a fortifying dinner at Daruma Japanese Kitchen

I really envy old people. Somewhere along the line, they get to this stage where they can tell you how they feel about just about everything and not care whose feelings they hurt.

Thus, gamba rehearsals were starting to become bittersweet. The lady who very graciously allows me to come to her house and play with her posse while certain regular members are in absentia was starting to get me down. Don’t get me wrong, I know my playing is bad: I’ve only just started to practise again, am having lessons but not able to do so regularly and my instrument still has a few technical teething problems. However, I love playing so even though I know the organiser will ‘sledge’ me in front of everyone (by all means, criticise but do it in a constructive manner), I still go because I need the experience and there isn’t exactly scores of folks to jam with.

front window

Tristan knew all of this, so he consented to treat me to dinner near the rehearsal venue. Despite getting a good sashimi fix at Matsu Hashi recently, my craving wasn’t fully sated. He suggested we try out a place in Camberwell called Daruma Japanese Kitchen. Again, someone still loves you, Urbanspoon.

I lugged in my instrument and Tris was already there, with liquid refreshment. They have several sakes to choose from and also have a shochu list. Throughout the course of our dinner we ordered three small flasks of sake (large is also available) – Bishounen Junmai Ginjo (smooth, a little fruity, 15% ABV), Kizakura Yamahai Jikomi (semi-dry with a rich body, 15% ABV) and lastly Nenihi Junmaino sake (dry with a mild, rich flavour, 16.2% ABV. Only available in a small flask). The bracketed descriptions are directly pinched off the menu. All of the ones we had were served cold and staff even recommended we wait for particular ones to cool for longer. My guess is they know their sake, excellent!

sake flasks on cold ice

It was unusual, however, to not be drinking beer, especially when signs all about us were telling us that Hokkaido, Japan’s most northern island, is nature on tap: who can resist such a catchy slogan?

Hokkaido is nature on tap

We shared two starters, firstly horenso and enoki mushrooms, cooked spinach with enoki mushrooms in a sesame dressing. They may have neglected to mention that it also had Japanese mayonnaise. Win! The enoki isn’t highly visible in this photo but it was plentiful.

horenso & enoki mushroom

The second starter was scallops cooked two ways, one grilled, one crispy and topped with caviar. It looked impressive and we were both at a loss as to how to divide it and spoil its presentation. The crispy one was rather sculpturesque.

IMG_5155

The one in the shell less so, but still highly elaborate. Both were enjoyed greatly. I would probably suggest getting a serve each rather than sharing – it’s definitely worth it.

one half of scallops cooked two ways entree

My main was a no-brainer; remember, I was here to get my raw fish craving killed. I decided upon the tuna and salmon sashimi and augmented this with maki – tuna, salmon and oshinko. Um, I think the maki may have been the gut-buster…silly me. After eating the sashimi, I was left wondering why this place wasn’t packed to the gills (ha, fish pun!) – by comparison, Matsu Hashi was a blip on the raw fish radar. Their fish was exquisite.

tuna & salmon sashimi

tuna, oshinko & salmon maki

Tristan chose the most exciting main on the menu – the grilled black cod with yuzu miso. It doesn’t look particularly special but once in your mouth, a completely different story.

grilled black cod with yuzu miso

Ack! Rehearsal time. Tristan told me I could head off while he settled up and thus I headed into the night, towards my personal Bermuda Triangle, that damned Camberwell Junction. The restaurant was pretty quiet the evening we dined though it was Monday. It definitely deserves more patronage as it serves excellent Japanese food as well as drinks. I will be back to make my way through more of their sake and sample their shochu.

Daruma Japanese Kitchen on Urbanspoon

ninja-quick stop at Matsu Hashi

One night, me and Tris were invited to our mate Colin’s place for a fillum night. These things are pretty serious affairs: because they’re marathons, he usually posts up a schedule of when each film will show and what time they’ll start so you don’t ring his very loud doorbell and interrupt proceedings, which is perfectly fair (I still feel terrible about the last time I went and greeted him a little too enthusiastically and thus being that noisy person in the ‘cinema’).

We decided we’d dine in the area and I was absolutely dying for some serious raw fish action. There’s not many options in the Clifton Hill/Fitzroy North area that immediately came to mind (though I do recommend Otsumami in Northcote, it can be busy so we weren’t going to chance being walk-ins).

Urbanspoon yielded us Matsu Hashi on Queens Parade.

Counting our pennies, we rushed in. No EFTPOS. Drat. I rush back out, grab some dough from the nearest hole in the wall and immediately decide upon two bowls each of edamame, the delicious, addictive bastards. I don’t think I’ve ever shelled edamame as fast as I did that night: my technique is downpat. They don’t oversalt them either, which I think is just swell.

edamame

As Tristan had been chatting on Twitter to our dear friend Ranjit about unagi, he ordered an unadon. The bento it appeared in was deceptive and it proved to house a more filling portion than originally assumed. Tris remarked that eel wasn’t something he ate enough of, a sentiment echoed by me also.

unadon

How remiss of me for neglecting to mention that we did also receive starter pickles.

starter pickles

Ah, the deluxe sashimi platter! According to the menu, this boasted a premium selection of Hokkaido scallop, surf clam, tuna, salmon belly, kingfish belly and oyster. The salmon and kingfish were superb, being ridiculously fresh but it was obvious that this was not the case with the scallop and oyster, both of which were lightly bathed in dressing.

deluxe sashimi platter

Our meals came out as quickly as we wanted, we scarfed them down even faster then head off to Colin’s to watch films about evil college kids picking on hillbillies and in keeping with our meal’s theme, one about sociopathic Japanese fish merchants. I’m still not game enough to look up online just how much of the latter was based on reality, shudder but do recommend the former for some good, gory laughs (plus it has Alan Tudyk in it. Yes, that pilot dude from Firefly, RIP).

