Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

Also, "a good day to you, sir/maam" for our American pals, "Ni Hao" to China, and "Здравствуй" to our Russian comrades, "etcetera etcetera and so forth"... (for Yul Brynner).

It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Now, what's on the bill of fare today?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Turning Japanese

Is Smith St Fitzroy Becoming Melbourne’s New Little Tokyo?


OK. Obviously this headline is ridiculous. Anyone who’s ever been to Japan knows Tokyo is built up, high tech, far out, domo argiato, and more, whereas Smith St is a kind of down-at-heel Melbourne version of a mini-Brooklyn.

That said, there has been a noticeable decline in French food in my neighbourhood over the last several years, and a big uptake in Japanese restaurants coming through (not to mention every other nationality, including Korean, but we all know you're not allowed to confuse Korean and Japanese!!).

With the growth of the Japanese presence on Smith St in mind, find here a list of new (and not so new) Japanese restaurants in my hood – listed by order of my preference – which might make you feel like you’re Turning Japanese!!

(p.s. you might like to listen to the Vapors play their eighties classic, Turning Japanese, while you read this…)

Shimbashi Japanese and Sake Soba Bar

131 Smith St, Fitzroy

On the site of the old Huxtable restaurant (next door to the Brazilian Copa Cobana and across from the Grace Darling) this is my new favourite Japanese restaurant, and one in a chain (there's one in the CBD too). An open kitchen, lunch specials, and more, the focus is on soba noodles. They advertise how good soba noodles are for you (which they make, from buckwheat that assumedly gets ground by a machine at the door), while you drink sake and beer and think of all the good you’re doing your health.

Wabi Sabi

94 Smith St, Collingwood

An old (“and funky”) stalwart, I believe this place arose when a married couple returned to Melbourne, one of whom is Japanese, and opened their own restaurant. This restaurant features an outside/inside Japanese fit out, bento boxes at lunch, and includes a shoes-off-back-yard-pagoda with kneel tables. Great for take away lunch (open sushi, salads, etc.).

Kinyoubi Izakaya

117 Smith Fitzroy

Apparently an izakaya is a kind of informal Japanese gastropub, comparable to an Irish pub or a Spanish tapas bar; somewhere for after  work nibbles.  I confess to not having been to this place (yet),  walking past and noticing I forgot to include it after posting this article initially, but am placing it fairly high up the chain here as it LOOKS the real deal and online reviews are glowing.  Will go next week and let you know.

Aka Siro

106 Cambridge St, Fitzroy
(no web)

Pretty much tacked onto a carpark down a side street, this place offers little gems and comes across as authentically Japanese in a way only a very small restaurant – that’s tacked onto a car park, with a limited seasonal menu – can.

Peko Peko

94 Smith St, Fitzroy

Ditto Wabi Sabi, as in having been there forever. This place is a little bit “things white people like”, but good none-the-less. A go-to for their Katsu curries.

Neko Neko

83A Smith St, Fitzroy
(no web)

The new “vegan ramen” joint on the corner of Gertrude and Smith St (pretty much at the tram stop), they do black rolls and salads in take away containers. Good vegetarian options here.


270 Smith St, Collingwood
(no web)

Ah yes, Shoubu. Best value for money, homely Japanese cooking down near the Flight Centre. You can get a little lost in a crowd of five patrons though as young staff get confused about what they’re doing. Japanese tunes on the radio.

Hinoki Japanese Pantry

279 Smith St, Fitzroy

Sushi, sure. But can you sell me some crap to take home? You can?? Yes, that’s right, a little Japanese supermarket to buy your favourite snacks and packaging with cartoon animals on it. Fantastic!


70 Smith St, Collingwood
(no web)

OK, this place has also been there forever, and is run by (I think) a married couple/family, with the chef standing behind the counter. A little lacking in atmosphere, with kind of office tiling, this place does make me think occasionally “there is nothing as sad as a sad Japanese man”. Still, the food is very good.

Pabu Grill and Sake

190 Smith St

In no way is this authentically authentic. They’d as soon have you think they were Vietnamese (they own the “pho” store next door), but this place is cheap and cheerful.  May have run into some health inspection trouble a couple of years ago... (well I did say I'd listed these places in order of preference!)

Other joints you might try include:

Hanabi Sushi
331 Smith St

Momo Sushi
361 Smith St

Shop Ramen
329 Smith St

Not to mention about a dozen other Asian restaurants in between which cover Korean (White Kimchi), Vietnamese, Chinese, Malay and more.

But there you have it, an itch I've had to scratch in a documentation sense. The French are out, the Japanese are in – in a culinary sense – in our hood. If I’ve left out any gems (or otherwise), let me know by clicking the comments button below!

Last but not least I'll leave you with some scenes from a film called Orgazmo.  I wonder when G Fresh Sushi will come to Fitzroy???