Meiji

Name: Meiji Japanese cafe
Location: 105 Little Bourke St CBD
Cost: $10-15 for pot rice, dinner menu can extend up to $20
Cost rating: 4/5
Taste rating: 8/10
Overall rating: 8/10
Would I come back? Yes.

paper screen

A wall partition/divide space and filter light/Tranquil ambiance

goldfish

Peace in a glass bowl/Are things going ‘swimmingly’?/They are for these fish.

Meiji is a small Japanese place with cosy décor. There are paper screens, beer flags and even a fishbowl. Meiji does something I haen’t seen at other casual Japanese places– pot rice. It’s a rustic rice dish with toppings, a little bit like a ‘donburi’ but the rice is more flavoured with the ingredients . Think of it as a cross between fried rice and donburi, with everything steamed together in a claypot. (Not that it is served in a claypot at Meiji, but the way they serve it is also charming.)

Everything else (bento and ramen) aren’t done as well as the pot rices, and frankly, there are better places for bento and ramen nearby. Go to Meiji for their pot-rices.

 
GOMOKU GOHAN (5 ingredient rice medley) ($10)
Score: 10/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

gomoku gohan

Chicken, egg and prawn?/Three protein sources in one/ Oh wait, make that four.

bowlful

Bowlful with all things/Still another two bowls left/ But… so delicious

Meiji does the pot of rice flavoured with many ingredients as it is cooking. Sometimes I read up on gomoku gohan in Japanese cuisine books, and it looks like the perfect winter/autumn food. The rice servings in these pot-rices are fairly large, there 2 bowlfuls in there. For gomoku goban, there is chicken, prawn, quail egg, soft omelette slices, ginko nuts, something like beans crossed with water spinach (fern bracken?) and shiitake mushrooms.
Out of all the pot-rices, gomoku goban would have to be the best value-for-money meal. Big serve, plenty of toppings, super tasty and visually appealing.

SUTAMINA GOHAN ($14)
Score: 9/10
Would I order it again? Yes

stamina gohan

Sweet oily eel flesh/Unagi makes things better/Unless allergic

bowl stamina rice

Kimchi seeped white rice/ if you know not of this joy/ kimchi fried rice, go!

Sutamina is Japanese for ‘stamina’. Stamina rice has things traditionally thought to give you energy and counters lethargy. The rice has kimchi sauce through it, and there’s also some kimchi on top. Presumably to give you a kick in the mouth? There is also some grilled eel, which is said to counter lethargy on humid hot days. Beef, because as we all know eating big animals with red meat makes you grow up big and strong. There’s also a vegetable which I think is fern bracken, and shiitake mushroom as well.
Really tasty, but not an additional $4 worth of tasty. (If there is such as thing.)

ASARITAKENORI GOHAN
Score: 8.5/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

clam clam

Little clams in rice/Little bursts of umami/An elegant dish

Clams, mushroom and vegetable.

 

BUTAKAKUNI GOHAN

Score: ?

Would I order this? Yes.

Meiji butakakuni gohan

Chunks of pork belly/ Jelly-like fat, tender meat/Best of all, the sauce

Pork belly with sweet soy-based sauce.
TORIAGE TAMAGO GOHAN
Score: 7.5/10
Would I order it again? No.

Meiji chickenegg gohan

Fried chicken with sauce/ with strips of egg underneath/Chicken or the egg?

Fried chicken with soft sliced omelette. The fried chicken batter has a slight flour taste but tasty enough.

MISO SOUP
Score: 8/10
Would I order it again? Yes

miso soup and pickles

miso and pickles/This should be compulsory/with every rice dish

Miso soup actually comes with the pot-rice, so I didn’t have to order it separately. It has wakame seaweed, spring onion and tofu in it. It isn’t too salty, and I enjoy having a small bowl of soup to go with my rice. My friend’s soup got cold after he finished his meal and the lady offered to reheat it for him. How nice is that!

