Hinoki Japanese Pantry

Hinoki Japanese Pantry had been on our ‘to try’ list for a while now. We generally go out of our way and make an effort to travel to these places on our list, but fortunately on this occasion we bumped into this place while walking along Smith Street, Fitzroy! I guess some things are meant to be, and we did not hesitate to rush in.

There’s a gradual transition from exposed bricks to the white walls which lead to the Japanese grocery area. Bright colours from the food products to the sushi menu lit up the whole place just like in Japan, this place never looked dull and boring. As much as we were tempted to browse the isle to buy some seaweed or Furikake (rice seasoning), the fact was we were hungry and needed food ASAP!

We got some takeaway packs – a mixed sushi/maki pack, and a mixed maki pack. First thing I noticed, was that these packs looked way better than your run in the mill shopping centre sushi packs. The ingredients actually protruded past the height of the rice on the maki! This was not only more visually appealing, but it also benefits my belly.

I guess the big question is how does it taste? The answer to that is… absolutely amazing! The fish was exceptionally fresh with great texture. I couldn’t fault the salmon, king fish or the tuna. Even though these packs came from the cold display, the rice wasn’t hard and separated, an indication that they wouldn’t have been in the cold display for that long.

The mayo in the maki was very tasty and provided a light creamy mouthfeel, while the spring onion reinforced a freshness to the roll. I loved how all the ingredients worked together. Even the soy sauce was awesome, I normally don’t use too much soy sauce but I did get a little carried away on this particular occasion! I had never seen this brand before, but it was in a shiny silver packet, which already looked quality.

In summary, Helen and I had a great experience at Hinoko Japanese pantry. We came, we conquered and we bounced. We totally forgot about buying some things for home before we left! Without a doubt we’ll be returning here to eat some great sushi, and to do some grocery shopping next time.

Hinoki Japanese Pantry
Approx $15 AUD per person
Address: 279 Smith Street, Fitzroy VIC 3065
Phone: +61 3 9417 4531
Website: hinoki.com.au

Hinoki Japanese Pantry Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


First and foremost we would like to thank Tokosan for inviting us to dine at their restaurant. When we arrived at their doorstep, there was a strong sense of familiarity especially the steps which lead into their main dining room. We had a suspicion that we may have been here before, but it felt a little foreign at the same time! The location felt familiar but the décor and atmosphere felt different. After spending way too much time trying to figure out this mystery, we dug through our photos and realised that they used to be called Toko! It turns out that Toko is relocating to the CBD and this place had been revamped to Tokosan. Another mystery solved, we were finally back on track, and ready to see what Tokosan brings to the table.

The transformation from Toko had been dramatic, we remembered Toko to be a fine dining Japanese restaurant. Tokosan has a massive wall of street art as you walk in on the left, and it sure creates a strong impact! There’s a bar area on the right with an assortment of alcoholic beverages and they even have a karaoke room. Past the bar and through the glass doors, there’s an outdoor area to kick back and enjoy some drinks. This also doubles as a function area, so for anyone looking to host an event, this option is available. We were offered to sit outside – no way Jose! There’s no way I’m putting my body through this heat… I’ve been struggling enough lately with Melbourne’s crazy temperature fluctuations. We wisely opted to sit inside in a comfortable booth. I suspect that they don’t have air con because the cold air didn’t feel refrigerated. I felt a little sticky which tells me that it may be evaporative cooling. Not a big deal at all,l as cooling is all personal preference!

The waiter ran us through the specials of the day which included a $5 sparkling wine (Fleur De Lys) and $5 Gyoza dumplings. For anyone wondering why the waiter needed to run us through the specials, our meal was subsidised to a certain amount, anything over would be out of our own pocket. We couldn’t turn down the specials, and we also ordered a bowl of chicken ramen, wagyu beef bao, and a pork ribbies (highly recommended by bearabbit).

