An old friend Sebas originally from Toulouse, France was back in Australia. I had met him in the days when my French was near-fluent (oh how I miss those days!) as a suffering uni student nearly a decade ago. He’d been in Melbourne for three months and we’d still not been able to catch up. Eventually, both of us got our shit together and paid a city izakaya a visit. Izakaya Chuji proudly boasts that it is the first izakaya in Melbourne and that it’s been in operation since 1989. That’s two years after I arrived here from England, so you know it’s been around a long time, hehe. The decor hinted at the eatery’s antiquity. I joked that they had the sort of comfy chairs that were perfectly at home in a badly funded arts department and belonged in your lecturer’s office at uni.
I was wildly picking out things to eat so ordering was deferred to me. I asked Sebas if there was anything he didn’t eat:
– No, I eat everything.
– Oh cool, even raw meat?
We all giggled. It’s always a relief when you’re going to be sharing dishes and everyone in your party is pretty much up for anything. It really adds to the enjoyment of a food outing, don’t you think?
Naturally, yukke was ordered.
Raw, marinated thinly sliced beef on a bed of similarly sliced cucumber, topped with a raw egg. Heavenly. I was pretty excited about this, as it was my first time having yukke. Tristan had been here before and thought it quite special. I’ve had beef tataki before which is also served raw but this is the traditional izakaya shit, yo. As we ate, Sebas told us about how in France you can get horsemeat tartare and how good it is. Don’t think horse as a meat is very popular here though?
Unlike my experience at Ichi Ni Izakaya, our waitress was only too happy to help me choose a sake suited to my taste. We ended up with a slightly sweet, cloudy Kizakura bottle to share. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Penny also had a bottle of it at her place the day after, purchased at the Good Food and Wine Show. Our waitress made a point of coming back after we polished off our bottle to check if we liked it which I thought rather sweet.
Next up, some takoyaki. While these were delicious, I’m used to them being crispier on the outside. I first had a gorgeous Japanese friend make these for me at her place many years ago and confess that that has become my standard against which subsequent takoyaki are measured. She was single-handedly responsible for converting me to the yumminess of octopus too.
I also chose some deep fried battered squid tentacles with wasabi mayonnaise for dipping. I might just lose the respect of my fellow food bloggers by admitting…that I prefer Ajisen Ramen’s incarnation of this dish! Will you still respect me?
It wasn’t all deep fried or meaty goodness. I did also insist upon a serving of horenso. How do the Japanese get a fairly bland vegetable to taste so good? Strict vegetarians might need to be careful with this dish as they often use bonito to season it.
After this first lot of dishes, we all sat and chatted for quite some time. Everyone was too polite to say they were still hungry – so I fixed that and outright admitted I could still go more food. By this time, our delicious sake was finished, so we ordered a flask of the house sake which is served warm. I was ploughing into that too quickly so I got some of the Tanuki Beer that I saw advertised on the wall. I mean, could you resist getting beer named after a Japanese mythical trickster that potentially has magical balls?
Magical balls aside, this malty, clean pilsener number is made especially for Izakaya Chuji by local microbrewery 2 Brothers, based in Moorabbin. They really are two brothers brewing and most certainly aren’t hacks either – their Voodoo won the Premier’s Award this year at the Australian International Beer Awards last month. You can read more about Tanuki Beer here – I made sure I took a photo of the bottle’s copy for the beer nerds.
Two more dishes were ordered – one was the impressive and very generous mixed sushi and sashimi platter. You could easily get this and have between two as your main. There were three of us sharing (the ever-faithful Tris being our third) and it filled us all up. There were no more hungry protests after this was gobbled up. It was just as generous in selection too – there were four different types of fish used for the sashimi, and even unagi. I’d happily come back just for this, with a seafood-loving friend in tow!
I also got a bowl of the old fave, edamame. Addictive little critters. Izakaya Chuji’s version is not salted like mad, which I rather like. It’s such a simple dish – steamed soy beans in their pods and still I’m not fed up of it.
It was up on the specials board (and sadly, we forgot to take a picture) but cheese gyoza intrigued me. These weren’t really like standard gyoza at all in that they were hard as if they’d been baked. They were stuffed with pork mince which was carefully laced with cheese that naturally got nice and gooey as the gyoza was cooked. I have to confess, I thought it was going to be pretty ‘character-building’ but it was great! Definitely the sort of snack I’d like when sinking beers.
Finally, after all the conversation and even more food, we paid just under $50 each and bundled ourselves into the cold wintry Melbourne for some more drinking action, suitably fortified with some damn fine Japanese nosh. There are loads of fantastic snacky things on the menu so I definitely intend upon returning here. There’s also a sizeable sake list and I’m sure I could be persuaded to sample more of it! If you don’t want to stagger too far for a drink, you can try the bar next door attached to Izakaya Chuji called Nihonshu Shochu & Sake Bar (you can even directly enter Nihonshu from Chuji and they also have a similar food menu).