70 Smith St, Collingwood
Phone: 9486 9933

Years ago, before it went up in flames and then closed down, I used to go indoor climbing at the Mill on Oxford St in Collingwood. After an hour or two of clinging on to the holds, we’d head down to the local Japanese joint Tokushima. Actually, I think it was still called Samurai back then, but that’s not really important right now.

I remember ordering the bento box, and then struggling to eat with chopsticks because my hands would tremble so much from too exerting my muscles too much climbing. Good times!

It’s been a few years since I’ve been back to Tokushima, largely because I’d been lured away by the nearby Wood Spoon Kitchen and Wabi Sabi Salon. But the novelty of fusion wears off, and sometimes you just want the classics. Like gyoza.

These had a nice filling, though the skins were a little on the under-cooked side, I think. We also had some harumaki (prawn spring rolls).
These were surprisingly good! I’m not usually one to order spring rolls, but Mr N had a craving, so harumaki were had. The filling was tastily prawny, which was off-set by the dollop of kewpie mayo which was served on the side.

Because we like to share, we ordered the sukiyaki beef, a dish for two to share. When it came out, we were both quite excited.

The waitress did some mixing of the raw beef around in the big cast iron pan, and then we dug into the sukiyaki, dipping the rare beef and vegetables in the raw egg. Deliciousness!
We ordered some rice to go along with the dish, because it just felt necessary, although the sukiyaki has some bean thread vermicelli in it. In hindsight, the rice wasn’t so necessary – we struggled to finish the dish. We almost got there, but not quite.

Tokushima is great value for money, and they dish up some great classic Japanese dishes, though on our last visit, they seemed a little understaffed, as the one waitress was rushing around a bit. Still, though the service was a little harried, it was flawlessly polite and friendly. So Japanese.

Tokushima on Urbanspoon

Aix Cafe Creperie Salon

24 Centre Place, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9662 2667

For the longest time, I didn’t know that Centre Place was called Centre Place. Despite the signage. In my head, it was Lunchtime Lane, and I liked that name. Of course, ignorance is sometimes bliss, but often it also keeps you from finding the good stuff. In this case, I didn’t know that Centre Place is not only abuzz at lunchtime, but also bustling for breakfast. On a brisk morning, I stopped in at Aix Creperie on my way to work.

I love pancakes, but I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest fan of crepes. Perhaps they’re a little too thin and ethereal for me. But I’ll give anything a go – twice – and after Breizoz this was pretty much make or break. A quick scan of the menu, and it was quite obvious which crepe I was going to have for breakfast.

Field mushroom and taleggio. With some spinach thrown in for good measure.

To be honest, I could have done without the spinach. Or perhaps it could just have been cooked a little longer, because it was far from wilted, and the mushrooms were a bit raw for my liking as well. I love when mushrooms have been cooked through, the earthy flavours developed, and the texture becomes more meaty. I’m not sure if it was just the style, or because they were still setting up and prepping for lunch, but I was pretty disappointed. The crepe itself was quite good, though, and I’d rate Aix better than Breizoz.

Aix Café Creperie Salon on Urbanspoon

Gaijin Japanese Fusion

135 Commercial Rd, South Yarra
Phone: 9804 8873

With the exception of one aberrant year when I was living in the suburban wilds of Noble Park, I have spent the entirety of my time in Melbourne firmly entrenched on the North side of the Yarra. I have an unjustified and irrational dislike for things on the South, much like a Yook has for a Zook. Every now and then, I venture to the other side, however, and even more rarely, I find something I truly delight in. Gaijin is one of those things.

Nestled in the heart of the gay club district of Commercial Road, Gaijin serves up some innovative sushi, as well as some old classics, and some new classics. Mr N and I stumbled upon it last week, but having already eaten, had to wait until this week to come back. I was a little dubious at first, as I am at all Asian fusion restaurants, and their modern branding reminded me of the epically annoying Cho Gao ‘Asian beer bar’ in Melbourne Central. But one look at the menu, and trepidation quickly changed to anticipation.

I ordered the sushi platter, as my belly was feeling rather cavernous. The sushi platter lets you choose any four sushi rolls off the menu, of which you get a half-serve. Unless, like me, you choose one of the baked items, which comes only in a whole serve, and then you only get three types.

A the back, on the left is the Spider vs. Dragon Roll,and the right is the Tasmanian Roll. At the front it the Baked Dynamite Roll. Here’s a look from another angle for you:

Spider vs. Dragon combines two of my favourite seafoods: soft-shelled crab and unagi (eel). That was always going to be a winner in my book. I was a curious about the Tasmanian Roll, because it sounded a lot like the New Yorker (with salmon and cream cheese) which I’d tried at other contemporary sushi joints, and is probably a ‘new classic’ – only with avocado and crab stick, and DEEP FRIED. Oh yeah. It was quite good, though I would have omitted the crab stick, really. I’m no a fan of seafood extender, really.

