So, it may be week 13 of semester (at least I think it’s week 13. I don’t know, I’m hardly ever on campus) but my lecturers held their last classes last week so I did not have a valid reason to be in Clayton today. After picking Adam up from work (and meeting a few of his more flamboyant workmates at the East Melbourne store), we hopped on the city circle and trammed all the way from La Trobe Street to Crown. It took us effing thirty minutes – time better spent walking there, in my opinion but 1) Adam is a lazy fck and 2) Adam is a cheap fck who doesn’t want to buy another tram ticket. Anyway, the place that we were heading to, Koko, was probably the first “proper” fine dining restaurant I’ve been to. The year was 1999: I had just met Aaron and Chris Nolan for the first time, we had watched Austin Powers 2, ICQ was sooo in and despite being in yr.9 at an all-girls private school with the Blairs and Serenas of the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, the thought of having to pay more than $50 per head for sushi did my head in. Little did I know, back then, that I would one day think nothing of paying double that much for awesome sushi.
Located at Crown Towers, Koko has been around since the day the casino opened. The head chef Allan Koh might be Chinese-Malaysian (which to many people, means that because he ISN’T Japanese then his food must suck), but that has not stopped Koko appearing in consecutive editions of The Good Food Guide thanks to his creative approach to Japanese cooking. A popular destination for Louis Vuitton-toting Asian tourists, it has proudly cemented its position as THE premier Japanese restaurant at the casino. That was, until Nobu opened downstairs with much fanfare. With the opening of Nobu, people have wondered whether Koko would survive but I think the fact that it’s still drawing in a decent crowd during Thursday lunches is a testament to what they can do. Mind you, I actually hated the place back in yr.9. I thought the sushi was “not bad, but not worth $50” and I was still hungry afterward, so I happily ran off to Maccas to fill my stomach up. Curious to see if anything has changed, I picked this place for lunch today.
Stepping through the rock pool, located in the middle of the room (haha, rock pool!), we were shown to a table by the window which was a plus one for me (yay for natural lighting!). We were given the a la carte menu (teppanyaki is also available on a separate menu) and informed of the $42 two-course lunch special where you could use anything off the a la carte menu except for the ones marked with an asterisk (usually high-end dishes such as lobster, foie gras etc), plus you got a bowl of miso and steamed rice. That sounded good to us, so off we went.
An amuse bouche of pickled octopus with cumber and bonito. A light refreshing morsel to start off the proceedings (though I did find the octopus a little on the soft side…).
You may be wondering why the photos are looking a bit ‘shady.’ I take back what I said about sitting by the window. At this stage, the sun was directly facing us which made photo-taking pretty much impossible. And I didn’t bring my UV filter either. Efffffff…
“Oh noes, BHP’s share price is going down! AAAAAAAAARGH!”
Adam’s main: wagyu yanagawa. Reminiscent of the popular Mongolian beef, fine slices of wagyu were cooked and presented on a clay plate and served with a delicate soy mirin sauce with shiitake, enoki and shimeji mushrooms, leeks and spring onion. What I really liked about this dish was digging into the tangles of wagyu strips and finding a runny free-range yolk sitting in the middle of the plate. Mixing the egg with the beef and the sauce, it was a pleasure to eat. I liked that the sauce did not bog down the natural flavour of the wagyu too. Good choice, Ads.
My main: assorted sushi. I don’t know why I chose this dish, particularly since I didn’t like it 10 years ago. I guess I was curious to see what my better-trained palate would think but in hindsight, it was a huge mistake. By all means, there was nothing terrible about the sushi. The presentation was fine, each little morsel (of tuna, kingfish, salmon, and prawn) would be given a credit grade at cooking school. They just didn’t do it for me like Shira Nui or Shoya did. And the fish wasn’t as fresh as Shoya’s. Wrong choice, Libs.
Oh, I do realise that getting a rice and a bowl of miso seems a little odd when one is ordering sushi as a main. I did shovel pretty much half of Adam’s dish into my rice though, which worked out well for me.
The total bill was $92.50 but we got it down to $69.40 with the Entertainment Book discount. After today’s visit, I would be more inclined to visit Koko again to try their teppanyaki menu and maybe try their seafood mains. I won’t touch the sushi again though. As for prior concerns about having to compete with Nobu? Frankly, I don’t think Koko needs to worry. Sure, Allan Koh’s Chinese background shows in his dishes and while some might argue that Koko is not 100% ‘authentic’ in that regard, it is 10 billion times better than Nobu.