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Sunday, November 30, 2014

An omakase experience at Minamishima, Melbourne.

For anyone that has travelled to Japan before, you will understand the fervour that you acquire for the food and culture, and the unwavering appetite and despair that you feel after your return home. While there are a few places in Melbourne to satiate to a certain extent, the fresh sashimi and sushi cravings you begin to have, there's no where quite like Japan. With just the mere mention of the words "just like in Japan", I know many people who will be scrambling and demanding for the name and address.

With no media press release and little public knowledge of its opening, this is the epitome of a Melbourne hidden gem. Granting, I don't believe this will last long. Chef Koichi Minamishima had previously worked at Kenzan since the 1980's and wanted to create a unique sensory experience. The location is just off Bridge Road in Richmond and upon walking into the restaurant, the hushed setting, soothing ambience music and quiet, unobtrusive wait staff will seemingly transport you to a sushi-ya in Japan. A striking long wooden sushi bar, seating twelve diners, extending down through the restaurant and a few tables segregated at the back, for groups of diners, make up the restaurant.


Along the sushi counter, it is an "omakase" experience so there is no food menu and the tasting course is left to the hands of the experienced chefs. Some of the fish are flown in from Japan and the latter being sourced locally, according to what is fresh and in season. The group dining tables offer a similar menu, with a 10 piece nigiri platter alongside hot and cold items off the a la carte menu.


Before starting the omakase, we enjoyed a cold dish comprising of slow cooked pumpkin, okra, tomato and Japanese eggplant in a light savoury sauce; a refreshing start to the meal.

Slow cooked vegetables - pumpkin, okra, tomato & eggplant

I am currently enamoured with yuzu, a citrus fruit which is like a cross between a lemon, mandarin and grapefruit, so obviously I order all things yuzu whenever I spot it on a menu. My yuzu sake was chilled and very refreshing. Mr A also ordered appropriately for the warm weather - a crisp pale ale from Japan. To aid with any enquiries, general manager and sommelier, Randolph Cheung (with a history at many notable restaurants) is on hand to assist.

Saito Shuzo Yuzu from Kyoto ($10) and Baird Brewing Rising Sun Pale Ale ($14)

Our first of many courses was a cured King Dory. Typically, the fish has a mild flavour; so through the process of curing, the briny flavour was emphasized while retaining its firm texture.

Cured King Dory 

The silver bream had a nice kick from the ginger and scallions, and thoroughly complemented the slightly sweet fish.

Silver bream from Victoria

The King George whiting required very little soy sauce as the firm texture and clean flavours clearly showed the impeccable quality of the fresh fish.

King George whiting

Topped with a fine grating of Japanese spices and lightly salted, the calamari was sourced locally from Victoria. Biting through the delicate flesh left a delightfully sweet flavour and creamy consistency in the mouth.

Calamari

The octopus was cut in a way to allow some chewiness and crunch of the flesh to come through.

Western Australia octopus

While the rate in which the pieces were placed in front of us was swift, though not hurried, I allowed myself plenty of time to stop and fully appreciate the next course. The New Zealand scampi was insanely sweet, succulent and refreshing; balanced nicely with a light coating of nikiri (a sweet and salty soy glaze with umami qualities) from the chef's deft brush stroke.

New Zealand scampi

The Japanese geoduck clam had a fantastic snap to the texture; a great example of how the Japanese not only embrace the flavours and quality of raw fish, but the textural complexities of the different varieties.

Mirugai (Japanese shellfish also known as geoduck)

Torigai, which is a Japanese cockle, was more chewy with the spice of ginger lingering on tongue. This was another great example of contrasting textures.

Torigai (Japanese shellfish)

A contender for one of our favourites that night, was the torched Japanese flounder fin. By charring the fish, it resulted in a fat-like texture and literally melted in the mouth to leave an unctuous, luxurious quality lingering on the taste buds. The richness of the fish was flavoursome enough without any soy sauce and many blissful eye-rolls ensued.

Engawa - charred Japanese flounder

While I had my delicious yuzu sake topped up, Mr A went with his own glass of sake. It was a very fresh and textural sake with fruity notes, suiting the seafood particularly well. Next time, I will be very interested in trying the matching sake course ($70).

Kamoshibito Kuheiji Kudan no Yamada Junmai-Ginjo ($15)

Next, we had the yellow fin tuna, which acquired a balanced savoury flavour through the process of being cured in soy sauce.

Tsuke-Maguro - Yellowfin tuna cured in soy 

With a selection of the fish being flown in direct from Japan, the otoro was sure to be a highlight. For those unfamiliar with otoro, it is considered to be the finest cut from the lower belly of tuna which means it has the highest fat content. The exquisite flavour of the marbled fat was evident in each bite; the consistency was rich and creamy with a buttery mouthfeel.


Otoro - fatty tuna belly

The charred savoury aroma quickly drew our attention and soon enough, we were presented with the torched otoro. The torching liquefied the marbled fat to heighten the melting experience and added a delectable smoky flavour to the fish.




Aburi otoro - torched fatty tuna belly

The two chefs worked harmoniously with impressive precision. The chef to the right of the photo is Chef Koichi Minamishima.


