Very cheap eats: March 2009

Hibari, at 479 Malvern Rd., continues to be an extremely popular Japanese restaurant despite low ratings from the AGF. It is small, seats 30, and noisy with simple wooden tables and uncomfortable wood chairs. Despite these deficiencies booking is advisable. We arrived for a midweek meal about 8.30 pm and after a short wait were shown to a recently vacated table. There we waited and waited and waited! I walked down to the business end of the restaurant and picked up some menus. We made our selections, still no attention, so I walked back and took some glasses and a jug of iced water and inquired if it was self service as we were ready to order! A waitress then came back to the table with me. We ordered gyoza, they promised five but sent six, here’s a lone one,

spring rolls, they promised three but sent two cut in half,

and a potato and crab meat entreee, three as promised.

The gyoza were very nicely flavoured, the spring rolls had extremely crisp thin pastry but were a bit thin and dry but the potato and crab meat was particularly good, smooth and moist under a layer of crumbs, they were a subtly flavoured delight. For mains the sukiaki beef was numero uno with a raw egg to stir in if you wished,

I did, and a lovely slightly sweet well balanced sauce. The beef and crumbed pork curry

was gently flavoured. Mild and light and unoffensive I enjoyed it. The mixed seafood served in a pot at $22 the most expensive thing on the menu,

totally bland, despite some sort of putsy sauce which did nothing for it. Very disappointing. Ready to go, and experienced now, I went straight to the cash register. The person in attendance apologised and I paid the remarkably small bill. ($83 which included $4 corkage and a couple of extra bowls of steamed rice.

They have a modest and inexpensive wine list but also accept BYO.

This would rate as the worst service ever. It is a busy little restaurant, full when we arrived and I’m sure this level of neglect is unusual but it certainly makes one feel distinctly unimportant. The food was good and I would go back to try some other dishes despite the initial poor experience. I’m glad tipping is not, as in America, mandatory.

Score 13/20

I instantly like it: Ichi Ni (03 9534 1212), the Izakaya, a Japanese style tavern/pub with food, which was opened last night next to The Espy by the owners of The Espy Vince Sofo and Paul Adamo. It rocks. Yes, there were some blips in service on the first night. But we weren’t even aware that our dishes were taking longer than expected. We were having a great time.

It’s a balmy late summer night. We are sitting on the large terrace enjoying the sunset. Dark clouds hang over Williamstown which is illuminated by shards of lightening. The Vomit of Tasmania sails by. I sup on my half pint glass of Sapporo and life feels good. Jak is enjoying the Tim Smith Adelaide Hill’s Viognier 2008 which I later quaff too. It’s floral, fairly high sugar and goes great with the the tapas style menu and Yakatori, cooked in an open kitchen which has an impressive extraction system. There’s a great selection of wine,beer and saki a mix of crowd pleasers and boutique drinks with some beers and sakis than only Japan geeks will recognise.

The food is the same. Usually I’m a real pedant on how food is described. But since discovering Murphry’s Law I’ve relaxed a bit. Everybody seems to understand tapas as a generic term for small plates of food rather than the Spanish origins. So the “Japanese tapas” menu simply tells the great unwashed what they can expect – small dishes to pick on. We had a small tapas plate of Edamame, burdock roots and, bugger I’ve forgotten what else. We had decent tempura, not aspiring to the pinnacle of Tempura Hajime, but good enough to have us mmmmmming.

All through this the staff are attentive while ironing out the wrinkles of the first night. The onshore breeze blows out the tea light candles that are placed on tables on dishes. The dishes are replaced by newly lit candles in glasses – again again and again.Each time we order something the waiting staff have to boot up their electronic note pads. One gives up and has a notebook as back-up.Another is concerned our food hasn’t arrived. We are having too good a time to care. Apparently there was a mix up in the ordering and the waiter who took our order apologies. I hope he didn’t commit sepuku as we didn’t see him for the rest of the night. Plus he complimented me on my wagyu, unagi (eel) and okra yakatori order – which was also apparently mixed up although we didn’t even notice until we were told.I loved the eel. Jak loved the wagyu. We both mmmmmed our way through the crunchy okra. We were only out for a snack so didn’t have pudding.We spent $105 although about $60 was on booze. But this is a sure fire candidate for Very Cheap Eats because you can eat for under $20 and get a reasonably priced beer, glass of wine or saki.If you are heading for St Kilda, head for Ichi Ni. Tweet-me-up as I may already be on a table across from you. Or if not I’m drop in for a swift one and a quick skewer.Want to review for Very Cheap Eats? Email me.

This is double posted on my own blog Tomato.