Bounty of the Sun review

Konnyaku aglio olio.
Konnyaku aglio olio. Photo: Joe Armao

28 Nelson St Balaclava, VIC 3183

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Opening hours Wed-Thu 5pm-11pm; Fri-Sun 3pm-11pm
Features Bar, Licensed, Accepts bookings
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9525 5589

Has food ever made you laugh? I found myself gleefully giggling over chef Ryo Doyama's konnyaku aglio olio.

Konnyaku noodles (translucent, chewy yam starch strips) are Japanese. The aglio olio (garlic, oil) is one of the simplest Italian methods to dress pasta. Doyama fuses these two ideas, dressing his noodles with sesame oil, garlic, kombu (seaweed) stock, soy and chilli.

I love it every which way: slippery noodles with oil, salt and spice are always going to excite me and – here's the laughing part – the cultural mash-up speaks precisely to the fun culinary collision of Bounty of the Sun.

Inside the izakaya in Balaclava.
Inside the izakaya in Balaclava. Photo: Joe Armao

Ryo Doyama moved from Japan straight from high school; he's been in Melbourne for 25 years. This izakaya (a boisterous drinking place with snacks) is the first time he's cooked Japanese food, but it's imbued with influences from a career plating Mod Oz, Italian and cafe fare. His business partner is Eben Hocking, owner of Doyama's previous workplace, Merrymen cafe in Hampton.

The pandemic threw huge curveballs at their plans, but when the indoor-outdoor restaurant opened properly in spring, Bounty of the Sun was embraced by ex-lockdowners eager to snack, drink and cheerily yell at each other in a convivial, casually celebratory setting.

Cocktails, beer and sake are the drivers: a cucumber-shiso gimlet laced with yuzu juice is just as easy to sip alongside ponzu-dressed oysters or an "American dog" fried frankfurter dressed with Kewpie mayo and hot Japanese mustard.

Miso baba ghanoush on toast.
Miso baba ghanoush on toast. Photo: Joe Armao

Crisp house lager loves the smoky baba ganoush mixed with miso, piled on white toast with pickled shallot.

Sake is an obvious match for sake-steamed clams, served with golden-crisp Chinese donuts to soak up the salty-tart seaspray broth.

For dessert, tiramisu mochi or panna cotta drizzled with yuzu sauce, and you might sway back to a Japanese whisky highball.

Clams with Chinese doughnuts.
Clams with Chinese doughnuts. Photo: Joe Armao

Bounty of the Sun is a translation of the birth name of Hideyoshi, a 16th-century peasant who became a powerful regent and unifying leader. He's Doyama's favourite samurai because he rose from humble beginnings ("I came from nothing as well," says the chef).

I can't compare a rollicking diner opposite a supermarket car park with sweeping military conquests, but I will say that laughing with noodles is just my kind of victory.

Rating Three and a half stars (out of five)