Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published August 7th 2011
Most Asian restaurants in Melbourne occupy the middle ground between traditional ethnic food and Westernised meals. There are a few exceptions: Sichuan House goes the all-traditional route, for instance. Yoyogi, at 211-213 Swanston St, takes the opposite approach, aiming at diners used to familiar food and attentive waiters. If you're interested in Japanese food but want to play it safe, this restaurant might be for you.
The décor is charming in a tacky sort of way, with cushioned boxes to sit on and tables that look like they could have come straight out of a food court. Sit upstairs if you can; it's more comfortable and less noisy. Lack of noise is a bit of a mixed blessing, however – the music at Yoyogi is a constant stream of pop hits a few decades past their use-by-date. Regardless, the atmosphere is distinctive and in keeping with the restaurant's theme: cheap yet delicious.
Perhaps the strongest point of the menu is its selection of entrées, including a perfectly serviceable okonomiyaki and a tasty eggplant dish. If you're short on money or not very hungry, it's possible to make a decent meal out of one or two of these. Likewise, the sushi is inexpensive and perfect for satisfying the beginnings of hunger pangs. Don't bother with the gyoza dumplings; although they're nice, Dumpling Plus is right next door.
Beer at Yoyogi is noticeably cheaper than at most nearby restaurants, and most Japanese food goes down well with a cold bottle of Asahi. If beer's not your thing, why not try the sake or have a glass of house wine. Non-alcoholic options are expensive but taste great – try the green iced tea or just a glass of soft drink. Most meals come with a bowl of miso soup, which is salty enough that you'll want a glass of water on hand.
The main meals are reliable Japanese options. Try the katsu curry don, a huge bowl of curry for under eight dollars, or the teriyaki don. If you're planning to share, make sure you ask for extra plates, as the staff seemingly aren't used to shared meals. Vegetarians might want to stick to the entrees, since aside from the soba salad and some bland noodle dishes, there aren't many non-meat options here. The agedashi tofu comes with fish flakes, so be sure to order it without.
This restaurant works best as a reliable option, as a place to answer the inevitable question among friends of where to have dinner. It's close to Melbourne Central Hoyts for those who want to eat after a movie, and close to the CBD bars for those looking for dinner before a night out. Even if you don't plan to, chances are you'll end up here anyway. And what's the problem with that? Not every meal can be fancy or pretentious – you could do a lot worse than Yoyogi on a Friday night.