143 Queensberry St Carlton, VIC 3053
|Opening hours||Lunch Mon-Fri 11.30am-3pm; dinner Tue-Sun 5.30-10.30pm|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9029 5922|
A word of apology to all our readers not located in Carlton, but we're back for week three. It's like being trapped in some kind of dining deja vu, but it's worth addressing just how much is going on in this 'hood. The revivification of the Carlton Wine Room is cross-town-worthy. Likewise the impending pizza showdown between the Bar Liberty crew's new baby Capitano and soon-to-open Leonardo's Pizza Palace by team Ramblr. Meanwhile, on Queensberry, fusion is back. Chinese-ish Super Ling is doing super things like mapo tofu jaffles, while across the road, this little joint is adding some fuel to the fire with Japanese tinged with a little French.
The place is Torissong. The chef is Jinwook Park. He's Korean by birth, but that means less here than the techniques he's honed working in formal kitchens like Sofitel's No35 Restaurant and Shane Delia's Maha. (Or his personal love of all things Japanese. And French.)
Yakitori and ramen are the main game, only not at the same time. Like Super Ling across the road, you'll need to make a daytime raid to get your noodle fix, while skewers belong to the night.
If you had to choose, gun to head, right now the smart money is on ramen. Far from the land of salty, slippy pork tonkotsu broths, three of the four bowls are based on an elegant chicken consomme with the depths of jus gras.
There's a spicy version, but the best and brightest is lifted and perfumed with fresh lime and a notch of Japan's great fermented chilli and citrus condiment yuzu kosho. Bouncy noodles, military precise strips of garlic shoots, green onion, a fudgy sunny-yolked egg and wood ear mushrooms complete the base to which you add rendered, tanned wheels of braised-then-grilled pork belly, tender chicken or an extra onsen egg. It's a stand up bowl of soup.
The night shift brings Park's ambition to the fore. There are playful drinking dishes in katsu sandos and the centrepiece skewers, plus a strong slew of Japanese Coedo beers, sakes and umeshu cocktails to back them. Alongside sit a few refined sashimi numbers and French fusion wild cards, including mussels braised in sake like Japanese moules mariniere. Sweet, creamy and a little boozy, it's strangely addictive.
Park's past in kitchens where refined techniques rule has set him up to do both ends of the spectrum well. Take the chicken. He gets it in whole from Hazeldene, near Bendigo, and breaks it down in-house. The results are excellent.
The katsu sando's inch-thick fillet captured in an even, dark crumb is impossibly juicy, schmeared with a little wasabi mayo and swaddled in milk bread (a little sweet and crumbly, but acceptable) with scant lettuce for crunch.
There's an elegant fresh arrangement of sweet raw scallops bedded on a cucumber seaweed nest with that yuzu kosho and a tart apple juice moat. A whole leek, charred on the outer, drizzled with umamiful miso sauce, chilli oil and peanuts is a buttery, mellow pull.
What Park isn't as prepared for is running his elaborate menu (six packed sections of yakitori, sashimi, fried things, grilled things, rice bowls and desserts) for a full house. Torissong shines like a diamond by day, teeths like a new, ambitious restaurant by night. The room filling with customers can have the same effect as if it were filling with water. Plates stack up and thousand yard stares prevail.
Our chef's selection yakitori, a mixed plate of chicken skin, thigh, breast threaded with leeks, and the darker oysters from the nooks on the back, hits the table with a breathless apology, without condiments (should there be tare for dipping? The chance to ask does not come again). They're still well seasoned, juicy, with a haunting grill char. There's just far less of the precision you see at lunch with a tighter carte. Ditto shaved, grilled ox tongue, a shade underdone, scattered with togarashi.
There are good ideas, just too many of them. Battered cauliflower sloshed with sweet, dark chilli sauce is like vego Korean fried chicken squinted at a certain way. A union of nicely savoury matcha ice-cream is contrasted with a salty-sweet blizzard of peanut praline dust. But getting them at random times without the offer of a drink can make it hard to see the good.
It's a big room, of the polished canteen variety – breeze blocks, concrete, blondwood tables and stool-lined bar. It's quite soothing when things are calm but leaves nowhere to hide in mayhem. Go now, by all means, but with a little patience in your pocket. Better still, wait. I think the best is yet to come. Until then, there's lunch ramen and absolutely zero regrets.
Pro Tip: Consider doing the daytime shift until they find their feet
Go-to Dish: Lemon-lime yuzu kosho ramen ($15.50 plus two or three meats, $3 or $5)