Shoya Nouvelle Wafu Cuisine
Being Summer, I tend to go for meals and cuisines that are lighter on the palate. That’s why my dinner excursions seem to revolve around discovering Melbourne’s Japanese food scene. Shoya was recommended to me by Fakegf, who had some pretty splendid sushi there, so I dutifully paid a visit one hot Summer’s evening.
Shoya sits quietly in a laneway just off Chinatown’s Lt Bourke St, a mere few doors from the quite widely acknowledged Flower Drum Restaurant. Its interior is dark, minimalist, and… typical of our fine city’s laneway’d buildings, it starts off narrow but extends vertically into a few floors of dining.
This being our first time, I got quite envious when I spied counter seating at the sushi bar. Next time, I’ll book seats there and watch the fish-slicing action close-up!
Boiled and lightly salted young soy beans
Miso Shiru 4.50
Soy bean paste (miso) soup with seaweed, tofu, and chopped green onions
Traditional clear seaweed soup with a light flavour
While our waiter wasn’t Japanese (from his accent anyway), he provided very good service. I get my days where I want to order a crazy amount of things, so I quite simply listed all of the dishes that appealed to me. He then charted for us a ‘flow’ of dishes into a few ‘courses’ that made sense. We had browsed the degustation menu the day before as well, but it seemed to be more fusiony (and risky), hence my decision to go a la carte.
We started with a classic serve of edamame, boiled simply. Traditional Japanese soups then arrived to accompany the sashimi course that was coming up next. We were very impressed with the soups… they were clean, light and authentic. Not to mention sensibly priced.
Special Omakase Sashimi 65.00
Chef’s selection of the premier parts of the fishes. A great variety, including toro and various shellfish.
The great thing about dining with those who appreciate Japanese food is how we can dive headlong into the best sashimi platters on the menu without worrying whether it’ll raise eyebrows. My companion and I wanted more premium cuts of fish rather than (boring) squares of salmon and blood-red akami maguro (lean tuna). Our accommodating waiter was also happy to scale down the dish (usually priced at $85) into a smaller $65 configuration that would suit two diners.
Reconstituted wasabi (left) | freshly hand-grated wasabi (right)
Our waiter then arrived with a fresh wasabi root and started to hand-grate it right before us. That was such a spectacle to behold! He explained that the wasabi comes from a farm in Tasmania. They grow 25kg of wasabi a week (priced at $180/kg), and Shoya orders in 4kg weekly.
We discovered that freshly hand-grated wasabi is milder tasting with a faint perfumed sweetness. Eating it, you don’t really get that characteristic overpowering (yeowch!) rush-to-the-nose that you sometimes get when eating its (artificially-green) powdered cousin.
Back to the fish platter, I’ll have to say this was one of the finest sashimi platter that I’ve had in Melbourne to date. It included hamachi toro (yellowtail kingfish belly), king george whiting, red snapper, blue-eyed cod, hokki gai (surf clam), akami (lean tuna), chutoro (tuna belly), shake toro (salmon belly), ikura (salmon roe), uni (sea urchin), scallops and scampi.
Most of the cuts were impeccably fresh. The white fish held clean textures and clean finishes, the shellfish sweet, while the bellied pieces came buttery soft. Only the chutoro was on the squishy side, sullied with the faintest hint of fish belly. The uni (sourced from Tasmania) tasted characteristically seabed-ish, but I think that’s just my nose, it’s probably as fresh as you can get it in Australia.
I think the only reason why I could pick apart the quality difference in the chutoro and uni was because I’ve dined at Shinji by Kanesaka in Singapore (The Tokyo branch holds two-michelin stars). And to be fair, the (oh-my-gosh-so-farken-good!) chutoro that I had then probably costs A$40 a piece. That meal at Shinji was the most expensive meal I’ve paid for in my life.
Salmon Toro Aburi 7.00
Flame-seared salmon toro
Smooth marbled texture of the tuna belly
Our visit to Shoya had to include a small sampling of its sushi, since that’s what this place is famed for. I’m happy to say the sushi here does live up to its reputation. The sushi rice had a delicate, sweet-vinegary flavour with a soft but still-discrete bite.
Grilled fish of the day 25.00
Selected by the chef, lightly salted and grilled then served with Ponzu on side.
Being quite a hot Summer’s evening, we continued with more light dishes. My dining companion loved the fresh simplicity of this grilled dory, it went nicely with both the squeezed lemon and the ponzu (soy vinaigrette) sauce.
Tempura Prawn Zaru Soba 18.50
Zaru soba with assorted prawn and vegetable tempura
Chawan Mushi 8.50
Steamed egg omelette with chicken, prawn, gingko nut
We finally carbed up a teeny bit over a pleasing cold soba with tempura dish. We liked the dipping sauce in particular, a light mix of Japanese soy, dashi and mirin… almost drinkable on its own!
The chawanmushi (savoury egg custard) was the last savoury dish to arrive, but it was another of the meal’s highlights. Like the sashimi platter, this cup of stands as the best chawanmushi I’ve had in Melbourne to date. Flawlessly smooth and cleanly infused with pristine dashi, and inside… a sparingly delicate spread of simple ingredients. Exactly how I like it.
Sake / Sochu Sorbet 8.00
Shoya’s special own sorbet with Sake, Shochu and Japanese bitter orange Dai Dai, topped off with Beluga black Russian caviar, the perfect palate cleanser
Kurogoma Panacotta 9.50
Smooth black sesame panacotta dusted with soy bean and green tea powder
Our dessert choices revolved around a refreshing sorbet and a favourite Asian dessert ingredient – black sesame. The sorbet ended up tasting rather weird. It came in a tiny glass and had notes of pickled Japanese plums topped with briny black caviar. But the black sesame dessert was a delight to eat and it came with a shot glass of silky soy milk pudding.
I know my Japanese food discovery in Melbourne is still somewhat nascent, but Shoya stands as one of the best Japanese restaurants I’ve dined at so far. The pricing was also pretty good value for the type of (premium) dishes that we selected.
I plan to continue exploring more Japanese restaurants in Melbourne, with places such as Kenzan, Koko and Ocha on my wishlist. But there’s one thing we know, Shoya has now set the benchmark for the quality that we expect within the Japanese culinary framework of this fine city.