45 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 8933
A Saturday evening family dinner saw us congregate at Kenzan, one of the finest – and first – Japanese restaurants in Melbourne. Having heard good things about their omakase sushi/sashimi dinners, I had been looking forward to this visit for quite some weeks.
Unfortunately, I am related to a weirdo (cough my brother cough cough) who doesn’t do seafood, let alone raw fish and shellfish so omakase was a bit out of the question. So table a la carte, it was. Still, that didn’t stop us from ordering several sneaky seafood dishes…
… like this big arse sushi and sashimi platter that came in a vessel half as big as the table. Despite the fact that it was just over $100, I don’t think any of us expected this platter to be so gigantic. ‘Should we cancel the rest of the dishes?’ asked my mum, looking a tad worried. Puh-lease, we’re a family of eaters – as if!
Each bit of fish was expertly cut and sublimely delicious and fresh. If we took my mum’s advice, I think I would have been happy; there was enough protein in there to stop my stomach from grumbling (and I had to sit through a long 3.5 hour stint at the hairdresser so I did rock up pretty damn hungry). In addition to the usual tuna, kingfish, salmon and prawn pieces, there were also some oysters drizzled in ponzu and soy which my father and I happily ate.
The rest of the food took a while to arrive – about 45 minutes. To be fair, it was a Saturday night so the place was full to the brim. It also didn’t help that the restaurant was massively understaffed that night. With that in mind, I think the place did pretty well to keep the food coming out as best as they could and the staff remained pleasantly friendly throughout.
Kenzan’s menu is predominantly the standard Japanese fare you can find at most mid-to-high end Japanese restaurants in Australia so if you’re looking for surprises, you don’t find it here. It’s all about wagyu steaks, sushi, tempura and all those sorts of things done well so don’t expect avant garde things like dried kombu pizza topped with sea urchin and bonito or anything like that.
A plate of blanched spinach drizzled with a light sesame seed sauce kicked off proceedings. It provided just the right amount of greens to keep the five of us tricking ourselves into thinking we were being healthy all throughout the evening.
The steamed prawn dumplings were impressive; the skins were delicately silky, bursting with a filling of pork fat and prawn pieces. They were also pretty generous with the prawn too, another plus in my books.
My sister loved her fried chicken so this was a ‘must order’ dish. Lightly dusted in flour, the marinated chicken thigh pieces were then deep fried. I’d say this was a ‘safe’ dish – it did everything right, but didn’t wow me enough to want to order it again. Then again, I’m not as much a fried chicken lover as she is.
We also ordered a serving of agedashi tofu ($16) but my photo of it was so bad that I had to flick it into the trash can. It was a shame because it was my favourite dish of the night and probably one of the best renditions of this classic I’ve had, not even kidding. I always love the combination of light crispy batter against cubes of silky soft tofu but the sauce here brought this humble dish to another level. Yes, there was dashi (and lots of it) but there were also mushrooms (and I love mushrooms) with a hint of vegetable stock in there somewhere too. Definitely a dish I’d order again – TWICE. In one sitting.
After the wonder that was the agedashi tofu, the grilled beef with teriyaki sauce paled in comparison. To be fair, it was well-cooked piece of steak oozing with juices and the teriyaki sauce was fine. The kitchen even threw us a bowl of rice to go with it. But ugh, I just could not stop thinking about the bloody tofu. Sorry cow, you lost by default this time.
They also threw in a bowl of rice with the tempura, which we found odd because we don’t normally get given rice when we order tempura. But anyway. The guys at Kenzan seem to be great at frying stuff (case in point, agedashi tofu) because the tempura was probably my second favourite dish of the night. Each piece of prawn, white fish and vegetable were lightly coated, then fried and then served on a paper doily which remained mostly untainted with residue oil for the duration of the dinner. I almost felt healthy eating it.
Mum wanted dessert after our savouries, only to be told that her first choice and then her second choice weren’t available that evening. In the end, we decided to grab the bill because the only option available by then was vanilla ice cream and like we were going to pay for vanilla ice cream at a Japanese restaurant.
To this day, I’m not still not sure how I feel about Kenzan. They do things well and I can see why they’ve won awards and hats as the years go by. I can also see myself coming back to order some dishes again (I’m looking at you, agedashi tofu). But when it comes to the other stuff, there’s a local Japanese restaurant just 5 minutes from my folks’ place that serves the same dishes, cooked just as well but 25% cheaper. Granted, I get that city rents aren’t cheap and all but if I want a good beef teriyaki, why drive into the city, wait for 45 mins and pay extra money for the privilege when you can have the same quality dish for cheaper minus the wait and drive?