New Japanese eatery brings the funkiness of Fitzroy into the flashy end of town; a winning trifecta of food, sake and service.
"I'll be heckled by the industry for this," admits bartender Michael Forbes as he mixes a splash of 'sweet and fruity lychee' into a Hello Kitty Sour — a Sochu-based cocktail with flavours considered forbidden to the bespoke bartending world. This is a man who's not afraid of working with Midori. He's clearly having fun with the bar menu and it's paying off — drinks are beautifully balanced; spicy, sour and sweet without verging into sickliness.
After a cocktail, it's time to move onto the food menu, comprising of three rounds. Round One is where you'll find the small share plates — good drinking food, with enthusiastic employment of the deep fryer. However, it's the arrival of an artful dish of battered corn ($12) that is the first indication that this is no typical dude food; crispy, ugly nuggets of corn fritter are beautifully juxtaposed with dollops of Sochu mayonnaise, popcorn and a sprinkle of powdery corn 'smash'. The korokke ($9) — crunchy croquettes served with a generous slather of mayo — and the bonito-flake-adorned scallop pancakes ($15) are equally gorgeous bombs of flavour.
Round Two's emphasis is on light and fresh — serving as the ying to the first course's yang. Platters of sushi ($22/38), raw fish on rice ($6-9) and grilled skewers ($7-10) balance out the richness of the bar snacks.
Only three 'mains' are offered in Round Three, including a Japanese wagyu beef cheek curry ($30). Unfortunately, the salt roasted pork belly with kim chi daikon pickle is a lowlight. An odd inclusion to an otherwise well-thought out menu, the attempt to pair traditional roast pig and apple sauce with vinegary pickled veg (by simply placing them on opposing sides of the plate) doesn't work — but is quickly forgiven.
It's clear that a lot of investment has been put into training the staff, who operate in unison like a slick machine, each component working to deliver their best in food, beverage and service. "I wanted to raise the bar in Windsor," says owner Andy Restein, of his restaurant. A first-timer in the industry, Restein wanted to create a venue that provides an all round experience: "It's not just about the food, or just about the drinks or the service," he explains. "It's the whole package".
In any case, quality is likely to exceed expectations on all fronts. Eades and Bergman have managed to replicate the bustling ambience of a hawker's laneway. The exposed brickwork, street-lamp and neon lighting and the purposeful placement of the odd rice sack create a fast, fun and fabulous atmosphere that moves fluidly from the front door to the carriage booths out the back. It's reminiscent of Chin Chin — a bubbly, Asian-fusion oasis that successfully navigates the balance between grunge and flashiness.
If they're doing this well after only two weeks of trade, we can only imagine where they'll be in a couple of months.