Def our fave Japanese joint

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My Little Bento, 12 Margaret Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 8585

There have been changes made at 12 Margaret Street in Moonee Ponds.

What was Kingyo izayaka has become My Little Bento.

This switch appears to be a reaction to covid factors – yet could just as easily be interpreted as a canny business move.

 

 

The menu (see below) has been slimmed down and the prices are extraordinarily low.

Yet I know for sure that food will be every bit as fine as the goodies that served as a basis for our Kingyo izayaka review.

How so?

 

 

It’s all about the pickles – the same crunchy, sour delights that figured in our earlier visits are still in the house.

We order a side serve ($7) of them … just, you know, to make sure.

Yep all good – better than good!

So no worries at all, as two lunch-time visits – one with Nat, another with Bennie – happily attest.

 

 

Miso soup ($4) – regular-style, simple and every bit as good as expected.

Nat’s sashimi bento ($18, top picture) is oh-so-pretty with its array of textures, colours and flavours.

 

 

My “chicken katsu sando” from the specials board ($14) is good, a tangy sauce accompanying the crisp chicken and with more of those pickles joining in the fun. My chips, though, are warm. Just. But still eat good.

 

 

Bennie really digs his chicken bento ($15.50) – and I think we all enjoy the bentos here being arrayed on plate instead of boxes.

So lovely!

The fried chicken is excellent, as are all the other features – including a crumbed, deep-fried croquette. Perhaps, he reckons, filled with red bean paste as found in Chinese buns.

 

 

The chicken is even better – and more flavoursome – in the form of katsu curry don ($15.50), with which comes with a variation on the pickle theme.

The curry gravy is as rich in flavour as its deep brown colour suggests.

It’s tempting to indulge in hyperbole and proclaim that My Little Bento is delivering the best Japanese food in the west.

But as there’s at least one place we haven’t tried, we’ll settle for saying it’s definitely our fave.

 

Wass up?

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Wasshoi Sunshine West, 1-9 The Avenue, Sunshine West. Phone: 7020 7966

If driving into these parts of Sunshine West is an unusual occurrence for Team CTS, then …

… heading this way for Japanese food at a restaurant that is open for lunch on a Wednesday is positively surreal.

Wasshoi Sunshine West is tucked into a rather unlovely conglomeration of businesses at the corner of The Avenue and Fitzgerald Road, within earshot of the Ring Road.

Before its arrival, we had been unaware of the sibling business in Prahran and the fame of its founder, Ikuei Arakane, and his role in Iron Chef.

Japanese food?

Well, yes – of a kind.

There’s no sushi, sashimi or chawanmushi here.

There’s not even chopsticks – we are provided wood sporks with which to navigate our lunches.

And the basic menu (see below) features what look like banh mi.

Wendy, the sparkly and very welcoming boss lady, suggests the fare is “Japanese street food”.

Hey, that’ll do us!

Eat-in facilities are of a basic fast-food variety, but perfectly fine.

 

 

Miso soup is advertised in a sign on the counter as costing $3.

But we suspect that just about everyone who comes in during these early times – our lunch takes place on the shop’s fourth day – is getting a complementary cup by doing the social media “like” routine.

In any case, it’s perfect and delicious.

 

 

There’s three don/rice dishes available – beef, chicken and pork.

I go with the pork belly ($15.90).

 

 

Bennie chooses the beef brisket ($15.90).

We enjoy our lunches.

The meat is very good – definitely a step up from what usual expectations may be for this kind of fare in this kind of fast-food setting and location.

Though I reckon the pork has the upper hand in terms of tender and tasty.

The kimchi is OK, but rather bland.

There is one simple change that could lift these meals from merely to good to verging-on-great – ditch the iceberg lettuce and replace it with shredded cabbage!

 

Superb Japanese food

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Kingyo izakaya, 12 Margaret Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 8585

Some Consider The Sauce stories are succinct and full of brevity.

Others are long-winded, going off tangents to explore side and back stories.

Neither scenario should ever be taken as an indication of quality, enjoyment or passion – or lack thereof.

This Kingyo izayaka review, for instance, will be briefish – yet this is some of the very best Japanese food we’ve had in a long, long while.

It is superb.

It’s all about way more than good cooking – it’s also about quality ingredients and, most of all, extremely beautiful presentation.

This joint, with its simple and elegant dining room, is a sister eatery to I Dream Of Sushi just up the street.

