Name: Iori Japanese Restaurant
Address: 41 East Row Canberra City
Ph: 02 6257 2334
Hours: Lunch: 12:00-2:00 Monday – Friday, Dinner: 6:00-late Monday – Saturday.
It’s a Tuesday evening, and I’m sitting alone at a dark bar by myself. While it may sound like a decent into alcoholism, thankfully the truth is a lot more palatable.
For me, sitting at the bar is by far the best way to experience a restaurant like Iori, Canberra’s long-standing and well-loved Japanese food temple. With the room dimmed to the far side of mood lighting, the bar offers an intimate setting. It also lets you see how your food is getting made, which can be fascinating. The things people can do with a tiny griller oven.
The menu at Iori has pictures of the all the food, usually a deal-breaker for me, yet here I make an exception. Largely because the atrociously silly names for some of the dishes bring me enough entertainment, and a feeling that it is allowed to be a little tacky.
It is almost a rule that you have to have the sashimi platter at Iori. This is a beautifully presented plate of fresh, clean tasting raw seafood, ranging from salmon and tuna through to squid and octopus. All were excellent, with a range of textures. However the highlights were the wonderfully sweet raw scallop, and the roll of salmon filled with salmon roe. The roe give an exciting pop of flavour, flooding your mouth.
The sashimi was served with proper Tasmanian wasabi, fresher tasting than the normal green paste.
Up next, That’s what I’m talking about. And yes, that is the name of the dish, a selection of different flavours and presentations.
To start with was a spider crab hand roll, cut into pieces way too large to eat with chopsticks. The rice was just what you expect from good sushi, and filled with deep-fried spider crab, cucumber, lettuce and sauce. All good flavour, but I’ve always found whole spider crabs a little floury in texture when fried.
The big disappointment was a dish of salmon fillets and vegetables in a hot broth, left to simmer at the table. Leaning too far towards umami, and with way too much iron from the greens, this was way out of balance.
Thankfully, a trinity of eel dishes saved the meal. I adore eel, with its sweet, rich, fatty meat. It is incredibly versatile, and yet is severely underused in Western cuisine. So thank you the Japanese.
Here it was done three ways. Grilled simply in that little griller oven it is the pure taste of eel. Tempura fried it has a crunch and hit of saltiness that makes it a perfect snack. But best of all, a small pot of eel simmered with egg, beautifully sweet and thrilling. Between the three of them, they made me wish I had ordered the Real Eel Meal Deal (yes, again a real name).
All this, and washed down with a beer, for $77.
The service was ramshackle, with a ten-minute wait at the end of the meal and no water refill at any point. But this can happen when the staff don’t all speak the same language. And in the end, I really didn’t care. Iori isn’t always polished, but it is always fun.
Just make sure you try the eel.