The most popular restaurants in Melbourne are often those that serve fusion cuisine - after all we don't really have a "Melbourne" cuisine. Thus, the trend is to take our own spin on other cuisines and an ever popular one is Japanese food.
With the amount of Japanese and sushi restaurants, how does a restaurant stand out? It seems that people are coming up with new ways to experiment with the popular cuisine, so here are a few that you may have not heard of.
Attracting a corporate crowd for its sushi and a younger, hip crowd for its St Kilda location, Wabi Sabi won me over with its fresh and innovative sushi. With options such as tofu and eggplant and also crumbed fish and prawn, their sushi is excellent and different, but comes at a price of $3 each.
Dining in, you can admire their intricate lighting decor which involves a tree-like stand with lamps hanging on the end of each branch, or their mini Japanese garden at the back.
In addition to their sushi, they have some interesting mains including the wagyu meatballs, which came in a lunch bento on the day of my visit ($16). The sauce was a mix of Japanese red miso and French demi-glace. The result tasted great, with a bit of a peppery touch. I regret not ordering the actual meal because I wanted more meatballs!
Located amongst the Vietnemese eateries on Victoria St, Shizuku is a restaurant serving Japanese tapas and more. The main novelty factor of this restaurant is their ramen burger. That's right, ramen, the traditional noodle soup but in a burger form.
I couldn't pass up the chance to write about this novelty so I ordered the candied pork belly ramen burger ($15), whilst the other option is eggplant. The burger "buns" are made from compact noodles, whilst it holds the pork and greens inside. The candied pork and its sauce were really what made this burger delicious, but as you can imagine it can get quite messy.
They serve a small number of other tapas dishes and main meals, but I'd also recommend their unagi (eel) salad ($15). It had a generous amount of eel and the addition of crispy noodles into the salad worked well. The overall size was decent and surprising for a place that serves tapas dishes.
Pabu is another place that serves tapas but as its name suggests, it specialises in a wide variety of sake as well as its menu of grilled skewers.
We ordered a great deal that night, including the special Pabu Sumiyaki Set ($16.50), which allowed us to to sample five types of skewers. Our favourite was surprisingly the chilli beancurd skewers, so we ordered a serving on its own!
Our favourite: chilli beancurd skewers
They also serve mains, such as teriyaki chicken, but even the sauce for this tasted different to the traditional sauce - but in a good way. It tasted creamier and the sauce was a lighter colour than the usual brown. The man behind the restaurant is Vietnamese, so don't expect traditional, but expect lots of great ideas.
We also tried the bacon-wrapped scallops (woah) and salmon skewers. The wait was a little long for this round of orders, so perhaps try to visit the restaurant early to avoid the wait that comes when they get busy.
They have a great deal of tapas items on their menu, a lot more extensive than Shizuku, so you're bound to find something other than skewers to try on your visit, such as the soba noodles or fried soft-shell crab.
Melbourne's list of Japanese restaurants is growing - and it seems that the focus is on tapas dishes to go along with traditional Japanese drinks. Check out these restaurants that are embracing the trend, or comment with what you think is the best modern Japanese place to visit!
Yum! Sounds like a dream assignment you set yourself here :) For Japanese food, I find it hard to go past Otsumami in Northcote. It's perhaps more traditional than the venues you've reviewed here, but well worth a visit.