Nat and I choose from the lunch menu. Both lists can be found below.

 

 

My “chotto plate” is a ripping bargain at $24.

How good – and gorgeous – is this?

Lovely housemade pickles – a rarity in any Japanese place.

Sashimi with regular pickled ginger.

Ridiculously luscious stewed eggplant.

A crisp panko-crumbed spud-and-eggplant croquette.

Excellent agedashi tofu and delicious gyoza with stuffing far superior to most.

Rice and top-class miso soup.

Wow.

 

 

Contemplating a hefty evening meal to come, Nat goes with the lighter sashimi set for $20 with equal delight the result.

We’ll be back – Bennie will love this place.

And so will you.

 

An unplanned review

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newebi22

 

Ebi Fine Food, 18A Essex St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 3300

A “whoops, wrong day” scheduling misunderstanding meant I could not take Tony and his son, Nick, to the Somalian place I had planned for them as I’d had lunch there about six hours before.

So off we went, ending up – after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing on my part – in Essex Street.

CTS has written bout Ebi a number of times – the last more than a year ago when new management had recently taken over.

But we’re happy to do so again in order reassure readers that things are running smoothly and Ebi is still, well, very much Ebi.

The menu, and the specials board, appear to be unchanged.

 

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The staff are smiling and engaging.

At first, early on a Saturday evening, we were seated outside, but it was a little on the chilly side so when bar stools became available we were happily ushered inside.

Most importantly, the all-important attention to details – things such as a crisp lotus root chips and the many kinds of pickle – remain very much in evidence.

I turned my back on the superb Ebi fish and chips I have been eating here for years and chose instead the chicken katsu curry rice bowl ($17).

 

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It was sooooo good – pretty much the best Japanese rice-bowl meal I’ve ever had.

Rich curry gravy boosted by a tantalising just-right whiff of bonito flakes, lots of pickles and lots of perfectly cooked, crunchy chook, the equilibrium between rice/gravy/chicken balanced so all “run out” at precisely the same time.

My friends’ choices of the fish-three-ways bento and the chilli prawn bento (both $19) seemed the usual Ebi spot-on.

What a gem this is – small, friendly, neighbourly and miles from any of the established food strips.

I really enjoyed seeing somewhere so familiar, however briefly, through the eyes of visitors to the west.

Meal of the week No.28: Shinmai Tasty

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shinmai22

 

Returning to Shinmai Tasty (44 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong, phone 9317 3830) for the first time since hitting the place with a gaggle of pals, I am intent on nothing more than quiet, solo lunch away from the cold.

Most of all, I am intent on having – again – the place’s fabulous soy udon soup chicken.

Instead, I am seduced by the menu’s other wok noodle dish – garlic and ginger prawn yaki udon ($18.50).

Topped with bonito flakes, it tastes every bit as delicious as it looks pretty – though in truth, I detect little by way of the advertised ginger or garlic.

It matters not!

The tips-on prawn tails number five – they are fat, fabulous and of great flavour; they have that terrific prawn poppy thing going on in spades.

The udon noodles, joined by spring onion, capsicum pieces and onion slivers, are covered in a sticky and quite oily sauce.

It’s an excellent lunch in an excellent place.

Once again, I marvel at how a newish establishment – with its cosy decor and magnificent artwork – has created such an attractive and welcoming western suburbs hidey hole.

Sushi train fun

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kaiten12

 

Sakura Kaiten Sushi II, 282 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9077 1167.

Our visit to this Japanese eatery is one of those random things – we could’ve ended up anywhere in the guts of the CBD  and in and around Chinatown.

But we are happy with our impulsive decision.

Owing to our previous familiarity with this place’s competition around the corner, we are well acquainted with the ins and outs of sushi trains.

 

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And we imagine it’s that other place’s pricing regime and that of the area in general that help make Sakura Kaiten Sushi II – apparently there’s another branch in Little Collins Street – so affordable.

 

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But Sakura Kaiten Sushi II has a few wrinkles that are new to us.

For starters, the place is something of a shrine to Japanese pop culture.

 

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And in addition to the regular sushi train goodies trundling by at a measured pace, there is an elevated rail line that carries items ordered by iPad and freshly prepared in the kitchen.

 

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These are delivered by two express trains – one of the cop variety (our side), the other of the firefighting kind (the other side).

