There are plenty of Japanese eateries in Melbourne. More so than I have ever seen outside of Japan in fact. This is good for me because I absolutely love Japanese food. My love affair with this cuisine began a few years ago when I visited Japan on an around the world trip. Although I was living on a tight budget, I was fascinated by all the wonderful food on show.
Before that, my experiences of Japanese food were scarce and varied from packet udon and soba noodles to vegetarian sushi rolls as a teenager. I eventually progressed onto sashimi and teppanyaki. But it wasn't until I was in Japan that I fell absolutely head over heels in love with their amazing food. So it comes as no surprise at how delighted I was to discover the vast amount of Japanese cuisine on offer here.
Having walked through Federation Square several times, I was intrigued by a place on the square called Chocolate Buddha. Not only by its name, but also by the fact that it was always heaving each time I walked past. At first glance, I thought it was a chocolate themed cafe. But on closer inspection it is in fact, a funky Japanese restaurant. What makes them different is that they serve mainly organic and free-range produce.
It's a canteen style restaurant with tables and benches outside and long communal tables inside. There are seats that go all the way around the window which is perfect for people watching. As you walk inside, there is a small bar to the right, the restaurant to your left. There is a truly busy vibe about this place which makes you feel like you are in for a good meal.
Having arrived for an early six o'clock dinner, it was already packed out. Thinking that the wait may be a little while, two window seats were suddenly being vacated. Being the Miss Bossy Boots that I am, I wasted no time in pointing out to the waitress that I wanted those seats. She nodded in acknowledgement and politely asked us to wait in the bar area whilst they cleared and re-laid the table. Luckily, it wasn't too long before we sat down to a wide angle view of Federation Square and began to enjoy watching the hustle and bustle.
Feeling famished, an order of edamame, pork gyozas and agedashi tofu for starters were on the cards. The edamame was brought out pretty quickly and were hot, salty and oh sooo tasty. The pork gyozas came next and they looked pretty good. They were plump, crisp and tasted great. And finally, the Agedashi tofu soon followed. It didn't look as good as I had hoped it would do and on tasting it, it was a little dissappointing. For me, I like my agedashi tofu crispy and golden. This was neither and the dashi-based sauce was also a little too weak for my liking also.
Agedashi tofu, hmmm...
For mains, I carried on with the tofu theme and opted for the tofu and vegetables rice bowl. My dining partner chose the teriyaki chicken with spinach rice bowl. They both came with a bowl of piping hot miso soup. Yummy!
Tofu and vegetables rice bowl
Teriyaki chicken and spinach rice bowl with miso soup
Unfortunately, my tofu and vegetables rice bowl lacked any real punch and flavour. OK, so tofu doesn't taste of much as it is, but the sauce really could have done with some more oomph. The teriyaki chicken was really only mediocre and nothing special to write home about. The miso soup was probably the best part of the mains and it was gorgeously piping hot as opposed to warm.
All in all Chocolate Buddha was dissappointing. If you look online, it's got some rave reviews. However for me, it's like a funky version of a Wagamamas, only slightly more pricey. I won't be going back in a hurry and seeing as Melbourne has so many more Japanese restaurants and cafes to try out, I know I'll be busy working trying to work my way through the rest of them.
Federation Square, Cnr Swanston & Flinders Streets, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Tel: +61 (0)3 9654 5688