Izakaya Chuji

165 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Phone: 9663 8118You know a place is an ‘institution’ when they’re selling branded merchandise (read t-shirts) at the cash register. Izakaya Chuji is one of those places. One of the first izakayas in Melbourne, if not the first, Chuji – as my friends and I refer to it – has been around since 1989! I first started going there during my uni days. Back in the heady days at the turn of the millennium, when all things Japanese were cool, Chuji was our favourite Japanese restaurant. The food was good, the prices low, and we were far too busy playing out the dramas of our young adult lives to care if the service was not so great.

Not a lot has changed in the interceding decade. Chuji still serves up goof Japanese food, specialising in sushi, bento and the smaller snack-plates (I loathe the term ‘Japanese tapas’) which are the essence of izakaya-style restaurants. They also have yakiniku grills upstairs. Suitably, Chuji also has a good selection of Japanese beers. I still have yet to visit the sister sake bar which popped up next door a couple of years back, but one of these days…

Last time I went to Chuji, it was a catch up with Mr I. We’ve known each other since the uni days, so Chuji’s one of our fall-back places when we catch up.

I ordered the agedashi tofu to start.

Agedashi tofu is a favourite dish of mine, and Chuji puts out a good version, though I think the decision to thicken the dashi sauce – which has happened somewhere in the last couple of years – is a bad one. I don’t like the fact that so much sauce clings to the fried tofu. Also, the choice of carrot as a garnish instead of bonito flakes is a little disappointing. The tofu, however, is fried well, and manages to reach the table still crispy.

I also ordered the mixed kim chee, because I thought I might need some vegetables. See mum, I DO eat vegetables!

These weren’t great – the various vegetables had a very similar flavour, except the chinese cabbage kim chee, which had some more chilli to it. Anyway, it was altogether too sweet. I guess that’ll learn me to order kim chee at a Japanese restaurant, and not a Korean restaurant.

Mr I had the cheese gyoza from the specials board. They’ve been on the specials board for months, by the way. We saw them there last time, but no-one was quite brave enough to order them.

They were actually pretty good, however. The switch from soy sauce to mayo was a good move, and the fact they’re deep-fried is also wise. Pan-fried ones would have had an oily, soggy texture, I think.

Mr I also had the yakisoba. I personally don’t like yakisoba – I think it’s probably my least favourite of the various Asian stir-fried noodles. But it’s not the first  time he’s had it at Chuji, so I assume he likes it.

I was in the mood for some more fried goodness, so I had the curry katsudon. The pork was a little on the dry side, but the curry was delightfully rich, even if Japanese curries are the biggest wimps of all curries.
Izakaya Chuji is a reliable stalwart, serving decent Japanese food at very reasonable prices. It’s not pretentious, but it’s similarly not impressive. A good relaxed place to eat and hang out with friends.

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