Bistro Goemon

The Hawaiian soundtrack is more striking than the long, plain fitout.
The Hawaiian soundtrack is more striking than the long, plain fitout. Photo: Eddie Jim

281 Glen Huntly Road Elsternwick, Victoria 3185

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Opening hours Tues-Sun 5.30-9.30pm,Fri-Sun noon-2pm
Features Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Mastercard, Visa
Phone 03 9523 9900

Fusion is the ''f'' word used to describe dishes that bring together culinary odd couples. Pairings like deep, funky cheese with blushing red, rare tuna. It has clunky connotations, like wearing gumboots with a frock. But, in practice, pairing seemingly disparate ingredients - usually something common to the East with something from the West - can be pulled off beautifully. And when it does come off, it's spectacular.

Bistro Goemon has a few fusion-y dishes on its modern-Japanese menu. One of them is seared tuna slices with a nori skin and fine breadcrumb crust drizzled with mild gorgonzola sauce; it works, like mayo with back-bite. ''Mixing ingredients from many countries is common in restaurants in Tokyo,'' says Wataru Sato, Goemon's owner and chef who was born in Kanagawa prefecture, bordering Tokyo.

Labelled as tapas, Goemon splits its share-plates into ''hot'' and ''cold''. A warm, lightly fried medley of vegetables (brussels sprouts, cauliflower florets, asparagus spears, zucchini and capsicum) plated in pairs and in a soy broth is a bit like nude tempura. It's great. Crab agedashi tofu is a golden, crisp fried square of tofu in milky dashi stock almost solid with picked crab and carrot shavings; a crunchy tangle of fresh shredded leek on top.

Sensational: Soft-shell crab rolls drizzled with yuzu mayonnaise.
Sensational: Soft-shell crab rolls drizzled with yuzu mayonnaise. Photo: Eddie Jim

Considerations for colour, texture and form extend to the detailed ceramics holding the food. Six cubes of marbled pinky orange salmon rolls splayed along a long, rippled, white glazed platter look gorgeous. They're proper California rolls, with prawns, avocado and cucumber in a roll of rice, draped in quick-seared salmon.

Sato was a sushi chef at Akachochin, and Nobu before that; he can make even a spring roll a sensation. Fried soft-shell crab, lettuce, carrot and avocado wrapped in rice paper, cut into five pieces, all drizzled generously with creamy yuzu mayonnaise, and each topped with a bundle of lurid orange flying-fish roe that pops in the mouth.

Goemon's fitout is Japanese, but not overtly so. It's a long, plain room with staggered bricks in relief along the bottom half of one wall, painted tiles above. There's a long sushi bar and symmetrically spaced tables. The octagonal front window is probably the most striking feature. That, and the soundtrack: the lazily lapping twang of Hawaiian slack-key guitar. Sato spends a bit of time in Hawaii.

'Tuna and gorgonzola: it works, like mayo with backbite.'
'Tuna and gorgonzola: it works, like mayo with backbite.' Photo: Eddie Jim

Island tunes in a neat, well-priced modern-Japanese bistro on a busy Melbourne suburb street: let's call it frisson.

http://www.bistrogoemon.com.au/