Love the space, perfect for a nice catchup meal esp on a weeknight
Is it just me or does anyone else feel like the food scene in Smith St is getting more and more interesting these days? There's a growing number of new, exciting restaurants along that strip that I'd love to try and Smith St does very well have the potential to be the next "hot spot" for the Melb food scene.
What brought me here to Pabu Grill & Sake was an e-mail I received from the owner, Khoa, asking whether I'd like to come in to eat at his restaurant one of these days because he's got a story to share...
Great. I'm all about stories, inspirations and good memories behind Food (and not just what's on the plate). As I've also mentioned, Smith St's food scene has slowly been grabbing my attention more and more these days. PLUS, the fact that it's an Izakaya concept caught my attention even more (after being far from impressed and not seeing what the big deal is about with the "famous" Izakaya Den).
Along with 2 of my mates, we headed over to Pabu after work last week and must say I liked the vibe of the place from the moment I walked in... Cool, casual, relaxed. Recipe for a good Izakaya setting.
After taking a look at the menu ourselves and going by Khoa's recommendations for the "signature" dishes, we eagerly waited for our food to arrive...
Hamachi Sashimi - $14
Kingfish served with yuzu soy and thin slices of jalapeno chilli
Fresh! Interesting as we were advised to roll the fish from the outer end, encasing the chilli so we could make sure we got a bit of everything. Kingfish/jalapeno/ginger yuzu soy together, it's all very good.
Renkon Chips - $5
Sliced lotus root chips
Chips were semi thick, crunchy and just nicely salted.
Edamame - $6
Lightly salted soy beans
Edamame, however, was on the salty end. But we were only eating the beans in the pod, so no dramas.
Pabu Sumiyaki Set - $16.50
Includes 5 mixed skewers: tsukune (chicken balls), yakitori (chicken thigh), chilli inari kushi (bean curd), gyu kushi (beef), buta kushi (pork belly)
Liked everything! Some were a tiny tad on the salty side but I didn't mind. It was still amazingly grilled and each brought beautiful flavours, fun platter to share.
Khoa was also telling us about how they use bamboo (instead of charcoal) for the grilled meats to make it more environmentally friendly and also give a subtle arome to the meat.
Hotate - $5
Large juicy scallops with bacon and wasaby mayo
These skewers at the front have been blurred out but they were really delicious! The flavourful bacon with the wasabi mayo (which wasn't overpowering and just nice) was so good with the scallops. Love it.
Watari Kani Karaage - $10
Soft shell crab lightly coated and deep fried, served with lettuce and herbs dipped in spicy mayo
LIKE. I find most places to overcoat their soft shelled crabs with batter (so you end up eating mostly fried flour) but not this. You could still taste the meat because this was perfectly light, thin and crisp on the outside.
I also liked that our piece has got lots of crab roe in the meat. Huge brownie points for me, personally because I enjoy that. Though, not entirely sure about serving it with rocket leaves. Baby spinach might've been better?
Sake Aburi Sashimi - $14
Slices of salmon lightly seared with hot sesame oil, ponzu soy, ginger, spring onion and roasted sesame seeds, 8 pieces
Really liked this! The thick chunk of salmon was seared nicely before being sliced up (as opposed to searing individual slices). Great texture and every other component paired the fish very well. Enjoyed this a lot.
I'm sure my friend Winnie (aka my aburi salmon buddy) would like this too!
Nasu Dengaku - $9
Grilled eggplant with sweet and spicy mayo
Bit sweeter for my liking but still liked eating this because of how nicely grilled the eggplant was. Everything was soft and tender with no tough, rubbery bits.
Ebi Karaage - $8
Crispy marinated spicy prawns with spicy mayo and sweet chilli sauce
FAVOURITE dish of the night! Marinade was delicious and prawns were incredibly crunchy, especially the head.
But what I liked most is that the prawns were almost medium in size (as opposed to the tiny school prawns). That way, you can totally taste and bite into the meat as well. Fantastic marinade too.
Though, I couldn't help but think it would've been even more kickass if they used Sriracha chilli (instead of sweet chilli) mayo for this... Still, SO GOOD. Enjoyed every single piece of this.
Overall, I really like Pabu. I thought all the dishes were good and the setting was really nice and inviting, perfect for a chilled out meal with friends after work over drinks.
Best part was that the prices were REALLY reasonable (see above). Khoa explained how he personally feels that most Izakaya places in Melbourne are overpriced (ahem, totally agree!) and his aim was to price it in a way that people feel comfortable enough coming to dine here twice a week, as opposed to once a month. This is also why you can always find regulars coming back to this 7 week old establishment.
Personally, I feel that even if I end up paying $30+ as I would at other Izakayas in Melbourne, at least I get to eat a whole LOT more in terms of variety here too. Another reason why I feel lots of people would really identify with this place, is because of the story it tells. It really is by customers (and lover of Izakaya food) for customers, and it shows.
Besides the great pricing, I really like how there was SO much to choose from in the menu. Now, THIS is the kind of Izakaya meal I enjoy. It was one that appealed to everyone and we would've loved to eat more if only we had the stomach space.
And don't hate me for saying, but I really did find my experience at Izakaya Den to be mediocre and underwhelming and would gladly eat at Pabu over that place any day. I know a few friends who have been there since I posted pictures of my meal here on Instagram and thought the same too.
This may sound like a generous review, but hey, I call it as I see (or taste) it, "sponsored" or not. Now, my only hope is that they continue to keep up the good work. Do give this place a go and let me know how you go. As for me, I'm definitely going to take my family here for a nice Jap meal sometime in the next 2 weeks... =)
Disclaimer: Winston and friends dined here as a Guest of Pabu Grill & Sake at a discounted price. All opinions are honest and based on my own personal experience at the time.