Shimbashi Soba & Sake Bar

17 Liverpool Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000
03 9654 6727

About a year ago, we had an Udon Bar where the noodles are homemade… and actually they’re kneaded by feet! And now I hear there’s a handmade soba bar. I’m a bit of a sucker for anything handmade, that’s how Shimbashi got onto my food radar, thanks to a blog post by Lauren.

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Further to my parents’ recent trip to Japan, dad has developed a retrospective interest in eating soba. I say retrospective because during their trip, they had no idea how soba was meant to be eaten and mucked up the dipping order of what goes where before it reaches your mouth. And so now, the lessons learnt by them can be passed down to me!

The eatery’s located down a quiet lane way just a little off from the more upmarket restaurants on Bourke St. Ignoring where you came from and how you got there, looking at the night-lit CBD buildings above urges you to imagine (a little) that you’re lost somewhere in a small city in Japan… (I like having an active imagination).

Shimbashi Sake Soba Bar 2Shimbashi Sake Soba Bar 4201

Shimbashi has got a warm homestyle ambience with unfanciful but cute little touches here and there. It feels like an Izakaya type of place… compelling you to relax and unwind with drinks, small eats and a serve of handmade soba. I’ll have to say the beer that dad had there was great, served in an ice-frosted glass.

However, we made one big error when dining here: we ordered all our dishes at one go…

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…and BAM!!! All the dishes arrived within 5-7 minutes, taking up every inch of space on our small table. This made it hard for us to enjoy things slowly… it was disheartening seeing my hot soba broth go cold while I juggled eating bits of everything else.

And then another pet peeve of mine happened during the meal… rude service. Because there was no space on the small table, a staff member arrived with more of our ordered food, and spoke to us in an irritated voice “Do you mind??” as if indicating we had to shift plates to allow the food to be placed down. So here’s honest feedback to the management at Shimbashi, I’d like to say that while most of your service staff are wonderfully friendly, it only takes one unfriendly phrase to spoil a customer’s meal. I wasn’t happy.

Shimbashi Sake Soba Bar 3 Complimentary seaweed salad | Ebi Karaage 8 (deepfried small prawn)

Now that I have voiced my discontent, let’s rewind and go back to all our dishes in closer detail. Dad wanted the ebi karaage because he had a great serve of that during his Japan trip. Not a fan of deep-fried school prawns (a bit of a hyped-up dish in many Melbourne restaurants’ menus), I pandered to his wishes. Shimbashi’s version was crisp, but did not quite hit the mark for dad.

Shimbashi Sake Soba Bar 4207Assorted sashimi (S) 18
14pcs of fresh salmon & kingfish sashimi

The sashimi offerings were fresh and affordably priced (I believe the fish were fresh sourced from Queen Victoria Market). However, mom wasn’t too impressed with how you can still see a silvery lining of skin on the pieces of salmon, not to mention I thought the slices were on the thick side. Also, the sashimi were served against a pungent bed of sliced onion. I think it’d be better served with finely julienned daikon (or carrot) where there’s no strong flavour or smells to take you away from the actual freshness of the fish.

All that said, let’s remember that the fish itself was nice and fresh, so dad enjoyed this.

Shimbashi Sake Soba Bar 4Nasu Dengaku 8 | Agedashi Tofu 8

You can call these two dishes my staple favourites whenever I’m dining Japanese. Unfortunately, Shimbashi’s version let us down a little.

The eggplant was deep fried nicely, but we found the miso sauce excessively sweet. As for the agedashi tofu, the flavour and quality of the tofu was okay at best, I’ve had better at an equivalent price point. And by the time we got around to eating it, it was already soggy from all that soaked sauce.

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Next came the reason why we ate here: the soba noodles… handmade using Tasmanian buckwheat and ground using a Japanese stone mill. Apparently each evening’s soba noodles is ground and handmade fresh everyday.

Shimbashi Sake Soba Bar 6Seiro 10
Chilled plain noodle with dipping sauce

Dad ordered it in what’s probably its most original form… as cold soba noodles served on a mat, with the spring onions and kaeshi dipping sauce on the side. Dad’s seiro was wonderful to eat. The noodles were earthy and flavourful with a nice firm bite and fleeting chewiness. Before slurping it up, just swish the noodles in the dipping sauce (with or without condiments) and enjoy.

However, here’s a secret… the final step (pictured right) won’t be made available unless you specifically ask for it. Dad requested for a bowl of soba-yu, which is the water left after boiling the soba in katsuobushi (bonito) seasoned stock. When you’ve finished your noodles, ask for this buckwheat water broth and pour into your dipping sauce, and drink. Just delicious!

Shimbashi Sake Soba Bar 5Tempura Soba 18
Warm soup noodle with assorted tempura

Being a cold night in early Spring, mom and I ordered hot soba noodle soups rather than cold soba. They both paled in comparison to dad’s simple but traditional seiro. The noodles were softer and the subtleties of flavour in the soba got lost in the soup’s saltiness.

Also, the tempura here wasn’t very good, with thick batter that wasn’t fried to a proper fluffy crispness, and prawns that were so mushy that I couldn’t tell if I was eating prawn meat or flour in the middle.

Shimbashi Sake Soba Bar 7Tororo Soba 17 | Green tea Ice Cream 4.5
Warm soup noodle with Japanese yam, seaweed & lady’s finger

Mum did not enjoy her soba noodle soup either, mainly because it had quite a gooey texture from the okra and pureed Japanese yam. However, we ended our meal nicely with a pleasant serve of matcha ice cream.

I may have come across as harsh in this post, but let me just make a few things clear. While I tend to be intolerant of poor service, I understand that every restaurant has its bad days, and that perhaps we should’ve ordered our food in smaller waves. If you’re dining here, I’d suggest you go at it Izakaya style, starting with drinks and a few dishes… and then ordering more only after you’ve finished what has arrived.

All that said, even though a lot of the dishes did not quite hit the mark for me here, dad still enjoyed this meal a fair bit! And personally, I may still be coming back to sample more of the cold soba offerings. On that note, I’m so thankful that my dad has shown me the traditional way of eating soba, it’s a new dish that I think I will enjoy very much!

You may be interested in following more of dad and mom’s food discoveries in this compilation post: Attack of the Parentals.

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