Machi Japanese Restaurant, St. Kilda
Address: 14 Inkerman Street, St. Kilda
Phone: (03) 9534 5000
Open: Tuesday to Sunday, 5.30pm until 11pm
Friday to Sunday, 12pm until 3pm
Let’s cut to the chase: Machi Japanese Restaurant rivals Karen Martini’s Mr. Wolf and Paul Wilson’s Newmarket Hotel, both of which are only a sushi roll away from Machi. Sure, comparing these eateries is like comparing tacos and sashimi, but they all serve a high standard of food. Seeing as Japanese chef, Tatsuya Yamazaki, has been in numerous kitchens -- from Armadale and Chocolate Buddha in the city to his own Moshi Moshi in Port Melbourne -- it’s hardly surprising his food lives up to expectations.
Tatsuya serves modern Japanese, so those who have visited Japan shouldn’t expect rustic, authentic flavours (I’ve learned never to do this since coming back from my Japan trip, otherwise disappointment is guaranteed). At Machi, food is more experimental, a fusion of Australian ingredients, Japanese dishes and contemporary tastes.
I visited Machi last Tuesday with a few foodie gals (@LeeYChan, @ImSoHungree and @mysecondhelping - yes, we started a hashtag, #foodiegirlsgather, and no, boys are not welcome) for a Japanese fix. But let’s get the negatives out of the way first. While the open kitchen is impressive, the space itself is nothing special. If anything I found it cold and sterile. The geometric artwork on the walls gave the place a laboratory feel.
But back to dinner. We ordered a bottle of crisp, white wine between us and settled in for the ‘machi omakase’, a $55pp chef’s menu featuring nine items. The menu began with a definition of ‘community’ and concluded with the definition of FULL.
com • mu • ni • ty /k ‘myo ̆onitē/
NOUN: a group of people sharing together in one place, esp. one practicing common goals
I suppose the community definition was there to highlight that Machi serves dishes made for sharing, but our common goal was simply to stuff ourselves… and stuff ourselves we did.
We nibbled on edamame beans to start, licking our fingers free of flakes of sea salt and discarding the casings into a delicate glass bowl.
Next came the elongated rectangular plate of entrées. From right to left was an oyster on a bed of seaweed, a sample of the sweet wagyu tataki (raw beef) special, a fan of sashimi (including salmon, kingfish and tuna), spidery soft shell crab legs and a tempura prawn.
An oversized miso soup with tofu, spring onion and wakame arrived next, followed by our mouthwatering mains.
The miso baked barramundi was perfectly cooked, resting on a raft of green beans in a pool of clear miso broth. Sticking to the sea, I really enjoyed the Japanese fish ‘n’ chips. I'm not usually a fan of tempura, but the thin, crunchy batter hugging the flat head fillets was light and addictive. Unfortunately, I discovered a couple of bones which quickly brought me back to earth. The ‘chips’ were slices of sweet potato tempura, which paired famously with a squeeze of lemon, spiced mayo and green tea salt.
The usui wagyu red miso consisted of thin pieces of tender beef mixed with vegetables and bathed in a rich and flavoursome sauce. But it was the eight-hour slow cooked soy lamb (for two people) that impressed us the most. Salty, sticky and succulent, it was an interesting and successful Japanese twist on a favourite Aussie dish.
To sweeten the deal, we snatched up a soft-centered chocolate pudding, dusted in matcha powder and served with green tea ice cream, strawberries, pistachio crumble and a drizzle of caramel. I adore Japanese desserts and would love to try the green tea brûlée or black sesame ice cream sundae next time. Although realistically, I’d order the dessert platter. And eat the whole thing.
I would definitely recommend the chef’s menu at Machi; it’s all too easy to order lots of nibbles at mid-range Japanese restaurants and end up with a bill for $80pp. For those who prefer sushi rolls, there are a range of 'machi maki' on offer, with fillings such as Moreton bay bugs and barbecued eel, to green chilli kingfish and tempura tuna.
For the drinkers, there are bubbles, wine, sake, beer and cider or even cocktails (the yuzu kosho with gin, migoriyuzu citrus liqueur and green chilli sounded divine). At the end of our meal, we were treated to a small cup of umeshu, sweet Japanese plum wine. What else could we do but say, “Kanpai” and go bottoms up?