Samurai Showdown in Chinatown: Yamato vs. Meiji Japanese Café
MY name’s Adrian and I’m a Foodaholic. That goes without saying. But perhaps I should also be in rehab over my other addiction- comics. As a teenage kid who got bored with basketball cards back in high school, a bulk of my comic collection was unfortunately lost during a house move. I was devastated I tell you. Devastated. I did manage to track a few rare replacements down in New York, but have been on an overspending mission ever since.
Whist hitting downtown Melbourne joyfully enjoying my annual leave, hunting down the latest copies of the Uncanny X-Men: First Class and Sweatshop comic series (total geek right?), I decided to begin the next Food Battles chapter.
As soon as the weather starts to heat up for the shorts and havana wearing months, out goes my cravings for Laksa as my buds (as in taste buds) turn their attention to sushi and sashimi.
Sushi is still hitting hard as the lunchtime staple, competing heavily with crusty sandwiches and the humble meat pie. It doesn’t seem too long ago when I’d suggest going out for sushi copping the occasional remarks like “Sushi? That’s not real food” or the most common “It ain’t even cooked, eew!” It felt as if I was suggesting we go out for a cockroach filled gravy roll!
Although I’m not a huge fan of the sushi chains that have popped up like ferrets in recent years, I do appreciate the fact that they’ve forged this much loved delicacy into the mainstream. I actually don’t mind Sushi Sushi. Although it still contains carbs, it’s great to see the youngins gobbling down hand rolls rather than hot dogs and chips.
Until my trip to the ramen land- Japan happens, the obsessive hunt through Melbourne’s Japanese hot spots in search for the reigning sushi and ramen continues. There have been many…how should I put it..duds. It’s amusing to see the numerous eateries claiming they’re authentic, let alone Japanese owned.
For me, the perfect ramen should stir your “I must have a scoop of ice cream in the middle of the night” filled emotions as it touches the cookie dough soul. Seriously. If you find yourself closing your eyes with each spoon fool of hearty stock, followed by the slurp of fresh noodles- you’ve hit gold. By the way, I have no shame in using my loud slurping skills in public. Slurp it up homeboy!
There are four main soup bases, Shio, Tonkotsu, Shuyu and Miso. Shuyu being my favourite, has a clear brown broth. Depending on who’s making it, the soy sauce based stock can either consist of chicken and vegies, beef or fish. The texture should be clean and slightly tangy.
Meanwhile, like how the X-Men fought against Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, there was a was a showdown brewing in Chinatown with Yomato coming head to head with Meiji Japanese Café. Sorry folks, I had to include my comic heroes in this battle.
Contender #1: Yamato
Details: 28 Corrs Ln , Melbourne 3000 Phone: (03) 9663 1706 Located towards the top end of Chinatown.
Yamato, named after the ancient Japanese Yamato Province, Yamato was a battleship of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. (source: wikipedia)
Surroundings: Hidden deep within the laneways of Chinatown, Yamato has been a Melbourne staple for many years. You can tell the history of a place when they have a laminated wood feature wall behind the bar. A touch of nostalgia – felt like I was back in the 70’s.
Entrée: Potato croquettes- perfectly deep fried coated with breadcrumbs filled with mash potato with mince crab. This dish did not disappoint. Closing my eyes it was intensely smooth. Seriously. The velvety mash sliding down the throat.
California Rolls: Yomato’s take was refreshing. As opposed to avocado, there was lettuce. Freshly made, the seaweed was not overly chewy allowing you to take two bites if necessary ending with small bursts in the mouth from the fish eggs.
Then there was the Nabeyaki Ramen- served in the pot it was cooked in, it arrived still simmering with a broth resembling that of a seafood bouillabaisse with heavy notes from the prawns with shells left intact.
Tori Karange Ramen: The highlight. The broth was clean and slightly tangy in texture, feeling its New Years finale as it hits the tummy warm. Closed my eyes and grinned for this one. Definitely to be appreciated.
Sweet Stuff: Kitchen was closed by this point.
Bring a date here? Ahuh. But book!
Out with friends? Dinner in the private sitting room would be great. Make sure you friends don’t have smelly feet!
Service: Very friendly and obliging.
Food Rehab Verdict: Sent me to food rehab (book this place now! Wowzer) – Greenlight
Contender #2: Meiji Japanese Cafe
Details: Also located towards the top end of Chinatown. 105 Little Bourke Street Melbourne VIC 3000 Phone: (03) 9662 2899
Surroundings: Japanese lanterns adorn the ceiling with an enormous seating area upstairs.
Mains: Pork belly with shredded egg- in terms of presentation, it was a stone groove. The pork was quite dry and tasted more like Chinese roast pork than anything else but overall, it was good. The egg fared a little better blending well adding texture and familiarity to the dish.
Mixed Sushi- With an option to pimp up my tummy’s ride, I was all ears baby. The waitress ran through the selection with up to four ingredients to choose from. I went with an experimental combo- a) Salmon b) avocado c) Crab d) Unagi (eel).
Served on a wooden board (which I go crazy for) my friend pointed out one flaw. I looked down and an ingredient was missing: the unagi. Dang! With the appreciation of freshly prepared sushi, I made an exception on this occasion.
Being Friday night and buggered after a long working week, I just wanted to eat. So, with a wasabi armed chopstick, the first bite was taken. “What’s wrong?” my friend asked as I took a huge gulp. With a sour look on my face, I explained that the rice was chewy and somewhat stale. Out of the seven, I forcefully ate three. Funnily, the folks at table behind us were also disappointed at their sushi.
Unlike, say a dry chocolate cake which you would still eat to calm the sweet tooth, the stomach will not tolerate bad sushi.
Close to 30 minutes and several reminders, the Potato Croquettes as entree mind you finally arrived. Rubbing my hands in excitement, I hoovered down the first piece. Again, my face turned sour. Geewizz! I did not expect three consecutive dishes to let the buds down. With so much potential, these poor babies were soaking in and oozing out oil, obviously being deep fried in luke warm temperature.
My friend and I made an agreement that we would redeem our experience at another Japanese joint the next day. In the interim, we decided on Grilled to fill up our tanks.
Sweet Stuff: Tummy says no.
Bring a date here? Well, hopefully your experience here will be more of a positive one.
Out with friends? I’d heard some good things prior to trying Meiji Japanese Café. However, they were from friends that hadn’t been back there for a few years. Try it out though; just avoid the sushi and the croquettes. Tell me if the Ramen is any good.
Service: Apart from forgetting about a an ingredient and an order, polite
Food Rehab Verdict: Still sane (ok, but not great but check it out if you’re in the area) – Orangelight
Yamato was a clear winner here. Usually when it comes down to eateries going head to head, there’s usually one golden dish that would set them apart and set pace for the decider . In this case, all of Yamato’s dishes were on point and definitely redeemed our experience had at Meiji Japanese Café.
So um…where do you get your Ramen from? I need to know!
Also Try out other great Ramen joints Happy Kappa and Ajisen Ramen.
Ps. I’m now on Twitter! At last…. so follow my sweet tooth at http://twitter.com/food_rehab
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