Firstly – a small note to all Melbourne food and drink bloggers and commentators out there – if you want to know what is new on the city’s restaurant scene, check in with the lads at The Woodfrog Bakery on St Kilda’s Barkly Street. With their fantastic organic sourdough loaves being snapped up by a host of recent openings, they really have their finger on the pulse of what’s new and worth checking out.
But bread or no bread, it was the master bakers who told us about the Japanese ikazaya just around the corner on the seedy end of Inkerman/Gray Streets, which promises to be taking a turn for the better after a whole bunch of brand spanking new apartments popping up in the last few months. Within a few hundred metres of each other you can find Inker7, The Woodfrog Bakery, The Newmarket Hotel, Newmarket Cellar Bar, Graze on Gray, Beaver Street Social Club, Hide and Cheek, Dr Jekyll, and now Machi. North of the river might have Akachochin, but us southsiders can revel in the brilliance of Machi.
The restaurant must sit on an old Indian burial ground as there have been three different tenants in just two years. Unfortunately, one of the places was a pizza restaurant going directly head to head with Karen Martini’s Mr Wolf and it just didn’t stand a chance. To think that the owners fitted the whole place out and then had to watch all their potential customers continue to enjoy the (in our opinion) average Mr Wolf pizzas across the road.
Chef Tatsuya Yamazaki hails, most recently, from Moshi Moshi in Port Melbourne and Chocolate Buddha, but it was the Kyoto-born chef’s time at Benihana in London and Bunshichi in Barcelona that had us really excited.
The space is compact and nicely lit, the menu succinct and to the point, and the service brisk with a smile. You can see that the chef know his stuff by perching yourself at the sushi bar, but when we visited we sat next to the floor-to-ceiling glass frontage – just don’t let the views of street-walkers and curb-crawlers put you off.
Taking a small team with us we launched into the machi izakaya (small dishes) that included, despite my protestations at the lack of meat content, edamame beans and a Japanese pumpkin seaweed salad. I stand corrected having been won over by the sweet, perfectly cooked pumpkin which dazzled with the saltiness of the seaweed. The chef knows a thing or two about balance.
The pork gyoza were pan-fried and had a beautifully caramelised skin, the minced pork – studded with a spattering of finely chopped onion – was tender and full of flavour.
Moving onto the machi gyokai (seafood) we headed straight for the yellowfin tuna sashimi. A nice portion for the four of us, light and fresh-tasting it helped the transition to the next dish.
The crisp-fried calamari was exactly that. The tender curls and light Asian spices set this apart as one of the dishes of the night.
Moreton Bay Bugs and spider crab from the machi maki (rolls and sushi) section of the menu were very generous serves and came out on a platter for us to feast upon.
Lager dishes (worth saving room for) from the machi signature selection included the slow-cooked lamb soy. It is suggested you share it between two, but with the amount we ordered we split it four ways. The sticky soy sauce coating the lamb was sopped up by the rice and no one could seem to get enough of it. The green beans added a crunch and we were content.
That was until the miso-baked barramundi arrived. This was the dish suggested to us by our waiter and even though we had had our fill the tasty, well-cooked fish was demolished in a flash.
Making the most of the new joint @Your Music Radar put his hand up to eat his way through a machi wagashi (sweet). We tried to stop him but he slipped in a dessert platter of green tea brulee, kurogoma black sesame ice cream sundae, green tea ice cream sundae. I am not all that big of a fan of Asian desserts. Not sure why. Maybe I don’t like the addition of savoury elements but the rest of the table didn’t need any encouragement.
We ordered well, there was not a low point on the list, but next time we will leave it up to chef Yamazaki and his nine-course tasting menu for $55. That’s right, nine courses for the price of a couple of pizzas and a salad at Mr Wolf. We know what side of the road we are walking on….