Licensed $-$$
339 Elizabeth Street, North Hobart
03) 6234 6838
Open: Monday to Saturday from 5.00pm.

Upstairs above their street-level counter of takeaway sushi, at bare wooden tables surrounded by colourful Kabuki kites and tapestries, and with regular shouts of “onegaishimasn” from the kitchen and replies of “itadakimasn” from the black-Samurai-baddie-dressed floor staff, Miyabi is like no other Japanese restaurant in Tasmania.

Opened 12 months ago as a “traditional Japanese restaurant”, it’s actually styled more along the lines of what the Japanese call an “isakaya”, a sort of casual village eatery or pub where, according to part owner and chef, Akihiro Nakamura, “Japanese enjoy their nights together eating and drinking sake, wine and beer with friends, families and working colleagues”.

From a 45-item menu extending well beyond the sorts of dishes I normally expect of a Japanese restaurant, I asked that he simply send me those he considered the most authentic. What I got, I suspect, was an assortment of traditional dishes and those that were the most popular.
We started with refreshingly dark and salty miso soup with floating strips of wakame followed by the house salad – a mix of cucumber batons, tomato and baby spinach and beetroot leaves with rice paper crisps and a sweetish, house-made dressing.

Then came eight, beautifully flavoured pork and spring onion gyoza – without doubt, the best dumplings we’ve had in Hobart – with a vinegar, sesame, soy and spring onion dipping sauce, the dumplings steamed and served on a sizzling hot cast iron tappan plate to crisp their bottoms.
Four different crumbed and deep-fried kebabs – chicken, beef, pork and scallops – were presented in a half basket, the accompanying soy/vinegar dipping sauce the only thing to my mind suggestive of Japan.

There followed fried tofu in a thick sweetish homemade sauce, a melting, sweet/sour marinated half eggplant topped with crisped beef crumbles presented in a lacquered boat and, the best of the night, aburi-nigirir sushi of salmon, the fish still raw but carrying a lovely hint of smokiness from a light touch of a blow torch combining with the fresh lift of ponzu.

When I raised the question of just what is and isn’t authentic or traditional Japanese food, Aki’s reply was “Traditonal?. Westerners are pre-conditioned to what they think is traditional or authentic about Japanese food”.

“But tempura – the word, the batter and the technique -came to us with Portuguese missionaries a few centuries ago and we’ve been assimilating new ingredients and techniques ever since. Things change with every generation, particularly in the less formal izakaya-style eateries and on the street. For example, the latest craze in Japan is cheese with avocado, coated with tempura and deep fried. That’s the sort of thing, the latest popular food trends that my brother in law, who has a restaurant in Saitama in Japan, keeps us up to date on. So it’s now on our menu here”.

“But the maki sushi rolls you see here filled with avocado, for example, are not traditional. They’re Californian. Our rolls are more savoury with fillings like fermented beans paste wrapped in shiso leaves”

Perusing the menu later, I was disappointed that I hadn’t tried things like the seaweed salad Osaka’s famous okonomiyaki pancake and that, in such an extensive menu, there weren’t any Japanese pickled dishes – but there will be shortly, Aki assured me, made by his Japanese chef wife..

So, as we and other diners left to a chorus of “Mata kitekudasai” from the staff, we could assure them we would indeed come again, for the very special atmosphere they’ve created, that pancake and, I hope, some delicious pickles.

Miso soup $2.50; bowl of rice $2.50; udon noodle stir fry $12.00; aburi salmon ponzu $12.50; sashimi platter $14.80; three-course menus $35.00/$36.00

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