Which is why my final choice was somewhat of a gamble. The Baked Dynamite is a California roll (inverted rice) topped with baked scallop, crab stick and negi. Essentially, a creamy scrambled eggs with seafood. Almost Mornay-ish, but it totally works. The eggs were supremely creamy and *almost* runny. Luscious.

All the ingredients tasted very fresh, although I must say with such interesting flavour combinations at work, I can’t really comment on the quality of the seafood. Also, I was a little put off by the fact I had to ask for wasabi. But I guess the chef didn’t feel it necessary or appropriate with the cheesy sauce and the deep-fried sushi. Silly chef! Wasabi is always appropriate! (Caveat: my father has wasabi with his steak.)

Mr N wasn’t feeling quite as hungry as I, so he ordered the Teriyaki Chicken. I tried a piece, and I have to report it was underwhelming. A little over-cooked, and just too damn salty.

So my advice? Get the too Gaijin, but stick to the sushi. The donburi was not that impressive. Oh, and for those insatiable gluttons out there like myself, Gaijin currently is running a promotion from Tuesday to Thursday where you can have all-you-can-eat sushi (from a select menu – don’t worry, it’s got all the good stuff on it) for $35 per head, providing the whole table chooses this option. I’m definitely heading back!

Gaijin Japanese Fusion on Urbanspoon

Little Bourke Ramen Hunt – Ume Sushi House & Sushi Deli

It’s been a while between ramen hunts. And while hunting in a pack is undoubtedly fun, this ramen hunter usually operates as more of a lone wolf. The problem is, sometimes a lone ramen hunter happens upon a herd of prey too plentiful for his lone stomach. Luckily, this hunter’s stomach is abnormally large.So here is the tale of two ramens, one lunchtime.

I’m not often in the city for lunch anymore, since I stopped working in the middle of our fair metropolis. So when I was recently posted there for training, I knew I had to make the most of all my lunching opportunities. I remembered that there was a little Japanese place in Little Bourke St, not far from where I was doing my training, so I headed down to see if there was any ramen to be had.

Sushi Deli
395 Little Bourke St, CBD
Phone: 9670 6688

Indeed there was! This little hole-in-the-wall type place, ostensibly known for their sushi, also offers ramen, udon and donburi.

I ordered the ‘meat ramen’ – there’s also seafood ramen. The picture on the board looked like chashu. I was expecting chashu. Did I get chashu? No. I got chicken. Really, sushi deli? Chicken? And not even kara age deep-fried chicken goodness? Things aren’t starting out well.

There was also a goodly amount of corn, a little broccoli, and some rather disappointing seafood extender stick. Ugh. The broth, however, was pretty good. A shoyu style broth, there wasn’t too much MSG, and the flavours were more complex than your basic soy base. It played well off the sweetness of the masses of corn floating around in it.

The noodles themselves were decent – a little springy, though they softened faster than I could slurp them. And I slurp pretty fast, so I would tend to think they were a tad overcooked to begin with.

Broth 3/5
Noodles 2/5
Toppings 2/5
Total 7/15

Sushi Deli on Urbanspoon

As I exited Sushi Deli, I noticed little Japanese lanterns hanging a bit further down the street. I went to investigate. I happened upon Ume Sushi House. Not one to shy away from a gustatory challenge, I entered.

Ume Sushi House
385 Little Bourke St, CBD
Phone: 9670 0308

Having just had the ‘meat ramen’, I didn’t want to make that mistake twice. So I opted for the seafood ramen this time. It arrived pretty quickly, and as far as ramen goes, it was quite pretty, with a rainbow of ingredients floating atop the noodles. There was a whole prawn (de-shelled except head and tail), calamari, scallops, corn, nori, and shredded pickled ginger.

The noodles here were again pretty good. The texture was right, and though not quite as springy as I would have liked, they had the unmistakable ramen flavour (due to the alkali pH of the noodle).

The broth was something of a disappointment. It was lacking in real flavour, being pretty much just salty. I had a bit of a moment half-way through the bowl, however, when the sun decided to appear from behind the clouds, like a ramen epiphany:

Unfortunately, the sunlight didn’t make the broth any better.

Broth 2/5
Noodles 3/5
Toppings 3/5
Total 8/15

Ume Sushi House on Urbanspoon

To see how these two places fared in the grand scheme of CBD ramen, see my original ramen hunt post.