PICKLES
Score: 9/10
Would I order this again? – (comes with pot-rice)

I thought the little dish of assorted pickles was a nice touch. The yellow and pink ones taste the same and are pickled daikon radish, the green ones are dill pickles.

KAKI (OYSTER) FRY
Score: 7/10
Would I order this again? Yes.

Meiji kaki fry

Battered, fried oysters/would be great in a po’boy/ not bad on its own

Small oysters, crumbed and fried. They are drained well so the lettuce isn’t soaking in oil. It’s a simple entrée, but the mayonnaise and fried seafood combination works for me. I wouldn’t order it by myself (because I don’t like oysters very much), but if someone was willing to share, then I would order this again.

AGEDASHI TOFU
Score: 7/10
Would I order this again? No.

Meiji agedashi tofu

Crispy fried tofu/ Every haiku starts like this/Tofu deja vu

It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. From memory, both Ajisen and Yamato around the corner or down the street does a better agedashi tofu. Or it did several years ago. It could do with more umami from bonito or mushrooms. As it is it is quite plain.

HOTATE BATAYAKI
Score: 8/10
Would I order it? Yes.

butter garlic scallops

Butter and garlic/teriyaki sauce scallops/A hot tasty meal

Scallops sauteed in butter and garlic. Good combination. The scallops are soft and barely done in the middle, just as they should be. They taste fresh too. A bit on the salty side for me.

SASHIMI BENTO
Score: ?
Would i order it? Probably not.

sashimi bento is more like sushi bento

Sashimi bento/Not much fish, despite the name/Snacky food bento?

For a sashimi bento there isn’t much raw fish. The takoyaki (the three balls with sauce on them) are delicious, though if memory serves me right, there wasn’t much octopus. It was very soft and delicious, and had a good sauce. The scalloped round biscuit object in the bottom left-hand corner is a glutinous rice cake with sweet and savoury coating. My friend didn’t like it much, but I thought it was tasty. Maybe misplaced in a rice box. It would make a good snack or post-meal nibble.

CHASHU RAMEN
Score: ?
Would I order it? No.

anaemic ramen

Chashu, or ‘char siu’/is a delicious grilled meat/ Back onto ramen…

The ramen at Meiji looks anaemic compared to those at Ajisen or any other place that does ramen. Judging from the picture, I wouldn’t order the ramen at Meiji. I know the pot-rice is great at Meiji so there is very little that’ll steer me away from those.

MELON CALPIS
SOY MILK

drinks in cups

See drinks in glass cups/ Behold, the feats of canning/ How convenient

In conclusion, order a pot rice.
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Yoyogi

Name: Yoyogi
Location: 211-213 Swanston St, CBD
Price range: Entrees $3-8, Main $7-15, Desserts $4-7, Drinks $1.50-5

Yoyogi is another cheap-eats place in the city. It’s been one of my favourites to go to for lunch whenever I am in the city with a group of friends. If there aren’t any other suggestions, I will steer the crowd towards Yoyogi. Often subconsciously.

The front part of the shop sells sushi, which is good if you’re eating lunch by yourself, but the real stuff happens at the back. Just walk up and request seats for 2, or 5, or however many people you can rope into having lunch at Yoyogi. Yoyogi does Japanese food, and has a wide range of items on its menu. Not to mention the menu also has pictures of everything so you can point to something that catches your eye. Another reason why I like Yoyogi is the way they serve tempura separate to your ramen. Usually tempura is placed on top of the soup noodles, which irks me because the batter becomes soggy. I enjoy picking up a piece of tempura prawn, usually well-blotted, and taking a bite of it before dunking it into the broth. There’s also crisp seaweed to go with it. Order geki kara ramen to see what I mean. (There will be a review on Geki Kara ramen, when I order that next time.)

