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Published November 6th 2012
A quintessential Melbourne dining experience, in my book, involves good food and a cultural experience. This eatery is no different. Hidden away off busy Bourke Street, Shimbashi Soba & Sake Bar offers respite from the crowds and takes you on a quick trip to Japan.
The small establishment is reminiscent of typical Japanese eateries, with warm wooden and bamboo furnishing, cosy lighting and a small display shelf of sake and beers. There is space for about 20 people inside, with two large tables catering for groups of 8. Outside, 2 small tables will fit a maximum of 8 people. Do note that they do not have an outdoor liquor license, so make sure you get a table inside if you want to partake in their sake. The friendly wait staff are Japanese, and when they greet you delightfully with the traditional "Irasshaimase!", you know you're in for a good time. For those not fluent in Japanese, no worries, they all understand English.
The menu focuses on one thing: handmade soba, or buckwheat noodles. If you are lucky, you may even get to see the soba master at work in the front window. Menu items feature soba, served either chilled with a dipping sauce, or in a hot broth for those chilly spring nights. As usual, they also have a selection of side dishes such as okonomiyaki (Japanese vegetable pancake), sashimi and edamame. Green tea is a must on any Japanese menu, along with sake and beer.
Our group ordered the tempura seiro (chilled soba with a serve of tempura vegetables and prawns), tempura soba (warm soba with a service of tempura vegetables and prawns) and sansai soba (warm soba topped with wild vegetables and mushrooms). We had okonomiyaki and gyoza as side dishes and a pot of green tea to wash it all down. We did not have to wait long before we were able to set eyes on food, glorious food.
The handmade noodles were made to perfection and chewy, with a little bit of bite. The tempura was lightly battered, crisp and hardly oily. The okonomiyaki was thin, with a good balance of batter and vegetables. Served as a double layer, it ensured that no one overdosed on the batter used to make the pancakes. The gyoza was top notch, with a tasty filling and a skin that was just right – not too thick, and not too thin. For half an hour, all was quiet in that little alley way apart from the sounds of slurping and satisfied sighs.
At this point, I must apologize for the lack of pictures. We were too hungry and the food was too good. We cleaned up every morsel. However, you can find more mouthwatering pictures from these blogs here and here.
Tips Reservations are essential. We rocked up 10 minutes after they opened for dinner only to be told that all seats inside had been reserved. Thank goodness the tables outside were available.
How to eat chilled soba
Soba served in warm broth is eaten like any other hot noodle. Chilled soba requires a different technique. The soba will be brought out to you on a little bamboo tray, with a cup of dipping sauce and a small plate of spring onion and wasabi. Put only the spring onion into the dipping sauce. Pick up a little wasabi (if desired) and noodles together with your chopsticks, and dip both into the sauce. Bring the chopsticks to your mouth and slurp up the noodles with gusto. Slurping introduces air into the food and enhances the flavour. Towards the end of the meal, the wait staff will bring out a little cup of soba-yu. This is the hot water in which the soba has been boiled, full of buckwheat goodness. Pour the soba-yu into the dipping sauce to form a warm broth. If the wait staff forgets your soba-yu, please feel free to ask. Drink and enjoy.
Shimbashi Soba & Sake Bar
17 Liverpool Street Melbourne Vic 3000 Tel:03 9654 6727
Lunch: Mon – Fri 11.30am – 2:30pm
Dinner: Mon – Sat 6pm – 10pm
Closed on Sundays