Saturday, October 17, 2009

Looking for a new way to eat sushi?

Japanese Cafe Restaurant J
167 Exhibition St
Ph: 03 9650 9877

Walking down Exhibition Street with my mum recently, we were struck by the window display in a certain Japanese restaurant. Struck, perhaps, is not the right word - "grossed out" would more accurately describe how we felt, and dry retching would describe how we acted.

I'm sorry to all the people out there, flatmate J included, who think there is nothing wrong with sushi presented in burger form, who even think it's a great little idea, but there is something extremely off putting about the unnecessary fusion of fatty Western culture and delicate Japanese flavours. Besides, they just plain look cheap and tacky.

So you can imagine my amusement/horror when I received a call from my friend Kate inviting me to this novel little Japanese place. Kate, who spent much of her childhood in Taiwan, told me that she used to eat delicious cakes of rice topped with various ingredients like beef teriyaki or wilted greens that sounded similar to the sushi burger.

She chose to try her sushi burger in the "Sushi Burger Box" meal: a burger of your choice with a bowl of miso soup and a choice of one of five entrees - perhaps tatsuta age, tonkatsu or in Kate's case, gyoza - for $16.50.

Gyoza - Kate said these were great despite coming with strange side dishes like mashed potatoes and orange wedges - unusual, but she really enjoyed the combination!

Yakiniku Burger - Kate described this as "the Japanese version of a souvlaki".

Tempura Sashimi Bento ($21)

For those who aren't quite ready to try a sushi burger, there's plenty of noodle dishes, bento boxes and other entrees to choose from. I chose the most expensive bento box on the menu, the Tempura Sashimi Bento, and there were highlights as well as lowlights in the box I received.

The miso soup that accompanied came in a little cup to drink out of, rather than in a soup bowl, and the soup was excellent, with a strong flavour, fresh crunchy spring onions and plenty of tofu and seaweed. The tempura was light and crispy and coated a good selection of vegetables and two big prawns; the sashimi, however, was served in thick thick slices rather than delicate, melt-in-your-mouth pieces, and had browning edges. When I bit into one of the salmon pieces it tasted strange and bitter, although the others were fine. The little seaweed and celery salad that came with it was nothing special but the salmon nori roll had beautiful fresh fish, creamy avocado and crunchy cucumber.

Ichigo Daifuku - rice cake with fresh strawberry and sweet white beans ($3)

I'm not much of a sweet tooth but I was quite excited about desert after Kate's sister Miss Violonjello told her how amazing this rice cake was. The sweet little ball of glutinous rice had a really interesting, light texture, and the strawberry inside was juicy and fresh. Kate and I both agreed that, despite its small size, the strong flavour meant one was enough. The rice cakes can also be purchased to take away, like the sushi burgers.

"Looking for a new way to eat sushi?", the cafe's website asks me. To be honest, no. Maybe one day I'll bring myself to try a sushi burger, but for now I'm pretty happy with the way I consume my sushi. Service is quite good here and all in all J cafe is an eye-opening experience, and certainly not conventional - but then again, as Kate pointed out, maybe we don't know as much about Japanese food as we'd like to think we do.

Japanese Café Restaurant J on Urbanspoon

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