Okonomiyaki (bit under $4)

Fry up some cabbage / Add delicious batter mix/ Japanese pancake

Okonomiyaki is ‘fry up whatever you want into a delicious pancake’. In Melbourne, it usually includes cabbage and carrots, maybe onion too. If you’re lucky, some more vegetables. It is served with a sweet demiglace sauce, and sweet Japanese mayonnaise. (Or any generic sweet asian mayonnaise. It’s different from the western mayonnaise, but it doesn’t take very long to get used to.) The green speckles on top is aonori, a type of seaweed.
I think they’re overly generous with both the sauce and mayo. It’s a sweet sauce, and I prefer my pancakes to be savoury. The only exceptions I will make for sweet pancakes is when they are free, or served with lemon juice, or are buttermilk pancakes with fruit.

Beef curry rice ($9.50?) (There is also Chicken curry.)

Hearty curry rice/ A super delicious food/ In mild or hot?

Oh my, curry rice. I’d say it’s one of the national cuisines of Japan. That list includes curry rice, ramen, gyoza, okonomiyaki, crepes, sweet bread, frozen yoghurt, miso soup and croquettes.  At Yoyogi, beef curry rice comes with a generous portion of rice and curry. It’s enough for two meals if you’re a light eater. In the curry part, there is beef, potato and carrots, which is exactly the sort of thing you can expect from ‘curry rice’. It also comes with a side of red pickles to freshen the palate.
Japanese curry rice (kare-raisu) is a bit of a thing of its own. It has very little resemblance to Indian or Malaysian or Thai curries. As far as I’m concerned, Japanese curry only comes from a packaged ‘curry’ roux that is dissolved into a stew of meat and vegetables to add that delicious sauce that it’s got to have. It sounds like the equivalent of Mac&Cheese, but let me assure you it is much more comforting than the ol’ Mac&Cheese. According to a polling site in Japan (Goo), 13.6% of the polling population (9921 people) eat curry rice 1-2 times a week, 44.4% eat it 2-3 times a month and 28.5% eat it every month or so. It’s easy to prepare, quick, cheap, it’s ingrained as a comfort food from childhood, so it’s no wonder curry rice is so popular in Japan. Not to mention it’s so damned tasty for what it is. (I don’t even know. Something that depends on a packaged roux pellet to be delicious doesn’t sound right by my books, but hey, it works and it is delicious.)
Here’s the link to the poll (English): http://whatjapanthinks.com/2008/10/23/murdering-curry-in-japan/

You can expect more food reviews from Yoyogi.

 

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White Tomato

Name: White Tomato
Location: Bourke St/Russell St, near Allans Music store
Price range: Lunch specials are AUD$9.50, available 12-3pm on weekdays. Otherwise, entrees are $5-8, mains are $11-18, drinks are $3 onwards (there are also bottles of sake, which make the drinks price range very broad) and you can also get large hotpots to share (serves 4) $30-38.

White Tomato is a Korean restaurant with affordable fare, but you can always work up the list and supplement your dinner with entrees, drinks and dessert. Just in case you wanted to spurge on a fantastic however-many course dinner.

You walk in, and the first thing that’ll catch your eye will probably be the christmas lights along the stairway. Then the funnels hovering above every table. There isn’t a photo of the giant funnel/fume hood/shimney, which I regret now, but here is a photo of the wallpaper.

The fume hoods are for drawing the steam away from the sizzling hot food. Otherwise with all the sizzling clay pots of food, and the pails of boiling hotpot, and the spicy smell of Korean food would condense onto your glasses, or in your nostrils and eyes, which detracts from the overall experience.

All the food items below are from the lunch special menu, all AUD$9.50 It’s a cropped menu with hotpots, rice/noodle and cold dishes. Eventually, I will have details on all the options as this place is one of my current favourites for lunch.

