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Adam and I were sitting in his first corporate governance lecture for the semester when he decided that enough was enough and that he wasn’t going to sit through another minute of this. Despite my incessant wails of “but this is actually interesting!” and “hey, I was actually learning something!” (I’m dead serious, it was and I was), he affirmed that he would not be continuing with this subject. I would have been fine sitting there listening to what the professor was saying about the Melbourne Storm fiasco and adding my two cents to the discussion but as soon as Adam said, “If we go now, we’ll have lunch somewhere in the city”, I was out the door with him following behind and onto the first city-bound train.
Shoya, one of my favourite Japanese restaurants, has been on my mind for quite some time. Having dined on cheap sushi rolls and cheap chicken teriyaki whenever I needed my Japanese lunch fix, I was excited to finally head down to Shoya for one of their lunch sets, with prices ranging from $24 to the mid-30s. While all of them sounded wonderful, it was the Shoya set ($28) that got Adam and I excited as it had a better variety of goodies to try compared to the other lunch sets which were either predominantly sashimi or tempura.
Starting with the ‘pickled appetiser’ in the form of a pickled octopus salad. I did feel that the ponzu overpowered the delicate strands of octopus but apart from that, it was a refreshing start to our meal.
Chawanmushi! The famous Japanese steamed savoury egg custard very rarely makes an appearance in Melbourne’s many Japanese restaurants (the only other restaurant I’ve seen it at is Kuni’s) which is a shame because I know quite a few people who love that stuff. It was in a decent-sized ceramic cup and ultra-delicate yet tasty. As I dug deeper into the custard, little treasures including shiitake mushrooms, bits of shrimp and kamaboko (Japanese fish cakes) were uncovered.
Chilled bean curd. Think of it like an agedashi tofu but without the tofu being fried, and chilled rather than hot. The cool, silky tofu provided a wonderful catalyst to the flavoursome tentsuyu broth while the bonito shavings added a lovely textural dimension.
You can’t go to Shoya without sampling their sashimi – it’s like a tourist going to Sydney without seeing the Harbour Bridge.While this little arrangement does not beat the classic ice bowls that they present your raw fish in during dinner time, the frozen orange half and banana leaf base was nevertheless cute enough. As always, Shoya brings out the freshest sashimi in town and my pieces of raw fish and scallop did not disappoint at all.
Oh, the art of simplicity!
Assortment of tempura. I must admit that I’m not a terribly big fan of tempura so I gave a quiet groan when this dish was presented to me. Surprisingly, the gently-fried morsels of prawn, fish and vegetables were pretty good and, dare I say it, almost met the terrifyingly high benchmark set by Tempura Hajime. A little mound of shaved daikon and ginger was also provided to add a bit of ooomph to the tentsuyu which was bordering on ‘too subtle.’
The ‘grilled fish‘ dish was a piece of blue eye fillet marinated in a simple miso sauce before being grilled until it was slightly too dry for my liking. Another mound of shaved daikon, a wedge of lemon and steamed edamame provided a strange accompaniment to the fish. I would have liked to see it come with some sort of sweet dipping sauce as it was so dry and the miso flavour barely there.
We were full at this stage and was ready for dessert but no, we still had another dish to come: the ‘mini’ udon which was anything but mini. It wasn’t a ramen-sized bowl but big enough to equal lunch for me. It was certainly one of the better udons I’ve ever had – a simple seaweed broth, thick strands of fresh and chewy udon noodles topped with soft kombu and spring onions. I could not have asked for a better final savoury dish.
Dessert was a choice between vanilla and green tea ice cream; I chose green tea and Adam went vanilla. I’m not sure if the ice cream was store-bought or home-made but they were generous servings and they were an awesome way to cap off a wonderful lunch. Win.