Who says you need to spend a lot of money to really enjoy Japanese food? In Melbourne, here are some affordable places where the prices are reasonable and the food is just fantastic!
You can find this place at the Windsor end of Chapel Street, and here at Ganbare Kaz, the prices are low yet the sushi options are creative and just plain premium.
Grab a set along the large bar that surrounds the sushi train, where you can get a great view of the chefs wowing you with their fantastic knife skills. Here they have a color-coded plate pricing system, with beige plates as the priciest at $6.50. It’s $5.50 for blue, $4.50 for black, and just $3.50 for white plates.
At each table, you’ll find an iPad that you use to order your drinks, along with food options like octopus takoyaki and yummy gyoza, along with sushi. The quality of the plates should give you a heads-up that in this place, they sure take care of the details. You won’t find cheap plastic plates here, and instead you’re served your gunkans, aburi, nigiris, and makis on polished ceramic that have been painted by hand. They also take great care when picking the garnish, as dishes are enhanced with seeds, flowers, or herbs to boost the texture, flavor, or the aesthetics.
Various options abound, and you ought to try the marbled salmon belly flamed so that it’s super-buttery, and then topped with some chili-flecked mayo, red tobiko, and red onion. You can go with a nigiri of white ika (that’s squid) that tastes smooth even as it’s nice and firm, and you just need a squeeze of lemon with it. Another great item is the inside-out roll, with fried chicken and avocado, along with kewpie mayo and some puffed rice for the crunch.
You can go with the cured silver-skinned mackerel, with the nori sash tying it with the rice parcel and some spring onion to make it zesty. Or you can try some rich pillows of rice, on which you have orange akagai and red-bottomed hokkigai. Another alternative (or an addition to your meal) is the gunkan sushi packed with salmon chunks, along with abalone octopus, spicy mayo, or even 3 types of roe (green, red, and black). For the vegetarians, there’s also the sundried tomato and the pumpkin and beet.
For lunch or dinner, you have more than 10 protein options to start with. The priciest is halibut at about $18 per order, along with salmon ($16), filet mignon ($13), and scallop ($13). Those are actually pretty affordable, and at the other end of the scale you have shrimp, New York Strip, and sukiyaki steak (all at $9 each). You also have chicken ($8) and Yakimono Vegetarian ($7).
These orders already come with veggies as your side dish, along with soup and steam rice. Basically, you can get a full meal for $18 at the most. That’s seriously affordable, considering the quality and the taste of the food available here.
For drinks, you have a great lineup of a dozen Victorian beers on tap, with brands that most Melbourne residents will be familiar with. You can go with Hawkers, Hop Nation, or Moondog to go with the fantastic food. Or you can try any of the terrific cocktails, all of which are named after districts in Tokyo. One of the great cocktails is the Harajuku, which combines sake and tequila with lime and ginger, and then topped with a bit of smoked salt.
This is one energetic izakaya (the Japanese version of an alleyway pub), with the seats around the bar giving you a great show as the chef creates your meal. Sit back and relax, knowing that you won’t have to spend big to enjoy Japanese cuisine.
This is one hole-in-the-wall joint that’s not exactly easy to find, and the signage is just minimal. But if you’re lucky, you’ll find a friend to guide you so you can find the right doorway, go down the stairs, move the black curtain aside, and then come into a dark basement location. It’s like a portal to a pub for locals in Tokyo.
This is a place where prices are low, and formality is discouraged. The long room comes with moody lighting, along with concrete floors and walls. Exposed beams and wooden tables are also here. But the place is actually relaxing, as the seats and the black leather couches are comfortable.
It’s a great place to just sit back as you relax with your drinks. Or you can get some seats on the front row, so you enjoy the show performed by the chefs in the open kitchen.
The beers are mostly Japanese, with Orion on tap and Asahi and Kirin among the options. You can also go with shochu (distilled liquor), sake (rice wine), and umeshu (plum wine), or even some options from the Victorian wine list.
For your food, try the kingfish sashimi and the knobbly sweet corn balls. Make friends with the other patrons, and enjoy!