Matsu Hashi on Urbanspoon

your game plan for Chin Chin

Look, I don’t care how much you love or hate no-bookings policies, I’m just here to offer you these two meagre kernels of advice.

First, if you want to actually dine at Chin Chin, then yes, turn up early and be prepared to wait. Once you’re through the door, the bar is actually rather nice to be seated at.

Second, when you do actually start to get your food, bolt all your plates down.┬áNothing says “we want you get the hell out of here so we can shovel more people in” more than wait staff who try to take your communal plates with half their contents untouched and the diners very obviously in medias res of said dish. Pout.

Don’t take my word or Tristan’s: on the occasion I visited Chin Chin, I was suitably armed with fellow Melbourne foodie chums Andrew & Sam.

Tristan and I were uncharacteristically early despite my sprained ankle limp (sadly occurring a few days after Bloomsday and thus nullifying all Gerty McDowell jokes) and Chin Chin won’t seat you till all diners are present. This gave us an opportunity to admire our surroundings and share a bigger-than-a-stubby BeerLao: let not the miniature beer steins fool you.

Soon enough, our expected companions joined us and we all began to navigate the menus like the fatties we were – it was pretty difficult to decide what to choose! It’s great that everything is designed to be shared. I did sneak in a text to Billy who had dined here the week before but sadly Sam’s dietary requirements and preferences meant we didn’t get to act upon many of them. This did make for hilarity as we all heartily debated whether or not boar was really the brethren of pig and that if desired, we could indeed pretend it was related to cows.

It seemed funny at the time: Andrew often has that effect upon you.

Before the boar debate started, we ordered the kingfish sashimi with lime, chilli, coconut and Thai basil. What ho, do I smell Ben Cooper under the helm…? Does this mean he’s no longer doing St Ali nights? *lip quiver* The flavour palate does seem awfully familiar… What a note to start on: I could quite happily have eaten three servings of this and left for my provincial part of town feeling like I’d dined like a king.

Before launching into the fish and meat dishes proper, we shared a hot and sour duck liver salad with mint, coriander, lime and ground rice. Looking at some more recent photos of the menu, would appear that this item is no longer available. What, no suck (sic) liver salad?!?! What a shame as it was offally good… *ducks* Ah well, duck liver salad, long may you live in our not-for-consumption hearts.

It has to be said that ordering at Chin Chin is ridiculously difficult: there is a myriad of dishes that all have something tantalising in them and given the amount we all ended up ordering, we should have gone with their ‘feed me’ option which you need a minimum of two persons for. For 7 dishes, you pay $55, for 9 dishes, $66. However, we did not ask if this can take into account dietary requirements so you’d best ask before choosing this option.

After agonising deliberation, one of the seafood dishes we decided upon was the wild barramundi wrapped in banana leaves with coconut red curry, lime and Thai basil: notice a very similar flavour profile to the starter we ordered. I’m not normally barramundi’s prime cheerleader but this was irresistible.

Aside from Sam, the general consensus was that we had to order the wild boar stir fried with red curry paste, snakebeans, ginger and basil. The wait staff seemed to think so too, as this was the dish they tried to forcibly remove from us three times. Yes, despite us still very much scoffing it down greedily.

Because Sam couldn’t have the wild boar, she ordered the massaman curry of coconut braised Hopkins River beef brisket with pink fur apple potatoes and crispy shallots. The boar-eaters did, however, sneak a taste.

To continue with the medieval-style eating habits, we also ordered the Indian style barbecued goat with cucumber and mint raita. The goat was tender and made for a satisfying carnivorous experience.

We weren’t quite finished: the blokes were curious to try the son-in-law eggs with chilli jam and thus a serve was ordered.

Though there are no photographs, for liquid refreshment, we got both the punches offered on the menu (sadly, I was not able to discreetly snap a shot of their descriptions on the menu). One carafe had a massive crack in it and when we pointed this out to the wait staff, they very kindly supplied us with a complimentary full carafe! My favourite one was the first one which had a lot of Vietnamese mint in it and the table’s consensus was that it was the winning drink too.

Despite having to queue and ward wait staff off our still full plates, Chin Chin is an effortlessly swanky place to enjoy good food that uses various Asiatic corners for inspiration. The menu seems to change quite often (it is different enough now to what it was when we dined there in mid-June) and has invariably assured that I shall be revisiting, in the hope of catching dishes I didn’t get to experience the first time, fingers crossed that they will still be on the menu. Next time, I’ll have room for dessert too, dammit!

Now onward and outward to Cam’s 3D Amazeballs party!

Welcome to Amazeballs 3D!

Chin Chin on Urbanspoon