- 9245 9900
33 Dukes Walk,
View on map
September 11, 2012
Have your say
Photo: Eddie Jim
IRASSHAIMASE. Welcome back to the izakaya, the hipster's choice of eatery before tacos came along to hog the limelight. The telltale red lanterns now hang outside Akachochin, another start-up at the yet-to-ignite South Wharf, where they double as navigational beacons in the sepulchral evening gloom. Gosh it's dark along this sliver of riverside real estate - something else needing rectification before this newly minted land of plenty attracts its quorum of frequent flyers.
Take a punt on this one. Go towards the light, via the door of the neighbouring Sharing House, also owned by Paul Mathis, and presto: a three-quarters-full room (where did all these people come from?) that provides immediate reassurance there's something worthwhile going on.
The izakaya - like a pub with food or food with a pub, depending who you speak to - is the closest Japanese iteration of ''dude food'', the movement infecting the globe with stoner nonchalance, one deep-fried item at a time.
Despite its traditional restaurant set-up - a long white marble sushi counter, startlingly glossy black floorboards and yellow timbers giving this reclaimed cargo shed much-needed warmth - Akachochin ducks under the rubric of bar food with a sizeable minority of its lengthy sharing and small dish-oriented menu. The ''fish chips'' - red snapper impersonating its usual partner in crime, the flesh mashed and hammered into thin fried sheets - are super-crunchy and scattered liberally with salt flakes and herbs; they're dangerously addictive.
The fried half-eggplant, grilled into oily-gooey submission with oysters and a bitey yellow cheese, is less thrilling and also less surprising, given the wacky things the Japanese do with cheese. But kudos to head chef Kengo Hiromatsu (whose former life in charge at Nobu glimmers through this more conventional menu) for the genius of turning a chicken wing into a dumpling - deboned, marinated in an aromatic master stock and stuffed with a mixture of chicken mince, cabbage and more sprightly greens with a velvety lick of sesame oil. Fried into golden-skinned crispness, it's diabolically good.
Akachochin excels at these inspired novelty acts for the drinking crowd, and the same crowd will be well satisfied with the drinks list, which naturally enough headlines sake, this year's tipple of choice, embellishing it with helpful tasting notes that only occasionally devolve into the arcane. When in doubt, the jovial staff members should be able to come to the rescue, although if it's wine you're after the Sharing House list will be proffered.
The menu is divided into cooking styles - from the grill through to steaming and salads - and the solid performance across all the bases regularly tips into exciting territory.
A cold starter of thin-sliced duck breast marinated in a bunch of the usual suspects - soy, mirin, chilli and ginger - saddles up with a tangerine ''confit duck jelly'' packing some good chilli heat; alongside comes a dark-meat terrine with good flavour but a touch dry, in contradiction of its flat cap of fat. Just-seared tuna tataki, ladled with a ponzu jelly that brings its citrus brightness to the smokiness of the fish, gets a sympathetic kick from anchovy sauce, and grilled scallops on the half shell come topped with a thick orange blanket of sea-urchin sauce the consistency of a mousse.
The sashimi selection doesn't exactly inspire visions of the chefs scouring the fish market for varieties beyond tuna, salmon, kingfish and King George whiting. There's commercial wasabi, shredded daikon and a squeeze of lime but they can safely be ignored thanks to the fresh integrity of the fish. More compelling are the exotic sushi rolls - inside-out unagi (eel) wrapped in a thin pale-green curl of peeled cucumber that lends a refreshing crunch, finished with a squiggle of sticky brown sauce that owes its considerable umami depths to fish bones.
The other raw fish gong goes to the kingfish tartare - the finely chopped fish mixed with miso paste, toasted sesame seeds and the mildly nostril-rattling addition of wasabi stem, with slivers of spring onion adding an alleviating crunch to all the soft textures. Scooped on to gossamer-thin rice crackers, it's a runaway winner. Also check out Hiromatsu's modern interpretation of agedashi tofu, which comes across as a Chinese riff on the Japanese classic, with its richly comforting egg tofu - all soft-centred in its thick-edged batter - exotic mushrooms and Japanese mountain vegetables in a thicker, sweeter, viscous sauce.
There's more soybean delight at dessert with the cheesecake, which even the non-tofu brigade ought to like, thanks to it being whipped into rich fluffiness with mascarpone, then capped by a super-sweet raspberry coulis. The sweet potato brulee's ugly shade of orange detracts from the looks and the sugary top is too thin to create that signature crackable sheet but the body is rich and creamy enough to strike up an unlikely friendship.
With its infectious left-of-centre leanings, Akachochin is one of the finest iterations of the izakaya Melbourne has seen. Whether it's a pub with food or food with a pub, who really cares? Come back, hipsters. You won't be sorry.
Where Shed 7, 33 Dukes Walk, South Wharf, Docklands
Phone 9245 9900
Cost Typical dish, $15; dessert, $12
Wine list Comprehensive sake list; global wine list from next-door Sharing House
Owner Paul Mathis
Chef Kengo Hiromatsu
Service Idiosyncratic and knowledgable
Dietary Gluten-free well catered for
Parking Ticketed car park nearby
Cards AE MC V eftpos
Hours Tues-Sun, noon-4pm, 6pm-late
- 9245 9900
33 Dukes Walk,
View on map
- Typical dish, $15; dessert, $12
- Tues-Sun, noon-4pm, 6pm-late
- Kengo Hiromatsu
- Paul Mathis
- Cards accepted:
- AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, eftpos