Wabi Sabi Salon

94 Smith St
Collingwood VIC 3065
+61 3 9417 6119

The heavy rain this morning made me not want to leave the house. I would have been happy just sleeping all day on my “uni day” had it not for the fact that my mum is currently pissing me off as of late. Because I did not want to be stuck in the same house with her, I decided to brave the rain and head into East Melbourne to meet up with Adam just as he was finishing work for the day. Thankfully, the rain stopped just as the bus exited the freeway and by the time we walked across Victoria Pde and into Smith Street, it was warm and sunny. Ahhh, that’s Melbourne for you.

We walked into a Japanese cafe called Wabi Sabi Salon which looks nothing like your average Japanese eatery, but did not look exactly out of place in Collingwood. To quote last year’s Cheap Eats Guide, the restaurant is “Collingwood meets Osaka” and indeed the eccentric and colourful trinkets from Japan combined with patrons that could only be adequately described by Christian Lander. Taking its name from the traditional Japanese concept of wabi sabi as described by Leonard Koren, the restaurant epitomises all things that are “imperfect, impermanent, unconventional and incomplete.” Here, your chopsticks rest on mismatched chopsticks holders and standard cafe tables stand amongst communal tables and traditional Japanese tatami mats. The food also reflects this, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

So, Wabi Sabi offers a selection of a la carte items during lunch and dinner, but bento boxes and sushi rolls are also offered during lunch while dinner patrons have the privilege of also being offered some “dinner only” items. There are three types of bento boxes to choose from, a fish one ($13), a meat one ($12) and a vegie one ($11). Every day, the contents of the bento box change according to what the chef happens to cook on the day. For example, today’s meat bento consisted of chicken karaage and the fish was whiting katsu which Adam and I ordered respectively.

Diners who order the bento box receive a bowl of miso soup. The weird thing about our soups was that mine contained seaweed while Adam’s didn’t. We both had tofu cubes but mine also had the addition of several pieces of chopped fried puffy tofu. Perhaps I’m just special. Taste-wise, it was pretty average for a miso soup and perhaps there was a bit too much MSG. Ugh.
My “fish bento” ($13) made up for the mediocre miso soup though. Getting back to the wabi sabi concept that I mentioned earlier on, this was not your typical Japanese bento box. While the food was Japanese, it was puntuated by subtle elements from the West. There were four pieces of sliced whiting, a fish that I’ve never seen used in a Japanese eatery, coated in panko breadcrumbs and then fried. It was covered in a sauce that one who is accustomed to eating okonomiyaki would be familiar with. The salad on top consisted of a mix of Western salad greens – spinach leaves, rocket leaves, capsicum and lettuce doused in a lovely tangy sesame dressing and was offset by a little salad of baby beans in the centre dressed in only the slightest amount of salty sesame. The orange mush you see on the left is a sweet pumpkin curry which tasted a lot like a tame version of laksa and was probably the only thing in the box I didn’t like.
Adam’s “meat bento” ($12) was identical to mine, but with chicken karaage instead of whiting katsu. Unlike other versions I’ve tried, this one was tender and delicate with the soy, ginger and garlic marinade being heightened by a sprinkling of sesame.

We both agreed that Wabi Sabi Salon made a very competent bento and that we would both return again. One more interesting thing to note though – I was full after my meal but Adam was still hungry. Hmmmmmm.

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