Before me, strips of vibrant salmon and glistening tuna sashimi rest softly on one another alongside two varieties of maki-sushi (California rolls). It’s all so artistically arranged with swirls of wasabi, bamboo mats, and decorative green leaves, that I pause before thrusting my chopsticks forth to dismantle the pretty picture.
It doesn’t take long to understand why the waitress was smiling. The sashimi is brilliant. A dab of fiery wasabi pinched between chopstick and tuna causes moments of heat against the delicate butter-soft meat.
The salmon is equally elegant, its richness pared back when coupled with ribbons of pickled ginger. The sushi doesn’t disappoint. The rice is light and sticky and each of the six slices is filled with salmon, cucumber and avocado. Tiny beads of flying-fish roe cover half the sushi like a blanket and burst with the flavours of the sea. The other half have been rolled through a salty crushed mix of roasted seaweed, sesame, and rice crackers that deliver a fantastic crunch.
I later discover that Oishii chef Jo Hum is a sushi and sashimi master. Trained by a Japanese master in Hokkaido Sapporo, he has honed his skills in Singapore, New York, and Melbourne. When this site (formerly Riviera on Yarra) in Geelong became available last year, owners Ellen Li and Eric Han headhunted Hum from Melbourne (previously at Shoya) to lead their team.
The menu presents a dizzying choice. For those undecided, there are four banquet options with a solid selection of Japanese favourites. Upstairs at night, food is married with theatre and Hum’s second speciality – teppanyaki. I imagine it would be fun but this time we’ve opted for the dressed-up downstairs option, where waitresses whizz plates of tempura and wasabi beef to the dining room’s many tables.
Sake is the centrepiece of the wine list and there are a dozen on offer. Descriptors under each image help navigate but a good starting point is the house sake that’s served chilled or warm by the jar. It’s a great match with tataki beef. A dish of thinly sliced beef that’s been lightly seared, topped with white and spring onions, and doused in a zingy citrus, soy and miso sauce. The waitress encourages me to tip the accompanying raw quail egg onto the dish and I’m surprised at the resulting creamy finish.
Six plump gyoza impress almost as much. The dumpling skins, while golden on one side and translucent on the other, could have benefited from one more roll of the pin to thin out the skin. But the pork mince inside is wonderfully heady with ginger, garlic and chives.
The mixed tempura was spot on. The thin coating of batter snaps under the slightest pressure and gives way to juicy eggplant, zucchini, sweet potato and meaty prawn centres. The secret to Hum’s terrific tempura he tells me – aside from technique and timing – is that he changes the frying oil daily and uses a small single-batch fryer.
I’ve had my eye on a 180-gram eye fillet topped with wasabi mash, which is being ordered around me at an alarming rate, but I’ve had my quota. I return for lunch instead and a bowl of Japanese soul food – ramen.
The base is an unapologetically rich pork stock that Hum boils overnight. Sweetcorn, fried pork, sautéed greens, half a boiled egg and seaweed are placed atop the broth and a tangle of soft egg noodles. I love it.
I have a bit of a crush on Oishii Japan, too.
Oishii Japan – Japanese Restaurant and Teppanyaki Bar, 73 Yarra Street, Geelong
Chef Jo Hum
Owners Ellen Li and Eric Han
Prices Entrée $6-$18; main $16-$28; dessert $5-$14
Open Daily, noon-10pm
Phone 5223 2808
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