"Billy, come. I've told the waitress you are a foodblogger and she is going to show you around and take pictures," Mr V.I.P insisted again after giving me a full tour of Crystal Club on 29th floor earlier on. But this time, we will be having our little tour inside KOKO, one of Melbourne's premier Japanese restaurant located at Crown Towers.
The Melbourne skyline is reflected in the tranquil water garden, takes pride of place in the centre of the restaurant. With all the A la carte tables around in the main hall, we follow the waitress along the path of pebbles and stepping stones, to check out some of the private tatami and teppanyaki rooms overlooking the Yarra river.
There are 7 of us taking over a table right in front of the water garden. Soon the massive menu are handed over to everyone. "Psst, we have a voucher of $470 from Crown to spend, so order whatever you like," Mr V.I.P. reassures everyone the meal is all covered. Instantly I know I am in for a treat!
A single order of Chawan Mushi arrives first at the table, it belongs to Ah J who sits next to me. The egg custard is beautifully presented with a huge shiitake mushroom, snowpea, prawn, scallop and ginko nut on top. J assures me the custard is silky smooth and tasty, I can see why he isn't sharing it.
The Wasabi ise ebi arrives soon after in a striking china blue porcelain plate with a fresh salad on the side. The nicely fried crunchy tempura baby lobster tail are drizzled with fresh wasabi aioli all over. Nooo...... I would much prefer the wasabi aioli on the side as a dip, so it doesn't soften the crunchy tempura lobster. Although they look a bit like prawns on the plate, it definitely has greater flavour and so fresh literally bounce of the teeth straight into my tummy. The wasabi aioli is kid-friendly mild, personally I would prefer a little bit of kick.
I am actually quite impressed with the prompt service at KOKO with all the dishes arrived one after another without any delay. The steamed handmade duck and foie gras dumplings is rather a Chinese fusion in my opinion, and not like the usual pan fried gyoza. But does it matter? It's foie gras inside, anything taste great with foie gras! It is juicy inside and the shredded duck meat and foei gras just melt inside my mouth. The dipping sauce is a mystery, which I believe is a mild peanut sauce.
"Ooohhh..." I am already eyeing those juicy scallops when they arrive in a nice big bowl, resting on a bed of rock salt. The (Hotate Misoyaki) grilled scallops is swimming in the miso and mustard sauce, served with salmon roe. The scallop is grilled to perfecto and flavoursome with a hint of mustard from the sauce. Yummy! Definitely will give this recipe a try myself!
KOKO's Chef de Cuisine, Allan Koh, an ex-Malaysian (Malaysia boleh!) who definitely knows his seafood from all the past experience working in family's seafood business. The KOKO's chef special sashimi consists of a great varieties - salmon, tuna, kingfish, surf clam, mackerel, squid, and a few others that I can't identify. The sashimi are sliced rather thinner than usual, but you can simply tell they are fresh out of the water from the glowing red flesh. The Salmon belly tend to be the popular one, follows by the Tuna belly but I head for the Surf Clam instead. This is my first time trying the surf clam and it is surprisingly good, a bit like abalone or cooked octopus. It is tender but not too chewy, with a hint of brine.
Soon after, the waiter comes back with a little dish. A lonesome abalone sliced in half sitting on a pale blue plate, topped with micro herbs with shisso salsa and a lemon wedge on the side. Mr Architect is puzzled and asks the waiter why the abalone only comes in one serve as he tends to remember that it came in three last time he ordered. After the waiter clarifies that the extra abalones was a promotion for Chinese New Year, we all looking at the lonesome abalone wondering how we going to share it among us all.
Abalone = Expensive!!! So no one dares to touch it as the guilty conscience is avoiding the embarrassment. Eventually Mr V.I.P. insisted that the guests from Sydney should have it as the Melbournians can always come back and order again next time. So one piece is handed over to me, and the other half goes to his in-laws. Personally, I think abalone is overrated. It is rather tasteless, and can be chewy if cooked too long. The shisso salsa does help alot, a nice tangy flavour and the abalone is juicy and tender.
