Wednesday, 11 October 2006

chocolate buddha

Chocolate Buddha
Federation Square, corner of Swanson & Flinders Streets
Melbourne, Australia
Chef: Hiroko Land
Cuisine: Japanese
T: +61 3 9654 5688

A Tuesday night in Melbourne. Zero planning.

My plane landed at 19:25 and I had the taxi ride into the city to come up with a quick, easy, centrally located restaurant to feed me and Silke, a colleague visiting from Germany (who happens to be a coeliac, meaning she is allergic to gluten).

After ringing around to some of CBD Melbourne’s finer Japanese restaurants, and being told they were all booked up for the night, I resigned myself to Chocolate Buddha in Federation Square.

Admittedly I was a little sceptical of this restaurant. Sure the interior looked great in all the happy snaps, but The Age 2007 Good Food Guide mentioned flawed service and the restaurant was one of those “no bookings” establishments which I loathe.

We arrived and were seated immediately. Great.

The room was decorated with brightly coloured flags cascading from the walls and upon a high ledge sat statues portraying Buddha in his multitude of forms. Long wooden communal tables were fairly spacious and the tiny wooden stools were surprisingly comfortable and softened with bright cushions matching the flags.

Menus were paper placemats and were eerily akin to the UK’s Japanese chain Wagamama. In fact the menu was fairly similar to Wagamama (complete with order scribbled in the corner), only the variety looked broader and Chocolate Buddha had more innovating offerings.

Service was certainly sporadic. We were met warmly and order drinks immediately, but our waitress didn’t return for some time and we needed to hail waitstaff zooming past to repeat our drink order and place our food choices.

Silke and I decided to share some gluten free dishes and opted for two cold and one warm dish.

First to arrive was the sashimi plate which came with two slices each of salmon, tuna, kingfish and shiromi, which mysteriously translated into white fish. Silke was very impressed with the flavour and freshness of the sashimi. I found the it slightly dry (it had been prepared before we arrived) but the flavours were good and they all had excellent marbling throughout. I thought the kingfish was particularly good.

Next came my heart’s desire: gyu tataki. In Japanese, gyu means beef and tataki means beaten. At Chocolate Buddha this translated into slices of raw beef served with shichimi sauce, grated daikon and fresh ginger as well as some onions and pretty greens. Shichimi tōgarashi 七味唐辛子 means seven flavor chilli pepper and although there was a soy-like sauce splashed over the paper-thin slices of beef, it didn’t have much bite to it. Instead I relied on the spicy fresh ginger and mildly pungent white daikon radish to add an extra kick to this gyu tataki. The meat was flavoursome and met with favour at our table.

Our hot dish was unagi don, freshwater eel fillets smothered in teriyaki sauce and served on a generous bed of rice. The dish was garnished with garishly bright purple pickles that had a squeaky texture and sour-sweet flavour. The earthy flavours of the eel were matched perfectly to the sweet-sour of the teriyaki. The flesh broke away easily with a spoon and I thoroughly enjoyed this dish.

We mismatched our meal with glasses of icy, golden umeshu (plum wine) which added a sweet-tart note to the meal.

Oh umeshu, my dear friend!

I could drink umeshu as an aperitif, as a cocktail, with a Japanese or as a digestive. It’s always the right time for umeshu.

After the meal a second round of umeshu took a significantly long time to arrive and even though the restaurant was close to empty it was near to impossible to get the waitstaff to stop chatting and bring the bill.

Such a shame the service was so ditzy because the room was tres funky, the food was right on and the prices were fairly standard. I guess in such a prime location the crowds will flock regardless.


1 comment:

  1. It has been a while since I have been there, but maybe I'm not a stickler for service, I didn't think that it was too bad. Generally when the food is good I don't tend to worry about it too much.

    Good to see that you liked it, I hope that you will be able to sample more melbourne restaurants, there are bound to be a few more good ones around ;-)


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