In support of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, Beer DeLuxe at Fed Square have set up a Japanese “secret” beer garden with a special menu and beers imported from Japan.
When I received an email inviting me to check it out, I was sold at Japanese beer garden. I took Alastair along with me to have a look, and we walked in from the Flinders Street entrance. The outdoor area facing Flinders Street has been modified with a structure of bamboo screens and a noren curtain. Past the curtain, is a courtyard, with an outdoor bar to one side and tables and chairs on the other. It made me wonder where the secret part came in.
We met up with Janis from Beer DeLuxe, who took us on a quick walk around. It turns out that apart from the entrance and the outside bar, there was a small part hidden off to one side, behind white Japanese curtains – ahh I got the secret part then! We were told that it was modelled on a Japanese tea garden, and it was much quieter than the rest of the bar.
I particularly liked the lanterns hanging up in the area, which were surrounded by hand folded paper cranes. Cute!
After our little tour, it was time for food. Quentin, the chef, came out and we had an enjoyable discussion about the menu and the simplicity and flavours of Japanese food, and the importance of presentation. A big thanks to Quentin for taking time out from his evening to chat to us.
This was the gyu tataki – very lightly seared eye fillet with citrus ponzu dressing and a small smattering of Japanese chilli flakes. The quality of the meat was evident – there was nothing to hide behind in this dish. The meat was very rare, very tender and delicious. I could have eaten buckets of this!
We tried the gyuniku negimaki, which were thin slices of grilled eye fillet wrapped around spring onions in teriyaki sauce. I loved the crunch of the spring onions with the meat.
Another item I really liked were the skewers of grilled salmon coated with a mixture of teriyaki and yakitori sauce. The salmon was good, perfectly cooked, with the subtle sauce not masking the flavour of the fish. Behind the salmon we had some crunchy seaweed salad.
We also tried the karaage, little tender and moist pieces of fried chicken which had been marinated with soy, garlic and ginger and then deep fried. You can’t go wrong with fried chicken, no you can’t.
We had the opportunity to taste a couple of the beers available as part of the Japanese beer garden. One was the Temple Soba ale, which is made with toasted buckwheat! Did you know that Australia is apparently the third largest producer of buckwheat? The buckwheat gave the beer an interesting nutty aroma. We also tried the Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale, which I seem to recall being told that it was made with rice (someone correct me if I’m wrong!). This was particularly interesting, ever so slightly fruity and very drinkable.
Not that we got sick of beer, but if we had, we could have moved on to these Japanese soft drinks. Alastair loves these because the bottles use marbles as a plug – such a gimmick (but I must admit it’s very cool).
Alternatively, we could have hit the cocktail list. One we tried was the Ginger Ninja, which was made with jasmine tea infused with 42Below Vodka, sake, cucumber and ginger beer. This was very sweet – possibly a bit too sweet – although I did like the cucumber that came through at the end.
Speaking of sweet, when we were chatting to Quentin, he recommended dessert – which turned out to be mochi ice cream.
Have I mentioned how much I love mochi before? My mochi love also extends to mochi ice cream, which is a small ball of ice cream surrounded by a thin layer of chewy mochi. (You can also buy these at Asian grocery stores around the city.)
As we were eating the mochi ice cream, one of the staff members folded an origami flower. Isn’t it gorgeous? I was so impressed that I had to take it home and it’s now sitting on my book shelf.
And finally, just before we left, Alastair and I both chose a fortune paper. As we were leaving we tied our fortunes on to the robes hanging by the entrance. I can’t recall what my fortune said now, but hopefully it said something about a long life filled with love, good food and many more trips back to Japan. 😉
It’s a shame that the structure is being taken down at the end of March, but I’m glad I got to see it and try some of the food and beer. A huge thanks to Janis for taking time out from her evening to show us around and chat with us.
Disclosure: Our food and drinks were courtesy of Beer DeLuxe.
Shinobi Japanese Secret Beer Garden at Beer DeLuxe
Cnr Swanston & Flinders Street,
Times & Dates: 12 noon – 11:45pm, daily until Sunday, 28 March 2010.
Telephone: 03 9663 0166