Japanese cuisine can suffer from a lot of pretenders. I’ve seen many a menu with spelling mistakes (Yoko-Udom), and obviously non-Japanese staff for whom Japanese flavours are definitely a second language. When you feel like you can taste a sense of financial necessity over a sense of passion for the cuisine, it’s quite disappointing.
Following closely behind is turning up to try a new place, only to find this in the window:
Luckily, Allum Street, Kohimarama, where the restaurant is located, is an uncommon concentration of Japanese influence. There’s a little store selling both Japanese and Korean foodstuffs, and another Japanese restaurant, Genki.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something didn’t feel Japanese about the place when I walked in. The feeling worsened when I asked for Gyoza and the counter lady pointed us to some pre-packaged versions:
Nevertheless, they had Gyūdon on the menu, a rare sight on Japanese menus here, which I was keen to try. Mrs Peckish liked the look of the Yaki Soba, so we were off.
Now, the place is small, and the kitchen likewise. If you turn up a little after 5pm like we did, there might only be one cook in the kitchen, so the mains might arrive several minutes apart. My Gyūdon was first to arrive.
Gyūdon is one of those dishes that’s hard to please me with, because I like it a particular way the lunch ladies made it when I went to high school in Japan. It’s hard to compete with the experience of waving lunch tickets at the lunch ladies and trying to shout-sweet-talk your way into being served before your fellow ticket wavers. Deceptively simple in its usual elements, it’s basically beef and onion cooked in a sweet sauce of dashi (fish and seaweed stock), soy sauce, and mirin (sweet rice wine). My preferred version includes shirataki (yam noodles). Genki’s version comes without the shirataki, and doesn’t quite grab the balance of savoury and sweet that I remember. It’s admirably close though, especially at $13.
The Yaki Soba was a similar story (see the opening picture).
The noodles weren’t the right type, and the vegetables weren’t what I’m used to, but the base flavour again gave me brief Japanese flashbacks without being right on the money.
I wouldn’t recommend you trek across town specially to try these guys, but if you’re in the area, it’s very nice for the price, and judging from the regular procession of people coming in to pick up food as we ate, the locals agree. If you remove your stickler cap long enough to get past one or two cultural misstatements, there’s plenty to like about how they interpret Japanese cuisine at this establishment. There’s a definite passion here, and I’ll be going back again. Great for a local quick stop Japanese joint.
Quick notes on the rest of the menu. Lots of Donburi, Bento, and Sushi. You can get a karage chicken donburi, but no karage chicken as a side. No Raamen. Click here for a menu, prices are old though.