Golden Gai is so brand new, there's not a lot you'll find on this Japanese Fusion Tapas Bar and Restaurant online. Opened just over a week ago, it's a welcome addition to the many eateries on Chapel Street (no. 147), Windsor (03) 9533 6667. At this point in time, it's still familiarising itself with the daytime and nocturnal habits of its new clientele in the area.
Currently, its operating hours are from 12noon to 3pm, then 5.30pm to 10.30pm from Monday to Thursday, and opening 1 hour later in the evening till 11.30pm on the Friday. Saturday and Sunday, there's no break in-between, and it's open from 12noon to 11.30pm on Saturday and till 10.30pm on Sunday. Operating hours and menu are likely to change once they've locked-on to the Chapel Street Vibe.
Golden Gai derives its name from a small area called Shinjuku Golden Gai in Tokyo, Japan. It's famous for its architectural interest and for its nightlife. It consists of six tightly packed alleys wedged between the highrises of Shinjuku, where more than 200 bars exist to explore. It's on the must-do list of many a tourist even though the whole place is pretty grungy with most bars able to take but a very few punters.
However, Golden Gai Melbourne in Windsor resembles its counterpart in Japan that has stayed true to Old Tokyo, in essence only. It may well become a meeting place for the artistic eg musos, artists, writers, actors, academics et al like its namesake, considering the many interesting and quirky characters that roam Chapel street.
The majority of the restaurant is owned by Evan (pic above) who has a few shareholders made up of longtime close friends. He's very humble and for him, it's not just about earning a buck but to create something as close to perfection for the punter in food quality and taste. Evan himself is Chinese and has been in the restaurant business for over 20 years. His head chef Yomo (last pic below) is Japanese and French-trained and has worked in Michelin star rated establishments. Evan tells me there are French elements in the way the food is plated and presented, instead of its traditional Japanese style.
Evan's brother Tim is the interior decorator who is artistically inclined. He's also in the restaurant business, but for Golden Gai, he's the genius behind the decor. He's let loose all the superhero figurines and Japanese characters, and they line the bar, housed in glass cases. You'll also find them on the walls and in a display cabinet at the back, with the bust of C3PO (Star Wars) sitting on the counter.
As you enter the restaurant you can't help but notice the large mural that covers the side of a wall - all hand-painted. Tim put together the image that he envisioned for the restaurant and got an artist to paint it for him. It's filled with Japanese folklore and the celestial, mythical creatures that are considered the guardians of the different corners of the world.
There are light-boxes with Japanese writing on them overhanging the seating area that gives you the air of being in Tokyo. The names on each light-box have meaning for all those involved in the restaurant as it consists of firstly the name of Evan's son, and all the businesses they're associated with, including names of past restaurants they worked for. Another ingenious idea from Tim, when considering what to write on each light-box.
The bar is well stocked as it would be in Shinjuku, with a variety of Sake. Beer runs from the oldest brand in Japan using authentic brewing techniques to craft lager made for Golden Gai and many others. With names like Mountain Goat Organic Steam Ale, Two Birds Pale Ale and Pure Blonde Ultra Low Carb Lager amongst many on the list, including premium Japanese brands, you can bet your bottom dollar it's going to be an adventure for the palate at the bar. There are regular and special Golden Gai cocktails, red and white wines, whiskey, spirits, plum wines, non-alcoholic and hot drinks on offer as well.
For our lunch, we opted for the OMAKASE (minimum 2 people), which consists of the Chef's selection of 5 balanced favourites, plus the miso soup and dessert, which are complimentary at $45 per person. We figured we'd cover as much ground as we could and let the chef choose for us. He didn't disappoint and by the end of our meal, for our appetites, we were pretty full. Can you guess what we had? It's best left for you to experience yourself, as every morsel we put in our mouth was exquisitely delicious and fresh, especially the sashimi. Our dessert had a light shard of dehydrated mango and crumbles of a matcha cookie running through it that the chef had created and made himself.
There's also the OMAKASE7 (min 2 people) for $59 per person, boasting Golden Gai Signature dishes; 7 of the best, plus the miso soup and dessert again which are complimentary. After having the 5, not sure we could have covered the 7. All you see on here is what we ate, plus a couple of extras like the Chicken Yakatori and the Edamame. In hindsight they were unnecessary, as the chef had balanced and chosen so well, they were like alien add-ons that didn't quite fit, though of the same cuisine.
The menu caters for the vegetarian, with the Green Zone filled with a variety of salads. The Some Like It Raw are your Sashimi, Carpaccio, and Wagyu, while Rolling Along are a variety of rolls that include raw fish, salmon, tempura tiger prawns and more. The Aphrodisiac has your oysters, including the Kaki Fry, which is a bearded oyster, deep fried. Wrap It Up is perhaps a little more familiar with your Nori Taco and Charcoal Bao Bao (steam bun), with Nibbles ranging from Wasabi Peas & Nut Mix, to Edamame and Golden Gai Chips.
Grilling Me Softly has your King Prawns, Scallops, Abalone and Whole Squid, plus Lamb and Wagyu Beef and Corn Cobbettes. Skewer Them are your Yakitori, Tsukune, Kakuni, Wagyu, Gyu Tongue, Octopus, Tofu, etc all chargrilled and skewered. There are three types of Soups & Things and Lord of the Fried is all the pan fried, deep fried and crunchy tempura delights we salivate over, without tasting oily and holding its light crunch. Happy Ending at last with five choices of dessert in the way of Green Tea Tiramisu, Ice Cream 3 Ways, Creme Brûlée, the Yellow Exotic Mango Parfait we had, which is highly recommended and a Sesame Praline and Chocolat Noir Tarte.
It's well worth clicking on the image of the menu above so you can plan ahead what you're going to feast on. For me, I found the OMAKASE 5 the perfect choice for my first time at Golden Gai.
Please note, there is a credit card surcharge for Visa, Mastercard, Amex of 1.5% and a 15% surcharge on public holidays.