The wagyu beef in the bao came in a patty style. It had great beef flavour and was cooked a perfect medium to medium rare, the best doneness to showcase the beef. It tasted great and all the ingredients held together nicely in the bao without going everywhere. I was surprised to find the prawn dumplings deep fried! I’m used to them being pan fried, and I’m generally not a huge fan of deep fried. In saying so, I could taste the separation of prawn pieces in the gyoza itself and it had a great crunch. Fans of deep fried would enjoy this style of dumpling. I have to say that I was a little shocked at the price though, a serve of 5 prawn gyozas are normally $16! This feels a bit steep for gyozas and the price would have put me off ordering them. $5 specials are enticing but I wouldn’t be paying full price. The pork gyoza was my favourite out of the two, the filling was packed full of flavour and pan fried to a classic crisp on one side. I loved it but couldn’t justify the RRP of $13 though. Could something be really tasty and overpriced? I don’t normally think this way because I can usually justify the price as long as the quality is good, but I may have to make an exception in this instance…

I was really looking forward to my ramen as I hadn’t had ramen in a while! The bowl came out, and it looked great. It strangely didn’t have the strong aromas I was expecting from a quality bowl of ramen. I took a sip of the soup… BLAND. It taste diluted, with zero richness and no pork flavour. It was truly underwhelming indeed, but little did I know that I was going to be hit with a double whammy. The ramen noodles were bloated and overcooked with no elasticity and mouth feel. (FYI – I snapped a picture of the ramen in record breaking time, as I’m fully aware of what leaving the noodles drowned in soup would do to it. The noodles already came in this state straight out of the kitchen). The two most important aspects in a bowl of ramen failed miserably, and as a result made me feel a little miserable also. The chicken and broccolini was nice, but it was too little too late.

The pork ribbies on the other hand were amazing. Tender, fall off the bone with a delicious teriyaki sauce. The sour cream worked surprisingly well with the pork ribs and I found myself looking forward to each dip. The pork ribbies and the pork gyozas were my favourite dishes at Tokosan.

With the exception of the ramen, I enjoyed all our dishes of the night. Tokosan has a lot going for it with the bar, good food, outdoor function area, karaoke, hell they even got a pool table. They’ve got the perfect recipe for a great night out and I wouldn’t hesitate to come back again!

Approx $40 AUD per person
Address: 142 Greville St, Prahran VIC 3181
Phone: +61 3 9521 3155
Website: tokosan-melbourne.com

Tokosan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Izakaya Kuuraku

Izakaya Kuuraku extended us a warm invite to try, and provide feedback on their new Omakase menu for November. Omakase in Japanese means ‘I’ll leave it up to you’, empowering the chef to choose what dishes they choose to serve. I really liked this idea as I’m trusting the chef, while they are trusting us for our honest feedback. Trust is very important when you’re dining out, because without it, well… you should just eat at home!

We arrived and was politely escorted into a private dining area. We were seated down as part of a group in front of a sushi preparation area, and a Yakitori grill station. I could tell that they were using a Japanese charcoal called Binchōta. Binchōta is known for its clean burning properties, and its ability to imbed amazing aromas and flavours to the food. This grilling section was enclosed with glass and they also had huge ventilation fans on top.

They provided us with one sushi and one Yakitori tasting menu. I was foolishly looking for the soy sauce to dip my first piece of sushi, then I realised that the sushi chef had already brushed it on the piece for me. This was exactly how they did it in ‘Jiro Sushi of Dreams’! If you haven’t watched this yet, it’s available on NetFlix – great documentary based a 3 Michelin star sushi chef. I remembered in the documentary that they present the sushi to you at the perfect rice temperature, and that it was important to eat it straight away. As soon as the sushi was placed down, I was in a frantic rush to snap a quick photo, then plomped it straight into my mouth!

It was a truly special experience as each piece of sushi was of the highest quality. We were served an assortment of sushi pieces including kingfish, salmon, flathead, tuna, and one was even seared with a little truffle oil. The fish was fresh, with the texture and flavour of the rice reminding me of the quality we got in Japan. Izakaya Kuuraku had a goal to bring true Japanese dishes to Australia, and I’d say they succeeded with this. My favourites were the flathead and kingfish sushi, but I think this was just a matter of personal preference. I learnt something new from the sushi chef when I commented on how fresh the fish was. He told me that all the top restaurants get their fish from the same supplier, but the preparation of the fish can change the texture and mouthfeel. He further explained that the thickness, the sharpness of the knife, and the way the fish is cut plays a huge part in this. I was absolutely gobsmacked as I did not know this, and had always given full credits to the fish! There’s so much learning to do in the world of food.