 

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I think it would take very many visits to not find the whizzing by of these two trains, silent and stealthy, as somewhat unsettling.

 

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The food?

Again, I think it would take several visits to really get a handle on what is good, what is not and what is marvellous.

 

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Low prices are not everything.

But marvellous I suspect there is, simply based on the high turnover and the number of staff – both front of house and in the kitchen – taking care of business.

 

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We enjoy our visit – we have some good stuff and enjoy the novelty value very much.

 

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Sooper dooper new Japanese joint

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shinmai3

 

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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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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Guest post – Yarraville Japanese

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Kenny says: Laura is a long-time CTS reader and commenter. We have yet to meet face-to-face – but she’s promised to attend a CTS Feast next year! We discovered early on there’s way less than one degree of separation between us – her sister was a wonderful colleague of mine at the Geelong Advertiser. Alison is still there! In the meantime, our inter-action has lately become a little more chatty, culminating in her asking if I had a recent menu from Kawa-Sake. I told her, no; in fact, we haven’t been to that Yarraville eatery for more than two years. Laura made her own arrangements – and reported back. My next question was obvious: “Did you take pics?” From there, it was easy to tempt her into writing her very own CTS post. Thank you! We love a guest post …

Kawa-Sake Sushi Boat & Grill Bar, 3 Anderson Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9687 8690

Words and photographs: Laura Esperanza

Being my birthday week, the choice for takeout dinner was mine.

My good old, faithful of choice is always Japanese – in fact, sashimi and sushi were on the menu for lunch that day – and Kawa-Sake Sushi Boat & Grill Bar was featured top of the list based on past experience and close proximity.

I did, however, email Kenny to get his opinion on something local and I considered Ajitoya in Charles Street, Seddon, but it was not an option – being a Monday, they were closed.

As we wanted takeout, the plan was to get my hands on a copy of their menu, dial ahead and the partner N would collect on the way home from work.

 

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I couldn’t locate a menu online and was messaged a copy of their menu on my phone after a call and follow-up reminder a few hours later (I had actually given up having Japanese until I got the text sometime after 6pm).

The plan was for collection at 7.40pm. N was running 10 minutes late and I called ahead to change the pick up time to 8.10pm (always try to have contingency plan!) so that the food wouldn’t be cold.

By 7.50pm, N called to say that the meeting had run late and we would be lucky to collect the food by 8.20pm.  I didn’t worry about calling back and resolved not to be stressed as it was out of my control.

Arriving home with dinner, Japanese beer and a bottle of vino, we were back on track to tuck into the meal.

We drank the beer out of champagne glasses (celebratory birthday week, after all) and started on our feast.

 

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I ordered us a grilled beef with teriyaki sauce skewer for the partner ($3.90), the old favourite, seaweed salad ($4.50), and the Kawa-Sake sushi platter ($49.80).

Yes, total treat territory – but, again, birthday week.

The sushi platter consisted of three different raw fishes, four nigri, ebi tempura (crispy large prawns in tempura and darn good), salmon age rolls (fried roll with salmon, avocado, eel) , chicken tempura inside out, and prawn avo sushi.

I’m told the teriayki beef skewer tasted like sesame with a light sauce – not too heavy and very tasty.

Next choice was the prawn tempura – always a past winner. It had a cripsy, light batter, was tasty and we enjoyed the extra mayo to dip in.

It had a nice, crunchy texture and was a winner all round. Even though I’m not into fried foods, it was very light.

The salmon age roll with chili mayo was very tasty and was combined with eel. The rice was a little dry but it was picked up 20 minutes late, second call around.

The prawn avo sushi was fresh and enjoyable.

 

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My two least enjoyable dishes were the fried salmon, eel and avo as it had a crispy, thicker batter (too heavy for my liking) and seaweed salad, which was quite tasty and zesty but too runny to be enjoyed it without dropping liquid in the journey from chopsticks to mouth.

Overall I find Kawa-Sake a safe and winning option whenever we have it, either in the restaurant or take out.

While it’s not the most amazing Japanese I’ve had, it has so far had a 100 per cent pass rate and is a fresh and convenient option.

Is it the cheapest?

No.

Have I had better?

Yes.

Would I go back again?

Absolutely.

See earlier reviews here and here.

