190 Smith Street
Collingwood VIC 3066
+61 3 9419 6141
It’s only been a week and a half since I said ‘sayonara, bitches!’ to Japan but I’m already starting to miss Japan’s many izakayas. There’s just something about walking into a random one off the street, trying your best to communicate to the non-English-speaking waiter before sitting back with a glass of cold beer and several plates of snack-sized food for a quick dinner.
To the Japanese, izakayas are what Surf Life Saving Clubs are to Queenslanders and what laneway bars and cafés are to Melbourne. And while one may never be able to replicate the izakaya culture in Australia, at least we have places like Pabu Grill & Saké in Melbourne to tide us over until our next trip to the land of the rising sun (which, in my case, could possibly be next year *excitement*).
The izakaya may not be authentically Japanese (indeed, the man in charge has a Vietnamese surname) but nonetheless, it does not distract from the fact that it’s one of Melbourne’s best. In addition to the usual skewers, okonomiyaki and takoyaki-type dishes, they offer unusual fusion Japanese dishes which I personally think are worth trying. They also have a wicked saké list, though their beer list isn’t the best for an izakaya.
I first went here on one of my birthday dinners with Linda. It was the first time I’d caught up with Linda since she married the guy who picked her up on a QF flight from Melbourne to Sydney so we had plenty of stories to tell. We also worked up quite an appetite so we went about ordering a decent portion of the extensive menu.
The first dish to arrive was the beef tataki. The thinly sliced porterhouse pieces were lightly seared and served with roasted sesame, spring onion, red ginger, wasabi mayo and garlic singer citrus soy. It was jam-packed with beautiful flavours and the tangy dressing paired beautifully with the earthiness of the beef.
Next, we had the pan-fried pork belly slices cooked in a light sweet soy sauce. Accompanying the amazingly buttery pork slices was a mixed salad with a herb soy dressing and fried leeks. Another successful dish.
In way, it was kinda funny that we started off heavy before venturing light; our next dish was the mixed sashimi platter with the predictable trio of kingfish, salmon and tuna. It was a solid dish but then again, you can’t go wrong with super fresh slices of fish.
I’m not a fan of soft shell crab but Linda was keen to try the soft shell crab sliders so we ordered a plate. To my surprise, they were actually delicious – I loved the effortlessly perfect combination of buttery toasted brioche bun, crispy deep fried crab and creamy, spicy mayo. Would actually consider a second date.
Of course, one does not go to an izakaya without ordering some chargrilled skewers. We wanted to try a bit of everything so we ordered the sumiyaki set which came with the following: tsukune (chicken meatball), yakitori (chicken thighs), chilli inari (bean curd), beef and pork belly. I couldn’t fault anything on the plate – even the seemingly boring-sounding bean curd one had heaps of flavour.
Even though Pabu has an impressive three-page long sake list, I couldn’t say no to a cocktail – especially since most were $12, cheap for Melbourne. Given that I am one at times, I chose the cocktail called the ‘crazy bird.’ It was a refreshing mix of rich shochu, vodka, fresh lime juice and sugar syrup, finished with ginger beer. It was the perfect summer cocktail – had it been summer at the time. (it wasn’t and still isn’t)
My favourite dish was the seared salmon. The flesh-coloured slices of just cooked salmon were drizzled with hot sesame oil before being topped with ponzu soy, ginger, spring onions and roasted sesame. The combination of nuttiness, tanginess and saltiness was just beautiful.
Our last savoury dish was the corn karargge. Now, I’m not sure if they really meant ‘karaage’ or whether ‘karargge’ is a legit word – I’m just going by how they spelt it on the menu – however, these were cooked the same way as chicken karaage pieces so I’m guessing the former. The crispy deep fried crème corn balls were dangerously addictive and even more so with the chilli and wasabi salt.
This teapot was pretty cool.
We finished off with a dessert sampler featuring green tea crème brûlée, black sesame ice cream, citrus sorbet, melon mocha and mixed fruits. Everything was done well here, though my favourite was the green tea crème brûlée because like I can say no to anything green tea-flavoured.
Since then, I’ve been to Pabu several times with various friends and on every occasion, each friend has given the place their thumbs up. It’s a fun and vibrant environment and the food isn’t too expensive for what you get. Plus, service has been efficient on all occasions – the food arrived quickly despite being busy every time we’ve been (and hence, bookings are highly recommended).
I’m sure you can’t go wrong with ordering classics such as okonomiyaki, takoyaki et al here but I highly recommend you try more of the ‘out there’ dishes as they’re done well here. Even if soft shell crab sliders aren’t something you’d normally find on the streets of Dotonburi.