After a drink was enjoyed at the bar inside Pei Modern, we presented ourselves at 6:00 PM on the dot frothing at the mouth and wanting fish. Heaps of raw fish for that matter. We were given two seats at the sushi bar and a wine list almost immediately. It didn't take long to realise that this Japanese restaurant is devoid of character. The intensity of the light shining down us was a bit extreme and the cold dead corpses of the fish at rest within the refrigerated sushi case were minimal at best. The wooden bar contrasted with the general dining room that is partitioned from the sushi bar area by a wooden lattice. This is a transitory yet rated eatery according to the latest The Age Good Food Guide and is notably frequented by Sofitel hotel guests who want to "work at the table" which contrasts with the look and the feel of the restaurant completely.
As we drank our Asahi ($8.50) we decided to order a 720ml bottle of Hatsumago Junmai honkarakuchi "Makiri" Sake ($85) which is pretty pricey compared to the retail cost. The server was a bit shocked that we ordered the 720ml bottle. At first my dining companion thought it may have been a 1.5L bottle and was relieved to learn I didn't pull that old trick however we were both confident that we would polish off that volume of cold sake without a drama.
In the spirit of making things easy, we decided to order essentially everything besides the vegetarian options on both the "sushi" and "sashimi" menus. Once again the server was shocked and claimed that it was a fair amount of food. I exclaimed that we were starving from not having eaten all day and that we would be fine. She communicated our order to the sushi chef and he looked equally surprised. There was what appeared to be a tense conversation behind the sushi bar and then the chef began work on our feast.
The soft sake and its citrus taste was "easy drinking" and when we received our first plate of maki - sushi - I would find the sake to be a good match and also it being thrown down my gob at an accelerated rate. Unagi Maki (Freshwater Eel - $9.90), Tekka Maki (Red Tuna, $7.70), Sake Maki (Salmon), California Roll Maki (Avacado and Prawn, $9.90), Spicy Tuna Rolls ($11.00/each), Tobiko California Roll Maki (Avacado, Prawn and Flying Fish Roe, $13.00) and Ebitem Maki (Prawn Tempura, $22.00) all appeared at the same time and made for a small feast. I did not find the tuna or salmon especially oily and besides for the grilled eel, everything to be rather uneventful and simply just filler which I realise is a bit extreme to say.
After quickly consuming the sushi, a plate of sashimi was delivered. Ebi (Cooked Prawn, $6/each), Hotate (Scallop, $5.50/each), Tuna ($6/each), Ikura (Red Salmon Roe, $5.50/each), Unagi (Freshwater Eel, $5.50/each), Toro (Tuna Belly, $8.00/each) and Uni (Sea Urchin, $7.00/each). The standouts which were a bit "special" and full of flavour was the raw tuna belly and the sea urchin. Although not the premium "o-toro" the belly of the tuna was so good that we would order three repeat orders of both that and the tasty sea urchin before we vacated the bottle of sake.
Although service was attentive, it was not over the top in my humble opinion. Sometimes I have found when sitting at the sushi bar in other premium restaurants that service would frequently reach in and interrupt your conversation to refill the sake from the bottle that rests on your table. This didn't happen at Kenzan and the lack of extended service may put some people off however I find this sort of attention very distracting so I appreciated what I got at the restaurant. I was hoping for more "special" kinds of fish on offer however this shortcoming combined with the dull and sterile ambiance where nothing was really a stand-out simply made me feel that I was filling my stomach in the end. It was all certainly good, but special? No.
Kenzan received one chef's hat in the 2012/2013 The Age Good Food Guide.
45 Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9654 8933
My Rating: 14/20
Value For Money: 3.5/5
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
At the time of this post, 88% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Kenzan Restaurant.