Good, fresh Japanese in Moonee Ponds

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I Dream Of Sushi, 6 Margaret Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9375 7951

I Dream Of Sushi is a brand new – Nat and I hit it for lunch on opening day – Japanese joint tucked just around the corner from Puckle Street, with a branch of Yim Yam and a fine fish and chippery nearby.

As this is his work nighbourhood, Nat has been watching developments with great interest as he sometimes gets cranky with despair and boredom concerning the same old same old lunchtime routines hereabouts.

The place is done in cheerful cafe style and the staff are on the go and smiling.

I suspect that, not unlike another Japanese CTS favourite, I Dream Of Sushi delivers sushi rolls not out of any great passion about doing so but because to do otherwise would be commercial suicide.

In any case, he and I happily focus on the rest of the menu (see below), which covers a tight but appealing range of smaller dishes and a line-up of rice bowls.

We do real good.

My miso soup ($3.50) is regulation but very good, with deep miso flavour.

 

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Gyoza ($6.50), too, are orthodox but also yummy with a nice garlickiness.

 

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Tofu salad ($10) is a winner and just the sort of light, healthy lunch I’ve been desiring.

The greens, tomatoes, cucumber and radishes are super-fresh and the dressing tangy.

 

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Nat is very happy with his salmon sashimi (12 pieces for $10).

 

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But it’s his teri may don ($12) of “tender chicken thigh cooked in sweet soy on steamed rice w/- Japanese may” that does it for him.

“I’ve hit the bullseye,” he happily proclaims.

I Dream Of Sushi is pitching itself cleverly for the local lunch market – it’ll do fine.

And, yep, Nat will be back.

 

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As we are wrapping things up, we get talking to Catherine and Barb, for whom this is a family affair – they could hardly be prouder of what Acko, Yagu, Miho and Con are doing!

 

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Fabulous and fancy @ Ebi

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Ebi Fine Food, 18A Essex St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 3300

Consider The Sauce loves Ebi; we adore the place, its charming host, the perfect fish and chips and bentos.

But $120 for a tricked-up degustation men?

Not exactly regular fare for CTS, as regular readers will understand.

How to justify such extravagance?

Birthday prezzie?

A few days out, but what the hey …

Tax return treat?

Having only just got all the required documentation in the one room, I haven’t even really started on this year’s effort yet …

Celebratory outing based on good results in the “scary medical tests” department?

Truth is, tonight’s Ebi event – the first of its kind – is simply too tempting to pass up.

I’m tingling with excitement at seeing John spread his wings with the sort of ritzy food, time – and labour-intensive sauces, and superior and refined ingredients of the kind that rarely come my way.

And I’m looking forward to sharing the experience with what I assume will be a small audience of Ebi regulars/fans and doing so with some classy beer, sake and wine on hand … though I suspect the booze may be wasted on a wine prol such as myself.

I’m expecting food that displays strong influences from both Japan and France – and maybe even Italy.

And so it largely proves to be …

Sharing the bar stools with me are Jake and Kim, on one side, with Daniel and Tom on the other.

 

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The table for two behind us is soon filled, to my happy delight, with CTS pals Justin and Sasha!

Wonderful!

And so it begins …

This is no ordinary degustation bash. For starters, the price is way less than those sought for most of the famed and storied options available elsewhere.

There’s the same paper serviettes as ever.

And John himself acts not just as chef but also waiter, maitre’d, busboy and dishwasher.

Frankly, I’d not be comfortable with a more formal arrangement.

 

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Spherified edamame with sea salt crystals is as out-there as tonight’s fare is to get – John even uses the word “Bulli” in relation to it. It’s a gorgeous, slippery, crunchy mouthful with pronounced edamame flavour served with Koshihikari Echigo rice beer.

 

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Anchovy and parmesan straws are rich, buttery and crumbly, the anchovies supplying just the right kind of salty flavour explosion.

 

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Seared Hokkaido scallops with soy wasabi butter are such a hit – for good reason – that John quickly whips up another round for us!

 

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Grilled, salted salmon belly is profoundly exquisite and served with Osakazuki Junmai Ginjo Sake.

 

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Lobster? CTS? Blimey!

Butter-poached crayfish is a dream, served with a yuzu kosho sauce that exhibits just the right kind of tartness to match the seafood’s sweetness.

John describes the sauce as made with a fruit that is a mix of lemon, lime and orange blended with salt and chilli.

This is served with a just-right Borgo Bello Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie 2012.

