238 Little Bourke Street Melbourne, Victoria 3000
|Opening hours||Monday-Sunday, 11am-9pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Phone||03 9650 6663|
Where and what
A taste of Japan has arrived in Chinatown, but it's strictly a sushi-free zone. Rice Workshop specialises in fast, affordable donburi, a term for ''rice bowl''. Popular in Japan, where fast food doesn't necessarily mean deep-fried and fattening, donburi restaurants offer rice and noodle bowls with different toppings. Here, there are five ''base dishes'' - beef, chicken, salmon, salad bowl or Japanese curry bowl - to which you can add your own extras.
The hip, compact restaurant is the brainchild of Japanese chef Tomohiro Suzuki, head chef at Shyun in Carnegie, and Dessert Story's David Loh, and everything feels authentically Japanese.
Where to sit
Don't sit down before you order. If you do, you'll be shouted at (in the nicest possible way) and talked through the instructions.
Once you've ordered, you can take a seat at the bench in the front window, where you can watch Chinatown's traffic, on one of a handful of tables with low stools, or a ''standing table'', or head upstairs where the vibe is more relaxed.
Aside from green tea, it's soft drink all the way here, including the Japanese lactic acid drink (stay with me) Calpis, a non-carbonated ''soft drink'' made from fermented milk and water which, if you haven't tried, is worth a shot. It's better than it sounds - a bit like Yakult.
The delivery is rapid (Tomohiro says he anticipates diners will wait no longer than two to three minutes), but most of the dishes are far from what we consider fast food. The ingredients are fresh (salmon and meat are delivered daily) and the serves are enormous, especially for the prices - the most expensive dish is the Ontama salmon bowl (raw salmon topped with nori seaweed and soft boiled egg), at $10.40 for the large size.
The regular bowls are perfectly filling and most come in at under $8, less than the price of a sarnie these days. A couple of the curry bowls are even cheaper - the plain Japanese curry is just $5.50, or $6.50 when topped with egg - and you can get a plain udon bowl for $4.50.
Beef bowls include stewed beef with a ''secret'' recipe soya broth of herbs and spices ($6.70/$8.20), or Ontama style, topped with a soft boiled egg for $7.70/$9.20; chicken bowls are teriyaki chicken - either plain or spicy ($6.70/$8.20) and the salad bowls include tuna ($6.90), stewed beef ($6.90) and a char-grilled tofu for $6.90. If you prefer noodles, the udon bowls include beef, tempura prawn and vegetable pancake, all $7.50.
The house ''combo'' is any bowl plus $3.50, and ''sidekick'' dishes include miso soup for a mere two bucks, edamame for $2.90 and four pieces of takoyaki (octopus and shallot balls) for $3.90. All superior to most takeaway options in the surrounding area, and cheaper.
City workers grabbing fast lunches, Asian students who know the score.
Extraordinary value, tasty food and crazy Japanese atmosphere. Nothing not to love.