The Tasmanian salmon roe provided briny bursts of flavour, leaving us to savour each pop.

Ikura - Tasmanian salmon roe

Battera is an Osaka-style of sushi, also known as "boxed mackerel sushi". By curing the mackerel in rice vinegar, the distinct vinegar flavour cut through the rich and oily fish. Though, not a favourite of ours, it was an interesting addition to the omakase.

Battera - Osaka style sushi with mackerel cured in rice vinegar

Our last nigiri course was a beautifully torched anago (Japanese conger eel) lightly brushed with nikiri. The requisite charred flavour added to the delicious flavours and left the delicate, sweet meat just falling apart.

Charred Anago - Japanese conger eel

Included in the omakase menu, the final savoury course was a simple and homely soup with seaweed and a "fish dumpling" made from kingfish and crunchy calamari bits. The food was gradually catching up to me but it was a refreshing end to the meal and cleansed our palates.


Seaweed soup with kingfish and calamari "shinjo" (dumpling)

As a finale for the omakase meal, we were presented with a wagashi, a traditional Kyoto dessert; something that Chef Minamishima learnt in Kyoto himself. Utilising the seasonal produce, white grapes were skinned and cooked in a jelly similar to agar agar and really featured the natural sweet of the grapes. It proved to be a satisfying and cooling end to our meal, especially when accompanied with a steaming hot cup of houjicha (an aromatic roasted green tea).


Wagashi served with houjicha



Many will baulk at the price per head - at $150 a pop, it can be considered quite expensive. Though, the brilliance of the chefs is indisputable. With each individual grain of rice perfectly cooked and retaining their bite; the finesse shown while preparing the fish; the flavours and varying temperatures utilised to enhance the fish; all accumulating into a harmonious mouthful to illicit sighs and head shakes in disbelief - disbelief, that it could be this good.

I have yet to encounter an omakase experience in Melbourne that entails so much depth and thought into the dining experience that makes me almost believe I'm back in Japan. Even if you have a trip to Japan planned in the near future, a visit to Minamishima will leave you with no regrets, at all. I promise.

Food:              
Service:          
Value:             

Will I return?
Yes, definitely.

Minamishima
4 Lord St
Richmond VIC 3121
(03) 9429 5180

Tues to Sat 6pm - 10pm
Sun to Mon Closed

Minamishima on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Brunch at Ascot Food Store

There are only a handful of weekends are left until Mr A and I are off to gallivant all over the east coast of America. In an attempt to soak up as much Australia sun as we can before we are plunged into the second Winter of our 2014. It seems fortuitous that Melbourne is laying off the temperamental weather act on our free days, so we decided to make the journey to Ascot Food Store. It is larger than it appears from the outside; beyond the front of house, a few steps up lead to a segregated dining area with a homely and comfortable feel. To beat the breakfast crowds, we had woken up a little earlier given the distance as well so we were feeling a little bleary eyed. That was quickly rectified with some coffee orders; using Proud Mary coffee beans and St David's Dairy milk, my iced latte provided a refreshing caffeine hit.

Iced latte ($3.80)

The warmer weather saw Debbie skipping her usual hot chocolate order for the mixed cold pressed juice. I had a taste and loved it - there was a lovely balance of acidity and sweetness from the combination of fruit and veggies with a lingering spice from the ginger.

Cold press juice - orange, carrot, ginger and pineapple ($6.50)

The benedict poached eggs had an abundance of shaved pork making for a very satisfying and substantial breakfast.

"Benedict" poached eggs, shaved pork belly and bearnaise ($17)

With corn fritters being dispensed from almost every cafe kitchen in Melbourne, it has become a run of the mill dish. The corn fritters remained light and fluffy inside with a touch of spice in the batter; a single poached egg, avocado puree and salsa to tie all the elements together.

Corn fritters, avocado, soft poached egg and snow pea tendrils ($17.50)

I tend to find that the best dishes are the simplest ones, and mine was enhanced with gourmet components. It epitomised some of my favourite things - the heady aroma of pickled truffle, shaved Grana cheese and the buttered brioche soldiers were intoxicating. To relish this dish in full, the brioche soldiers were rearranged on the additional plate provided, while the translucent slow cooked eggs were poured over the buttered crisp brioche, resulting in a delicious mess.

62 degree egg, chives, shaved grana, pickled truffle and brioche soldiers ($16.50)

While visually, the doughnuts scream for you to order them, and the flavour combinations work well enough together, they aren't nearly enough to compensate for the doughiness and yeasty, sour flavour. Unfortunately, these were a let down but there were plenty of other baked sweet offerings available.

Dark chocolate with raspberry and lemon curd with pistachio doughnuts ($5 each)

Ascot Food Store offer a good variety of breakfast and lunch dishes and the coffees were excellent. The service is attentive despite the full house; although, the smaller portions come at a steeper price.

Food:              
Service:          
Value:             

Will I return?
Yes, some very interesting dishes that I'd definitely want to try next time.

Ascot Food Store
320 Ascot Vale Rd
Moonee Ponds VIC 3039
(03) 9370 2649
 

Daily 7am - 4pm

Ascot Food Store on Urbanspoon

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