It's the name that's almost instantly recognisable as an icon of Japanese cuisine. The Melbourne location of the famed restaurant empire is one of only two places in Australia where you can sample Nobu Matsuhisa's internationally renowned 'new style' Japanese cooking, so you can bet that we had our sights on dining at this place on a recent trip to the city.
Nobu sits on the ground floor of the majestic Crown Casino, overlooking the Yarra River. It is one of the more sophisticated restaurants you can dine at in the opulent, multi-storey Crown complex, which also has its very own cinema, theatre and bowling alley. The casino is so big that we got lost more than once trying to find the restaurant (tip: it's on street level along the water, just past the food court).
The restaurant is spread out over two levels: the upper entry level is home to the bar and has a more casual feel, with dim lighting, lounge and bar seating and a DJ when we visit, while the lower ground level is a more formal dining space.
Nobu is acclaimed for its innovative take on traditional washoku. On the menu you'll spot a few familiar Japanese favourites like sashimi, tempuraand sushi, but it's the more creative specialty dishes that have earned the restaurant it's cult following. We notice this upon perusing the extensive dinner menu; there are entire sections dedicated to Nobu's new style sashimi, tacos and special hot dishes. The latter section in particular seems to have some of the more creative dishes such as Nobu style dish & chips, tempura with spicy butter ponzu, short ribs with tomato gastrique and umami sea bass. Choosing just a few to order is a difficult task, and our waitress helps us out by recommending a few signature dishes to try which include the new style sashimi, Nobu tacos and black cod with Saiyko Miso.
Apchee & Akai Yuki - Red Snow Mocktails ($11 each)
We arrive an hour early for our dinner reservation and are taken to a seat at the bar, where we have prime position watching the bartenders conjure up colourful Japanese-style cocktails. We start with a couple of mocktails. The Apchee mocktail is a refreshing concoction of lychee, apple and lime, while the Akai Yuki resembles an icy, drinkable snow cone meddled with flavours of mango, pineapple, coconut and raspberry.
Yasei Hana - Wildflower Cocktail ($22)
The Yasai Hana is a citrusy, floral cocktail. The main flavour is yuzu, with subtle rose and vanilla undertones.
Hiramasa Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno ($26)
This is the original yellowtail sashimi, although I've had a similar version at Sake. A soy-based dressing lightly coats each piece of the blush pink Hiramasa, which is in turn topped with a thin slice of Jalapeno. It's an impeccable combination, with the chilli adding a fiery kick to each mouthful.
Tasmanian Salmon New Style Sashimi ($25)
'New Style Sashimi' is a concept that is uniquely Nobu. Essentially, it's sashimi bathed in a hot oil on the table, which cooks the fish ever so slightly and makes it soft and fragrant.
Field Greens with Matsuhisa Dressing ($12.50)
Leafy greens provide freshness and are coated in a light, salty soy dressing.
Black Cod Saikyo Miso ($55)
If there is one dish that Nobu is most famous for, it has to be this Miso Cod.
Yasai Doko Pork Belly, Mustard-Su Miso ($34)
This pork belly dish is bang-on delicious. The pork belly is soft and gelatinous, topped with miniature cubes of sour-sweet apple and an umami-rich miso mustard sauce.
Spicy Tuna Cut Roll ($15)
Simple but perfectly prepared spicy tuna rolls are filled with slivers of spring onion. Immaculate morsels of spicy goodness.
Petit Four - Matcha Azuki Bean Donut & Earl Grey Mochi Ice Cream ($8)
I absolutely love Japanese desserts so we just had to give the petit fours a try. The first one we sample is the green tea and red bean donut, which is a delightful mouthful. The second petit four is a round of earl grey ice cream enrobed in a thin layer of chewy mochi. The ice cream is smooth, creamy, and has a distinctive floral flavour that is just divine.
Chocolate Fondant, Imperial Matcha Gelato ($18)
We also cave in an order the chocolate fondant. This is a rich, moist cake filled with a lava of molten chocolate. The side of bittersweet matcha gelato is cooling and helps offset the sweetness of the cake.
If there's a restaurant that perfectly fuses the tradition and modernity of Japanese cuisine, it's Nobu. The food they serve up is nothing short of spectacular, which is perhaps why it's become such an internationally acclaimed name. Definitely one to put on your restaurant bucket list.
Happy Ending may just be the answer to all of your burger needs. The takeaway joint takes over the space of what used to be a family fish and chip shop on the main strip of Concord's Majors Bay Road; a hole in the wall space that fits a row of indoor counter seats and just a handful of tables outside.
The team running this hot burger joint is the same as the one behind the infamous Mister Gee's burger truck. This is their first bricks-and-mortar store, so you can imagine the crowds that have flocked to sample what could be one of the best burgers in the inner west.
The interior is reminiscent of a funky diner, with a purple tint and short and sweet menu listed above the front counter.
