Saturday, 27 April 2013

Yu-U - The Dragon's Den

Despite having traversed Flinders Lane to visit numerous restaurants and places of interest in my life, I had never spotted the entrance to Yu-U. After hunting around for it like a pig does a truffle, I found the unmarked entrance to the restaurant surrounded by graffiti, threw open the door and descended into another world. I was immediately mesmerised by the dark smokey ambiance, concrete and polished timber. We were greeted with a smile by service who escorted us to seats at the yakitori grill after stopping to admire the fit-out.

Looking up and to the left I saw small windows that would provide some natural light during the day but in the evening you are left to see traces of images of the legs of human beings as they traverse past on Flinders lane from this subterranean bunker of sorts. The yakitori grill takes up a massive amount of space. Not only is it quite comfortable to sit at, service has a fair amount of space behind the grill to operate, pour drinks and then collect items from the grill itself. The layout is very Japanese and the venue itself is a place that personifies Melbourne.

After our hands were refreshed by very nice warm towels that were provided, I ordered 720ml of Shouchu Shirashinken ($105). Shouchu is different to sake - it is distilled and this particular drink has a noticeable taste of barley. Those that appreciate Shouchu can drink it neat, but for me it was like drinking straight vodka so despite trying to prove my manhood from the first glass, and seeing that my dining companion was also having a hard time with the taste, I asked for some soda and ice to accompany this beverage. For the remainder of the meal, service would lovingly pat down the perspiration on our glasses, gently add ice cubes and mix just a fraction of soda into this very bold and clear drink.

The restaurant has ten "cold dishes" available and we started with maguro (yellowfin tuna $18), buri (kingfish $15) and sumiso ae - an intriguing mix of avacado and salmon sashimi cubes marinated with mustard and miso sauce adorned with flying fish roe ($12). I couldn't help but think of the toro available at Shoya not far away and did not want to linger tasting sashimi in a restaurant that clearly is known for its hot dishes. The raw fish was very nice regardless.

As the restaurant filled up, more patrons started ordering items from the charcoal grill. We were not an exception. Not feeling adventurous, we made it easy for the chef and opted for the mixed eight skewers that are served without the chicken liver, skin, giblet and heart ($31) which were in turn excellent. Watching the chef use a paper fan to encourage the smoke from the grill to linger on the chicken before it was sucked through the powerful ventilation unit was soothing and left me in a trance. The kitchen fans are not able to eliminate all of the smoke from the grill though and as the night continued on, the restaurant became very smokey. The down lights throughout the restaurant identified the smoke and left me to believe I was at a concert however after a while it started to irritate my eyes and the novelty wore off.

The chicken which was originally sourced from Lilydale, made for some of the nicest free range chicken that I have ever had on a skewer. Oddly a single wing was also served and although it was tasty, it seemed out of place.

Alaskan king crab meat, cucumber, wakame seaweed with a sweet vinegar ($17) was presented after we consumed all of the chicken. This special was the highlight of the meal for me. The delicate taste of the crab went well with the Shouchu which was getting sipped with impunity. We resisted the urge to order chicken cartilage and other beef dishes and decided to finish with the unagi kabayaki - grilled eel with teriyaki sauce and wasabi. The intense flavours of the eel made the Shouchu very easy to drink and before I knew it, the bottle had been finished and we were back on Flinders Lane searching out further entertainment.

I was impressed with Yu-U. For me, the service is what made the experience a special one and when combined with the ambiance and different types of food on offer, it made for a memorable evening and I would certainly return however next time I will be trying the various chicken organs hot from the grill. Yu-U was awarded one hat in The Age Good Food Guide 2012/2013.

Yu-U, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
137 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9639 7073
My Rating: 15/20
Service: 4.25/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5 (smoke factored in)
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5

Opening Times
Lunch: Mon - Fri 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Dinner: Mon - Sat 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 88% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Yu-U.

Yu-U on Urbanspoon