Lunch time in the CBD can be best summed up by the theme song of television series, Monk - “It’s a Jungle Out There” (I’m aware that the Underbelly theme song also uses that line but I do not think highly of that show hence my decision to go with Monk, OKAY?!). Thank goodness, then, for hidden gems such as Yu-U, nestled quietly off Flinders Lane. And when I say hidden, I really do mean hidden. It’s much easier to find a strand of blonde hair on Andrew McDonald’s hair than to find Yu-U.
The only clue to your destination is a tiny, square sign next to a heavily graffitied door just off Olivers Lane. From the outside, one is hardly like to guess that this was a place that got award one chef’s hat in the current Good Food Guide but once you step inside, the sight of the oh-so Japanese minimalistic timber furnishings and a petite hostess rushing to welcome your party will assure you that you are in the right place.
Although most of the diners are seated in the very tight bar area, there are two big wooden tables at the side of the room which Adam and I were led to.
The rules for lunch at Yu-U are pretty simple: there is a set lunch box for $18. That’s it. Take it or leave it. Every lunch box will consist of steamed rice, some form of soup, a main dish and a selection of “small dishes of the day.” You do, however, get SOME choice though and that is to choose from a list of six “main dishes” that will form the centrepiece of your lunchbox.
We started off with some rice tea ($2 per head), poured from a plunger. It was basically a green tea infused with roasted rice and it made the tea taste like rice crackers. I am normally open to all sorts of tea but I think I prefer my rice crackers in food form, thanks.
My lunchbox (I chose the sashimi for my main): The soup was in the form of a simple chicken broth with cabbage and carrot and was nothing particularly special. As for the small dishes of the day? They were just a dab of seaweed salad and pickled cabbage and cucumber, plus a slice of canteloupe for dessert. And although I knew that all boxes included rice, I still thought it odd for them to still chuck the rice in with my sashimi. All in all, it looked like a pretty drab lunchbox. I would have been okay with paying $18 for it all had all the elements tasted good… except that they DIDN’T. Heck, I could have got a much tastier bento box elsewhere in the city for maybe half the price and still come out happy.
Thank goodness, then, that my sashimi was sublime or I would have been Not Happy, Jan. The plate of freshly cut ocean trout, salmon, kingfish and tuna that was accompanied by a dab of wasahi, a slice of lemon and seaweed may have been small but it did make up for it in taste. Probably one of the better sashimi I’ve had in ages.
Adam chose the “beef and pork” dish for his main. Big mistake. We both kinda expected something more WOW but instead, we got something sloppy – something that Kristy Thomas would so totally make fun of if we were sitting in the Stoneybrook Middle School cafeteria. Hidden underneath the sauce, there were pieces of braised beef and pork hamburger mince which filled Adam up okay. What we both didn’t like, however, was the fact that eating the whole thing was akin to eating an open cottage pie. Additionally, we both thought that the tomato-based sauce tasted too much like Heinz. Gross.
We may have liked our surroundings, we may have liked the warm hospitality that the waitresses displayed the entire time, we may have even liked breathing in the smug air of exclusivity as we walked into Yu-U’s door, with a booking, and saw the “Sorry, lunch boxes sold out.” sign but frankly, our lunch simply sucked (with the exception of my sashimi). Given our experience then, you may be surprised when I say that we WILL be back for dinner another time. Yep, we reckoned that Yu-U did not earn its one hat solely on the lunch sets but also on their supposedly-amazing dinner offerings.We figured that the dinner (a la carte) menu was something worth sussing out, especially if the food is just as good as the sashimi I had. We may have been disheartened by our lunch boxes but once we started talking about Yu-U’s dinner menu, we got excited once again. And so the conversation continued even after we stepped away from the peaceful blackhole and into the jungle again.