Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Kenji Japanese Dining, Camberwell

Don't you just love it when you see sushi chefs in action?

Crab Cream Croquette - $6.50

Soft Shell Crab Roll - $10.50
Crispy soft shell crab, avocado, spicy creamy sauce, sesame seeds

Tuna Tataki - $10.50
Lightly grilled freshly sliced tuna served with ponzu onion sauce

Beef Hamburg Steak (Spicy) - $13.00
Japanese style beef patty with Teriyaki sauce

Gourmet Sushi and Sashimi Set (on a boat) - $38.00

Matcha Cheesecake - $6.50
Japanese style homemade green tea cheesecake

Matcha Creme Brulee - $6.50

If you met my Dad, you'd be able to tell right away that he's a simple man. A man of few words and humble desires. His entire life revolves around simple pleasures, his family and nothing more. And I mean this literally. Dad always says to me that he hasn't found a single thing that makes him happier than hearing the laughter of his grandson. NO interest in luxurious holidays, expensive restaurants, material things whatsoever, not my Dad. Never have, never will. Very different to Mum, who does enjoy the finer things from time to time. But only because she had a very long, highly successful but mind you, EXTREMELY stressful job for 30 years and is finally reaping the fruits of her labour after all this time. I really do hope I have a career that is even half as successful as hers.

In fact for Dad, a few years ago we realised that his car was getting so worn out it was costing him so much to take it to the mechanic every couple of weeks. We as a family begged him to finally get himself a new car. It took him a really, really long time to come around to the idea. Even after then, he missed his old car so much that he stopped driving the new one completely and went back to his old one. That's Dad.

Whenever Dad visits Melbourne, he's more than happy to cook and eat in every meal of the day, every day of the week, with the exception of one trip to Pacific House Richmond for his roast duck fix. To him, there's so much great produce that gets him excited at the market and he finds cooking at home much more satisfying than any meal we get outside. Here, Dad has the luxury of time to spend as much time as he wishes to relax and do just that.

Dad loves to experiment and you should see how Dad hums to himself as he cooks in the kitchen. That, my friends, is the sight of someone who is truly enjoying his time in the kitchen and it is really endearing to see. I guess, in many ways, you can tell I am very much my parents' son as I inherit a lot of their traits, especially when it comes to their interests and philosophy on food.


There I go, getting sidetracked again. This is what happens whenever I start thinking about my family. I wanted to write an intro to this post by simply saying we came here one Friday night when Dad was in town because he wanted something simple and Japanese (but I got carried away). We came here one Friday night after work after hearing about this place from my friend PJ =)

The setting was rather humble, low key and felt very inviting to us. We started off with the croquettes. We realised that the inside was still fridge cold when we bit into it so we spoke to the waiter, who was extremely apologetic and brought us out a fresh plate in no time. Very grateful for that. We must say it was a winner second time around. Piping hot and crunchy on the outside, super creamy and gooey in the middle almost like melted cheese. Delicious.

The soft shell crab roll was slightly on the salty side but still crunchy and juicy in the middle, very enjoyable to eat. The tataki was slightly average, I must say. Not much torched flavour and no variance in flavour for dressing except for being salty, a rather one dimensional dish. It would have made a fair difference if they had introduced some citrus in the soy sauce or even little drizzles of sesame oil.

Next, we had the hamburg steak, which is something you normally find at these kind of casual Japanese dining establishments and also something I order often when I get the chance. It was bang full of flavour, incredibly tasty and everyone's favourite dish of the night. The meat was super beefy in flavour and the mince was so soft, moist and tender. The spicy kick was great too. We honestly loved this very much and could not get enough of it.

Before we knew it, they brought out the highlight of the evening, the sushi boat. I love sushi boats. This one was definitely more unique than many other ones because of the variety it offered. There were assorted fish (kingfish, tuna, salmon), prawns, scallop, squid, calamari, cuttlefish, sardine, sea urchin and even a few variety of sea conchs/clams. You rarely see these being served in restaurants here (especially the conchs and sardine) but they were my favourite part about the sashimi boat. So, so delicious. The fish themselves weren't the freshest but it is actually quite acceptable still. I'm just being a bit more nitpicky than I should, it's actually alright.

As for desserts, wouldn't say it was great as the cheesecake was quite dense and slightly burnt on the outside. Brulee could've been slightly under too as it began to taste a bit eggy and lacked the smooth texture. Still, what I liked about the desserts is that they actually served it with a yamamomo berry (aka mountain peach), which is actually really, really Japanese ingredient and another thing I haven't seen around Melbourne. Such a surprise to see and it definitely says a lot about how authentically Japanese they are.

Overall, Kenji is a quaint little Japanese establishment that is perfect for a casual and affordable meal. Oh, and they serve free Japanese green and barley tea too! The service is great and even though it may not be the most refined of quality, there are many places people could go for that sort of thing anyway. Sometimes, all you want is a place that's fuss free and comforting, which is exactly what Kenji is. We weren't looking for a place to spend excessive amount of money on Japanese fine dining that evening. A satisfying meal was had here and a great place to unwind on a Friday night after a hectic week too, if I may add.

Being in the same category of cheap, humble but tasty Japanese food in Melbourne, I would definitely keep this place in mind but still recommend Shyun in Carnegie and Aoba in Malvern too. Oh, you can forget about Samurai in Hawthorn. Would definitely come back here!

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