MIYABI 339 Elizabeth St, North Hobart Licensed Monday- Saturday, from 5pm 6234 6838
UPSTAIRS, above their street- level counter of takeaway sushi, at wooden tables surrounded by colourful Kabuki kites and tapestries, and with regular shouts of “onegaishimasn” from the kitchen and replies of “itadakimasn” from the black- Samurai- baddie- dressed fl oor staff, Miyabi is like no other Japanese restaurant in Tasmania.
Opened a year ago as a “traditional Japanese restaurant”, it is actually styled more along the lines of what the Japanese call an “isakaya”, a sort of casual village eatery or pub where, according to part- owner and chef Akihiro Nakamura, “Japanese enjoy their nights together eating and drinking”.
From a 45- item menu extending well beyond the sorts of dishes I expect of a Japanese restaurant, I asked he simply send me those he considered the most authentic.
What I got, I suspect, was an assortment of traditional dishes and those that were the most popular.
We started with refreshingly dark and salty miso soup with fl oating strips of wakame, followed by the house salad – a mix of cucumber batons, tomato and baby spinach and beetroot leaves with rice paper crisps and a sweetish, house- made dressing.
Then came eight beautifully fl avoured pork and spring onion gyoza – without doubt, the best dumplings we’ve had in Hobart – with a vinegar, sesame, soy and spring onion dipping sauce, the dumplings steamed and served on a sizzling hot cast- iron tappan plate to crisp their bottoms.
Four different crumbed and deep- fried kebabs – chicken, beef, pork and scallops – were presented in a half basket, the accompanying soy- vinegar dipping sauce the only thing that, to my mind, were suggestive of Japan.
Then followed fried tofu in a thick, sweetish homemade sauce, a melting, sweet- sour marinated half eggplant topped with crisped beef crumbles and presented in a lacquered boat and – best of the night – aburi- nigirir sushi of salmon, the fi sh still raw but carrying a lovely hint of smokiness from the light touch of a blowtorch with the fresh lift of ponzu.
When I raised the question of just what was and wasn’t authentic or traditional Japanese food, Aki said Westerners were “pre- conditioned to what they think is traditional or authentic about Japanese food”.
“But tempura – the word, the batter and the technique – came to us with Portuguese missionaries a few centuries ago and we’ve been assimilating new ingredients and techniques ever since,” he said.
“Things change with every generation, particularly in the less formal izakaya- style eateries and on the street.
“For example, the latest craze in Japan is cheese with avocado, coated with tempura and deep fried. That’s the sort of thing, the latest popular food trends, that my brother- in- law – who has a restaurant in Saitama in Japan – keeps us up to date on. So it’s now on our menu here.
“But the maki sushi rolls you see here fi lled with avocado, for example, are not traditional – they’re Californian. Our rolls are more savoury, with fi llings like fermented bean paste wrapped in shiso leaves.”
Perusing the menu, I was disappointed I hadn’t tried things such as the seaweed salad and Osaka’s famous okonomiyaki pancake, and that, on such an extensive menu, there weren’t any Japanese pickled dishes. But there will be shortly, Aki assured me, made by his Japanese chef wife.
So, as we and other diners left to a chorus of “mata kitekudasai” from the staff, we assured them we would be back, for the very special atmosphere they’ve created, the pancake and, I hope, some delicious pickles.
Miso soup $ 2.50; bowl of rice $ 2.50; udon noodle stir fry $ 12; aburi salmon ponzu $ 12.50; sashimi platter $ 14.80; three- course menus $ 35-$ 36.