Despite having some great breakfast / brunch experiences of late, it has been ages (really!) since I went out for dinner. So recently to celebrate my birthday I finally made it to Etsu Izakaya, Mitch and Nerissa’s (owners of Commune) new Japanese bar. And I’m so glad I did – everything we tasted, without fault, was oishii (delicious)!
I knew about Etsu’s nondescript white wooden shop front with the red lantern out the front. However it’s lucky my sister was with me or I would’ve missed the sliding door to enter (at which point I always remember that Farside cartoon… Midvale School for the Gifted).
Given the somewhat secret (well.. secret if you’re “special” like me) entrance it felt like one of those cool bars you find in Melbourne, an impression that was only reinforced when we entered. A bar runs down the left hand front of the restaurant, with a curved wooden wall / ceiling on the right. At the back on the left is a fantastic mural and some communal tables. It gave me the general impression of a modern industrial – cool Japanese style bar.
It was also lovely to be greeted on arrival by Mitch (who we know from years of eating at Commune) and then greeted by our waitress for the evening who was warm, friendly and passionate about Etsu’s food and drinks. While we were waiting for friends to arrive we checked out the cocktail list and decided on a round of cocktails (big thanks for the shout Mitch – even more special as it was my birthday celebration).
As a lover of Gin I ordered the Welcome to the Garden (Gin, Sake, Apple, Basil and Cucumber) $18 and loved it. A perfect balance of sweet and sour, refreshing, and presented with a lovely little nasturtium leaf for presentation. Each of the other girls loved their cocktails (sorry, no photos of theirs, too busy enjoying mine and talking).
Our waitress offered us some Spiced Edamame (salted boiled soy beans served in their pods) to start off with which was a great idea while we perused the menu and sipped our cocktails. I am already a fan of Edamame, and the mildly spicy sesame spice mix just made it better. For those of you unaware of Edamame etiquette, the idea is that you bite a little hole in the sesame bean pod, squeeze out the pods into your mouth and enjoy (surreptitiously sucking the flavour out of the soy bean pods is also totally OK whilst biting the pod… well, in my book anyway).
The girls asked me to order – being a food nerd and slight (!) control freak I love to try and pick the best of a menu to keep everyone happy so here’s what we ate (my mouth is watering as I’m typing each of these… mmm).
First to arrive was the Soft Shell Crab I actually didn’t want any of this as I’m not a fan of seafood but my friend convinced me to try it. So glad I did, it was sticky and sweet with a delicious creamy mayo for dipping. I ended up eating half of a soft shell crab by myself. Not bad for someone that doesn’t like seafood usually!
Next came the Skewer Grilled Lebanese Eggplant which was simple but delicious. I think it came with a miso dressing which was sweet, salty and perfectly complemented the smoky flavour of the eggplant (despite the picture this is actually served with 4 skewers.. by the time I took the pic two had disappeared).
I ordered some Rice Balls with Miso for the table which received some dubious looks when it arrived. But – the unanimous verdict was delicious. The rice is grilled until it’s slightly crispy on the outside, painted with miso paste and served with home made oshinko (pickles). Simple and yummy.
I usually steer clear of the Aussie-Japanese favourite Chicken Yakitori but am glad I tried it. Etsu have their char grill perfect – the chicken thigh has the right balance of fat and flavour with the smoky char and Yakitori sauce (sorry, no photo, feeding frenzy ensued).
Last was the Wagyu. Due to a mix up we ended up with the Wagyu Rump $30 (MSB 9 + 220gm), so glad we did, it was divine. Again, smoky char grilled flavour, cooked to perfection and beautifully textured Wagyu steak with some grilled vegetables and sauce.
So the verdict from all of us was the every single dish was delicious. I even observed my friends closing their eyes whilst eating (which to me is a great indication that the diner is savouring the flavour). We all want to go back, and I would be happy to reorder everything we had.
Our total food bill was $110 (drinks not included) which we thought was so reasonable for such a great evening. Also the service was amazing – warm, unpretentious and nothing was a problem.
The only thing I could fault from the whole evening is the level of noise: loud music topped off by a very busy restaurant. I feel old just saying it, but I had a sore throat from yelling across the table for a couple of days afterwards (something I haven’t suffered from in a loooong time – an affliction I call “nightclub throat”). I am dying to go back with my hubby but can’t see it being a relaxing quality time evening away from our toddler twins if we have to yell at each other…. sigh.
Still, I will definitely go back to enjoy Etsu’s amazing food and service again. It so reminded me of Japan it made me want to go back (and I just might…). I highly recommend a visit.