41 Hall St
Moonee Ponds, VIC 3039
Ever since I stopped going to school/uni/work in the CBD, my Japanese food consumption has dropped massively. Although there’s plenty of Japanese food around, it’s just not the same as dropping into DonDon for a $5.9 tofu curry after work. On the up side though, I get way more excited when the chance to have Japanese pops up, especially when it’s at Chiba Japanese – a well-regarded restaurant that I’ve never visited because of its location… until now!
Despite being located in a quiet little back street off the main Mt Alexander Road strip, Chiba felt almost like a fancy hotel restaurant – all dark wood, plush banquet chairs, and high ceilings. I was surprised at how nice it is, but even more surprised that the only seat available at 6:30pm on a Tuesday was at the sushi bar. Not that that was much of a hardship, when I could watch the chefs build platter after platter of mouth-watering sashimi.
I love freebies, so it was great getting a dish of pickles along with the menu. I usually associate sprouts with Korean food, but this was definitely Japanese, marinated in sweet, tangy rice vinegar.
For some reason, I had a craving for a California Roll ($9.5, 6pcs). Although I was expecting a restaurant-quality roll, this still surprised me with how luscious it was. The fat chunks of (imitation) crab were wrapped with a hearty smear of fish roe, and the rice was fluffy and vinegared just so. Bonus points for serving mayo on the side – it keeps everyone on the mayo-spectrum happy.
The Homemade Japanese Croquettes ($9.5, 2pcs) sounded odd on paper, but the mash of potato and fish, fried in a golden crumb, was a remarkably clever twist on an otherwise pedestrian snack. Tonkatsu sauce was the perfect accompaniment, its fruity tanginess serving to balance out the richness of the croquettes.
I’m a massive udon fan, especially on cold days, and today was unseasonably chilly after the week of mild spring weather, so the Nabeyaki Udon ($15) was exactly what I had been dreaming of.
Being such a simple dish, you can really tell when good ingredients go into the making. The chicken was lean, the vegetables fresh, and the single egg cracked into the soup looked like a pearly little sun. Although the noodles were on the doughy side, and lacked the toothsome springiness of good hand-made udon, they were great to slurp up along with the clear broth, which carried the lingering umami of shiitake mushrooms.
Chiba honestly surprised me with just how good it is. Being in one of the less popular ‘burbs, I had expected a restaurant like Samurai, where the drawcard is cheap and plentiful home-cooked food. Although I wouldn’t call Chiba upmarket, they definitely take pride in the quality of their cooking. And if you ever think that some of the mains look a bit pricey, just remember: you can get a massive sushi and sashimi platter for two, arranged on a wooden boat no less, for just $46.
Rating: 14/20 – surprise! (the good kind)
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.