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.