A pub meal with a difference
Boasting a reputation as one of the oldest Japanese restaurant in Melbourne, certainly of the Izakaya style, Izakaya Chuji holds a formidable menu of immense variation with an articulate and practised team of chefs and kitchen staff to endorse it. A warm and homely spirit is immediately evident to patrons upon arrival; tucked amid the bustle of Lonsdale St traffic, this established, comfortable venue is a portal across the globe, transporting patrons into the world of Japanese bar-style dining in the heart of Melbourne. Izakaya Chuji imbues the quintessential relaxed dining experience without the air of pretension that a restaurant of such a repute might have.
The key to Izakaya dining is the breadth of food one is able to enjoy in a single meal. In a veritable barrage of dishes upon dishes, mountainous piles of food are brought out in rapid sequence, ranging from the surprising delectability of raw beef, crispy dumplings to stop the heart (with Korean chilli paste for the brave), moist gyoza, fresh sushi of sharp, distinctive flavour, and fried chicken with black vinegar and garlic and honey, which is a distinct crowd pleaser – as Venus the manager notes, it is a dish that has evolved in response to popularity, as do many of the dishes.
Nihonshu, its sister venue next door, exhibits a tasteful fusion of tradition with modern, with charming décor such as lanterns, old sake ads and newspaper clippings; it is a quietly sophisticated, yet down-to-earth bar with a dignified yet merry mood. The distinctions of sake and shochu are intricate and extensive; both are served in a variety of styles and temperatures, each according to the liquor’s composition as well as personal preference. Shochu is the strong, earthy cousin of sake, and has experienced a global boom in the last fifteen years that has suddenly placed it on the international roadmap alongside sake. Whilst not as strong as vodka, it packs a similar punch, and is certainly a drink to be savoured and contemplated. With an array of over 100 beverages on offer, including 30 varieties of sake, one is spoilt for choice at Nihonshu. Luckily, their menu is detailed almost to the molecular level and the erudite bar staff are always on hand for one in need of guidance.
Upstairs offers a function area with plentiful space for those more festive group occasions and additionally, Tuesday nights see it transform into a board game fiesta, for those punters of Mahjong, Chess, Shogi, or whatever game one desires to bring along. Pair this with the elaborate range of sake, shochu and Japanese whiskey, and the elegant cuisines of Izakaya Chuji at one’s disposal.Whether one favours eating at the bar in true Izakaya fashion, or the genial restaurant experience, Izakaya Chuji and Nihonshu have you covered.
By Chris Swan
Izakaya Chuji & Nihonshu
t: 03 9663 8118 (bookings for restaurant essential)
a: 165 Lonsdale St Melbourne