Tucked away in a little lane off Chinatown in Melbourne’s CBD is Shoya, my favourite Japanese restaurant in the city. So naturally I made certain this was high up on our agenda for the trip.
Shoya in Japanese literally means rising (sho) house (ya), so named for the restaurant’s rising structure of six split levels – each one catering for a different dining experience. They include a Japanese-style BBQ or yakiniku, traditional horigotatsu style seating where shoes are removed and you’re seated on tatami mats with a sunken area beneath the table for your legs, fine dining tables, an executive section with a sushi bar, karaoke rooms and an executive lounge.
We made reservations by email when we arrived in Melbourne, and requested to be seated at the sushi bar because I like watching the chef work. Also also because I find looking at slabs of fresh sashimi oddly calming – it takes me to a happy place.
Master Shigeo Nonaka is the Executive Chef at Shoya, and was already busy at work when we got there. He smiled, gave us a little nod and a “hi” before resuming his work. A good thing we made reservations because the counter was full on a Wednesday night.
Shoya carries a wide variety of sake from different parts of Japan, and we were told that most if not all were exclusive to Shoya, in Melbourne. We got a glass of Gasanryu Kisaragi Daiginjo (AUD$34), from Yamagata. It’s well-balanced dry sake, with undertones of white peaches that make it slightly sweet. We loved it! The sake is served in a glass, placed in a box and the waiter pours till it overflows from the glass into the box as a traditional sign of prosperity.
We started off with an appetiser – a serving of uni sashimi (AUD$14) each. This really was the main reason why we absolutely had to visit Shoya. A generous serving of amazingly fresh uni that melts in your mouth, and at an extremely (x10) reasonable price. Even Boo who isn’t normally crazy about uni thought it was the highlight of our meal.
This is where our paths diverged. I wanted to go traditional Japanese, whereas he was keen to try the innovative Nouvelle Wafu (a Japanese / European fusion) cuisine for which Shoya is known. So I went a la carte, and he went with a set -the Shoya Festive Course (AUD$100). This was my soup, suimono (AUD$4.50). A traditional clear soup made with freshly boiled bonito flakes and kelp.
Sushi and Sashimi moriawase (AUD$65) – my main. It was a huge platter that I had no qualms about finishing.
Wasabi paste is served with sushi, but for the sashimi – a waiter comes by to offer freshly grated wasabi from Tasmania.
And he reminds you not to dunk the freshly grated wasabi into the soy sauce. Instead, you’re meant to take little dollops of it and put it on your sashimi like so.
His first course – unagi canape. Grilled miso marinated unagi, topped with crabmeat salad, ikura, and a giant truffle shaving.
Meant to be enjoyed in one giant mouthful.
His second course – golden perch. Lightly grilled miso-flavoured perch, topped with tomato mousse, foie gras and semi-dried mullet roe.
His third course – assortment of sashimi. Sashimi served in a hollowed ice ball is one of Shoya’s signatures – I always found it ridiculously gorgeous. Maguro, hamachi, tai, sake, hotate.
His fourth course – beef spinach roll. Stewed ox tongue wrapped with a spinach soufflé, served with lemon and basil yogurt.
Amazingly tender, it came to shreds quite easily.
His fifth course – crab tempura. Whole taraba crab leg served with wasabi shio and lemon. Once you finish the tempura-coated half, you get a cracker to crack open the other half – the shell’s quite thin, so not a lot of effort required to get to the good bits.
His sixth course – fish steak. Seared tuna coated in seaweed, served with home-made teriyaki sauce.
His seventh course – wagyu beef steak. Wagyu eye fillet served with a truffle, enoki and shitake miso sauce, accompanied by a grilled chilli. He asked for it medium rare and it was cooked to perfection, the meat was tender, and the sauce with the truffle-flavoured mushrooms was absolute heaven.
His eighth course – mixed rice. Seasoned Japanese rice mixed with chicken, vegetables and mushrooms.
His ninth course – miso soup. The miso soup, rice and steak were all served at the same time, and marked the end of the meal before dessert.
His tenth course – dessert. Uni cheesecake with vanilla cream and berries, it sounds odd but works. And a sinfully rich chocolate mousse cake accompanied by a grilled walnut and almonds.
It was one of those filling and extremely satisfying meals. After, we wanted to take a stroll through the city and across the bridge to Crown Casino in Southbank, but stepped out only to realise it was pouring so we hopped into a cab.
25 Market Lane, Melbourne
Victoria, Australia, 3000
Tel: (03) 9650 0848
Monday – Sunday: 12pm – 230pm
Sunday – Thursday: 6pm – 1030pm
Friday – Saturday: 6pm – 11pm
Dinner only: 6pm – 1030pm