The Yakitori menu was equally satisfying. I loved the sauces which accompanied the skewers. It added a different dimension, yet doesn’t take away the grilled taste. My favourites were the wagyu beef and mushroom skewers. The wagyu was just soooooo tender, and flavourful. The charcoal accentuated the mushroom taste, almost like a flavour booster. The Yakitori menu was more filling because they finish it off with a beef curry on rice, whereas you don’t get that with the sushi menu.

Overall Izakaya Kuuraku was faultless, and the Japanese food here was next level! I thoroughly enjoyed my experience here and would not hesitate to come back. If you guys are keen, you should ring ahead to see if the Omakase menu is available. It really doesn’t get much better than this, two thumbs up from me!

Izakaya Kuuraku
Approx $65 AUD per person
Address: 131-135 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: +61 3 9939 1516
Website: kuuraku.com.au

Izakaya Kuuraku Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Second Wife

Putting the word ‘wife’ in any eatery is pretty brave, but naming a cafe ‘Second Wife’ is downright crazy! What were owners Semir Elmazi and Reiji Honour thinking when they came up with this name!?! Turns out this attention grabbing name derived from the fact that this was the second cafe they opened together, their first one being ‘Dosage’ located in Burwood.

Second Wife is located away from the hustle and bustle of all the other restaurants you may think of. It’s situated at a peculiar spot on Wellington Road in Box Hill. Helen and I visit Box Hill a bit but were both stumped as to where Wellington Road was! Out came ‘trusty’ Google maps, and if any of you detected sarcasm, Google maps screwed us over once again. I’ve been having a personal vendetta with Google maps lately, I don’t know what’s been going on with it. Lately it seems to have this amazing ability to take the longest way whilst inserting the most small streets in between. Helen has been trying to defend Google maps, but I think this latest incident may have swayed her to my side!

Leaving this feud aside, we soon found ourselves parting with $2.70 for an hour of street parking just outside Second Wife. Paying for parking has always been one of my pet hates, but their cafe is located within an apartment complex so totally understandable. I must admit that I was in a pretty bad mood, because I’ve been sick for the past week and my tolerance levels were at an all time low. Anything short of great service and I would have been TRIGGERED! I can happily say that the serving staff here were warm and friendly. Apart from running out of rice noodles, our orders were in and food was served without any hiccups.

Most things on the menu had either a Middle Eastern or Japanese influence. Helen got the Real Wife’s breakfast and I got the Japanese Bowl. Both dishes had a comprehensive list of ingredients and would cost a fortune to make at home! My Japanese bowl was very visually appealing. It was not just a pretty face, as it was also really tasty! All the ingredients worked well together but I always make the mistake of forgetting to eat the pickled ginger. The seared salmon tataki was cooked perfectly, I thoroughly enjoyed this dish. Helen didn’t want to share too much of her dish with me, but from what little I acquired, it was a pretty special dish. The combination of the really lightly fried eggplant, perfectly cooked eggs and the garlic labne made it a delicious dish. These dishes are certainly not ones you can readily find at any cafe, and it’s what sets these guys apart from the competition.

Mad props to Second Wife for coming up with a killer name and serving some killer food! They are without a doubt one of the better cafes I’ve been to at Box Hill, and I appreciate their healthy and tasty menu. Would we come back? Most certainly. We cannot wait to come back and try their other dishes!

Second Wife
Approx $25 AUD per person
Address: 8 Wellington Rd, Box Hill VIC 3128
Phone: +61 3 9973 9481

Second Wife Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ponshu Kiroro


Ponshu Kiroro recently invited us to their restaurant which they only opened about 4 months ago. We were excited to try it out as their food is based only from Hokkaido, which is up north of Japan. We didn’t get the chance to explore the north of Japan last time but after trying the food and hearing how lovely the people are there it will definitely be on our list for our next trip!

