I always have trouble finding restaurants to dine at on Friday nights. Being as indecisive as I am (and the rest of my friends too), we always tend to leave things to ‘fate’. There was one week when we finally decided on a restaurant only to find out when we arrived that the menu has completely changed and it now only served pizzas and drinks rather than proper dishes we were hoping for. So we went on a restaurant hunting journey around busy Hardware Lane. Not finding anything we really felt like eating, we walked along Lt Bourke St, thinking we might go to a Korean BBQ but only to find ourselves right outside a restaurant called Gaijin Lunch Bar.
First we were just intrigued by the name of the place. ‘Gaijin’ means foreigners in Japanese and since one of our friends is Japanese, we thought it was quite fitting and funny. Secondly, why was it open on a Friday night when it’s a ‘lunch bar’? Our curiosity brought us inside.
The decor of the restaurant was more like that of hipster cafes than an actual Japanese restaurant, with their vintage wooden tables and modern decorations.
To our surprise, all the dishes on offer were very cheap and portion sizes were reasonable with everything being $10 or lower, although I must say we spent quite a few minutes laughing and musing ourselves with how fitting some of the dishes were to the whole ‘Gaijin’ concept. If you know a bit of Japanese, you’d understand what I mean. Think along the lines of ‘kani crab salad’ – ‘kani’ meaning crab in Japanese so this dish would literally mean ‘crab crab salad’. Then there’s Spicy Chick, Crunchy Cow and Dynamite Crunchy Don, just the names gave me a good laugh. I know, I’m easily amused…
I ended up ordering the Karaage Don (deep fried diced chicken on rice with special Gaijin sauce & teriyaki sauce – $9) as my rather boring option, but it was, I thought, the best dish we tried that night. They didn’t cheap out on the chicken and it was still very juicy and tender. The amount of sauce was perfect I thought, just enough to coat the chicken and give a good balance of creamy taste but not overly oily. What made the dish a bit heavy was the ‘crunchy’ tempura bits on top of the salad. I ate it together with the chicken and it was a bit too much oil for me, but it did give the dish a nice texture.
Yuye ordered the Special Tiger Don (raw salmon on sushi rice served with tempura crunch and gaijin special sauce – $10). I normally would have loved this dish since I love raw salmon, but I found this dish lacked a bit of flavour. Obviously no soy sauce is served since there was already sauce on top. It wasn’t overly creamy though which was good since the creamy sauce balanced well with the raw salmon.
Sat ordered the Special Tiger Don as well except with cooked salmon. I found this dish was a bit too oily and creamy, since when you slightly cook salmon, the heat brings out the oils in the fish and for some reason, this dish was extra saucy as well which made it a bit heavy, but it was still quite tasty.
My dish was just enough for me, in fact I barely finished it. However, Yuye and Sat thought their dishes were that tiny bit too little so decided to order one more dish to share between them. That dish was the Dynamite Crunchy Don (baked crabstick, scallop, and spicy mayo served on sushi rice topped with teriyaki sauce – $10). I guess they just couldn’t go past the name! It turned out to be so heavy that they couldn’t finish it. I blame it on the super crunchy tempura bits on the side. They were addictive but made all the difference in terms of oiliness.
It was the best decision to order beer with our meals as the refreshing bitterness really cut through all the oil we had and I thought it was necessary to wash it all down, not to mention it was Oktoberfest but we were unable to book a place at Hofbrauhaus for a drink. The Asahi and Hoegaarden were both $6 which was quite reasonable as well.
The lesson learnt from this experience was that sometimes walking around aimlessly to find a restaurant can result in unexpectedly good meals, and also, don’t over order when dishes are oily. Chances are you will leave feeling bloated and not so healthy.
Gaijin Lunch Bar is open for lunch everyday and dinner from Thursday to Saturday. I think the portion sizes are fine if you’re not feeling too hungry and is perfect for lunch. Most of us thought it was a good find, the food was tasty (albeit a little oily) and especially good if you’re looking for a cheap and fast meal coupled with good service and a smile.
Question time: Do you usually like to under or over order dishes at a restaurant?
Gaijin Lunch Bar
Phone: (03) 9642 3211
361 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne VIC 3000