Bibimbap

A dish which is as fun to eat as it is to say. It’s a signature Korean rice dish in a big clay bowl. The rice lining the sides of the pot become crispy and crunchy, which is apparently the best part of having rice cooked in a clay pot. On top of the rice is a mix of sauteed and seasoned vegetables and beef, arranged in colour-blocks to be aesthetically pleasing. (I particularly enjoy this aspect. It’s so colourful and compartmentalised.) Usually there’ll be a fried or raw egg too. In this one, you get both. Here, you also get a little dish of spicy chili paste, and another dish of kimchi.

Pork and potato hotpot. Pork bones with bits of pork falling off the bone, and potato. There is also dried bokchoy reconstituted in the mildly spicy broth. Dried bokchoy doesn’t sound very appetising, but it does have a distinct-but-not-overpowering flavour that complements beef or pork, especially when it has been boiled with them to form a broth. It’s the broth where the flavour is at. It’s sunny and woody without being herbaceous or overly sweet. As with every other vegetable, it’s also a healthy and flavoursome addition to your meal. It should get more love.

Soft tofu and seafood hotpot. It has what seems to be an entire tube of soft eggy tofu, with assorted seafood in a mildly spicy broth. (Mildly spicy meaning I got through the entire dish without shedding tears.) There’s an egg in there too. Soft eggy tofu comes in a tube, it’s too delicate to be stored in a solid container. It’s like custard, but oddly delicious despite being vegan. Real custard is always delicious.

Petaling Street Malaysian Hawker Food

Name: Petaling Street Malaysian Hawker Food
Location: Corner Swanston/Bourke Sts, near Boost Juice.
Price range: Mains are $10-23. Mostly around the ten-mark, so it’s a cheap student-eats place.

Combination Hor Fun with egg gravy ($9.90)
I choose this because I like Hor Fun, which are wide flat rice noodles. Hor Fun stir-frying skills are essential for a short-order SE Asian chef, since it tells the customer a lot about the strength of the heat (specs of the kitchen) and tossing skills of the chef (specs of the chef crew).

Stir fry some Hor Fun/Stir fry some seafood and veg/ Add gravy real quick

I have had better combination Hor Fun with egg gravy at Kopitam.
At Petaling, the combination hor-fun with egg gravy is overly salty, the egg gravy is gluggy with cornstarch, the chicken tastes like its been sitting in seafood, but the seafood is passable. The Hor Fun themselves were sweating under the hot blanket of egg gravy, and became greasy and limp.  I’d give the skill check a fail, but the kitchen specs a bare pass. (needs more fire power) I am willing to overlook the lack of fire power and state of the Hor Fun  if the chicken and egg gravy were better.
Would I order it again? No.

Tomato soup rice noodles with fish balls ($9.50)

Chef recommended/ Leaves much to be desired/I am disappoint

This is another one of my orders. It was a ‘Chef’s recommendation’, so I trust the crew of Petaling would recommend something tasty. I am also a slave to curiousity. Tomato soup rice noodles you say? You’re on!
Unfortunately, it’s bland and uninspiring. It’s disappointing. The tomato soup tastes like watered down dregs of tinned Spag, with copious amounts of rice noodles (I don’t like that type of noodle, so it met my initial bias. The rice noodles used were the thick oily reconstituted ones with a round cross-section.). Fish balls and fish cake are okay in a noodle soup, but it needs something else with it.
Would I order it again? No.

Fried fish with Thai sauce ($12.80)
This is ordered by a lunch buddy. I was initially wary of fish, because it can go wrong in so many ways.  Fish is either fried or steamed here, with two sauce options for each. Here’s a picture.

Fried fish with salad/ With sweet and sour dressing/ A Win in my book

Looks good. Tastes good too. My wariness is dispelled. The fish is crispy on the outside, and still juicy on the inside. The wait was shorter than expected due to the cuts made into the fish to decrease cooking time.
Would I order it? Yes, and so would my lunch buddy (and has.)

Cham ($3 hot, $3.50 cold)

Drink a hot beverage/ Would you like tea or coffee?/ Why not have them both?

