Review: Marae Izakaya, Chadstone

Growing up as a teen in the Eastern suburbs, Chadstone Shopping Centre was the place to go. I have fond memories of catching the 75 tram and then the 903 bus to Chadstone on a Saturday, wiling away the hours window-shopping or catching a movie with friends in the afternoon. 

In fact, the very first movie I ever went to was at Chadstone. My poor suffering father took me to see the cartoon classic Thumbelina, and promptly fell asleep in the cinema, snoring loudly next to me as I watched the screen with rapt attention and dreamed of flying with a fairy prince.


Given my recent residence in Sydney, I hadn’t explored Chadstone since they started renovations a few years ago. One weekend late in 2016, I decided on a role reversal and took my dad out to Chadstone, treating him to a meal at Marae Izakaya in the new dining district, just as he’d treated me to a movie as a child.


We started with a drink each in their waiting area – a Kanpai Samurai cocktail ($14AUD) for Dad who has been enjoying his cocktails, and a more sedate House Made Iced Mint Green Tea ($6AUD) for me. Made with sake (naturally), the sweetness of the apple juice in Dad’s cocktail was offset by the slight tang of a twist of lemon. Very dangerously drinkable! My iced green tea was very strong and slightly on the bitter side – which I like, but I imagine others would find challenging.


Before long, we were shown to two spare stools at the sushi train. There’s ample variety of dishes on the conveyor belt. Unlike other sushi trains, there’s only two prices you need to worry about at Marae Izakaya – all dishes are $4.50AUD each, except for the ‘premium’ dishes on floral plates which cost $8AUD. It’s certainly not a bargain sushi train experience unlike places like Ozeki Sushi in Sydney.


Dad’s never really eaten much sushi, despite having spent a good six months living in Tokyo in his youth. “I was only 28,” he says, “and too busy teaching the Japanese fur workers how to make fur coats to eat fancy expensive sushi. We used to just eat a lot of ramen and donburi, and drink lots of beer. Plus I couldn’t spend that much on food when I was working there, because I had to save the money to send home for you and your mother.”

I don’t recall my father living in Tokyo – but to be fair, I was a two-year-old in Hong Kong at the time, youngest of seventeen cousins, and spoiled by the whole extended family. My father’s absence didn’t even register a blip on the radar!


We made up for the lack of sushi during his time in Japan by eating our fill at Marae Izakaya though! Dishes like this beautifully smoky Seared Salmon Belly Nigiri were clear favourites.


But the real highlight was this unassuming dish of Raw Chopped Octopus, marinated in lemon, sesame and wasabi. I’m quite picky about octopus, and raw octopus is even harder to do well. Both Dad and I ended up raving about this dish though, picking at every last bite and eyeing the conveyor belt hopefully waiting for a second serve which never materialised.


At least we got this superb consolation price – eel sushi, or Unagi Nigiri with its sweet and smoky sauce.


As you can probably tell, we don’t bother with pedestrian fare such as chicken teriyaki or California rolls when we have sushi! Instead, we opt for top quality seafood sushi like this Seared Scallop Nigiri – might as well get our money’s worth of fresh seafood right?


The Agedashi Tofu was a winner with its crisp fried skin and soft smooth tofu inside. I think we must have taken this off the conveyor belt within minutes of the chef placing it on as it was still piping hot. Let this be a lesson to you as well – pick your seat at a sushi train carefully, and aim for proximity to the chefs! 


As we nibbled on some crispy-skinned Gyoza, Dad mused on the possibility of visiting Japan again. “It’s nearly been thirty years,” he said. “It would be nice to see how it’s changed. Your brother seemed to enjoy going there earlier this year. Maybe we should all go next year?”

I was flabbergasted – Dad’s never really expressed much of an interest in visiting anywhere other than various destinations in China. He wasn’t even particularly enthused about our (then upcoming) trip to Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Singapore, other than the opportunity to try some of the local food. I’d best capitalise on his interest in Japan and keep my eye out for some cheap flights!


