Friday, 27 May 2011

Wabi Sabi Salon

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Multicultural Cuisine of... Japan




Wabi Sabi Salon
94 Smith St,
Collingwood
(03) 9417 6119
Visit Website 

Today, for the first time in quite some time, the planets aligned; myself, my mum, and my two siblings (Stinky and Princess, we'll call them - childhood nicknames die hard!) were all available, at the same day, and time, to have lunch together! That doesn't often happen, with us all leading such crazy busy lives - work, uni, sport, arts, parties, and other obligations. And even more extraordinary, we've all agreed on a cuisine that we'll all enjoy - even the gluten intolerant! With that in mind, it's off the Smith St.


This end of town is a particular favourite of mine, as I went to university not far from there (at ACU, on Victoria Pde) and spent a lot of time along Brunswick St, Gertrude St, Smith St and surrounds. I feel oddly at home there; I think because it's home to such a diverse mix of individuals. There's no pressure to look a certain way here, or to fit a certain image. You can just be yourself :) It's also become a favourite place for my sisters and I to spend a day off together, trawling the vintage shops and checking out the little cafes. This time, we decide to take mum out too; having lived out of home for over three years now, we don't all get to hang out a lot together unless it's a family event, so we take advantage of this girl time. 


We arrive at Wabi Sabi on Smith St, to find it tucked in between Monsieur Truffe (a favourite of mine, thanks to their chocolate croissants), and Josie Bones (which I'm eager to try, although slightly put off by some of the menu choices - anyone for crumbed pigs ears or rolled pigs head?!). We walked in to a small, cosy venue and are greeted by a kindly Japanese lady. We take our seats, menus already on the table, and have a look around - the lunch crowd is slowly starting to trickle in (we arrived only half an hour after opening); the standard Brunswick kinds - artsy, cool, laidback, indie types. I'm feeling instantly at home and at ease.

The walls are covered in Japanese artwork and a few random pieces like this manga, which my sisters instantly whip their iPhones and HTCs out to photograph.


The lovely Japanese lady returns with a little blackboard to explain the bento options, and points out the menu written on another blackboard directly across from our table, over the sushi window. Ahhh decisions... with four ladies on the table, it takes a while to sort through our options.



After having been looking at the sushi window for the last 10 minutes while the girls pour over their menus, I decide to order a sushi handroll to get started (I've developed a recent obsession with sushi, and these just look soooo fresh, I can't resist!). We're informed that the sushi is made fresh daily, just before opening, and once it sells out, it sells out. 15 minutes later, when the window is two thirds empty, I believe it. 

Cooked tuna roll, $2.50

My cooked tuna roll comes out with a bowl of soy sauce, and it's everything I was hoping for - super fresh, soft fluffy rice, and lots of tuna.

Pork dumplings, $8.00 for 6


Next up, mum and I decide on the pork dumplings to share around the table. They come out quite quickly, and again, are perfectly fresh and soft. The casing itself is crisp, and the filling of pork, cabbage and herbs is delicious. But the hero of this dish, and possibly of the day, is the dipping sauce. Oh my goodness, it was spectacular!! I asked the waitress what it was, and once she understood me (minor language barrier), she explained it was a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar. The saltiness of the soy and the hit of the vinegar was beautifully married with the simple flavours of the dumplings.


Miso soup (as part of the bento box)


Mum's miso comes out next, as part of her bento box. It's steaming hot and smells great. Once it cools down enough for me to try some, I note that it's not as salty as some other miso's I've had in the past - it also has a slight mushroom flavour to it. With that tasted by all four of us and polished off, it's time for our mains. 

Chicken Bento Box, $16.00
Mum has ordered the Chicken Bento Box. Clockwise from bottom left: baked sweet potatoes and not sure what else, rice with Japanese basil, "pickled something" (mum's words), mixed salad with peanut oil, and chicken meatballs in broth. The chicken meatballs were soft and fresh, and the broth was a tasty combination of mushroom and ginger. The other highlight was the rice with the Japanese basil - you can't really tell from the photo unfortunately, but it was a bright purple colour, with a very salty, slightly sweet taste.

Tuna Sashimi Salad, $19.00
Princess has ordered the Tuna Sashimi Salad, a mix of fresh salad leaves, carrot, sesame seeds, seaweed, tomato, and of course, tuna. When she tells me the tuna is "melt-in-your-mouth-soft," I'm automatically doubtful. I've heard that claim more than once, and been disappointed just as many times. But, upon tasting it, I stand corrected; melt-in-your-mouth was an understatement! Perfection.


Teriyaki Chicken Donburi, $16.00
Stinky has the Teriyaki Chicken Doburi (upon researching this salon before lunch, I found out that donburi basically means "served on rice." Good to know!). The rice is topped with green beans, broccoli, carrots, and of course chicken. The teriyaki sauce is mouthwatering, and upon all having a taste, we all agree that Stinky's meal is a winner.


Wagyu Beef Meatball Miso Glazed Donburi, $20.00
Lastly, I ordered the Wagyu Beef Meatball Donburi. My rice is topped with broccoli, meatballs, seaweed and shredded onion. The meatballs were, again, melt-in-your-mouth soft, literally falling apart and almost impossible to hold onto with my chopsticks (made even harder by the fact that I'm completely incompetent with chopsticks anyway), and the miso glaze covered in sesame seeds is really different than anything I've tried, yet it's already giving me ideas of miso-marinated chicken next week for dinner...


All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch - couldn't argue the quality or freshness of the food, the service was very good without being intrusive, and I'm already looking forward to heading back to try a few of the other items on the menu (crumble chicken katsu donburi, I'm talking to you!).

Would rate it 8 out of 10.


How about everyone else? When was the last time you tried something new at an old favourite neighbourhood?




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