Melbourne's Own Iron Chef?
If you're a fan of food, chances are you're a fan of the TV show Iron Chef - a quirky, typically Japanese cooking show involving unusual ingredients and unusual results. I've been a fan of this show for years, and have often wondered what it would be like to try such European influenced Japanese flavours, like those presented by my idol, Hiroyuki Sakai. In Shoya, Melbourne may have found its very own Iron Chef in head Chef Shigeo Nonaka. Be warned: this is not Japanese like you've had before - it's far better!
Shoya actually comprises six levels, each providing a difference experience: from fine dining through to Karaoke (I'd skip the latter!). On the mid level dedicated to fine dining, we were greeted by simple, elegant decor and somewhat traditional Japanese feel, despite the lack of tatami matting. Compared with the surrounding elegance, the disposable wooden snap-type chopsticks were a jarring, out-of-place reminder of the corner noodle house, but were quickly forgotten when the food began to flow.
The menu is almost a small novel, and accordingly diners are encouraged to sample the full range of the chef's dishes from one of the several degustation menus on offer. Changes to the degustation menus are possible, but it's best to speak to the head waiter to request them. We changed only one dish from the menu we chose, replacing a poached salmon with a slow braised ox tongue, due to a recommendation from a friend.
Service for the most part was fairly good, although highly variable. While our head waiter was extremely knowledgeable and competent, some of the more junior wait staff could benefit from a few basic lessons. A few smiles and laughs later though the drinks were in the glass rather than the table - no harm no foul, and a minor hiccup in the grand scheme of things to come.
The winelist is extensive, particularly for an Asian restaurant: we ordered by the glass, but by the bottle offerings are quite good and varied, and while not cheap, the markup is typical for an establishment of this standard. Of particular note is the huge selection of quality Sakes on offer. Although I rarely partake of Sake, the selection would surely boggle the mind of any aficionado.
The food is where Shoya really excels. Each dish is meticulously crafted, from the Sashimi served in an ice bowl, to the 500-day grain fed grade 9 Wagyu beef, each dish is an amazing construction, demonstrating the finest Japanese traditions while constantly expanding the borders of Japanese cuisine. Of particular note were the Unitama (Sea urchin roe, Salmon roe, scrambled egg), Unagi canape (grilled eel, served with crab meat and shaved black truffle) and the dish we added to our menu: Gyu-Tan Koshu-Ni (ox tongue stewed for 2 days with red wine).
All in all, Shoya clearly deserves its chef's hat rating, for the outstanding food, if nothing else. We may never get to taste the food of the Iron Chefs, but perhaps Chef Shigeo can give them a run for their money, and become Melbourne's own Iron Chef?
Shoya Degustation Menu, $150pp
Broiled Duck Shoya Style
Assortment of Sashimi
Crab & Hotate Fillo Age with Namashii Hotate
7 Lucky Godís Sachet
Mixed Rice & Miso Soup
Maude 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)
Yabby Lake 2005 Chardonnay (Mornington)