Cham is a mix of coffee and tea. What did I say about curiousity?
It’s actually tasty. I’ve had it twice. The first time, it is better than Kopitam’s (taste-wise, and quantity-wise if you order it hot), but the second, it was ordered during lunch rush hour and was overly sweet. It’s hit and miss.
Would I order it again? Yes.

Ribena Sprite ($3.50)

Bounce bounce Ribena/ Not as much vitamin C/ As stated in ads

Exactly what it says on the tin. It’s so pretty.

In advertisements here, Ribena was marketed as a rich source of vitamin C due to its blackcurrant content. Unfortunately, any high schooler versed in basic chemistry is able to titrate and calculate that this claim was false, and that it only contains roughly 10% of that advertised. It’s still a sizeable amount, but I can’t help but feel betrayed by one of my favourite childhood drinks for letting me down. Not that anybody should rely solely on Ribena for their vitamin C needs. I only wish that I had debunked the Ribena myth in my high school years instead of wasting my time trying to determine the pH of Salt & Vinegar Pringles, how concentrated the acid would become in a parched mouth of an overzealous individual, and if the acidity was able to give the sides of your mouth chemical burns. (That study was inconclusive. Also, I still have a test subject waiting to be fed a tube of Pringles.)

 

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Yamato

Yamato is a cosy little place we stumbled upon when looking for a place to eat. I am glad I found it. It is in a little alleyway (as with many restaurants around this city) near a looming szechuan chinese place. If you brave the prickly-but-eventually-numbing spiciness of the air surrounding the szechuan place, you are granted access to Yamato.

Inside:

Inside Yamato/Check out paper lantern lights/A world of its own

The first thing you’ll probably notice in the photo is the feature wall. But in real life, the first thing you will notice is how incredibly small the place is. (The largest table was for 4. Maybe 6, if small people squeeze in the sectioned off room and figure out a way to not elbow others in the ribs.) It’s a cosy kind of small. I like the paper screen windows, and paper lanterns. I also like the raised platform with a table behind the feature wall. It doesn’t smell of numbing spicy food inside. It doesn’t remind you it was raining outside either.

Beers for you and I / With teriyaki chicken / Drink the night away

The beer flags and pictures are a nice touch too. They say ‘Beer’ and ‘Peace’. Bottom left says ‘vacation’, and the fourth is self-explanatory.

Only the dregs left/ Take photo before eating / Otherwise all gone

We ordered Ishikari-nabe (regional specialty of Hokkaido, so you can expect food with substance in it), and tsubu-an daifuku (glutinous rice cake with smashed red bean paste— it has smooth red bean paste with bits in it). Above is a picture of the dregs of the nabe/hot pot.

It had fatty salmon, thinly sliced pork belly, tofu, carrot flowers, daikon flowers, spring onions, shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, homemade fish balls, homemade surimi (white fish made into a paste) tubes coated with egg, chinese cabbage, onions, and vermicelli noodles on the bottom. Served in a pail. On a portable stove. There was plenty to be had. (I could do with a bit of sweet miso, but the soup is fairly rich already from the fish and pork.) (Damage is $16.80/pp, minimum 2 people. It is a pail, afterall.) The dregs would be better if they gave us a raw egg to stir through. Still good though. I just like to eat a lot of food, even when I am full. Is this what they call gluttony?

After that, there was mochi to be divided and devoured. It’s still warm from the portable hot stove. It’s also very good. One second it was in my hand, the next it was gone, and left me wanting more. The red bean paste (an) wasn’t too sweet, and there were enough whole beans for my liking. The mochi itself (Mochi is the rice part, and daifuku is ‘stuffed mochi’.) had a good texture, and a high water content so it dissolves quickly. (Damage for daifuku was $3.80 eaach, size of a digestive biscuit.)

Got to come back for more nabe, and daifuku. There are also other things on the menu, but it is Winter now.

 

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