279 Smith St
Fitzroy, VIC 3065
When I first met Chris – this would’ve been well over 10 years ago now – his culinary world was rather narrow. In fact, I remember the first time we ate dumplings together at a cheap and cheerful in Chinatown, he found the experience to be entirely overwhelming. These days, Chris is a much more acceptable specimen. The years of being dragged along to all my food blogging adventures means that he’s now willing to give anything ago, barring food that contains coriander. Unfortunately, no amount of time seems to be able to fully change his mind about sushi, and to this day it remains as something he’s willing to eat, but never gets excited for.
Thankfully, I have my sushi buddy in K, who is about as fanatical for seafood as it is appropriate to be. And although nothing on this side of the globe will ever top our meal at Minamishima, we were keen for our next sushi fix. So we headed to Hinoki Japanese Pantry, with its air scented intoxicatingly with the aroma of sushi vinegar, and the occasional whiff of aburi salmon.
As the name suggests, Hinoki Japanese Pantry is not only a restaurant, but it also doubles as a well-stocked Japanese grocer that offers a wide range of ingredients, snacks, and liquor. But with that said, the real drawcard is still the sushi bar, where everything is made to order. Consisting of everything from traditional nigiri packs to the more innovative nosé maki rolls, there are a total of 89 options on the menu. And that’s not even counting the individual pieces of nigiri you can order a la carte, or the ready-made chirashi bowls.
Seating at the restaurant is quite limited, but we managed to score one of the benches lining the front window. With the incredible range of options on offer, we decided to forego the agony of decision making, and instead just tuck into the gargantuan Sushi Sashimi Large ($58), which had somewhere between 45 and 50 pieces by my count.
As you’d expect, the sashimi was fresh and plump. The cuts of the day were salmon, tuna, and kingfish, all sliced satisfyingly thick.
The nigiri were equally as good, the globes of rice topped with generous strips of fish and a daub of wasabi. I especially liked how they doubled up on the prawns to make for a more substantial mouthful. My only complaint was that the rice could’ve been flavoured a little more liberally with sushi vinegar, and packed a little less tightly. But then again, this judgement seems a bit pedantic, given that my last meal of sushi was at Minamishima.
The house special of nosé maki tasted as good as it looked. The traditional maki roll was filled with pickled carrots, then topped with diced salmon sashimi and a dollop of Kewpie mayonnaise. The luscious creaminess of the fish contrasted well with the tangy crunch of the carrots; I’m keen to make my way back and try some of the other nosé maki creations on offer.
Later that day as I was doing my shopping, I walked past a large sushi chain, and I was immediately taken aback by just how measly and sad everything looked. As that is something I’ve never really struck me before, it’s clearly a testament to just how fresh and vibrant the seafood at Hinoki is. And now that I know what to look for, it almost seems as if every other person walking down Smith Street has a box from Hinoki in their hands. I already have a Hinoki and Messina date planned for the near future; maybe Chris can be won over a little more to the world of sushi.
Rating: 14/20 – fresh fish.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.