For the last 20 years, Ginza in Chinatown has been doing teppanyaki, that theatrical style of dining involving Japanese barbecue, nifty knife skills, utensil juggling, food hurling and pyrotechnics.
It was big in the ’90s, and Ginza has maintained the decor from those heady days with its maroon-and-charcoal colour scheme and well-worn carpet. But the restaurant itself is spacious and comfortable, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto Little Bourke Street. On a Sunday it’s quiet – it might just be you and another table here for lunch – but Friday evening would, no doubt, tell a different story.
Teppanyaki set menus start at $16 for lunch and $49 for dinner (you get more for dinner) where your choice of protein – beef, fish, chicken or squid – comes with miso soup, fried rice and vegetables. The drinks selection includes sake, Japanese beer, Australian wine, cocktails and some shots with X-rated names that give things a retro nightclub vibe, though with millennium prices.
But we have to say, the grub’s pretty good. Ginza’s teppanyaki chef of the day was all business during preparation and saves the pizzazz for serving. He certainly knows his stuff: hunks of beef tenderloin were slapped onto the grill, seared and then cut into cubes that are peppery, juicy and tender. Salmon and rockling fillets come lacquered in a shiny, sweet mirin sauce. Handled with care, their delicate flesh remains soft and flaky. There’s a vegetable side of beanshoots and onions that are satisfyingly charred and smokey from the grill.
The promised theatrics, when our chef begins flinging bite-sized bullets of fried egg into our open mouths, prove fun instead of disastrous thanks to our chef being a good shot who makes it easy (just open wide and you’ll be ok). One lucky luncher is chosen for the fried flurry, where a whole barrage of egg is fired mouthwards at great speed. Gracious staff, decked out in kimonos, discreetly protect the walls with napkins.
We enhance our teppanyaki meal with two sides - tempura prawns and agadashi tofu. Three prawns arrived crumbed, not in a lacey tempura batter as we’d hoped, and while they were fresh and snappy, a larger dollop of kewpie mayonnaise was needed to nail this dish. The fat silky cubes of agadasi tofu, in a sweet dashi broth, are perfectly fried to a light golden brown.
At dessert time go for the matcha mousse cake. This cylindrical- shaped wonder is rich and voluptuous, and confidently walks the line between bitter (matcha) and sweet (white chocolate).
Ginza Teppanyaki may not be at the cutting edge of anything, but it’s reliable and fun. The food is crowd-pleasing and affordable as set menus; the service is well-pitched and the CBD location make it a prime pick for big groups. We suspect birthday bashers and office shindigs will be letting rip here for another 20 years to come.