Horoki was amazingly warm and smelt like home, if your home is a Japanese kitchen (I wish mine was). Unfortunately, we hadn't made a reservation and the next table was more than an hour off. Given that we were starving and that the idea of wandering around in the wind was unappealing, we decided to try Teppansan just a block back on Russell Street. Teppansan came with a pretty hearty recommendation from the Cheap Eats Guide and Matt Preston in Epicure.
The first thing we noticed is that the staff all speak Cantonese...and in the kind of way that makes you worry about the authenticity of the place. I'm not totally adverse to the idea of people cooking other culture's food (after all, I love Menya and there isn't one Japanese staff member there) but it always carries an element of risk.
We ordered the 'Winter Special Banquet', which was $40 for the two of us. On top of that, we ordered a pork okonomiyaki ($8) and a pot of genmaicha ($1.50 per person).
(My apologies for the crummy photos - my camera was low on batteries and thus the pictures were both rushed and flash-less)
The first component of the banquet was a plate of entrees. There was tatsuta-age (fried chicken), gyoza (pork dumplings), and spring rolls filled with mashed carrot and prawns. The spring rolls were a substitute for gyu maki which they'd run out of, and were probably the highlight of the course. The gyoza were nice, although distinctly Chinese in flavour - we noticed they'd been made using wonton wrappers. The tatsuta-age was again pretty yum, but nothing spectacular.
A bowl of miso soup accompanied our entree. The soup was quite generously filled with seaweed, tofu and spring onions, but was a bit weak in flavour and again nothing too exciting. Certainly warmed us up though, which was enough for me at that point!
A plate of tempura followed the entree and soup. We received a piece each of sweet potato, zucchini, taro and prawn. All pretty delicious, the prawn being both our favorites.
After the tempura, our okonomiyaki came out. Now up to this point, nothing had really jumped out but this was fantastic. It wasn't the most authentic okonomiyaki I'd ever tasted, but it was really delicious, and for $8 would make a very satisfying lunch. It was made in a somewhat unusual fashion, with a mixture of pork, onions and cabbage in the middle of a thin pancake folded almost in an omelet style. This was topped with the requisite okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, bonito flakes and seaweed. It was such a mess to eat but well worth it.
By this stage we were pretty full, with mains and dessert still to come... Press on though, right?
We ordered the beef sukiyaki hot pot (the other choices were shabu-shabu or seafood), which came with bowls of rice. The hot pot came sizzlingly hot with beef, tofu, carrots, wombok cabbage and button mushrooms in a soup (no noodles or egg to dip into). Before you get too excited, it all comes pre-cooked so if you're looking for the true hot-pot cook-at-your-own-table business, this isn't it. The dish was alright, but the meat was a bit tough and again it was all just not quite amazing enough to make up for not being very authentic.
To round things off, dessert was banana and coconut dumplings with green tea icecream. These were at first just unusual, but the more we ate the more they grew on us. The dumplings were again made from wonton skins, and were warm and crispy with the filling sweet and just a little bit sour. The icecream didn't taste very strongly of tea, which could be good or bad depending on how you prefer things. It was tasty though, and green tea icecream is definitely a nice way to finish off a meal.
The decor was fairly typical of the cheaper Asian restaurants in the area, with the addition of a nice mural up the side of the wall. The kitchen is at the front of the restaurant and able to be viewed from any table, which I always enjoy. Service was great - our teapot was always refilled quickly and meals arrived piping hot and with good pace.
All in all, the meal was good but not fabulous. It certainly wasn't disappointing, but I'd recommend the okonomiyaki over the banquet menu. They also do great lunch specials for around $6, so I'd hit Teppansan in the future for a cheap afternoon meal and save dinner for one of the many other great (and more authentic) Japanese restaurants in the area. I can't wait to try out Horoki and Shoya.
Address: 179 Russell Street, Melbourne
Telephone: (03) 9663 1938
Licensed, BYO with no corkage
Price Guide: Entrees $4-8 /mains $5-20 / set lunches $6-10 / set dinners $15-30
Payment: Cash only
Hours: Daily 11am to 11pm
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