 

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We’re about to move into significantly more robust and richer territory …

 

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Duck and porcini kamameshi comes with blackcurrant jus.

Kamameshi turns out to be a sort-of Japanese version of the universal rice dish and is very much like risotto – it’s wonderful, too, as is the juicy duck.

(Served with Wynns Coonawarra Shiraz 1998.)

 

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Ahhh – the best of all!

Wagyu fillet with roast marrow, shallot and herb tartlet comes also with roast beetroot and organic kale.

It’s all terrific, the beef ultra-succulent and the tart pastry so very rich.

Served with Wynns Coonawarra black label Cabernet sauvignon 1997.

 

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And to finish …

Ginger and ume bombe with “plum” ice-cream, sponge and meringue – just my kind of grown-up, not-too-sweet dessert; served with lovely Osakazuki Umeshu (“plum liquor”).

So … has it been worth it?

Yes.

I’ve loved the food, the company, the conversation and the liquid accompaniments.

It’s been a beaut experience!

But we’ll still be loving those bentos and fish and chips …

And, yes, there may be more such events at Ebi.

See earlier stories here and here.

 

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More Wayo wow

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Wayo Japanese Dining, 286 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 5484

Wayo is not one of your more formal Japanese restaurants; nor is it your quickie purveyor of sushi rolls, though there are those available.

So … Wayo IS a rather elegant cafe-style eatery.

And on the basis of a second visit – see a story about the first here – it’s doing truly superb things.

This time around, four dishes are selected from the entree-sharing list.

This simple, affordable Japanese-style tapas spread is truly memorable, each and every dish an outright winner.

 

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“Hearty veggie miso soup” ($4.50) has deep miso flavour.

And there’s a goodly bunch of onion, carrot and potato in there.

“Hearty” is certainly the operative word.

We’re well used to Japanese potato salad being more like mashed spuds in the style also found accompanying BBQ in the US.

Such is the case with this “potato salad with Japanese gravy” ($5.50).

Here, though, the pile of dull-looking warm potato adorned with enoki mushrooms looks distinctly unappetising.

But the flavour is fabulous – surely there is a strong cooked-in-stock thing going on here.

Not sure about the clear “gravy” – is it a glaze or is it merely an oil slick?

No matter – we love this, too.

 

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Nasu dengaku ($8) also defies expectations of the orthodox.

Instead of a halved baby eggplant, this version consists of a thick slice of regular eggplant. The skin has separated from the flesh and gained a brittleness that makes it almost seem like a bottomless bowl.

Is it meant to be eaten? It tastes OK, with smoky flavour, but is a little weird.

But the flesh itself and the gooey miso sauce are sublime – so silky and delicious.

 

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“Tirikara fried chicken” (five pieces for $7.50) is made of ribs or ribettes rather the advertised fully-fldged wings – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In any case, the price is still right for the simple reason they taste sooooo good – dry of batter with, I think, a strong garlic flavour.

Based on this rather randomly selected array of dishes, we’re definitely up for return visits to Wayo.

 

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Charcoal Fusion

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Charcoal Fusion, 300 Point Cook Rd, Point Cook (Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre). Phone: 9394 8509

Put aside bias against shopping centres and malls in the eternal search for foodiness.

Because outside our truly inner west haunts such as Yarraville, Footscray and Flemington, where there are older neighbourhoods suitable for hosting food enclaves, there ARE no older areas to play that role.

In places such as Point Cook or, say, Caroline Springs, food outlets have to go somewhere and it seems the only place they can go is the local shopping centre.

(Alfrieda St and surrounds in St Albans seems to be a notable exception to this truism.)

That’s what I’ve been telling myself for the past couple of years.

But the simple fact is it’s been more a theory than something I’ve found to be true in adventures that have taken Team Consider The Sauce across wide swathes of the inner and outer west.

But at Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre I find, to my delight, vindication for my theory.

Not only do I find the target of today’s outing, a swish, newish Japanese joint called Charcoal Fusion, but also – nearby – not one, but two Malaysian places.

Charcoal Fusion? Sounds like a chicken shop, eh?

It’s not – it IS a full-range Japanese restaurant with skewers at night (that’s where the “Charcoal” bit comes in) and teppanyaki.

But today I’ll be enjoying the much more homely and smaller lunch list that has various don/rice dishes and noodles such as yakisoba (list below).

