It was not long ago that Yuye and I were discussing just what restaurants Glen Waverley needed. It’s starting to turn into Malaysia town with my favourite Hong Kong style cafe, Star East Cafe, closing not too long ago. What’s opening in its place I hear you ask? Pappa Rich that’s what. So hence my conclusion that Glen Waverley is turning into Malaysia Town. It’s not that I don’t like Malaysian food, not at all. It’s just that sometimes I feel there are food I like that’s missing from my suburb.
One of the restaurants I wished there was more of was Japanese. Just as I was discussing this with Yuye, I realised that there was in fact a restaurant that opened up called Monga Izakaya. I never realised it was Japanese until I read its name closely, as those of you who live in Melbourne would know, Monga is primarily a Taiwanese dessert cafe.
For those of you who don’t know, Izakaya refers to Japanese style bars that also serve some food. Even knowing what it means, I was a bit unsure what to expect. Would I see all Japanese desserts? Would there be hardly any food? Monga’s style and brand had been imprinted into my mind so it was difficult to imagine it to be anything else. It turned out to be very impressive. There was a very large variety of Japanese sake (rice wine), imported Japanese beers and ales, a whole lot of delicious and properly made food as well as, of course, a lot of desserts. In fact, it looked nothing like other Monga restaurants apart from a few desserts on the menu.
When Yuye and I entered, we were promptly seated by our friendly waitress who was Japanese. We preferred to sit at the bar counter because we wanted to gawk at the selection of sake as well as being able to chat with the bar staff. It turned out that it was a very good decision to sit there.
Mark, the manager and sake expert, chatted to us all night about various sake related topics which made the meal quite enjoyable. Mark worked at some of Melbourne’s leading restaurants like Shoya, Koko in Crown and Number 8, developing the sake and wine menus as well as managing the restaurants. He is an architect turned sommelier, specialising mostly in red and white wine and in more recent years sake. It’s no wonder the sake list here is so good.
Yuye and I tried quite a few dishes on the menu as everything sounded quite delicious. Just like any good izakaya, they have grilled skewers at a few dollars each. We tried the chicken skewer (yakitori – $2.40) which we thought needed a tiny bit more salt but was very juicy and tender. We also tried the beef ($2.40) which was probably the best skewer we tried and was again very tender and well seasoned. The pork neck ($2.80) was also cooked nicely, but the chicken skin (torikawa – $2.40) was a bit burnt and a bit too crunchy.
We ordered the kingfish sashimi to try as well ($10.80) which was surprisingly quite nice. I was expecting just a few pieces of fish on a plate but it turned out to be nicely cut with roe on top and was so fresh I didn’t want to share with Yuye.
During our second visit to the restaurant about a week later, we ordered this sashimi again. It wasn’t as nicely cut as the first time or as nicely plated, but was just as fresh and delicious.
We ordered a grilled spider crab leg ($12.80) which was delicious however I didn’t think it was worth the price since there wasn’t much meat in the leg and I thought it was a little on the dry side.
We also ordered the mixed seafood tempura on both visits ($12.80) but actually didn’t think it was the best we’ve had. The batter was a bit too oily and not flaky enough but the seafood inside was cooked well. It included 3 pieces of squid, 2 prawns and 2 seafood sticks.
The soft-shell crab ($8.80) on the other hand was delicious and came in a generous portion. We ordered this dish again on our second visit and it came with a different dipping sauce. The first time came with a green tea mayonnaise which we thought was a bit too oily and made the crab too heavy. The second time the dip was a green tea salt using real green tea powder and leaves which we thought was a great change and made the dish even better. We used the salt to season other dishes that needed it as well.
The crab croquette (kani korokke – $7.80) was served with Kewpie mayonnaise (a slightly salty and creamy Japanese mayonnaise) which was creamy and delicious, just how I like croquettes to be.
We were almost going to stop there but Mark recommended us to try the tempura seaweed with fish meat ($7.80) and so we did. The seaweed was crunchy, not too oily and was very umami. It tasted a little like fish balls which I like.