Their opening menu featured three beef burgers and one chicken variety - although since then this has expanded to numerous other seasonal specials.
No Mustard Please ($12) This is Happy Ending's version of the classic cheeseburger. A dry-aged beef patty, caramelised onion, american cheese and their house special sauce No. 2 sit inside a soft, lightly toasted milk bun. This is the epitome of the perfect cheeseburger, with a juicy, tender patty and charred, smoky outer crust on the meat. Just look at that golden, shiny sauce.
Bonus Round ($14) A step up from the No Mustard Please, the Bonus Round burger has a few extra ingredients and is sandwiched together with a slightly different sauce - this one aptly named 'sauce No. 6'. Tomato and spanish onion add a fresh crunch, and the secret sauce is creamy and tangy.
Fries ($3) Of course, you can't have burgers without ordering a quintessential side of fries. These don't disappoint - they're cut in a classic French Fry style and go perfectly with a squeeze of ketchup.
You'll be hard pressed to find something not to like about Happy Ending. Their burgers are truly beautiful, well-constructed specimens, with every component playing its part to form the perfect mouthful - from the slightly sweet bun to the toasty, coarsely minced patty with its charred crust, the perfectly melted cheese and the bang on-sauces. Get on down there if you haven't already!
Balcon By Tapavino is the kind of place where you'd happily spend a lazy Friday afternoon. Order some share plates, a glass of wine and graze your way into the weekend.
The outdoor terrace area at the back of the restaurant conduces this relaxing, laid-back feeling, while the warmly-lit dining areas inside are cosy. Run by the same team as Spanish tapas restaurant Bar Tapavino, much of the menu is laid out in Spanish. There is something for every appetite, with individually portioned tapas, jamon boards, and a mix of smaller and large plates. There's a good chance you haven't had anything quite like the food here before.
Passionfruit Mojito and Grapefruit Spritz
Coca ($16) This pan-fried flatbread is stuffed with a tasty mixture of chopped chorizo, egg and spinach. The nubbly filling holds well inside the thin but sturdy bread, with the egg dispersed throughout to bind the mixture. The chorizo adds a subtle salty heat to this entree-sized dish.
Braised lamb shoulder ($42) This lamb dish ticks all the right boxes. The tender shoulder has a good mixture of lean meat and fatty, gelatinous bits, and we love the creamy bite of the crispy Moroccan-style chickpeas. It comes with a side of charred zucchini, which has a slightly bitter flavour that perfectly offsets the richness of the lamb. This is big enough to share between at least two people.
Charcoal Roast Pumpkin This is my favourite plate of the night. It's a plateful of sweet, creamy, salty, crispy perfection. The foundation of this dish is a wedge of pumpkin, burnished until soft and caramelised on the outside, topped with a light, cooling cultured cream, crispy pepitas, curry leaves and shards of salty jamon. It's finished with a lick of browned butter. Absolutely genius.
Fancy a cup of tea and warm scones with jam and cream? The Tea Cosy is just the place to satisfy your afternoon tea cravings.
Nestled in an old terrace house in The Rocks, The Tea Cosy is a cafe that retains an old-fashioned charm. The interior has hardly been touched in converting the house into a functioning cafe, with tables wedged into nooks and crannies around the two-level space.
It's the perfect place to chat over a hot cup of freshly-brewed tea and a basket of scones. The decor might just be borrowed from your grandma's house, complete with hand-knitted tea cosies, doilies and cross-stitched wall decor.
The best part? Scones are baked fresh every half hour, so you know you'll only get the freshest baked goods (even if it means you'll have to wait!).
Devonshire tea ($15) We order three sets of the Devonshire tea, which comes with two scones and a drink of your choosing, as well as a choice of jam. There is a wide selection of nine different jams on offer, with flavours that range from the conventional (strawberry, apricot, triple berry) to the more flamboyant (rhubarb, raspberry and vanilla; fig & ginger).
Each tea set comes with a pot of jam and luscious, double thick cream. The scones have a nice, soft crumb and crispy top. They're quite round in shape, compared to other versions which are more well-risen and tall.
One pot of tea serves at least two cups. We go for the classic English Breakfast tea, which is a fragrant, full-bodied brew.
Ribbon sandwiches ($11.50 for mix of two varieties) If savoury is more your thing, the ribbon sandwiches are dainty fingers which consist of three layers of soft, crustless bread. We go for the ham variety, which comes with a sweet tomato chutney and sharp cheddar, as well as the smoked salmon variety.
Hazelnut Milkshake ($5.50)
Aside from the extensive tea menu, which includes traditional, flavoured and herbal teas (all of which are served in a teapot dressed in a cute, knitted tea cosy), there is also a selection of iced drinks. The hazelnut milkshake hits the spot and provides cool respite from the baked scones.