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Published August 20th 2014
Lunch with Superb Japanese Skill at Miyako
With the plan of spending the afternoon at the Italian Masterpieces exhibit at the National Gallery of Victoria, my wife and I searched for somewhere in the Southbank area for a weekday lunch and picked out the Japanese restaurant Miyako. When we arrived, however, we began having second thoughts. At noon they were just opening for service. The menu posted at the door looked a little on the expensive side and glances through the window showed only a few early patrons placed at large teppanyaki tables by themselves which was not the experience we were after.
We decided to take 20 minutes to browse the nearby stores trading in designer stationary, faux folk art and bits and pieces before making a decision. Seeing the place filling up quickly, with more small tables than we first spied and some more reasonably-priced lunch options, we changed our mind and came in for a table. We were soon very pleased with our decision. The meal was delicious and the care and skill in preparing it was ample.
Once through the door you realise Miyako is much more substantial than what you might assume from peeking through the front windows. There are plenty of tables for couples and small groups, particularly underneath the large face of Buddha that covers one wall. In addition, there is a balcony area with more small tables that takes advantage of a nice view of the city from across the river. Around the corner there are the larger group tables for teppanyaki. One imagines this can be quite the treat for an after work crowd and it probably gets quite boisterous. There is also a private dining room with seating on the floor in a more traditional setting.
The wine list is extensive as is the list of sakes and other Japanese drinks. They offer the Japanese beers you expect Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo including the dark varieties, although disappointingly they did not have the black versions on this day, so we ordered the regular ones. The menu can seem a little daunting (and expensive) to those who do not know exactly what they want. What swayed us to come in was the offer of bento Boxes, ideal for those who want variety and convenience at a more reasonable price. My wife ordered the chicken bento and I the seafood bento.
The non-vegetarian bento boxes come with tempura, sushi, sashimi, steamed rice as well as the main protein and a salad. First though comes the miso, always a nice way to start, though perhaps nothing too special for those who have had it many times before. The salad, which consists of a small serve of mesclun leaves topped with wilted baby spinach and a sesame sauce, collectively called 'Horenso Goma Ae', was a surprising delight. The sesame dressing was sweet, savoury and nutty. You can't help but wish for more than the small serving.
The serves of sushi and sashimi will inform you of how poorly your local sushi outlet performs the art. The preparation was excellent; the fish was amazingly tender with no trim of fat that makes the lesser versions impossible to bite through. Likewise, the tempura is a class above the poor imitations. The pieces of capsicum, prawn, kumara and eggplant were perfectly cooked and wonderfully tender in a light batter making everything you commonly experience seem far overcooked.
The chicken teriyaki that came with my wife's bento was also well timed. The sauce was sweet and savoury and the chicken soft and tender. My seafood curry was a treat. Salty and savoury, I was soaking the steamed rice in the ample tasty sauce. The curry comes with prawns, mussels and scallops but the real treat was the fish. Like everything else the preparation of the fish was superb, it was amazingly tender, buttery and juicy.
As wonderful and satiating these dishes were, we could not help but order a dessert as well. My wife ordered the green tea ice cream with profiteroles, while I had the banana tempura with vanilla ice cream. Served with dark profiteroles and syrup, I found the green tea ice cream to be a little subdued, but my wife found it to perfectly complement her expectations and taste for that moment. In contrast, the banana tempura was an indulgent treat and like everything else, cooked perfectly. We were each delighted with our desserts and would prefer our own to the others. The presentation and the care it implied only impressed us further.
Though it can be a little pricey, the skill and flavours on display at Miyako greatly impressed us. Despite our early misgivings we left feeling indulged and rewarded without guilt. The staff were prompt, helpful and friendly as well.