Kenzan @ GPO

August 10, 2011

GPO, 350 Bourke Street, Melbourne
I love Kenzan. It’s my favourite place to get sushi in Melbourne. It’s quite small, squeezed between Ca De Vin and Ramen Ya along the thin alley running between the GPO and David Jones (access via ground floor of GPO building or Little Bourke Street). Alongside sushi, they serve Udon, Ramen and Soba Noodles, Teriyaki and Donburi, most of which I’ve sampled and all of which I’ve enjoyed. I’m a huge fan of Japanese cuisine in general, I really love the clean fresh flavours and attention to detail. I should add that Kenzan is also licensed, and if I’m in the mood I’ll order an Asahi Dry to wash down my sushi.
Let it be known for once and all that I love sushi: healthy, tasty, filling, and usually cheap (however I will note that Kenzan charges a little more than takeaway sushi places on Swanston St, but the sushi here is of a much higher quality). I have also come to appreciate, through my travels, that we are extremely fortunate to have sushi so accessible in Melbourne, because it really isn’t the same elsewhere in the world.
The sushi counter here houses all the usual suspects, super fresh tuna and salmon, terriaki chicken, avocado and cucumber etc etc. But they also have a number of more exotic/Western combinations, such as smoked salmon w cream cheese and capers, lobster w potato salad, spicy eggplant, spicy raw tuna w cucumber and fried salmon skin.
On this particular visit, I ordered the salmon and avocado, an excellent version of a classic, the Spider Roll and the grilled eel w cucumber. The grilled eel was lovely and smokey, but has quite a strong flavour so perhaps if you’re just getting used to sushi steer clear of this one for a little while. The Spider Roll (bottom in picture below) obviously doesn’t have spiders in it, but soft shell crab that’s in a tempura batter with lettuce and Japanese mayo. Instead of nori, this roll is coated with either fish roe or a sesame crumb. If there are any left, get the sesame crumb, it’s wonderfully salty and moorish, and I always find it tough passing over this particular sushi roll.
The other standout feature of most sushi rolls at Kenzan is that you make them yourself. That is, they’re pre-packaged but you need to roll the rice in the nori sheet provided. The nori is wonderfully crisp because it’s been freshly rolled!
Step 1) Choose sushi, break plastic seal.

Step 2) Open up plastic flaps on the wrapping, with arrows pointing towards you. Pull back this large tab to expose some of the nori.

Step 3) Place roll on nori and roll up!

On another recent visit I ordered a favourite of mine, the Ebi Ten Udon. This is a clear mushroom broth with thick udon noodles (my favourite kind), topped with Tempura prawns and vegetables. Consumption of this dish is a little like a race: throw back the tempura before they get soggy from sitting in the broth, then slurp up your noodles while they are still bouncy and chewy and before they take on too much water, and then finish with your broth. Note: this is rarely a quiet exercise, so perhaps not the best dining option for an awkward business lunch/first date.
The people next to me were chomping down on some really delicious smelling ramen in a porky/mushroom stock which smelt SO GOOD, I think I may order that next time. Then again, a young man across from me had ordered the Unadon Donburi – grilled eel pieces with a sweet soya sauce on rice, which also piqued my interest. If you’re looking for value, I’d suggest a noodle broth, because they’re relatively cheap and very filling. Perfect to warm you up on a cold winter’s day.
The clientele is mixed at Kenzan, there are always a good number of business people, keen for a quick feed, always lots of Japanese people (a good sign), plus a general mix of young to middle-aged shoppers. On the day I went for my Udon, a man sitting next to me was eating sushi when I arrived. Upon finishing his sushi, he pulled out a tupperware container of half a serve of egg(s?) benedict and ate it! An english muffin, ham, one poached egg and hollandaise sauce, all presumably at room temperature…makes me shudder. It reminded me of the time one morning on the tram when I saw a man take out, from a paper bag, two pieces of toast, a small pot of butter and another of jam, which he then spread over his toast on a napkin on his lap before eating it. Oh yes, and a glass bottle of orange juice and a banana.

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Filed under: Japanese, Melbourne CBD, Sushi