As we finished our meal with a premium plate of fresh Tuna and Salmon Sashimi, I started to flick through Tokyo apartment listings on Airbnb on my phone. While it might be another 18 or even 24 months before we look at booking another overseas holiday (for a variety of reasons!), I do like to start doing my research early!


Marae Izakaya serves up high-quality fresh sushi and sashimi in a flashy and sophisticated setting. The queues are long on a weekend, but at least the turnover is relatively quick – and you can always wait in the lounge with a cocktail in hand! It’s not a cheap feed, but every dish is worth it. At $80AUD for a meal for two, I wouldn’t do it every weekend, but it does make for a nice treat.

It seems that the new dining district in Chadstone is as much of a drawcard as the new retailers – gone are my teen memories of soggy focaccias in a dimly lit food court. I look forward to trying out some of the other new eateries – Fonda, Mezz, Woodstock, just to name a few.

Marae Izakaya is located in the new dining district in Chadstone Shopping Centre, 1341 Dandenong Road in Chadstone.

Review: Mugen Ramen and Bar, Melbourne

I have never been to Japan. It’s appalling really given how much I love Japanese food. It’s usually my go-to option whenever we dine out – from sushi and ramen to donburi and yakitori, I love it all. 

Until I finally manage to make my way to the land of the rising sun, I’ll just have to content myself with visits to cosy laneway restaurants like Mugen Ramen & Bar, offering quick and dirty ramen on ground level for those who want to eat and leave, or basement level dining for those who want to linger over tapas and drinks.


K and I went one evening after my usual plasma donation appointment as it’s located close to the donation centre. While it was late-ish on a Monday evening by the time we got there, it was still quite packed with young hip students and yuppies sharing drinks and bar snacks.

Coedo Shikkoku microbrew, $14 AUD and CAPI Blood Orange Soda, $5 AUD
Coedo Shikkoku microbrew, $14 AUD and CAPI Blood Orange Soda, $5 AUD

K and I opted for a drink each – a heavy dark lager Coedo Shikkoku for K and a more refreshing CAPI Blood Orange Soda for myself. I’m biased, but I think mine proved to be the better choice as it helped to cleanse the palate after some of the stronger flavours of the meals we ordered.

Tori Soba (Chicken Broth with Housemade special wavy noodles served with chicken meatballs and slow cooked chicken breast slices), $15 AUD
Tori Soba (Chicken Broth with Housemade special wavy noodles served with chicken meatballs and slow cooked chicken breast slices), $15 AUD

Rather than choosing one of the heavier tsukemen dishes, we chose to go with the Tori Soba with a rarer chicken-based broth rather than the usual rich pork-based broth. This worked particularly well as the dish was much lighter overall, meaning that you weren’t left feeling too over-full with an overly savoury palate. The clear and clean broth was a real highlight, as were the springy and soft chicken meatballs and tender chicken breast. This is definitely one dish I would recommend.

Aburi Chashu (Flamed Slow Cooked Pork, served with Yuzu flavoured potato mash, bean shoots, spring onion and mayonnaise), $16 AUD
Aburi Chashu (Flamed Slow Cooked Pork, served with Yuzu flavoured potato mash, bean shoots, spring onion and mayonnaise), $16 AUD

We chose a heavier meat-based dish to share as well – an Aburi Chashu of thinly sliced slow-cooked pork served with delicious creamy potato mash. As tender and flavourful as the pork was, I think my highlight was the buttery and creamy potato mash. Overall, the dish was probably over-dressed with Kewpie mayonnaise – sometimes less is more.

Matcha roll, $10 AUD
Matcha roll, $10 AUD

We finished our meal by sharing the Matcha Roll, a beautifully light and fluffy Swiss roll. There was just the right amount of cream in this cake. There was just the right amount of matcha powder both in the sponge and as a topping, creating the right balance between the slightly bitter matcha flavours and the sweeter cream cake flavours.

mugenramen-06Mugen Ramen & Bar is the type of place where you can drop by for a quick and easy bowl of ramen, or linger over a few drinks and nibbles with friends. In short, it offers a fairly reasonably priced menu in an atmospheric near-traditional Japanese setting but with a modern Australian touch. Its close proximity to my workplace and yoga studio means that I’ll probably be dropping in a few more times in the coming months!

