One of my favourite ways of killing time is walking around a semi-familiar area, to see what has changed and whether there are any new and interesting places to try. That’s how I came across Maru Shih Japanese Café, a fairly new place on Toorak Road and one of the nicest places I’ve come across in a while.
You wouldn’t know it from the outside though. Not that it looks bad but it looks quite generic, clean and well lit but nothing out of the ordinary. Go up the stairs though and it’s very different. It’s small but really cosy, with the landing being turned into a small eating area with four tables.
A special nod to the serving staff as well. We all have our favourite style of being served and personally I don’t like showy or flamboyant service. The staff here ticked all my boxes – polite, efficient, friendly and non-obtrusive. And cute enough that I just wanted to wrap them up in a box and take them home.
It wouldn’t matter though if the food wasn’t good and fortunately it is. The chicken teriyaki set meal was good, served with a strongly flavoured bowl of miso soup. The chicken was moist and tender and the salad light and with a zingy dressing. Good value too as one of the days special deals at under $10.
Better was the Japanese pancake (okonomiyaki), a vegetable pancake covered in a sweet dark sauce and mayonnaise and topped with sliced vegetables and bonito flakes. Crisp on the outside and soft in the middle, a good version of a real typical Japanese favourite.
Best though was the best curry katsu don I’ve had in Melbourne. Tender, juicy chicken, fluffy rice and smooth and warming but not spicy curry sauce, my only complaint was that it was gone all too soon.
In a bit of an unusual touch green tea latte is available. I almost laughed when it came out it looked so incongruous and I don’t think it quite worked, at least not for me. It’s a little sweet and tastes like a warmed milk that has been flavoured with green tea rather than a milky green tea. Still, it’s not unpleasant and different enough to be well worth trying.
The only miss, a sesame ice cream which had way too many ice crystals.
Admittedly I'm biased towards cute and/or neighbourhood joints, places with personality more than the competent but generic. I could imagine this as like the local Japanese version of cheers, the café where everyone knows your name. In some ways I’m torn, I want it to be the success it deserves but I want to keep it to myself as well. It’s one of those places that has nothing fancy about it but serves the comforting style of food you want to eat on a daily basis. Another place that I just wish was in my neighbourhood so I could eat there more often.
Food – 8
Ambience – 8 (upstairs)
Service – 8.5
Price – 7.5
49 Toorak Road
South Yarra VIC 3142
Tel: (03) 9077 9108