Friday, September 30, 2011

Sushi with a Twist

                GaijinJAPANESEFUSION

Address: 135 Commercial Road, South Yarra, Melbourne, 3141

Phone: (03) 9804 8873 or text 0417 042 755

Open:
Dinner: Seven days from 6pm until 10pm
Lunch: Saturday and Sunday from 12pm until 2pm
 


One run-of-the-mill evening, I was vocally ‘oooh-ing’ and ‘ahhh-ing’ at photos of Gaijin’s food on Urbanspoon, distracting my fella from watching the football on TV. During the match, he disappeared under the guise of visiting the loo and made a booking. I had wanted to visit Gaijin for over a year, but for some unknown reason I never quite got around to it. We ended up having dinner there as part of my birthday gift. We were not disappointed. 


Gaijin in South Yarra is putting the pizzazz back into sushi. Alongside more traditional offerings you will find original sushi combinations with a modern twist. Don’t let the simple decorations in this plain space fool you (a Hello Kitty doll or two, a samurai figure and some Japanese paper lights); Gaijin strives for creativity in its dishes. Moody grey walls and dark brown tables contrast with the sharp white settings and sheer gold curtains, while decorative black chairs add a touch of class. For the full experience, sit on the floor cushions by the window. 


A huge part of Gaijin’s appeal (well, for me anyway) is their all-you-can-eat menu, which is available from Mondays to Thursdays. For $35, you can indulge in as much sushi as you can manage and for an extra $5, you can add sashimi to your plate. There is also a selection of appetizers included in the deal. Regardless of which option you choose, a child is only charged $17 (4 to 12 years). The trick is to order as you go, as there is a fee for wasted food, which you can take home, so it won’t necessarily be wasted.


We decided that the logical thing to do was to start with appetizers. Perhaps unwisely, we ordered one of everything, but since the starters were not too large, it ended up being a fine idea. Oh the cleverness of us! The first plates that were brought to the table were ‘dynamite’ and agedashi tofu.

The dynamite was something I had not yet encountered at a Japanese restaurant and consisted of baked, chopped scallops, crab stick, masago (Capelin roe) and spicy mayo sauce. It came resting on tin foil and was a bright, canary yellow. While one can only describe it as resembling unappetizing mush, it was utterly delicious and would make a fabulous pasta sauce, a Japanese Mornay, if you will. The dish had a creamy egg mixture as its base, which was interspersed with fleshy chunks of seafood. 


Gaijin’s agedashi tofu is up there with the best in Melbourne. The first thing I noticed was its generous size for a starter, with five large cubes of tofu floating in a sweet and salty tempura broth. The soft tofu was gently fried and came sprinkled with spring onion and bonito fish flakes that curled with the heat.


The salads came next. The kani salad came served on a slice of cucumber. It consisted of a small mound of crabstick straws doused with mayonnaise and a generous helping of masago, tasty but quite rich. The seaweed salad also came on a slice of fresh cucumber and was sprinkled with sesame.


 

We also ordered a bowl of salted edamame (soy beans) and miso soup. Both were decent but nothing to write home about.


 

After the appetizers we moved on to the famous fusion sushi rolls. We ordered two at a time, starting with the soft shell crab roll with tempura crunch, masago, mayonnaise and avocado. Alongside the soft shell crab roll came the crunchy spicy salmon special with tempura crunch, stuffed and topped with raw salmon slices & mayonnaise.

The soft shell crab roll was beautifully presented. Large circles of inside-out sushi came carefully placed on the plate with an outer layer of sweet sushi rice dotted with bright orange masago. The inside was lined with seaweed and contained thin slices of avocado, cucumber batons, shredded crabstick and deep fried soft shell crab that protruded from the roll.


Even though the soft shell crab roll looked exquisite, I preferred the crunchy spicy salmon roll. It came inside out like the soft shell crab roll, but with soft, salmon sashimi, a hint of chilli. There was also a deep fried tempura batter stuffed beside the salmon, which gave the sushi a unique crunch. Crowned with another thin slice of raw salmon, the combination of supple fish, rice grains and crisp batter can only be described by borrowing the words of Homer Simpson: it was like a “party in my mouth.” 


After polishing off the sushi, we ordered two more varieties: the South Yarra special with tempura crunch, raw spicy tuna and prawn, and the teriyaki beef roll with cucumber, sesame seeds and teriyaki sauce. The former was similar to the spicy salmon roll but had tuna instead of salmon and a thin slice of shrimp in place of the sashimi on top. It was equally delicious. If you want more variety, order only one of either the spicy salmon roll or the South Yarra special. They are quite similar, and doing so will leave more room for something else!


Although I’m not usually a fan of meat in sushi, the teriyaki beef roll was surprisingly flavoursome. The beef had been drizzled in a lip smacking teriyaki sauce. The rice on the outside was speckled with black sesame seeds while crunchy cucumber and avocado were sandwiched next to the tender beef.


We also sampled some sashimi, which features three pieces of fish per serve. I suggest initially ordering a few serves of what you like, rather than a serve of each, which is what we did. The ‘tako,’ or octopus, was quite striking, but I would not recommend it for people who get squeamish when they see suction pads. Personally, I enjoyed its crunchy texture. The special spicy scallop was interesting and rather slimy. It was covered in a fine chilli powder and had a consistency similar to oysters, so stay away if you don’t like raw shellfish. The kingfish was a little tough, but the salmon was deliciously tender and we ordered a second and third helping.



After conquering the above dishes, we decided it was better to quit while we were ahead than to risk severe stomach ache from overeating. If I could have started over again I would have tried the fried tasmanian roll, with salmon, avocado, cream cheese and crabstick; the spicy grilled chicken roll with cucumber, sesame seeds and spicy mayonnaise sauce, and the prawn tempura roll with cucumber, crabstick and masago.

With appetites like ours, we certainly received our money’s worth. Even so, the a la carte menu was also appealing. You can view it by clicking here.

Our dining experience exceeded our expectations and we rolled out of Gaijin warmly farewelled by the friendly staff. Only a ten-minute drive from home, we will be back to spoil ourselves soon. 



Gaijin Japanese Fusion on Urbanspoon

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