Step into a manga comic strip at Melbourne’s Tetsujin
Tucked away on Caledonian Lane and up a private elevator is Tetsujin, a Japanese restaurant where I am the star and the food and cocktails are the story. I pass a dimly lit cocktail bar, well stocked with sake, whiskey and mysterious bottles that suggest an intriguing cocktail list is coming my way. I’m struck by the sweeping window that reveals Melbourne’s city skyline, lighting up in the dark winter night and looking much like the backdrop to my very own manga story.
Dark industrial walls are set off by red neon signage and illustrated murals, while a soundtrack of Japanese pop trickles through the air adding to the feeling that this story is just getting started. And it is…
Taking its name from 1956 Japanese manga, Tetsujin 28 is a giant robot sidekick to the young boy leading protagonist. You’ll spot Tetsujin floating on the ceiling above diners, watching as they tuck into plates of barbecued meats.
There are two sides to the Tetsujin culinary story: the entrance from Emporium takes you into the light side, a bright minimal space where a sushi train rolls past, delivering plates of Japanese fare including fresh sushi, gyoza and black sesame ice cream.
But over here, on the dark side, we prepare for a feast of sashimi and a Japanese barbecue where we’ll be the narrators to our own dinner, cooking it ourselves over a hot barbecue.
My friend arrives, we take a seat and the story begins to unfold with a cocktail. I order a Geisha’s Kiss, a pretty pink concoction of sake, strawberry and egg white, which is delicious and not too sweet.
My coffee-loving friend orders the Miyagi Martini; a serve of Miyagikyo whiskey with coffee and cream foam. The smile on her face after the first sip tells me it’s hit the spot.
With some interesting choices on the sushi menu we order a few plates to share. The sun dried tomato chicken is light and fresh with a hit of tanginess from the sliver of dried tomato. Smoked bacon and egg sushi is rightly placed on the dinner menu and not on a breakfast one. The cream cheese mayo garnish and the subtle sweetness of the rice transform the familiar brekky flavours into light, tasty morels of sushi.
Moving onto the barbecue, the manager Jun recommends we try the Premium Set; a feast of soft shell crab salad and salmon sashimi to start and Wagyu cuts of beef to barbecue: Scotch fillet, rump cap, outside skirt and ox tongue – the latter we replace with slices of pork belly instead.
The salmon sashimi doesn’t disappoint. It’s soft delicate texture is flavoursome and slightly salty and melts on the tongue beautifully. The generous serving of soft shell crab is sat atop a leafy green salad and drizzled with a spicy mayo. Crunchy, delicious and the perfect segue into the next course.
While the sushi and sashimi sits under the umbrella of traditional Japanese fare, the barbecue-at-the-table is a nod to their Korean cousins, which Tetsujin does very well.
We lightly cook thick slices of pork belly over the hot coals and devoured them, their slightly salty flavour scoring points with my dinner date who is a big pork belly fan.
Of the three grades of beef on the plate, the outside skirt catches the attention. It’s the cut highest in fat – without being fatty – and full of flavour, while the marinade brings it’s A-game making this the hero of the plate.
We sip a tokkuri of warm sake along with our sizzling dinner which is the complimentary ying to the meaty flavour’s yang. Sliced pumpkin, firm mushrooms and onion are also cooked on the barbecue and a bowl of kimchi adds a hot kick to the feast!
With our bellies well and truly full, we’re faced with the conundrum that always befalls a foodie: ‘Can we manage dessert?’
The answer to this question of course always rests firmly with the offerings on the dessert menu. With six dishes to choose from including kuro guma ice cream (black sesame) and green tea mouse, we think yes!
We choose a cream caramel and the yuzu sorbet to end the night. The rich eggy custard of the cream caramel is straddled by vanilla ice cream, green tea and coffee crumbs and a crisp sesame shard on top. It isn’t as heavy as desserts can be and so every last bit gets scooped up between us.
The sorbet is true to its yuzu flavour which dances through the citrus spectrum, the taste echoing that of a juicy mandarin. A scattering of sweet berries on top complements the light tartness of the sorbet, finishing off a very excellent meal.
And with that cliffhanger ending, Tetsujin has us hooked. And as we walk off into the inky Melbourne night, we know we’ll be back again another day to see more of this story unfold.
Tetsujin Sushi Train and Japanese BBQ
Little Bourke St & Caledonian Lane, Melbourne
Open Mon – Sun 11:30am–10:45pm