My parents recently returned from Japan where they raved about all the fabulous food that they ate, including oodles of noodles. So when they came to Melbourne to visit recently I pressed them to come with me to Shimbashi Soba and Sake Bar and bestow their expert opinion on the handmade buckwheat noodles made on site.
The first thing you notice on arrival at this tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant is the noodle-making operation. It’s old-fashioned craft – the chef rolls a long sheet of dough, sprinkles flour, thins out more dough, sprinkles more flour and finally guillotines the cloth-like folds into thin strands. The window display is clear evidence to their claim that the noodles are made fresh every day.
Sacks of buckwheat and a mechanical flour mill also form part of the decor of the restaurant.
The soba noodle menu is split into cold and hot and the noodles are either dipped in either a broth or soy dipping sauce. As it was 30+ degrees during my visit I gravitated towards the cold noodles but decided to have them accompanied by a broth of sliced duck and vegetables – chunks of eggplant, cabbage and delicate shreds of enoki mushrooms ($19).
You’re warned from the outset that noodles take 10-15 minutes to arrive to your table, so appetites can be temporarily sated by the complementary salad or order other Japanese favourites such as Agedashi tofu, takoyaki, sushi and sashimi.
As I arrived before the office lunch hour rush my dish arrived promptly – a large heap of freshly boiled noodles on a bamboo mat and a similarly large bowl of broth.
The silken strands had an excellent chew without stodginess, and were declared comparable to the noodles my parents sampled in Japan. And the serving wasn’t skimpy either (though you can order extra noodles for $4)! The miso broth was well-balanced in terms of saltiness touched with tangs of citrus, with a generous gathering of meat and veg in the bowl.
The dish was only let down by the slices of duck, as chewy as rubber – I assume as a result of being boiled for too long.
I also have a small misgiving about the price – $19 is at least a few dollars more than I’d expect to pay for a bowl of noodles. However, the price could be ameliorated by the fact that the end result is a labour-intensive product of high quality and after your noodles are all slurped up you will be offered a teapot of the water in which your noodles were boiled. The idea is to pour the water into the broth and drink the resulting soup. It’s apparently health-giving and will definitely fill you up, transforming a bowl of noodles into a complete meal such that you won’t need to have entrees or sides or dessert.
As I went at lunchtime I wasn’t up for sampling any of the alcoholic drinks but as their name suggests there is a selection of sake and the cocktail menu, mostly consisting of sake or plum wine based mixes, surprised me with their very reasonable $10 price tag.
Shimbashi Soba and Sake Bar, 17 Liverpool Street, Melbourne +61 3 9654 6727
Mon to Fri 11.30am–2pm, 6pm–10pm
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