Mugen Ramen & Bar is located at 11 Bligh Place, Melbourne CBD.

Review: Yuzu Cuisine, Melbourne

I’ve been embarking on a journey of self-improvement. Simply having a new job with its associated new challenges clearly isn’t enough. Nor is the physical challenge of taking up a new hobby like yoga twice a week (my balance is terrible, but I’m fantastic at shavasana).

In addition to these challenges, I’ve been attending a variety of free public lectures (philosophy, science, media ethics, digital marketing) and undertaking courses on the free eLearning platform FutureLearn as well. As a result, I seem to have very little spare time!


I always try to make time for a friend though, and so I met up with my friend Michelle for dinner one night at Yuzu Cuisine after attending a free seminar (Freelancing 101). It was our first catch-up since my return to Melbourne, and there was lots to talk about!


The restaurant was very quiet on the week night we were there, with only three other groups of diners in the cavernous restaurant. It may put you off but let me assure you that it’s not an indicator of the quality of their cuisine! Their location in the city tends to encourage a roaring trade at lunchtime with many office workers taking advantage of their lunch menu, and just after work for drinks and snacks as well. Late dinners on a weeknight are less common on this business end of town.

Tofu Age dashi (deep fried tofu with tempura fish sauce), $8.90
Tofu Age dashi (deep fried tofu with tempura fish sauce), $8.90

We decided to order a main and a side each, and Michelle chose the Agedashi Tofu for her side. Fairly standard as far as deep-fried tofu goes, but I did appreciate the lightness of the batter and the silkiness of the tofu.

Chirashi Zushi (a selection of sashimi on rice), $21.90
Chirashi Zushi (a selection of sashimi on rice), $21.90

I’m a bit fan of Chirashi Zushi and will order it where I can. To me, it seems the perfect mix of fragrant dressed rice, plump and fresh fish and creamy avocado. Yuzu’s version was prettily presented with some sliced baby radish and an edible flower on top for good measure, but the real standout here was the absolute unblemished perfection of the rich avocado which paired well with the strong distinctive taste of the fresh salmon and tuna.

Entree sushi platter, $25.40
Entree sushi platter, $25.40

Michelle dithered a bit over what she wanted to order, and finally settled on the Entree Sushi Platter with beautiful seared salmon nigiri and some simple rolls too. As prettily presented as this platter was though, I think I prefer my choice of the chirashi zushi!

Nasu dengaku (grilled eggplant with miso paste), $8.90
Nasu dengaku (grilled eggplant with miso paste), $8.90

Surprisingly, my choice of a side came up much later than the other dishes. The Nasu Dengaku isn’t a terribly difficult dish to create so I can’t account for the delay, other than that we had told the waitress it was fine to bring dishes out as they were ready, rather than serving the sides before the mains. Delay aside, I loved the smoky salty grilled eggplant with its simultaneously soft flesh and sticky caramelised topping. Coming at the end of the meal, it was almost like a strange savoury but sweet dessert.

Matcha Latte
Matcha Latte

We ended our meal with a Matcha Latte each, a thick and creamy soy latte with the perfect balance of sweetness and rich green tea bitterness. This is definitely one matcha latte worth trying, unlike some of the more pitiful weak efforts I’ve unfortunately had recently (The Tea Salon in Emporium Melbourne, I’m looking at you).

Yuzu Cuisine offer fresh sushi and sashimi, expertly crafted hot side dishes, and delicious thick and creamy lattes. Without having tried other items on the menu like their udon or ramen bowls, I can only presume that the quality of the other dishes are as high. Prices aren’t outrageous, and by the time I used my 25% off Entertainment Book voucher, Michelle and I only paid about $30 each. A bargain by any means, for a meal as simple and refined as this.

Yuzu Cuisine is located at 480 Collins St, Melbourne (enter via Church Lane).