I haven’t felt this excited or naughty since prep when I “borrowed” toy cars from school to play with at home.
So my olds invited me to a Japanese dinner with their mates. I was about to decline politely when it was mentioned it was going to be held at someone’s house. Intriguing… So with much anticipation and suspense, I wondered what this dinner would deliver.
On the night, arriving at the address and walking onto the premises, I crossed my fingers hoping the cops wouldn’t turn up to arrest me for trespassing. Moving up the driveway of the modest one story house and cautiously towards the lights at the back, fears of a hoax evaporate as a feast awaits in the converted garage. There’s not much room to manoeuvre, a round table as you enter, a long rectangular one in front of a plasma that plays NHK, a mini bar on the side and makeshift kitchen behind. Bamboo and Japanese screens do their bit of an authentic atmosphere.
And what better way to welcome incoming guests by having them sit in front of a gigantic wooden boat carrying a bountiful amount of sashimi including abalone, lobster, scallops, tuna, salmon and kingfish. Either side to this is a smaller selection of nigirizushi and a stand that holds up a lovely beef tataki garnished with spring onion, a light soy and Japanese mayo. Underneath, there’s an interesting fresh oyster, a thin slice of salmon, finely chopped radish, spring onion and a powerful salty miso paste that won’t agree with everyone. For something warmer, there’s a silken eggy custard chawanmushi, the dashi good with shiitake mushrooms at the bottom of the fine china. Did I mention this is just pre-entrée?
If there’s still room, next up is the interesting scallop “mornay”, the large mollusc flesh is baked underneath a creamy potato puree, a nice parmesan cheese melt, toasted chilli threads add a kick and with a whole caper for decoration. Tempura is a bit of a let down, sweet potato slices, asparagus, fish and prawn are covered in a batter that’s a little too thick but without that nice crunch due to the excess oil. Served in a beautiful, large earthen pot is a vegetarian Chankonabe, a stew containing a salty dashi broth filled with udon, bok choy and plenty of sliced fish cake kamaboko.
Unfortunately the savouries are far better than the sweets, the red bean pancake hits my soft spot but the quartered crepe pocket filled with cream and strawberry not worth the extra inches to go along the others you’ve already been given.
The ending doesn’t put a dampener on an unforgettable experience. It was an absolute honour, as it turns out, to have eaten at the house of a chef that was at the peak of his powers around the time when I was committing grand theft auto at school. Doesn’t seem much has changed and imagining what could be done in a full-scale commercial kitchen.
3.5 / 5 yums!
Where? East Bentleigh, now Ibuki’s Japanese Cuisine at 566 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne