December 5, 2011

3 Church Street, Hawthorn
I went to Ocha some time ago with the family and D. Ocha, having moved from its tiny Kew location to a reasonably sized space in the Beehive Building in Hawthorn, opposite the Tram Depot, serves up innovative and modern Japanese food, all impeccably executed. The young waiter suggested we let him choose some of the best dishes from the menu and we were happy to oblige. I am such a sucker for decision-and-stress-free dining!
Like a complete rookie, I forgot both my camera and my blogging book at home, so please excuse the grainy iphone photos.
We started with a plate of the salmon canapes: salmon tartare infused with wasabi on homemade potato crisps with flying fish roe. This was quite nice, and I marveled at how finely diced the salmon was. I also enjoyed the contrast between the soft, buttery fish and the crispy chip.
Next up was my favourite dish of the night, the beef tataki. Thin slivers of porterhouse carpaccio which had been grilled for a minute to brown the outside, in a fresh and tangy ponzu sauce. Brilliant. The beef was sliced into melty-soft parcels that buckled and folded in contrast to the thinly julienned vegetables, all offset by the tangy ponzu. What a winner.
We were also served the spicy calamari legs salad, tossed with fresh chili and garlic. Yet another awesome dish – a big whack of chilli (respect to restaurants that aren’t afraid of using chilli), a tangle of silky calamari legs, and a fresh, bitey salad with chunks of red chilli.
This was my other favourite dish of the night, the sushi/sashimi platter. Ok, I LOVE SUSHI. Never underestimate the pure excellence, the divinity of a perfect plate of sushi – super fresh fish, cut with the grain so each piece is soft and linear. The skill and technique involved is incredible. This platter also included scallop sashimi, a first for me. I admit I was hesitant, but I actually really enjoyed it. It had that recognisable scallop taste, but a silkier texture than when it’s cooked.
Then came out two dishes side by side – the prawn dumplings and the scallops hollandaise. The prawns I had been warned by a friend weren’t that brilliant, and I must agree. Certainly they were tasty, I liked the fish-scale appearance of the batter, but they paled in comparison to everything else. But I will have a serve of green tea salt with all Japanese food from now on, please.
The scallops, in comparison, were fantastic – I didn’t think creamy hollandaise would work but it really did. A just-cooked scallop sitting in a spoonful of lemony hollandaise, and the slightly burnt bits gave a wonderful bitter chew to the dish.
It was at this point that my wine must have gone to my head, because I forgot to photograph the next two dishes. The dengaku – grilled eggplant topped with minced chicken and miso – was enjoyable, but the topping was overwhelmingly sweet. Other than that the eggplant was nicely cooked and silky smooth.
We also had a lovely piece of panfried swordfish on a green salad. I normally dislike swordfish but this was great with a squeeze of lemon. A very simple dish that let that quality of the fish shine through.
Wine-effects subsiding, we moved on to the last two dishes of our meal (desserts aren’t really Ocha’s “thing”, as explained by the waiter). First up was a fillet of beef, rare and soft, topped with a wasabi mash and green beans. That wasabi mash was genius, and the fusion between a classic roast and Japanese cuisine was enjoyed by all.
Finally, we had a delicate serve of teriyaki duck breast, thinly sliced and beautifully presented with some bok choy that had simply been steamed. We were also given steamed rice but were too full by this point to have any. The duck was beautiful, yet another standout dish, succulent and pink and the sauce was delicate and well-balanced.
In all, a brilliant, brilliant meal at Ocha and, in my opinion, one of the best high-end Japanese restaurants in Melbourne, crowned as thus because of its balance of flavours, the skill and technique that goes into every dish, and the innovative fusion combinations. Must-eats are the beef tataki, sushi/sashimi, calamari salad and wasabi beef.

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Filed under: Hawthorn, Japanese