We were recently on a getaway to Melbourne and this Flinders Lane restaurant was recommended to me by the hip hotel front-desk lady who quoted it as the restaurant where she had her birthday celebration dinner - the highest praise in casual dining standards.
I have to admit the exterior is rather underwhelming with a red neon sign of what may be two cherries (although it could equally be interpreted as any other nondescript stone fruit). A square sign with the letters SN and some Japanese characters reminded me of the Japanese homewares store MUJI - although I suspect that is not what they were going for. In what seems to be the Melbourne way, the understated and somewhat confusing exterior gave way to one of the best meals in recent memory.
If there was a theme for the meal then "balance" is the word that I would use. As a one-time fan of Masterchef, you hear the phrase bandied around all over the place, but I feel like I do now finally understand what they were going on about when they said things like "punchy flavours that are well balanced."
My husband ordered a beer, but being lunchtime and mostly a teetotaller, I ordered the Pink Panda - a ginger, cranberry lime concoction which appealed to my sweet tooth. They also provided a plate of roasted sunflower seeds while we were covertly looking at everyone else's plates to help with food selection. The patrons were a comfortable mix of corporates, tourists and locals - I did not find myself too uncool to be there (I find this to be a real risk at times), and there was enough space between tables to comfortably have a conversation.
The menu is what one might expect for any fusion Asian restaurant worth its salt; the obligatory combinations of traditional French cooking styles mixed with Asian flavours (items such as "beef tartare, pickled shiitake and sansho pepper"). We ordered the prawn and chicken dumplings and the shredded Szechuan chicken salad. A sign outside declared that the famous lobster rolls were available for take-out and we were curious, so we got one of those. The waiter also mentioned pork katsu sandwiches and after happy memories of these in Japan, we also took some of those.
The chicken salad arrived first, it was coloured with the telltale sea of red that marks most Szechuan style dishes (growing up my parents always said that the Szechuan were a people who feared food that was not spicy), however, I was not assaulted with the expected overwhelming peppery chilli taste - and therein was my first lesson on balance. This was an even greater welcome to the other side of the table as he was not a fan of chilli, but tolerated it for my sake. The same went for the chicken and prawn dumplings which somehow managed to strike a delicious harmony between salty, spicy, sweet and sour.
I do have to dedicate a bit of time here to the lobster roll. I have never had a lobster roll before and in actual fact, have no idea what they are supposed to taste like. I am actually not a bit fan of sandwiches and rolls in general, but this was amazing. Just imagine this tangy, fishy flavour and light salad executed with the same excellent balance of the rest of the meal in a soft (almost sweet) brioche bun and that's what you get. The only downside of this dish was the size and price - at $17 for a bun of barely 7cm it is a little steep, but I would say still worth it!
Despite the small portions, we found the serves to be reasonably filling. We almost could not finish the katsu sandwiches which were made from quite sizeable cuts of juicy pork loin (a fancied-up version of the type you would get from any convenience store in Japan), so we happily left this place with fuller bellies and lighter wallets.
So the lessons learnt from this experience? Do not judge a book by its cover. Balance is the new delicious and lobster rolls are the thing I never knew I needed in my life. I hope you give it a go!