[invite] Bianca: Japanese food has always been a mysterious creature to me, full of dishes I cannot pronounce, flavours that challenge my palate and until recently, the one cuisine that champions everything I could not previously stomach – sashimi/sushi. Cue years later and I’m constantly recruiting friends to join me on my Japanese food hunts.
Residing just below The Bridge Room is Tokonoma with a clear focus on seasonal and traditional Japanese food. This last year we’ve been blown away by owner Matt Yazbek’s other restaurants; Cubbys Kitchen & Crown Street Fish Shop.
The venue itself is dark and moody, a perfect spot for a date. The service is outstanding, seamless yet unobtrusive and manager Florian happily guided us through the food and drinks menu.
Alex and I had visited NOBU in Melbourne in early October and I have to say on flavour alone I much enjoyed the food here at Tokonoma. Finding it much bolder and interesting.
The Kingfish, truffle ponzu, picked daikon and chives $19 with paper-thin delicate slices of tender kingfish, accented by the slightly acidic ponzu. The pickled diced daikon was a great touch to add some crunch.
For Sashimi lovers, I’d suggest splurging for the Sashimi Omakase / daily selection $64. Beautifully plated and served on ice. With our standouts being the salmon, tuna belly and most surprising of all, the scallop. Our only point of different to other sashimi was the thickness of each slice. It wasn’t clunky but it was noticeably larger than other sashimi we’ve had.
The Signature Maki Rolls $16 are an absolute pre-requisite. I find sushi to be quite awkward to eat if it’s not done right. The California Roll was unique in its own traditional way. A very clean tasting few bites, with an effective ‘burst’ from the salmon roe. And a slight twist with the prawn filling more akin to a puree rather than a traditional fillet.
The Soft Shell Crab Roll is thus far the undisputed soft shell crab sushi king in my books! I love the fact they managed to incorporate different elements of the crab into the rolls. Even with the little confronting dangling legs pointing skywards. I find they sometimes teeter on being overbearingly oily and sickly but these were beautiful.
We took a slight dip with the Wagyu Nigiri, horseradish, eschallots and chives $18 for 2. Probably our least favourite dish, the flavours were delicate which may have been a detriment. To me, it tasted like a simple, under seasoned thin slice of chewy wagyu atop sushi rice. There was nothing particularly innovative or tasty enough for me to want to order it again. I liked the kick of the horseradish but it was a job the wasabi could have easily provided.
Seriously over ordering, we ploughed on. I was legitimately BLOWN away by the Spicy fried tofu, avocado salsa and barley miso $14. A crispy exterior gave way to a creamy burst. Tofu in and of itself is nothing to write home about. But this dish was easily elevated by that barley miso and avocado mixture. The chilli was mild but it did linger slightly on the back-end of each bite.
The Zucchini Flower w/ tofu feta $16 for 2. Was another stand-out, I don’t think any of us were expecting such a complete wallop to the palate with that first bite. It was crispy, creamy and salty and texturally, depending on whether it whether you were biting into the stalk or the filled flower each bite was completely different. And best of all, the batter was light, unobtrusive and oil-free.
So my little comparison to NOBU wasn’t completely baseless. With Tokonoma doing a very similar dish to Nobu Matsuhisa’s famed miso black cod. With there Black Cod, saikyo miso and pickled ginger $42. Hands down for me this was much more luscious and velvety than Nobu’s version. It was swimming in a thick buttery sauce and the cod flaked away at the lightest prod. The caramelised miso adorning the fish was the tippy top prized bits of fish we fought over. I’d go back for the cod alone.
Alex was pushing for the Moreton Bay Bug Tempura, yuzu koshou mayonnaise and ponzu $34. Little morsels of plump meat, encased within a tempura batter. I shied away from the yuzu mayo after one bite, finding it unenjoyably citrusy for my tastes. I actually found myself dipping my ‘nuggets’ into my soy/wasabi combo on the side.
And the final for the savoury, Silk Eggplant w/ tama miso $15. Soft and unctuous, there was a slight peanut butter(ines) from the tama miso. A miso sauce enriched with egg yolks to make for an even creamier and velvetier sauce. The soft texture threw Ness off but I couldn’t stop eating this dish.
Designated dessert stomachs are a total thing and we couldn’t not finish on something sweet. Settling on the Yamakazi Sundae, coffee mousse, chocolate sorbet and honeycomb $17. A 1000 times yes, it was like digging for treasure with surprises to be found within each spoonful. The caramelised honeycomb was a brilliant textural element, as well as little chunks of brownie pieces. The cream was an initial concern but after one mouthful I was proven wrong, light and airy and acting as a great combatant to the richness of the other elements.
Servings are on the small side and prices are on the upper end of the scale. But for food of this quality, I have no qualms recommending Tokonoma for lovers of not only Japanese food but good food. Go now!
Photos by Alex
*For Food’s Sake dined as guests of Tokonoma. But all opinions and thoughts are our own and independent.