The hushed murmurs and the muffled squeals of excitement from our neighbouring diners seemed to show their unequivocal appreciation for their meal. From their first bite into the spiced prawn cracker, to slurping down their oysters and finally, when they nipped their golden egg with a knife to see the requisite egg yolk oozing out. Admittedly, Mr A and I both had the same quieter sentiments – upon first bite of the first few dishes, our eyes were rolling back into their sockets.
If you were to walk down a street in Japan, the ubiquitous red glowing lanterns bearing the Japanese characters らーめん would indicate you could find a delicious, warming bowl of ramen. It is almost the complete opposite in Melbourne, where reliable ramen shops are in short supply. Fukuryu Ramen is a new addition to Melbourne’s ramen scene, nestled away down an alleyway in the Chinatown district.
Tsukemen isn’t a dish that is easily found and well known in Melbourne. Tsukemen is a noodle dish from Japan which is very popular during the warmer months – being so muggy and humid during Summer, a steaming bowl of noodles is not always ideal. If you’ve never tried tsukemen before, think of a de-constructed version of ramen – cold noodles which are dipped into a bowl of hot soup. The restaurant consists of two levels, upstairs has a more casual ramen bar feel while downstairs has a sleek, hidden basement bar ambience which almost deceives you into thinking that you’re in Japan.
Maru Shih is a nondescript Japanese cafe on Toorak Road which I have driven by many times and it was only when I was waiting to pick up Mr A from South Yarra station when I noticed it. I ducked it out of the slippery, cold weather and found comfort in the cosy Japanese cafe full of little knick knacks.
I love green tea lattes so naturally I ordered one while waiting. Arriving in a delightfully adorable Japanese mug, it was like a much needed hug from a cute Japanese grandma. The quality matcha (green tea powder) used is from MoriHan 森半, a famous Kyoto matcha company, and while it had a prominent bitter green tea flavour, there was just enough sweetness and creaminess to balance it out.
Melbourne is saturated with Japanese restaurants and one of things I can’t get over is that Melbourne doesn’t seem to do ramen so well. Ramen is the epitome of Japan’s quick and affordable go-to comfort meal and the variety in Japan can differ not only from region to region, but even from one store to another next door. Little Ramen Bar has opened quietly on Little Bourke Street and the adoration for ramen has already attracted a crowd hoping to find Melbourne’s best new ramen. Little Ramen Bar is a tiny spot, catering for 30 hungry diners and having just been opened for a couple of weeks, they are cash only and unlicensed for now. Both of which they seek to rectify as soon as possible – the liquor license should hopefully be coming in sometime this week; Mr A and I both agreed that a beer would have totally hit the spot with the ramen.
I do love myself a good sushi fix once in a while but as I have a trip to Tokyo in a few months time, I have been trying to withstand my cravings. With the opening of a new sushi train in Melbourne, my will power quickly dissipated and since my former go-to sushi train, Sakura Kaiten Sushi, had become seemingly stingy with their portions, I was keen to crown a new favourite. The Sushi Hotaru brand, originally hailing from Sydney (the land of superior ramen and sushi trains, let’s just admit it okay), brings a wide selection of dishes at affordable prices. They have eliminated the usual colour coded pricing system and implemented instead, a standard $3 cost per plate with the exception of the special gold plates. I think sushi trains are a fantastic concept as it’s a feast for the eyes and the small servings means that you are able to experiment without committing to a full-sized dish.
In the first few weeks of opening, we arrived on a Friday night at 6:30pm with a steamy half an hour wait. It was such a relief to finally be seated in the cool restaurant and we quickly started picking plates off the train. One of my favourites, scallop, is always beautiful sweet when fresh and this was no exception.
Japanese food is one of our favourite cuisines to indulge in so I had to book Mr A & I in for a dinner at Komeyui to celebrate his birthday in early February. Motomu Kumano is the owner and chef of Komeyui who had previously worked as head chef at Kenzan which is undoubtedly one of Melbourne’s finest Japanese restaurants. It is apparent that he thrives on providing fresh and quality produce at his restaurant with the food he presents to customers. I had been following Komeyui’s twitter account and chanced upon one of their photos which displayed boxes of uni (sea urchin roe) lined up beautifully. Uni is often referred to as the foie gras of the sea and although it is an acquired taste, it’s something I have come to love. Conversing with Kuma-san via twitter, I managed to secure some lovely uni for our upcoming dinner and also enquire about the possibility of having otoro (fatty tuna belly) which he ordered in. Yes, we were ready to indulge.