi.

There’s not a lot of content in my savoury custard, but it’s so silky and sensual, I simply do not care.

 

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My tempura offering is superb – as good as I’ve had, hot, ungreasy and featuring a wealth of vegetables and seafood.

In addition, I get spinach with a sesame dressing and some pickled zucchini.

What a simple and lovely lunch it’s been for two lads leg-weary from retail therapy!

Check out the Kuni’s website here.

Mall rice goes nice … well actually, it’s just OK

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rice2
Rice Workshop, Highpoint. Phone: 9318 8368

Highpoint, two days before Christmas?

Clearly, I am out of my mind.

But I don’t feel like driving to Carlton or getting the train to the CBD.

I want to get a couple a couple of Stephen King books for Bennie, and a few bits and pieces for other folks and other reasons.

Where else am I to go?

Bookshops, western suburbs – not the strongest of relationships.

I am delighted and surprised to find the crowds light-on and chilled-out – hey, this is way better than your average Saturday in here!

After securing my books – including a prime piece of holiday season escapist trash for myself – I start hankering for lunch, and wondering if there is anything around acceptable in the same way this place and this place are.

Putting the word “workshop” in a franchise outfit’s name is a wheeze, of course, designed to suggest there’s something going on beyond shopping centre food.

That’s not the case … but you can eat well here, based on the yumminess of my chicken katsu curry bowl.

 

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I’m very glad I’ve ordered the regular size for $7.90 rather than the large for $9.40, as it’s a big serve that I fail to fully consume.

There’s a generous number of well-cooked, crunchy chicken pieces.

The smooth Japanese-style curry gravy is mildly spiced and has a few chunks of carrot in it.

The whole deal is topped by some crunchy pickled ginger.

Not bad!

As well as the made-to-order range of rice, noodle and salad dishes, the display cabinet at front hosts a number of fried and grilled items.

On the basis of …

 

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… a dismal tempura prawn and …

 

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… a bitter-tasting seaweed salad, CTS recommends sticking with the bowled line-up.

That way you’ll avoid the typical shopping centre plastic overkill as well!

Check out the Rice Workshop website – including menu – here.

 

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