Who doesn't love a good izakaya? It's a fun way to eat- a bit of this and a bit of that, washed down with icy cold Japanese beer in a crowded, loud and gregarious atmosphere. I always thought that Tanuki's Cave in Auckland pulled it off really well. We haven't visited any izakayas in Melbourne so thought we'd try a local one, Pabu Grill & Sake, eschewing the more obvious choice- Izakaya Den.
Pabu Grill & Sake was humming when we arrived. We were promptly seated at the bar and left to peruse the menu after an explanation from our friendly waitress as to how the menu was divided up. We weren't offered water so I flagged down a waitress to get some and we ordered two Kirin beers which they have on tap.
We decided to order a mix of old favourites and some sushi and sashimi. First to arrive was the tori karaage or chicken ribs which had been marinated in soy, deep-fried and were served with a chilli mayo and a wedge of lemon. This was my favourite dish of the night. The meat on the ribs was succulent and juicy and the chilli mayo offered a creamy kick. The batter was very light and not at all oily. I would have been content with a whole plate of these and nothing else.
Pabu Grill & Sake's okonomiyaki was tasty but it didn't blow me away. Both TBS and I commented that it tasted exactly like the takoyaki which was a bit disappointing. Perhaps this was our mistake as I've reviewed the menu again and the descriptions are pretty similar. Still, you don't expect two entirely different dishes to taste exactly the same.
We had noticed other diners order sushi rolls and they looked promising so we ordered the Pabu lobster maki- lobster rolled with cucumber, avocado, fish roe and topped with toasted sesame seeds and spicy sauce. The sushi was certainly beautiful to look at and the flavours were fresh but ultimately unexciting. I found the lobster a bit tasteless and rubbery.
Last to arrive was the sake aburi sashimi- slices of salmon lightly seared in hot sesame oil, ponzu, soy, ginger, spring onion and sesame oil. The salmon was really clean tasting but the flavours were bland. I also found it odd that the salmon was brought to our table after we had finished all our other dishes. It was a bit boring having to eat mouthful after mouthful of the same dish.
To be honest, I was disappointed with our experience at Pabu Grill & Sake. The food was alright but not spectacular and the flavours could have been punchier. We were still hungry when we left but I managed to talk TBS out of a huxtaburger and we went for gelato at Gelato Primavera instead. I gather that Pabu Grill & Sake have a lot of fans judging by the full restaurant on the night we were there but sadly I don't think we'll be repeat customers.
Good to know:
Tori Karaage $8
Pabu Lobster Maki $18.50
Sake Aburi Sashimi $15
Pabu Grill & Sake
190 Smith Street
Images: T B Southam