In a bid to drum up some lunchtime trade, these are being offered at $8 instead of the listed $12.

On the basis of my lovely lunch, I reckon this is a red-hot bargain.

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The lovely and welcoming manager/owner, long-time Point Cook resident Jenny, started her new venture inspired by the lack of eating-out options in the area.

She agrees business people such as herself have little option when it comes to location in such an area.

And with this territory comes myriad challenges and restrictions – Jenny, for instance, must adhere to the general opening hours for the centre as a whole.

Miso soup is not listed but my request for it is cheerfully and agreeably met.

It’s super, especially at $2 – quite dark, deep of flavour and hiding a good amount of seaweed and tofu in its depths.

My curry don with crispy chicken is also very, very fine.

The curry is a deep khaki, sticky and studded with tender potato pieces. It’s a classic curry, Japanese-style, with a chilli hit that manages to be both low-key and pleasingly intense.

The crispy chicken is rather profoundly uncrispy. But it is also unoily, delicate, freshly cooked and delicious.

The salad bits are dressed with a sesame concoction. I discard two rather tired slices of cucumber and find the rest go real swell mixed in with the spuds in the curry gravy.

The accompanying mound of rice is topped with pickled ginger that is red rather than usual pink, and nicely chewy instead of outright crisp.

I love a bargain lunch – and even at the full whack of $12 this would fully qualify.

 

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Master Shifu

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Master Shifu, GO6 47-57 Tom Roberts Parade, Point Cook. Phone: 9395 3888

When it comes to choosing eateries to frequent, everyone judges books by their covers.

Unless, of course, there are other factors influencing the decision-making process – things such as recommendations, word of mouth and reviews.

But choosing a place at which to eat on a casual basis?

There’s myriad factors that come into play as we stand outside this or that restaurant, all of them feeding into split-second and intuition-laden decisions.

Is the place clean, or are there leftovers dishes and food on a table – or more than one table?

Is there a menu in the window for perusal?

Are there staff nearby to welcome incoming customers?

Are there any customers at all?

Are the windows clean or grubby?

These and many more are part of the process.

For these sorts of reasons, and perhaps unfairly, we’ve come to think of Point Cook as rather an arid wasteland when it come to persuing our cheap eats jollies.

This is largely based on extensive window-shopping on several occasions at Point Cook Town Centre.

Nothing has ever jumped out at us, and what seem like rather hefty prices have regularly seen us looking further afield.

So I was rather entranced when I got into a foodiness conversation with one of the blokes who came to install our pay TV set-up in our new abode.

He told me he was a Point Cook resident, had a background in the hospitality business (as did his daughter) and was quite conversant with eating out across a wide swathe of the west and eating styles and genres.

When we canvassed Point Cook itself, I was in the process of rolling my eyes – as if to say, “Basket case!” – when my new friend said: “Yes, but …”

He went on to extoll the virtues of a Chinese place, a little ways removed from Point Cook Town Centre, that makes it own dumplings.

Dumplings? Point Cook!

Golly!

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And so it is that we’re on the prowl in Point Cook with more optimism than has previously been the case.

After parking at the compact shopping and food precinct at the corner of Boardwalk Boulevard and Tom Roberts Parade, we have a wander around and are surprised by what we find.

There’s those kinds of places you’d expect – pizza and fish-and-chip joints, bakery, charcoal chicken shop and so on.

But we also happily spy an Indian place, a nondescript noodle shop that offers a kimchi noodle dish and what just may be a grouse Malaysian-style curry, a Turkish eatery and the dumpling outfit that has been the destination of our journey.

But there’s also a Japanese emporium.

We literally toss a coin – one of the 10 cent variety, to  be specific.

Heads it is, so Japanese for lunch for us today.

The dumplings will have to wait for another day.

Master Shifu is a big and roomy restaurant located in the ground floor of a rather ugly, angular modern building.

As we amble in, a few tables are being utilised and we are quickly greeted by a staff member who continues to take pretty good care of us for the duration of our visit.

Suburban Japanese?

Well, yes, there are sushi rolls at the counter.

And on the menu there’s tempura, bentos, teriyaki, don rice dishes and Japanese-style curry.

But there’s other items that set Master Shifu apart from and above typical expectations for such a place.

Gyu tan – ox tongue marinated in red wine and tossed in chilli in spring onion, and listed as both an entree and rice bowl offering – is not an unusual dish, but it’s not that common, either.

