Nama Nama

Bento at Nama Nama.
Bento at Nama Nama. Photo: Rodger Cummins

31 Spring Street Melbourne, VIC 3000

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03 9639 9500
Opening hours Mon–Sat 9am–9pm
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard

DID you know the chefs knead udon with their feet at Nama Nama? Don't go all squidgy; it's tradition, perfectly hygienic, and the results are splendid.

''We've got a dough-kneader,'' co-owner Simon Denton says, quick to point out that Nama's noodles are house-made, by machine, not hand-made.

Foot-made? Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, but it's step two (geddit?) of the three-hour process when Yosuke Furukawa and team wrap the stiff dough in plastic, ''put on a clean pair of socks and off they go'', Denton says. After that, they roll it into long, thick-ish strands, cut it and cook it in a roiling broth.

Then in come the hordes - Nama Nama was packed from day one - for steaming bowls of the Kanto-style broth and the filling, chunky, rough-hewn udon.

There are five options, including pork, spinach and quail egg in a dashi-based broth with bonito flakes and kombu; or a veg version with sweet, deep-fried tofu pockets, wakame and shimeji mushrooms. Extras include juicy tempura prawns.

Crikey, five paragraphs on the udon.

OK, let's tick some must-know boxes about Nama Nama. It's run by Denton, Miyuki Nakahara and Takashi Omi, owners of sexy Japanese bunker Izakaya Den.

Denton Corker Marshall did the fitout (that's Simon's father's architecture firm) and there's clever style here - low-to-the-ground milking stools, glass, timber, concrete, a vivid yellow bar. It, like the food, is based on the motto of ''fresh fresh'', a made-up saying that translates in Japanese as ''nama nama''.

Choose-your-own bento holds the day's treasures in natty bamboo boxes. Become a ''bento member'' and you can take the box back to the office and return it next time you come. You can also take away a ring-pull glass of sake or a can of Yebisu beer, too.

''People love choice,'' Denton says, ''and we've found the bento has outsold the udon.''

Options are laid out on the counter - a gingery, sesame smoked-salmon salad; kingfish sashimi; rice-paper rolls filled with wagyu, daikon and carrot; Japanese pickles; nanban, pieces of battered and fried sweet-and-sour-style chicken; yuzu-marinated ocean trout; poached duck; and a pork and daikon rice cake.

Desserts are minimal. At the moment there's one, a plain-Jane yuzu tea cake.

The mostly Japanese staff handle the mostly corporate crowd with grace.

Upstairs bar Hihou opened a couple of weeks ago. It's a dark, moody space with stone, leather, bronze mirrors, lots of sake, shochu and umeshu, and bar snacks such as Japanese hot-dogs.

Nama Nama is only a month old but it already has regulars who've eaten their way through the big, cardboard-mounted menu. It doesn't take itself too - seriously, and puts the ''sole'' back into Japanese soul food.

Where 31 Spring Street, city, 9639 9500
Prices Udon noodles, $15; nori rolls, $3.50-$4; katsu bun, $7.50-$8.50; bento, $16 (bento members, $15); desserts, $5
Cards MC V Eftpos (Amex soon)
Licensed
Open Mon-Fri, 7am-5pm; Sat, 8am-5pm
Website namanama.com.au
Cuisine Japanese

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http://www.namanama.com.au/