One of the few things that can brighten up my day instantly is none other than unexpectedly finding a fantastic restaurant. After brief discussions in the car on the way to a friend’s house the other day, Yuye suggested “let’s just eat somewhere close and on the way”. I was going to pull over at Pancake Parlour that just opened recently right next to Chadstone Shopping Centre but as it was on the wrong side of the road and eating there would mean doing a u-turn amidst a whole lot of traffic on busy Warrigal Rd, I decided against the idea. Right opposite Pancake Parlour was a tiny Japanese cafe called Maguro. I’ve driven past it many times but the thought never occurred to me that it might make a good meal. I believe they opened their doors in March 2011, a good half a year ago. The outside of the restaurant is not the most eye-catching or attractive so it’s no wonder not many people know about the place yet.
The interior is simple but fitting although nothing spectacular. I definitely wasn’t expecting such a good meal as I sat down. Our first meal was at lunch time and the first thing that we noticed was the lack of staff. As there weren’t many customers, service wasn’t all that slow but if it got busy, I’m not sure how well they would cope. It seemed like the chef was also doing waiting at the front of the house and many utensils were left on a trolley by the counter for self service. At that point, I wasn’t overly impressed, until the big pot of free genmaicha (Japanese green tea with rice) was brought up to our table and everyone else’s tables. Free green tea in a Japanese restaurant has been unheard of for me so this was a nice little surprise.
Now here comes the real surprise. I ordered a tuna/salmon chirashi for $19.50. I was expecting something nice for the price I was paying but I didn’t expect it to be so pretty! The dish actually tasted as good as it looked. Fresh, juicy raw fish and a sweet scallop on top of a generous topping of tobiko (flying fish roe) and cooked dried salmon chunks on a bed of sushi rice was enough to make me squirm with joy. I was a happy person. The thing that slightly confused me though was why the wasabi was on the edge of the bowl. As the chef brought it out to me, I was fearful that the wasabi would not make it to the table. I also had to get my own soy sauce tray from the trolley. I was a little disappointed with the quality of the wasabi too as it wasn’t very strong.
|Salmon & Tuna Chirashi – $19.50|
I’m not going to complain though because it was so delicious! Don’t let the size of the bowl fool you, it was actually quite substantial. I must confess however that although chirashis should be served with cold sushi rice, after having a similar dish at Sushiten, it has set the benchmark for all chirashis for me. I also started to like warm rice served with my fish for some strange reason. So if I was asked whether I liked Sushiten’s chirashi or Maguro’s more, I’d say Sushiten wins hands down. Maguro is still fantastic and wins by location as it’s close to home.
You’d think that’s all the surprises but there’s more! Yuye ordered the tonkotsu ramen, or better known as Pork Bone Soup Cha Siew Ramen for $15 on the specials board just next to the entrance of the restaurant. $15 for ramen is a reasonable price, especially for this standard. It beats Momotaro on Bridge Rd and Ramen Ya in the CBD. I do not kid you. This ramen was a LOT better. For those of you who don’t know, tonkotsu ramen is made by boiling pork with bones intact for hours and hours until all the collagen from the bones have gone into the soup, making the soup thick, sticky and totally porky. Maguro’s version was perfectly thick and salty and the meat was so tender it almost melted in my mouth. It was a fairly big bowl too which made us so full!
|Pork Bone Soup Cha Siew Ramen (lunch) – $15|
Don’t even get me started on the eggs. Most places only give you half an egg but Maguro gives you a whole egg. Just look at how runny the yolk is! That is how eggs should be cooked. I’m an avid lover of runny egg yolks and this was just perfect for me. It takes practice and love to make eggs to this quality and just shows how much effort the chef of this restaurant, Sam Lau, has really put into his dishes.
We liked the restaurant so much that we went back for dinner again 2 days later. As it was at night, the photos obviously didn’t turn out as pretty. The dishes though were still fairly impressive. Our friend Geoff ordered unagi don (eel on rice) for $13 which came with a succulent piece of well cooked eel and a huge bed of rice. It would have been nicer with a little more sauce though as there really was too much rice for the amount of eel.
|Unagi Don – $13|
Yuye ordered his pork bone ramen again because he loved it so much but this time it wasn’t as good as the first time we had it. I do understand why though because the soup takes so long to cook and can be short supplied by dinner that the chef may have added water and salt to the soup to increase quantity. As a result, the soup wasn’t as thick and was slightly saltier than last time. However, we had a surprise addition of corn kernels to the dish and the eggs were marinated this time. Either way, it was still a fantastic dish and I would definitely order it again.
|Pork Bone Soup Cha Siew Ramen (dinner) – $15|
I was so intrigued by the jumbo eel or ‘Signature Black’ is what it’s called on the new menu for $30 that I just had to order it. It wasn’t cheap but when the plate came out my eyes were so wide that my eyeballs almost popped out of their sockets. The HUGE plate was impressive to say the least.
|Signature Black (Jumbo Eel) – $30|
As the name sounds, it was a full piece of eel (so technically double the size of a regular eel in unagi don) on top of raw salmon, prawns, avocado and sushi rice, topped with black tobiko or what they call caviar with salad on the side. It was essentially a huge eel nigiri sushi. I didn’t know where to begin eating! This plate is enough to share between two people comfortably I think.
Although by the end of the meal, I literally had eel overdose, it was still quite lovely. The eel and salmon didn’t really go together that well I thought so I ate them separately with rice which worked and having to work out what to eat and putting the rice together was all part of the fun. I would say though that taste wise it was nothing spectacular since you can already guess what it tastes like but it’s worth getting for the fun and excitement factor, especially if you really like eel.
One factor disappointed me though. Because the pot of tea was free at lunch time, it set my expectations for dinner too. It was even one of the ‘cool’ factors I bragged to my friends about when I mentioned the good find. However, when we got our bill, we were charged $2 per person for the same tea. Although it’s really normal to charge for tea and it’s not expensive by any means, I still think it would have been better to be more consistent with things like this so it doesn’t create false expectations that can make a fantastic meal not as fantastic. Anyway, apart from this little point, I was very happy with my overall experience at Maguro. The service, although slower at dinner, was good. Even though the waiter (there was just one) was so busy with serving all the guests, he immediately noticed that our tea pot was empty and filled it for us very quickly. I’m sure I don’t have to say that I really liked their food. The ramen at lunch time still stands as possibly the best ramen in Melbourne for me.
Maguro has a lot of potential, although a slightly more consistent food quality and service will go a long way. They have gained new regulars for sure though. You probably don’t have to book at this stage since not many people know about the place, but since it’s so small, it doesn’t hurt to make a booking in case of disappointment. This will become essential when they get more popular!
Maguro Japanese Restaurant
Phone: (03) 9807 8388, or call Sam Lau directly on 0433 933 893
723 Warrigal Rd, Chadstone 3148
Trading Hours: Wed – Mon 11am to 3pm and 5pm to 10pm (11pm on Fri & Sat)
www.maguro.com.au – some of their menu prices seem quite wrong at the time of writing this blog post.