Unfortunately, our bid to try it one way or the other is thwarted by its temporary unavailability.

On the specials list there’s more dishes to intrigue: Gyoza ramen, ginseng ramen and cha soba – “Cool green tea soba noodle with chef’s special sauce and raw eggs”.

A shared bowl of miso soup is nicely priced at $2.50 but is rather undistinguished.

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The seaweed salad ($4) is better, looking luminously green in the direct sunlight in which we are sitting. The seaweed is generously dressed and sits on a small bed of mixed greens.

From the specials list, I choose Cool Noodle (top photo) – “Seaweed, squid, Japanese pickle, boiled egg, cucumber and noodle in cold home made stock”.

We’ve never see a Japanese dish such as this!

On a bed of cold, white squiggly noodles, the other protagonists are fresh as can be – with the exception (naturally) of the pickled/preserved and chewy squid.

The seaweed appears to be a no show, but in addition to the other promised ingredients there is a single, nice crumbed prawn.

The sauce, we are told, is made with soy sauce, sesame (perhaps something akin to tahini?) and peanuts. It’s good and smooth.

I toss the lot of it over my noodle dish and eat my lunch with chopsticks – but, oddly, it seems more like a pasta dish than a noodle one.

I’d loved to be able report that my cold noodle fare rocks my world – but it does not. I enjoy it, but would not order it again.

Put this down to personal preference – certainly, I am excited by being served such an unusual dish that is so fresh and wonderfully presented in such unexpected surrounds. Such augurs well for returns visits and the chance to try some of the other less familiar offerings.

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Bennie opts for the more orthodox – pork tonkatsu don ($9.80.

It’s a doozy.

The crumbed pork is plentiful and delicious.

The egg/omelette is still runny and seeps into the rice, while the lightly cooked  red onions slices provide texture.

At Urbanspoon, you’ll find a number of “diner reviews” for Master Shifu.

Some are from happy customers. Some, though, are from customers far less so, particularly in reference to service.

As noted above, we have been more than happy in that regard on what appears to quite a busy Anzac Day lunch time.

At Urbanspoon, too, is this comment:

“Rude people, fake japanese food! the restaurant is operated by a bunch of chinese.”

We’ve addressed the topic of authenticity before here at Consider The Sauce, but continue to find this sort of comment puzzling, idiotic and ugly.

Such views seem out of whack of how we all live in a multicultural society.

And while I don’t have facts and figures to back me up, I’m under the strong impression that Japanese eateries come in for more of this kind of stick than, say, those of Italian or Indian persuasions.

What such view seems to suggest is that we should have some sort of ethnic apartheid in our restaurants, both in the kitchens and front of house.

Or at least in our Japanese restaurants.

Um, no thanks!

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After leaving Master Shifu, we stroll a few metres across the way to check out a cavernous Asian supermarket called Asian Supermarket.

To my thoroughly untutored eye, this place houses more Asian exotica of a marinated, canned, fermented, bottled, pickled and variously prepared nature than I have ever before seen in one place.

Bennie loves it, of course, so I indulge him with an Asian soft drink.

Labelled as involving basil seeds and honey, it looks fantastical.

But it tastes better than some of the outlandish things he has developed a yen for, though it tastes to me very much of lychees!

On the way back to the car, we also check out what I’m guessing is Melbourne’s biggest IGA.

As we wander about, I say to Bennie: “Other dads take their sons to the footy or a movie – I take you to supermarkets!”

After we’ve both cracked up, I continue: “And the funny thing is … I don’t think you even mind any more!”

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Ebi Fine Food

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Ebi Fine Food, 18A Essex St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 3300

It’s been a while since we’ve been to Ebi.

And circumstances are similar to those of the previous occasion we wrote about the place – it’s post-football practice; indeed this has been the first practice for the 2013 season.

We’re actually headed for another option in Ashley St, but then we’re tootling up Essex St and the inevitable happens.

“Ebi,” says Bennie with a question mark and raised eyebrows.

Why not?

Besides, the lad has been proclaiming for a couple of weeks that his next foodie barrier for removal will be his resistance to fish.

Actually, he’s been able to enjoy salmon and some kinds of sushi for a while now. But big hunks of white fish and F&C in particular? Hmmm, dodgy.

And what better place than Ebi to put that hoodoo to bed?

