Buried deep within the confines of China Town in the CBD, Shoya is a restaurant recommended by many for its modern spin on traditional Japanese Omakase cuisine. Would Japanese master-chef Shigeo Nonaka live up to his reputation for unique and exquisite flavours?
Settling into the restaurant, we couldn’t help but notice the various levels of the restaurant, catering to just about every dining purpose and style including fine dining, sushi bars, karaoke rooms and smokeless Japanese style BBQ. With such a breadth of dining, I briefly wondered if they had perhaps spread themselves a little too thin. Nonetheless, I awaited with baited breath as we were seated in the fine dining area opting for Shoya Chef’s Omakase Course at $150 per person.
Starting out the 13 course menu was the Salmon Carpaccio Shoya style. This single slice of salmon topped with black truffles honestly failed to elicit any real lasting taste sensation and we were slightly taken aback by the serving size. Would this be another one of those meals that required a second dinner?
What followed were a series of starters ranging from Steamed Chicken Mince mixed with Japanese Sweet Plum to Baby Abalone served in their own shells lightly accented by small cream cheese cubes. The steamed chicken seemed like a dish that could have been replicated fairly easily in our own home, whereas the baby abalone was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The Hatching Ocean Eggs which consisted of egg custard, spinach puree and tempura scampi tail was a wonder to watch. The wait staff brought out the egg shells in a wooden box and scooped them gently onto a bed of salt. At this stage of the meal, I was literally prepared for anything. The presentation and variety of food was outstanding. It was indeed (so far) a very unique culinary journey.
As the chefs were preparing the next dish, one of the attentive wait staff brought out a small shaving board with a delicate piece of wasabi root. Apparently, raw wasabi served like this was a rarity and most Japanese restaurants opt for the powder or pre-packed variety. Once the wait staff shared that raw wasabi can cost up to $150 per kg, we could see why.
The Sake Poached Oyster, served in a tall wine glass was elegantly presented with a Japanese touch of practicality too. After consuming the oyster, you would then drink the sake from the wine glass. Neat and tidy. The texture of the oyster was soft and delicate, while the taste was a perfect balance of sweet, bitter and acidity. The next course was the signature presentation dish. Carved from a block of pure ice, a perfectly round orb was served on a bed of ice. Within the block of ice was a small opening that contained a selection of Sashimi. The premium grades were fresh, cold and perfectly cut. This was, to me, presentation of Japanese food like I had never seen it before. The sashimi coupled with the fresh wasabi melded together well. I found the wasabi not overly harsh or pungent, and according to the staff, this was how wasabi was supposed to be consumed.
It was indeed (so far) a very unique culinary journey.
After two more courses consisting of a Green Tea Wrapped Quail and a Whole “Taraba” Crab Leg Tempura served with a small side dish of green tea powder and salt, a palette cleanser came out topped with Caviar. Then a rich Green Tea Soba scame erved in a blend of Lobster, Bonito and Fish Stock. The stock tasted as if they had been boiling it for many days, as it had an overpowering seafood flavour that was exquisite. Before we got to the next course, it has to be made clear that at this stage, I was at my (considerable) limits of food consumption, and it wasn’t for lack of hunger. This was a feast and the courses seemed to keep coming and coming. As it was, the Wagyu Steak arrived with Mixed Rice and Miso Soup, and my fuel tank had the warning indicator blinking rapidly. The steak was cooked to perfection (medium-rare to medium) and the mushroom and truffle sauce gave the steak a sweet pungent taste that went well with the meaty texture. The side of Foie Gras was really an addition that gave the overall dish a level of richness that, in all honestly, wasn’t completely necessary at this stage of the meal.
The desserts were both a standard and odd fare, some Uni (Sea Urchin) Cheesecake that had hardly any Uni taste and something else in green tea flavour that I can’t even remember. Suffice to say, nothing memorable about the desserts.
The wait staff were professional, cordial and paid attention to detail, answering any questions we had about our food or the restaurant itself. Our food arrived on a relaxed pace and we were never too rushed or waited too long for a course to arrive. Drinks that were ordered were served almost immediately and the tables were cleared fairly regularly during the whole meal.
In the end, Shoya is an above average fine-dining modern Japanese restaurant that delivers in flavour, style and ambience. The major star of the dining experience was the presentation and quality of food. While the tastes of the culinary combinations may have seemed outlandish and even sometimes a little offputting, one can’t help but admire the variation and originality of the courses altogether.Restaurant Details
25 Market Ln
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Tel: 03 9650 0848