Tomoko Takashi is their chef and mastermind behind the creation of their menu and was born in Sapporo, Hokkaido. She also became in charge of various programs such as the Japanese version of Master Chef and live cooking shows.


The restaurant is located in the CBD on Katherine Place. It had quite a presence with its large floor to ceiling windows and bright lights. What we did notice however was that the street itself was pretty quiet and it probably has something to do with Flinders Lane being just around the corner where a lot of the restaurants are situated so people probably don’t wander down Katherine Place as much. The restaurant itself felt quite spacious inside and the décor had a nice light wooden feel.

Upon entering we were cheerily greeted by Joel, the manager who seated us and talked us through their menu. As we were invited, we were happy to go with whatever they had in store for us. We started off with the spicy tuna parfait which was such a pretty and colourful dish! It was presented in a glass and had layers of bean curd rice, seaweed rice and hot spicy dressing. It was delicious and one of those dishes you could just keep scoffing!


Next up was the Zangi Senbei, deep fried Hokkaido chicken crackers and stir fried Edame beans with garlic and red chilli. These dishes can of course be found in Hokkaido and are the type of dishes you can snack on with some beer.

For mains we were then served the pork belly which came with Kiroro vinegared soy sauce. The pork itself was slightly dry but the flavours of the sauce were nice. Our highlight dish of the night however was the Hokkaido Chanchan Salmon. The salmon was baked in foil with Hokkaido sweet miso paste. This dish was soooo good! The salmon was cooked perfectly and the sweetness of the sauce brought out the flavours, making it an exceptional dish.


Throughout the night all the staff were super friendly, checking in on us and chatting away, even recommending restaurants to try both in Melbourne and if we’re ever in Hokkaido! Shinji even wrote his name down and told us to let him know when we decide to go to Hokkaido so he can give us a list of recommendations. Being from Hokkaido himself, he talked about how lovely the people are there and how cheap the food is too!

Overall it was a lovely experience and we want to thank Joel and everyone there at Ponshu Kiroro for the warm hospitality. We’re told the Hokkaido ramens, soup based and dry are also apparently quite popular too at lunch time, so if you’re ever in the area do check it out if you’re interested in trying out food from Hokkaido!


Ponshu Kiroro
Approx $40 AUD per person
Address: 9 Katherine Pl, Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: +61 3 8657 8553

Ponshu Kiroro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The raw chicken experience in Tokyo

Entrance to Hashidaya Honten
Entrance to Hashidaya Honten

During our trip to Tokyo we came across a traditional Japanese style restaurant, Hashidaya Honten located 5 minutes away from Shibuya station. Now the unique thing about this restaurant was that it specialised in chicken, cooked and raw. Although my husband was a bit hesitant to go after hearing that they served raw chicken, I was dying to try it out.  When and where else would we ever get to try raw chicken?  So after some convincing we headed out.  The entrance was not easy to find as the signs were in Japanese but we eventually found it.

Raw chicken salad
Raw chicken salad

Once we were seated and handed the menus we also realised that there were no English menus.  Fortunately a kind lady who was seated next to us was able to translate and placed the orders for us.  To ease into it we tried the raw chicken salad first.  It was deliciously refreshing and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Raw chicken, with cooked crispy skin
Raw chicken,with crispy skin

Next up was the raw chicken with crispy skin.  I have to say that with a squeeze of lime it actually tasted really good.  It had a chewy satisfying texture which was complimented with the crispy skin.

Oyakodon - chicken, egg and rice
Oyakodon – chicken, egg and rice

After being quite impressed with the raw chicken dishes we moved onto their famous Oyakodon dish.  This was the best chicken, egg and rice dish we’ve ever had.  The chicken was so tender and the egg was runny and cooked to perfection.  Overall the food was delicious and if we’re ever in Tokyo again we will definitely be making another stop here.

14417484831_013a8788e5_oHashidaya Honten
Address: 3-15-4 Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0002, Japan
Phone:+81 3-5774-4105