As we enter, boss man John is fooling around with an app on his iPhone.

Called Manga Camera, it transforms photos into trippy B&W and places them in any one of what looks like about 100 manga-style frames.

It’s kooky fun!

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Bennie’s large fish and chips ($15) features two handsome pieces of john dory. I don’t try it, but gosh it looks magnificent.

Bennie hoovers it up. So much for THAT particular food phobia. Next!

The typically excellent chips I do help myself to, with the pair of us madly dipping them into the rich, gooey mayo.

Bennie’s meal is completed with usual fine salad of Japanese bits and pieces.

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My bento of grilled, salted salmon with mustard miso ($17) has those salad bits and more – pickles preserved and fresh; crunchy lotus root crisps; potato salad in the Japanese style; half a mini-eggplant smothered in a miso sauce; great rice … it’s all terrific.

The salmon is not notably “salted”, or not so I can taste anyway, and is quite well cooked by normal standards for this species. But it’s a long way short of overcooked and works a delicious treat with the tangy mustard miso sauce.

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John also lays on us a complementary serve of his famed vegetable balls ($5), the snack instrumental is getting the whole Ebi thing going in the first place.

Bennie’s an old hand at these and makes his pair do a remarkably quick disappearing act.

I like them but for me they don’t have much of a “wow” factor. And the gooey innards whisper to me “uncooked”, which I know is both unfair and untrue.

But there you go …

It’s been fabulous to visit an old friend.

As I say to John in an email exchange later in the night, blogging keeps us on the move and few places qualify as regulars.

Ebi is one we certainly wish were so.

 

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Wabi Sabi Salon

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Wabi Sabi Salon, 94 Smith St, Collingwood. Phone: 9417 6119

A trip across town to visit Books For Cooks allows an opportunity to have a look at a neighbourhood that was once as familiar to me as any in Melbourne.

The area around the nexus of Smith and Gertrude streets in Collingwood/Fitzroy has certainly changed a lot since I lived in the area after moving to Melbourne in the late 1980s.

There’s not a trace, so far as I can tell, of the Eastern European vibe that was then a bit part of Gertrude St experience.

The area has even changed a bit since the end a few years back of a radio gig that saw me visiting – and eating – on a weekly basis for decades.

There’s an intriguing range of retail establishments.

And there’s eating houses – lots and lots of them.

And while there’s a few closed at Monday lunchtime, most are open and doing brisk business.

I choose one such and proceed to be knocked out by the quality of the meal that unfolds.

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Wabi Sabi Salon is a long-time Smith St resident and feels like it.

There’s no stainless steel here. Instead, there’s funky old floorboards, Japanese adornments on the walls and deep, cool shadows.

I’m tempted to say it feels like old, authentic Japan, but as I’ve never been to that country I’d be crapping on.

But you get the drift … it’s got a nice lived-in feel.

As with its neighbouring joints, Wabi Sabi is quite busy for a Monday, and as ever there’s a constant stream of regulars stopping by the counter at the front to obtain takeaway sushi rolls.

I vaguely recall a few concerns about service and lengthy waiting times from previous visits, but have no such problems this time.

I yearn for a lightish meal, so order the vegetable bento ($16). More than that, I do something very unusual for me – I order it with brown rice.

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My lunch starts with a very fine bowl of miso soup – studded with a lightweight quotient of seaweed and chewy tofu, it’s of just the right temperature and boasts intense flavour.

My bento (top photo) is even better.

In fact, it’s superb – and puts to utter shame bentos shoved out all over the city in the sort of cheap ‘n’ cheerful “Japanese” joints found in alleyways and food halls.

A crunchy, fresh salad of leaves with a few small tomato pieces and a smooth, creamy sesame dressing.

Two crisp gyoza-style dumplings that are both cold and delicious.

A small bowl of slithery buckwheat noodles in tangy dressing, joined by an even smaller serve of some sort of vermicelli matched with the same chewy tofu found in the soup.

Nutty brown rice topped with black sesame seeds.

And, finally and best of all, a wonderful stew of carrots, beans, lotus root, broccoli and several large chunks of incredibly lovely tofu, soft and silky on the inside and with slightly crusted outsides, all swimming in a light broth that is eventually mopped up with the rice.

I’m not too proud to request a spoon for just that purpose.

Check out the Wabi Sabi website, including full dinner and lunch menus, here.

 

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