396 Bay Street
Port Melbourne VIC 3207
+61 3 9646 2296
Every now and then, I leave work early to attend appointments, go to uni and run errands. It’s a pain in the arse having to do them but on the bright side, leaving in the middle of the day does have its perks. If I’m ultra-efficient on the day, I’d have all my chores done before lunchtime which means that I can find a nice place to have lunch at. The last time I managed to do that was a few weeks ago. It was a lovely autumn day, and I had not only visited my GP, attended to boring uni stuff and blitzed through a job interview (for a temporary casual job to fill my evenings, my Saturday afternoons and my bank balance with) but did all my grocery shopping too. With time to kill until it was time to meet Dave for after-work nibbles, I decided to bus it to Bay Street, Port Melbourne.
Despite having worked a stone’s throw away from the suburb a few years back, I had actually never explored the gentrified bayside suburb. But because Melbourne’s new gem in the Japanese dining scene, Komeyui, is actually in Port Melbourne, I decided that that was a good excuse to make the very short trip to postcode 3207.
Although Komeyui does a roaring trade during the dinner hours, it’s also open for lunch albeit with a limited menu. While sushi, sashimi and rice balls dominate the lunch menu, set menus containing the obligatory elements of rice, miso soup, a small side and pickles plus your choice of hot mains are also available. I liked that each dish on the menu came with a comprehensive description; for example, they explained that their Berkshire pork katsu was a ‘deep-fried, bread-crumbed Berkshire pork cutlet.’ Even their description of the humble miso soup was comprehensive – ‘traditional Japanese soup consisting of miso paste and dashi stock made from dried bonito and dried kelp’ … but did we really need to know that the rice was ‘cooked carefully with traditional Japanese rice cooker’?
I took a seat at the bar, a few spots from a lone Asian businessman who was the only other diner that day. From what I’ve read about this place so far, the fresh sashimi was king while the hot dishes, not so. The chef’s omakase was apparently worth exploring but unfortunately only available for dinner. In the end I chose the set menu, with the sushi and sashimi combination as my main ($35). Because the sushi/sashimi platter was considerably more expensive than the other mains, this set menu did not contain any rice, pickles or side dishes. They did, however, retain the bowl of miso soup.
As soon I took out my soon-to-be-replaced camera, head chef and owner Motomu Kumano, who was at work behind the counter, asked me if I was a photographer. ‘Har-har, I wish,’ I replied, which made him laugh. As a graduate of Tsuji Culinary Institute, one of the finest culinary schools in Japanese, and as a former chef at Melbourne’s Kenzan, chef Kumano certainly knows his stuff. He left Kenzan not too long ago, and opened up Komeyui only last year to showcase his skills.
Komeyui’s food philosophy is to use the freshest possible ingredients, an attitude more restaurants need to adhere to. Another philosophy that the restaurant follows is the idea that food should be shared with family and friends – but that’s not to say that Komeyui discriminates against solo diners if their friendliness is anything to go by.
It didn’t take long for my miso soup to arrive. With nary a trace of MSG, my broth had a gentle touch yet still strong on the dashi. Probably one of the better ones I’ve had.
Next, the waiter presented a complimentary serving of chawamushi (Japanese steamed savoury egg custard). It was totally unexpected but greatly appreciated nevertheless. Rarely do I come across chawanmushi that’s decent in Melbourne so I wasn’t expecting much here. To my surprise, I was blown away. It was amazing. The egg custard was so delicate and so amazingly silky. Digging deep into the fragile custard, I uncovered chicken pieces, bits of shiitake mushroom, a gingko nut and a large piece of prawn. And the best bit? All the dashi, with just a slight level of sweetness, that held everything together. It was fantastic.
On the side, I also ordered an omusubi (Japanese rice ball). All rice balls are equally priced at $4 and there is a decent list of flavours to choose from. I had difficulty choosing one so I got the waiter to recommend me his favourite. He suggested the grilled salmon one, which sounded fine to me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for this rice ball. I was expecting generous chucks of grilled salmon in the middle of the rice ball but all I got was a ball of sticky rice… and what looked and tasted like salmon floss in between the grains. The sad thing was that the so-called grilled salmon bits were few and far between. I knew I should have chosen the tempura prawn one instead.
Thankfully, that was the only downer I encountered during my meal. My sushi and sashimi combination was made up of nine pieces of sashimi, five pieces of nigiri sushi and six pieces of maki sushi – and it was wonderful. The sashimi – kingfish, tuna and salmon – were among the freshest I’ve had in Melbourne. Fresher than Shoya? Well, on par, but better value for money which therefore makes Komeyui’s sashimi better. I savoured every bite. Meanwhile, the nigiri sushi pieces were also fantastic. Along with the obligatory salmon and tuna, there was also John Dory, squid and scallops. Mmm, sweet succulent scallops. The maki sushi pieces were also great, though I did wish every single piece did NOT contain salmon.
After saying goodbye to chef Kumano and the waiter, I stumbled into the bright, harsh daylight and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Bay Street. As a result, I discovered half a dozen eateries to add to my ever-growing ‘to eat’ list and walked out of Noisette French bakery with two boxes of pastries (another story for another time – maybe). Although I’ve been told that the hot dishes at Komeyui are only okay, I will still go back for the omakase experience, more sashimi and three more bowls of that awesome chawanmushi.