Asian Flavours

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image of food from en izakaya image of food from en izakaya

By Ravenous Renee

Authentic Japanese; it’s hard to find but at En Izakaya that’s exactly what you’ll get. Run by predominantly Japanese staff, not including the proprietor, Andy Gray, who has lived in Tokyo, Japan for several years and has a Japanese wife – you know you’re onto something good, when you say ‘conichiwa’ (hello, in Japanese) and you’re not met with a blank face, or better still, ‘nihow’ (Chinese for hello).

Andy Gray is very passionate about keeping the authenticity of Japan alive at his establishment – and it shows, with his gracious managerial hospitality, Andy runs En Izakaya like clockwork – a measure of trusted and true, unparalleled, Japanese business practice. After all, knowingly, after having lived and studied in Japan myself; the Japanese are all about delivering outstanding and uncompromised quality and service (Steve Jobs contributed his success, in part, to following Japanese principals of doing business), and therefore it’s no wonder En Izakaya is always busy in passing, and has become a renowned local sensation since opening its doors in February 2009.

The food at En Izakaya, alongside their selection of Japanese beer, traditional Izakaya beverages (including sake, shochu and umeshu) and premium wine from around the globe (with a special emphasis on France, Italy and Australia), is sensational. You only have to take one look at En Izakaya’s concise but carefully considered drinks list, alongside their highly creative, modern and traditional Japanese inspired ‘share plate’ food menu (ingeniously drummed up by En Izakaya’s Head Chef – Kota Ogawa) to know that you’ve landed a jackpot. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

Testament to the above was my unrivalled dining experience, on a mild Melbourne Thursday night. Stopping by for an early evening meal with a friend, I was more than impressed (also slightly mesmerised) by the beautiful, warm and welcoming presence of the tastefully laid-out, En Izakaya space (which I’ll have you know, was architecturally designed and fitted out contemporary ‘Kominka’ style [wood heavy – in this case with six different timbers, no nails] by two talented Kyoto brothers).

Getting the night off to a good start, we began with some refreshingly cold Japanese beers, and then we decided to go on five of Andy’s small plate recommendations (to nibble between us), selected from the menu options of ‘…the garden…the sea… (and) the paddock’.

To begin with, we had the Tuna sashimi laced with spring onion, soy, wasabi and pistachio dressing ($17), and by golly gosh, it’s hard to put in to words just how exquisite this dish really was. If the quality and freshness of the fish on offer is anything to go by, which being a no brainer it is, then just imagine this: ruby-red and magnificent, delicately succulent pieces of tuna – opulently garnished with light and creamy, emerald green wasabi infused dressing, topped off with crunchy pistachios – tickle your fancy? I know it did mine.

Then to follow came out our Wakame, akanori & ao-ogo seaweed salad tossed with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and saganaki cheese ($15), and boy, this dish was no ordinary feat either. Gents, this is the one time you won’t be disappointed if your lady orders a salad – I know I’ve certainly not experienced anything like it. Colourfully and creatively arranged, our salad came with an assortment of subtle, unique and interesting flavours and textures (with the seaweed varieties ranging from slightly rubbery to chewy) and the fried pieces of slightly salty saganaki cheese just topped it all off.

The third dish to our table was the board special; Okonomiyaki –Savoury vegetarian pancake topped with scallop, prawn and mushrooms ($16), and one of my favourite go-to dishes in Japan. It’s just so hard to get a real-authentic Japanese Okonomiyaki here in Melbourne, (like all good Japanese food I suppose) hence, I actually made special mention from the onset that this was one dish I wanted to try. I was not disappointed either – creamy soft and indulgent in all senses of the word – just add the delectably cooked mushrooms, seafood and dancing fish flakes on top and you’ll see what I mean. Perhaps the best Okonomiyaki I’ve tasted in Melbourne, a big call I know – but hey, it’s worth it.

Moving on, out came our fourth dish of the evening: the very slowly cooked beef blade in soy, mirin and a touch of chilli, with Japanese silken tofu ($15), and again, what can I say? Thin slivers of almost weightless marinated meat, graced over silken tofu morsels had my tastebuds in a frenzy.

Then, finishing off the night on the savoury side of things, came our last dish of seared momen tofu and miso infused eggplant oven-baked ($13), and wow, was this one dish worth waiting for – ‘save the best till last’ definitely rang true here. Alongside the tuna sashimi to start, this was by far the standout dish for me and the most popular on the menu I’ve been told. Just wait ‘till you taste the flavours in this dish! The miso infused eggplant could almost be taken for a Japanese version of rich and indulgent satay sauce – teasingly sweet and alluringly tasty – and complimented the subtle flavour and firm pan-fried-crisp tofu squares well. This was comfort food at its finest (and crack open a bottle of red with this dish and there’s your Friday or Saturday night sorted).

Finally, when the night was already as good as I thought it could possibly get, out came the sweets. First to share was the delectable green tea and banana ice-cream, laced with chocolate and sprinkled with crumbed pistachio’s ($9), and heavenly divine it certainly was – the real flavour of banana is what stole my attention. Then there was the Azuki red bean and green tea tiramisu ($11) which although I would have preferred with a little less cream, complimented the sweet sensation of the moorish red beans well – a delightful finish to an overall rewarding experience, on all accounts.

En Izakaya – you gave me savoury, you gave me sweet – you gave me an exemplary dining experience that’s hard to beat! Ja ne! (Bye, for now).

En Izakaya

277 Carlisle Street, Balaclava

Opening hours:

Lunch Tues-Sun from 12pm

Dinner Tues-Sun 6pm ‘till late

Ph: 9525 8886

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