Glen Waverley, VIC
Appearances can be deceiving. What I’ve always thought was a struggling little restaurant on the fringes of Glen Waverley turned out to be the third most popular Japanese restaurant in all of Melbourne. Shira Nui, on-and-off holder of one chef’s hat, is in fact so popular that I’ve heard booking a month in advance is required. And that’s exactly what K and I did. After all, it’s not every day a guy turns 20, and we planned on celebrating in style.
From what I’ve heard, Shira Nui’s a la carte menu is nothing to scoff at. Featuring a large selection of sushi, sashimi, and traditional Japanese dishes made with premium ingredients, it’s no wonder that people are willing to pay the extra money to eat here. But the 12 seater bench running along the sushi bar is the real drawcard. As far as I know, it’s the only place in Melbourne that offers an Omakase, literally meaning ‘up to you’. Each person starts off with 9 pairs of sushi, and if you choose to continue after that, another 2-3 pairs will be served at a time until you beg for mercy.
There’s a certain set of unwritten rules to obey when you order the omakase. The most important one of all is the soy sauce rule. Each pair of sushi is served with a quiet command of ‘soy’ or ‘no soy’, a suggestion to ignore at your own taste buds’ peril. Another thing to keep in mind is that each piece of sushi is designed to be the perfect mouthful, meaning that the whole piece is to be eaten in one go as the chef intended; no scraping bits off, taking the sushi apart, or adding more wasabi. Follow these two rules (and some of the finer points of sushi eating etiquette, if you know them) and the head sushi chef, Hiro-san, will treat you to as much delectable sushi as his years of experience can offer. Break them and you may find yourself being on the receiving end of a sharp glare, a snapped rebuke, or even sushi-less until you contritely request for more. Some may find this style of eating to be pompous and restrictive, but I think it’s charming and just a little bit humbling. After all, it is the sushi chef that has spent years perfecting his technique, and the least I can do as a diner is to respect that.
After confirming that we were going to indulge in the omakase, we were served a small dish of pickled onion and fried fish. It’s sweet, it’s sour, and it’s perfect as an appetiser, snack, or served with rice.
|King Dory - NO SOY|
The first pair of sushi for the night was two translucent pieces of King Dory, served simply with a liberal squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of salt, and a daub of wasabi adhering the fish to the warm fluffy rice. This was clean and sharp, the acidic lemon bringing out the freshness of the fish and whetting our appetites. No soy.
|Seared Salmon - NO SOY|
The second pair of sushi consisted of a fat plank of Seared Salmon, seared lightly so the middle was still raw, finished off with a flavoursome shichimi powder. This was soft, fatty, flavoursome, and likely one of the best things I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. No soy.
|Pike - NO SOY|
Our third course was a pair of Pike fillets, dramatically blowtorched and seasoned with sauce and scallions. It was soft, warm and tasted a lot like mackerel, but was unremarkable after the beautiful salmon that preceded it. No soy.
|Yakiniku Beef - NO SOY|
The fourth pair of sushi was a non-seafood one. Two slices of grilled Yakiniku Beef blanketed the rice, topped with more scallions and sauce. This was no wagyu but the familiar sweet and beefy flavours and charred edges still held plenty of appeal. No soy.
|Ark Shell - WITH SOY|
The fifth course was a little unusual. Neither of us had previously had Ark Shell, and I really enjoyed the firm, almost crunchy consistency to it. Flavour-wise, there is only a very faint whiff of the ocean; the enjoyment of this pair of sushi really comes from the unique texture and slippery yet resilient mouth-feel of it. With Soy.
|Tuna Belly - NO SOY|
Course six saw the return of the beloved blowtorch, searing a smoky, caramelised flavour into the fatty Tuna Belly. This was another piece of prime seafood that practically melted on the tongue. No soy.
|Ocean Trout Belly - WITH SOY|
Our seventh course, the blow-torched Ocean Trout Belly brought a new meaning to fall-apart tender. My first piece ended up in smithereens as I desperately tried to manoeuvre a reasonable sized piece from plate to mouth as K watched on, near incoherent with laughter. Learning this lesson the hard way, I was much more careful with my chopsticks as I picked up the second piece, and this time it fell apart in my mouth into a rich, decadent mouthful that was greatly enhanced by a dip into the light soy sauce. With soy.
|Kingfish Belly - NO SOY|
|Kingfish Belly - NO SOY|
The eighth course, the Kingfish Belly, was something else altogether. The piece of fish sensuously draped over the rice was glistening with a sweet soy marinade. It’s slippery and cool, the marinade flawlessly enhancing the fresh, firm fish and balancing out the richness of the cut. Add this to the menu for my last meal please. No soy.
|Seared Salmon Belly - WITH SOY|
Because I don’t like oyster, my ninth and final course was a pair of Seared Salmon Belly. It melted like butter, literally like butter in my mouth, overshadowing the fattiest, most unctuous pork belly I’ve ever had. With soy.
My degustation stopped here; I could’ve had more, and I was very tempted to, but that would have been irresponsible. K on the other hand, opted for another 3 pairs. His tenth course was that delectable seared salmon belly that I had just sampled, but I didn’t get to try his 9th, 11th, or 12th pair. So I’ve left the review for those three up to him, and he decided to write haikus.
|Grilled Oyster - NO SOY|
Warm drop of the sea.
Waves of salt and umami
gently passing by
|Swordfish Belly - WITH SOY|
A textural one,
firm with quite a lot of bite.
A subtle flavour
|Uni (Sea Urchin) - WITH SOY|
Uni (sea urchin)
A cool and refreshing breeze.
Like unset jelly.
|Lemon Sugar Sherbet Sorbet (???)|
Our meal was topped off with a complimentary dessert served in a sake glass. We’re still not quite sure on what it is, as K heard ‘lemon sugar’, I heard ‘lemon sherbet’, and it tasted like lemon sorbet. So I guess it’s a Lemon Sugar Sherbet Sorbet then. It is ice cold and very sweet, the ideal little cap to our meal.
Shira Nui is the ultimate Japanese experience. The food is astoundingly delicious and fresh, the interior was understated yet elegant, and Hiro-san reminded me simultaneously of a samurai and a fisherman. It’s nothing fancy, just Really. Good. Food. And it works like a piece of salmon belly on fire. Our bill came to $205 for the 21 pairs of sushi we consumed between the two of us, and I have never been so happy to part with my money. Even if you don’t like sushi, or even if you don’t like Japanese food at all, one night at Shira Nui will completely and utterly change your mind.
Rating: 18/20 – all hail hiro-san.