A disused milk bar sitting in one of Brighton’s quiet but beautiful tree-lined streets is a rather strange location to launch a Japanese All-You-Can-Eat restaurant. But that’s exactly what some Chinese person did when he or she launched J’s Surf & Turf (and I say Chinese because you can tell when Japanese food has been cooked by a Chinese…). Having heard favourable reviews from my workmate George and one of my mum’s annoying Malaysian friends, the whole family decided to make the trip to Were Street for dinner last night. Booking only a few days prior to Sunday meant that it was hard for them to squeeze us into the earliest session of 5:30pm so we had to settle for the 6:45pm sitting (and out by 8:30pm).
The tiny restaurant was expectantly packed by the time we rocked up at exactly 6:45pm. The first thing that came to my mind when I walked in was ‘My goodness, there are so many fobs!’ Apart from the odd Brighton blonde couple, 95% of the 30-40 diners were fobby Koreans who created such an atmosphere with their “boong boong chun mung aaaasayohhhhh!” cries and squeals every time a plate arrived on their tables. Ahhhh fobs…
Unlike most All-You-Can-Eat restaurants, J’s Surf & Turf (I still can’t get over the weird name…) do not lay their food out on buffet tables for their patrons to help themselves. Instead, there is a menu that lists a la carte options from hot entrees to mains to sushi/sashimi options. The prices are quite reasonable (mains hover at $10-15) and people are free to sit down for just a bento box or beef salad but the majority of diners opt for the $28 p/h All-You-Can-Eat option where you can order anything you want from the menu (except for the bento box). While the temptation to order every single thing right off the bat is there, the best thing to do is to order several dishes at a time and then asking for more once you’re done with the dishes in order to eliminate waste. Because if there is one thing that I can’t stand (apart from Bay 13 bogans and Louis Vuitton monogrammed bags) it is people who waste food. Throughout the course of our meal, I saw tables full of fobs order 10 billion things from the menu and realise that they couldn’t finish off everything so half-full plates of perfectly good sashimi and prawn tempura went to waste. C’mon people, don’t be greedy, order 3-4 things at a time and if need be, order 3-4 more things if you’re still hungry and so on. Far out.
So, what did we eat?
We ordered a few small dishes to start off with, including a serving of gyoza. Now I’m so used to gyoza being pan-fried so imagine my surprise when we got a flat of rather sad-looking so-called dumplings that were steamed rather than fried. They were just “okay.”
A plate of prawn and sweet potato tempura. I’m not a huge fan of sweet potato so I did not touch those but I did eat the prawn tempura (times about three). They may not be as awesome as the ones I had at Hako but each large crispy thin battered juicy prawn were good enough to eat. We ordered a second plate of tempura halfway during our meal but unfortunately the batter was not as crisp the second time around.
Mum’s futomaki (vegetarian sushi roll). I don’t particularly like futomaki so I didn’t try any of it but mum thought it was “okay” (then again, I have no idea what would constitute a “good” futomaki as it doesn’t sound very appetising nor exciting to me…)
Agadashi tofu. Obviously had been sitting around for a while as the tofu batter was starting to sog up a little but nevertheless, not too bad. I needed my tofu fix and I got it. A little less MSG would’ve been better though…
Potato croquettes. I was surprised to find that these croquettes did not have crab in it like they SHOULD but never mind, they were okay as they were – crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, with bits of carrots and onions in it.
Sashimi and sushi platter. I ordered enough for four people, knowing that Kenneth hated seafood. So when mum told me that she didn’t like RAW fish and when dad told me that he had never even had raw fish before, I was rather perplexed. Mum ate maybe about two pieces of raw salmon before declaring that she had enough while dad ate about one piece before deciding that he’d rather much have cooked fish. That meant that Janice and I had to finish off the rest of the platter, which is no mean feat, but alas we did it. The problem, however, was that we were starting to get full by this stage. The sashimi was definitely not as fantastic nor fresh as Shoya’s or Shira Nui’s and I was disappointed to see a lack of variety (what, only salmon and yellowtail??) but at $30 or so for such a platter, I guess it would be decent value if you’re ordering a la carte.
Chicken yakitori. Rather unmemorable. Then again, it’s not really something I love ordering at restaurants anyway…
Asparagus and beef salad. The only reason why we ordered this dish was because Ken hates any form of seafood and also didn’t like the yakitori. What we weren’t expecting, however, was the fact that this dish was probably the best one we sampled. Strips of beef fillet were marinated in soy and tossed with some vegies, including lettuce and beans (but what, no asparagus?! ). The mixture was dressed in a creamy yet tangy sesame dressing consisting of mirin, shoyu and dashi. A stand-out, despite how fug it looked.
Some decent takoyaki. I say ‘decent’ only because it’s been a while since I’ve had takoyaki which tasted above average and although I know that these weren’t the best I’ve had, I could honestly say that I found no fault in them. Even Janice, who is usually apprehensive about eating “weird” stuff like octopus, thought they were nice.
Chicken yakisoba (fried noodles). They were horrible. Ugh. Next please.
Hahaha check out some of the items on the menu! My guess was that they wanted to cater to those annoying gweilos who are too wussy to TRY NEW THINGS such as raw fish, octopus balls and oysters. Fair enough, they sound a bit strange to some but you never know until you try right? Another thing which made me giggle just a little bit was seeing that dimmies and potato cakes were being sold for 50 cents. I guess this place is still operating like it’s 1996 because that’s the last time I ever recall potato cakes being 50 cents (these days, they’re around $1 in my area).
Yeah Kenneth happens to be one of those people. He ordered a plate of fries .
And spring rolls (which are just like those ones you can buy frozen in supermarkets or bought for a rip off price of $10 for 5 at bars. Ugh.)
Dessert consisted of a choice between green tea or vanilla ice cream (I chose green tea), a fruit plate and hahaha, get this, snake lollies.
We might not have ordered as many plates as other tables (subsequently, they wasted more food and incurred the silent wrath of Ms Libby) but we were extremely full so it’s definitely good value for money. Service was well-organised and efficient with wait-times kept at a minimum. The fact that our beef salad arrived mere seconds after ordering led us to think that the chefs churn out bowls of food and leave them in the kitchen for the waiters to pick up, which we didn’t seem to mind because 1) it was cheap food, 2) the turnover of beef salad and other stuff were high anyway so we knew that it wasn’t sitting there for 2 hours and 3) it was slightly better than consuming food sitting on bain maries for hours.
Finally, it goes without saying that I enjoyed my visit and will definitely go there again. While the food isn’t the best Japanese in Melbourne, people go because it’s good value for money (it definitely beats paying $40-odd for dinner at New Quay…). The problem for most people including myself, however, is that Brighton is a bit of a hike so I would recommend going there if you have other business in the area. George, for example, goes there for dinner before catching the last rays of sunshine at the beach, which was what we could’ve done… except that South Africa was just about to commence bowling and we wanted to run home to watch it all happen.