Owns 'FoodLit'. Highly qualified, established food & lifestyle writer, former restaurateur, founder professional writing business, Articul8. Long, diverse writing history, passion for food culture, the land & inspired food language.www.foodlit.com.au
What a surprising discovery edging St Kilda's main drag. The vibrant, award-winning, yet casual Wabi Sabi Garden is far enough from Fitzroy Street to avoid the famous street's challenges, yet, with its location just over St Kilda Road in Wellington Street, close enough for those wanting to wander down after a meal.
Undoubtedly one of the better St Kilda restaurants, this place has great energy, with plenty of thick, warm timber making a rustic and comforting backdrop for the artworks and decorative touches that add colour, craft and life. Enjoying Japanese cuisine beneath the long, elegant branches of a lantern tree adds fun, light and laughter. That's the sort of place it is.
Take the time to soak it in - and to enjoy the tranquil, bamboo-lined Japanese courtyard garden (with rather unique water feature), which adjoins a dining area come function room. There are additional function spaces upstairs, so it's a pretty versatile place for virtually any occasion.
My friend Sue and I enjoyed an inspiring meal featuring clean, fresh flavours interspersed with just the right dose of punch - and textural crunch where necessary. Well-evident were the menu's foundations in Yin and Yang, or well-poised balance to put it simply. The menu, with its clever little twists of innovation, intentionally deviates a little from its traditional roots. The fact that we enjoyed a mid-week, evening indulgence amidst a healthy smattering of Japanese diners and a good-sized crowd is testament to both the restaurant's authenticity and its popularity.
By the way, sister restaurant, Wabi Sabi Salon in Smith Street Collingwood, maintains a more traditional and cultural approach - and also boasts a long history in The Age Cheap Eats.
In St Kilda, and north of the river too I imagine, well-sourced, top-quality ingredients, kitchen creativity and know-how, and simple, yet stylish presentation combine with Tomoya the owner's warm hospitality, and that of his service-oriented and knowledgeable staff.
We shared so we could taste more of everything and were off to a very good start with Kingfish Sashimi, Waygu Beef Sashimi and Oysters Tempura with Asparagus Sauce.
The stand out dish of the evening followed: Thinly-sliced Wagyu Beef Wrap (featuring high-grade Wagyu from the Blue Mountains) in a Shabu Shabu sesame sauce. It's a clever, Japanese take on Peking-style duck, with the soft pancake (which we maneuvered with our fingers for extra joy) wrapping cosily around the well-marbled, almost melting beef sliced paper thin for maximum sauce absorption - beautifully balanced with some julienned cucumber and delicate daikon spirals for freshness and contrast. It was superb.
I do confess that we ate more than I have room to detail here, except to say that the flaky, salty-sweet, caramelly Grilled Black Cod (pictured), Fresh Tuna Sashimi Salad with a wild wasabi dressing and, for dessert, Green Tea Cheescake and Frozen Ginger Cinnamon Pudding topped with a crazily-good, sticky caramel remain stuck in my memory's flavour banks.
After our visit I can understand why Wabi Sabi Garden has been featured in The Age Good Food Guide and has also taken out the prestigious Restaurant and Catering Association's Best Japanese Restaurant in Victoria award. It's really very good - and it's very real and it's unpretentious. Love it.