108 Swan St Richmond, VIC 3121
|Opening hours||Mon-Wed 5pm-10pm; Thu-Sun noon-11pm|
|Features||Bar, Licensed, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||03 9965 1977|
There's a reason food trends happen and a reason people like them. For restaurants, tapping into group think can give you an easy run to the top. Remember when tacos were the talk of 2011? Slinging tortillas and tequilas became a good way to make a quick buck.
For diners, trends create what psychology nerds call a heuristic, a mental shortcut that allows you to quickly filter information. In this case, they answer the question of what's hot, ergo where to go. Choosing restaurants is risky. Every misstep reflects on your personal taste. But if you're just trying out the hottest new thing on a stick? That's a battle you and your party can all face together. You can bond in mutual, merciless judgment.
I bring this to your attention because hot things on sticks are Melbourne's current hot thing on a stick. Kushiyaki, Japan's contribution to the charcoal-grilled sticks canon (yakitori, in case you're wondering, means "grilled chicken", but is often borrowed to cover all stick food), isn't new. Its trendiness isn't either, if you remember getting sleazy over chicken heart skewers at the late, great Yu-u in Flinders Lane circa 2010. But suddenly, three dedicated houses of sticks have launched in two months and more are on the way. Why now?
It's not really a surprise if you've been tracking the upward trajectory of fire and charcoal-based cooking. Add our fetishistic love of singular Japanese foods (also having a moment: katsu sandos) and the rise of drink-led dining and it was meant to be. MONO-XO in Fitzroy is co-founded by the bartender behind Romeo Lane, Joe Jones. Neon-lit Bincho Boss on Little Bourke Street looks like a nightclub from the street. And Eazy Peazy, the minimalist Richmond bar where we set today's scene is brought to you by the creators of sake brand Toji.
Rows of the elegant daiginjo and gingo sake bottles line the back bar of a truly compelling room. It's a wonderland of sandy tones and good lighting, the soothing, subtle antithesis to every pink monstrosity around.
A ceiling of plaster spackle gives way to the raked runnels of zen gardens, trailing down the walls. Hollow hoop-backed chairs contrast sharp lines, and both kitchen and dining room are partitioned off with sand-filled glass panes that give the illusion of mountain ranges.
If you are going to frame Eazy Peazy in the context of its peers, it's not here to shake up the form. It's a menu as accessible and neutral as the room. Those sakes, both elegant, fruity executions served chilled, are backed up by Kirin and Orion, recognisable brewers like Moon Dog and Balter with a sprinkling of the more boutique thrown in. Cocktails are crisp, with Japanese twists on the familiar such as yuzu-fied Long Island Iced Tea.
The centrepiece skewers are a 50-50 mix of yakitori (chicken) and vegetables. The classic of thighs threaded with leek hearts are juicy, char-crisp and tender, the sweetened soy marinade (tare) caramelised just enough.
Chicken oysters have the thrill of the darker flesh and are finished with a salt and pepper crust. Guts fans will have to suffice with a few precious hearts surrounded by fried garlic, probably a little overdone. Sticky salted okra, or miso-dunked and charred onions and whole lines of those tare-tickled leek are all perfectly pleasant things.
There's more here than has had a stick poked at it. Good things. Daikon and cucumber pickles are restrained in both sweetness and sting, with just a light gingery kick. The wagyu steak, served with three schmears of Japanese mustard, a sweet, smoky whip-up of beef fat and a punchy whack of wasabi, gets the full benefit of that delicate charcoal grill.
Could the popcorn doused in umami-ful nori butter be a little less fat-heavy? Sure.
Could the potato starch have been cooked out on the karaage chicken, making the ginger-marinated bird even more compelling and less pasty? Maybe.
Is it a bad idea using nutty, ruffly beancurd skin to wrap the juicy, well-flavoured duck mince for the gyoza? Not for the gluten-free. For wheat-eaters, the jury is out.
Will any of this bother you if you take the generous two-hour drinks package of beer, wine or sake for $39? I doubt it.
It's easy to play compare and contrast when trends roll into town, but don't get stuck on Eazy Peazy's sticks. This is decent if not the best yakitori around. But yuzu sorbet, bravely bitter against crisp meringue, tangy citrus curd and spice cake shines as bright as the space in a strip that's drifted into darkness.
Vegetarian The skewers are 50-50 meat to veg, plus sides.
Drinks Try the owners' sake brand, Toji. Beers and Australian wines are mid-tier.
Cost Skewers $4.50-$6.50 each; larger dishes $21-$49.
Pro Tip: A two-hour drinks package for $39 is a deal.
Go-to Dish: Porterhouse with condiments ($49).