We ended our first visit with the kuzu kiri ($10.40) which is a cold starchy and jelly like dessert in noodle form. It was crystal clear, light in taste and very refreshing. It was perfect after having so many oily and heavy dishes. Usually they only come with one dipping sauce which is either black sugar or plum but the manager decided to give us both sauces. The black sugar was sweet and delicious whereas the plum was sour and refreshing so the two sauces went very well together.
The only flaw with this dish was the fact that the crystal clear noodles were slightly difficult to pick up from the bowl as it was covered with ice cubes but I suppose it made it that much more fun to eat as well.
During our second visit, we also tried the Japanese pork belly ($16.80) which we didn’t like as much. I thought it was a bit too bland and seemed just like a pork slices slightly stewed but wasn’t all that special. The meat was also a little dry.
After my first visit, I recommended Monga Izakaya to a friend and I was told the uni chahan (sea urchin fried rice – $18.80) and I was surprised at just how delicious it was. I know not everyone likes sea urchin but if you do like it, you will love this fried rice. The rice was at a perfect dryness with each and every piece of rice separate but work well together.
It’s too bad that we were too full on the second visit to eat any dessert because there really is a very big selection of delicious looking dishes which is what Monga is good at.
We did manage to have a lot of wonderful drinks on both visits though. We tried the Echigo Beer Koshihikari ($16) which is a Japanese rice lager. It uses a premium short grain rice and tastes quite sweet for a beer. I quite enjoyed the taste of this beer as I’m not very good with dry beer.
We also tried the Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale ($12) which was a hazy amber colour and tasted sweet and fruity. I quite enjoyed this ale and it went rather well with all the food.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m quite in love with yuzu flavoured things. Yuzu is a sweet and refreshingly sour Japanese citrus fruit and goes very well in desserts and other fruit flavours things like soaps and lip gloss. When I found out that Monga Izakaya had a yuzu flavoured hot green tea, I was overjoyed. It was made using premium jasmine tea along with a Korean brand of yuzu flavoured honey. It’s a great drink when it’s slightly chilly out. Monga did call this drink ‘grapefruit tea’ though but the Japanese does say yuzu and tasted like yuzu.
Mark was very happy that night and decided to have a small drink with us so brought out the Kitanohomare Junmai Daiginjo Nishingoten which is a very smooth and easy to drink sake. I won’t go into the detail of how junmai daiginjo sakes are made but it’s a premium grade of sake made with the best rice that has been polished to 50% of its original size so tastes very pure.
Mark also recommended a new cocktail that he had created and we were the only ones to have tried it before it was added to the summer menu. The cocktail is called Yuzu Mojito ($12) and yes, it had yuzu flavour in it again. It was not minty like a regular mojito but definitely had the refreshing taste and we both loved it.
On our second visit, we couldn’t help ourselves and had to order one of the yuzu flavoured sakes. There were quite a few to my surprise. As I had tried the large bottle of sake already and didn’t feel like the sparkling (middle), we decided to try the Nigori Yuzu Shu ($12) and it was delicious as expected. It was very refreshing from the yuzu flavour and just the right amount of sweetness. If you’re not as accustomed to drinking sake yet, you might want to try one of these as it’s a lot easier to drink compared to the regular sakes.
There’s a huge collection of sakes, shochus, umeshus, imported Japanese beers, spirits and others, all conveniently placed on a map of Japan from where it originated and contain information about each one as well as about sakes in general. I highly recommend trying one of the sakes to go with the delicious food.
I haven’t been back to Monga Izakaya since November 2012, so I’m not sure how far they’ve developed their menu since then but when I went, they were still in their early stages so things weren’t as organised. For instance, the credit card/EFTPOS system was not yet up and running so we had to pay with cash. Since the prices are not exactly the cheapest around, having so much cash on hand is not convenient to say the least. Hopefully the issue will be rectified soon if not already done. Other than this, the service was excellent, Mark was great at his job and provided a lot of insight into sakes for us. The food and drinks were mostly very delicious and I would definitely recommend Monga Izakaya to anyone wanting a good Japanese restaurant or Izakaya meal over a few drinks and a dessert or 2.
Question time: When there’s the option of sitting at the counter/bar, would you normally choose this option or do you opt for the quieter side tables?
Phone: (03) 9560 6774
91 Kingsway, Glen Waverley VIC 3150 (Upstairs)