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Sunday 26 October 2014

And now for something completely different: A Japanese restaurant breaks the rules

Doing something different can be a double-edged sword for restaurateurs; either people flock to the new offering, or they are disappointed not to find what they expect and stay away in droves. 

So imagine what bafflement a Japanese restaurant that doesn't regularly serve sushi, sashimi, gyozas, soba or ramen noodles, tempura, tonkatsu, okonomiyaki or even steamed rice has caused in the conservative restaurant environment of Hobart, Tasmania.

In a brave attempt to serve "Japanese food like people would eat in Japan" Three Japanese Charcoal Grill dishes up a six-course set menu for $60 on Friday and Saturday nights - and you can be pretty sure none of the traditional favourites will make an appearance. 

We open with a plate of three appetisers served with 30ml of chilled sake; the selection of pickles is outstanding, the other two dishes unfamiliar but interesting (prawn and asparagus on pickled eggs; and pumpkin salad). I'm told the selection of "amuse" changes regularly. 
Next comes chawanmushi, a delicious savoury duck egg custard with dashi and sea urchin that offers a kaleidoscope of different flavours and textures with just a hint of chilli punch. 

That's followed by "today's special", which turns out to be some rather chewy and over-cooked tuna in breadcrumbs.The flavour is fine but the dish fails to thrill and is replaced by a stunning dish of eggplant painted with sweet miso and crunchy vegetable crumbs. Brilliant! 

The main course is "5-skewers" - five skewered meat dishes cooked on the charcoal grill. Strangely, four are chicken dishes (including chicken heart and chicken cartilage), which might be a little confronting for the squeamish.The fifth skewer was baby tomatoes.

I'd be keen to see a little more variety here, and maybe some sauces and/or wasabi/soy. 

The final savoury dish is yakinogiri chazuke, a rice ball in a kelp and bonito broth.One of us loves it, the other not so much. 

Dessert comprised little green tea madeleines, cute but restrained in the flavour department. Strangely, we were not offered green tea. 

Earlier in the week there is an al a carte menu, but sushi and sashimi only appear when the chef is happy with their freshness (usually on Wednesdays when Mark Eather's fishing boat docks). 

And apparently tempura does also make an occasional guest appearance. 

There is a small wine list with a Tasmanian focus (the 2014 Chartley Estate Pinot Gris was a good buy for $38), and a range of cold sakes.

The service is brisk and helpful and business was good on a Saturday night, but not so that anyone had to be turned away. 

If you enjoy challenging flavours and textures, it is well worth a visit. 

Three Japanese is a casual place where it's easy to kick back for an hour or two and enjoy something different, but the prices are definitely up there for Hobart, where the locals are used to their Asian restaurants (Me Wah excepted) being in the "cheap and cheerful" category.

Three Japanese Charcoal Grill, 133 Elizabeth Street, Hobart. (03) 6231 8035. Monday-Saturday from 5.30 pm. 




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