425 Springvale Road
Forest Hill, VIC 3131
When you’ve lived in the same suburb for half your life, even the smallest changes will be noticed. So when an old petrol station shut down, then was converted to a Japanese izakaya-style restaurant no less, more than one set of eyebrows were raised. Like many of my friends who live on the east side, we were all hesitant to give Nishikian a go. After all, this end of town isn’t known for much beyond Chinese and Malaysian food.
One year down the track however, Nishikian is not only surviving, but thriving. When we rocked up on a Saturday night, not only was it a full house, but we actually had to wait a bit for seats. Luckily for us, there were long banquet seats forming a comfortable waiting area, the restaurant smelt amazing, and we could watch the chefs do their thing in the open kitchen.
We warmed our fingers with a bowl of Miso Soup ($2). Much, much above par, this bowl of soup billowed with miso clouds, the warm earthiness of it accented with crunchy scallions.
The Buta Bara ($5, 2pcs) was a revelation. The charred pork belly, rubbed with garlic salt, was fatty and umami.
The Okra Bacon ($5,2pcs) was almost, but not quite as good as the Buta Bara; after all, how can you beat pork belly? Still, the slippery yet crunchy pieces of okra, wrapped generously with bacon slices, were addictive and flavoursome.
Takoyaki ($8, 8pcs) is always a must-order for me. These were unfortunately fried instead of made in a takoyaki pan, and therefore didn’t have that gooey creaminess of the amazing takoyaki I had whilst in Japan. The amount of sauce and toppings were a little on the stingy side, but there were plenty of octopus pieces to make up for it. Though these didn’t quite hit the bullseye, they were good enough to satisfy the craving.
Instead of shelling out for a plate of sashimi, I decided to test the waters with some Assorted Nigiri Sushi ($13, 6pcs).This turned out to be a smart decision, as most of the fish only just managed average. Aside from the sticky, creamy scallop, everything else on the plate (salmon, kingfish, tuna, prawn) was limp and pale. Though they didn’t taste off, they were bland and lifeless. I won’t be ordering the sashimi here in a hurry.
We began wrapping up our meal with a couple of slightly more substantial dishes, the first of which is the Sake Cha ($7). This wholly Japanese dish of rice in clear dashi stock was light and nourishing, though some might find the combination of grilled salmon and seaweed-based broth a bit overwhelming. There was a dollop of wasabi on the side if you’re so inclined, but I preferred to have it with a dash of soy, just for that extra hint of earthiness.
Our last savoury for the night was the Mushroom Nikuzume ($8), a crowd pleaser of grilled mushrooms stuffed with chicken mince. It tasted exactly as you would expect, the juicy mushroom seasoned simply with a splash of sweet soy.
Emboldened by the positive experience we’d had so far, I took a leap of faith with the Custard Pudding ($7) which thankfully, paid off. Despite some air bubbles that meant the pudding wasn’t as seductively silky as the one at MoVida (though it’s my fault for comparing), the overall result was smooth and wobbly, and I really liked the caramelised bitterness of the sauce. The accompanying ice cream was unexpectedly rich and delicious, and the chocolate cookie was a delightfully playful addition.
Nishikian isn’t perfect, but along with what seems like the rest of the suburb, I have found plenty to like about it. Everything is affordable and tasty, and the selection of dishes very respectable. There are also plenty of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks shipped straight from Japan. It was all capped off by the sweet staff, whose eager helpfulness really rounded out the dining experience. This more than makes up for the closing of The Treasure and the opening of the atrocious Penang Laksa House in its place.