"I want spider roll," demands the Chatswood lady. "No, I want unagi roll," detests the Brand Queen. Hence, why not ordering both? Have to say the sushi at KOKO is one of the best I've ever tasted. The spider roll, (love the name) is a nori roll filled with crispy soft-shell crab, drizzled with sweet soy glaze. The soft-shell crab inside is super crunchy, and balance out with the smooth velvety avocado. And I love unagi (eel), the KOKO special roll is basically nori roll with grilled eel, cucumber and avocado, glazed with soy sauce. It is probably one of the best unagi roll I've had in Australia. The eel is grilled to perfection, it is so tender and sweet from the glaze. The whole roll just melt in the mouth with such great combination and flavour.
"Hey, there are 2 more dishes to come," Mrs V.I.P confirms us. Not that I am complaining, I am sure I still can try a few more new things whatever comes my way. :) Then deep-fried crispy soft shell crab arrives in abundance inside a cute black basket with the tomato and pepper dipping sauce on the side. The soft shell crab is easily everyone's favorite - they are rather big, cut in half then deep fried in tempura. The half-cut crab with 5 claws sticking out, looks rather like a deep-fried hand with 5 fingers. Hmm.... crunchy.... hmm... moist inside... I tried a bit of the dipping sauce which is surprisingly hot, which is bit overpowering and take the taste of the crab.
Finally the last dish arrives in a sizzling clay pan, the certified black angus beef is sizzling in the hot pan with a the wasabi butter slowly melting on top looks so inviting. I pick up a small cube with my chopsticks and it goes straight inside my mouth. Oh my, this is seriously delicious! The beef is cooked to medium rare, it is so tender, seriously almost no need to chew. It has such great flavour with a hint of wasabi from the butter sauce. Oh I am so not worthy.
The Angus beef is so good but I refrain myself from being a greedy pig and there are only enough Angus beef to share among 7 of us anyway. But the typical scenario that everyone is too embarrass to grab the last piece of meat on the plate. At this point, everyone is rather occupied with the menu again, deciding what to order for dessert. Yes, we haven't touch the dessert, have I? :P It is rather a challenge to decide what to order, but I eventually made up my mind and I definitely wasn't disappoint with my decision. As soon I put down my menu, eh? There is a piece of angus beef still sitting on my plate!? Looks like Mr V.I.P has grabbed the last piece and put it on my plate without me noticing. Oh well, as people always say, is bad manner not to eat the food offered to you from to host. So, "Nom!", no argument. :P
The Chatswood lady goes for the "Shiori" vintage sake served with vanilla ice cream which is my initial choice, but then I decided not to as I want something that looks pretty. :P The waitress explains to her the correct way to eat it is by pouring the sake into the vanilla ice cream, like an affogato. Oooh... I instantly regret that I didn't go for that dessert, all I can do is looking at Chatswood lady slowly murmuring while pouring those amber liquid into the mount of ice cream. *envy*
My Raspebrry mille-feuille arrives soon after and it is sure a pretty looking thing! The mille feuille is served with yuzu cream and with creme anglaise in between each layer of the vanilla slices. It is heavenly delicious with a blend of sourness from the yuzu cream and the sweet sensation from the creme anglaise. "Sorry no sharing," I have to make sure there is no confrontation, with their desperate looking eyes gawking on my dessert. :P
I usually do not go for dessert that is in jelly form, I guess I simply not a jelly fan. But the Chatswood guy proves me wrong, with his beautifully presented Yamamomo jelly. A dollop of vanilla ice cream is sitting proudly on top of a pool of sparkling sake jelly, then surrounded by these cute little wild japanese mountain peaches, and everything encased inside the half-moon capsule-chair glass bowl, resting on a bed of crushed ice. I look at his dessert, then look at mine again, then looking back at his.... "I want the Yamamomo Jelly!" speaking loud in my head... *crying inside*
I believe the damage for 7 is over $500, which Mr V.I.P. more than happy to pay for the outstanding balance. We are so full by the time we walk out the restaurant and perfect timing to go down to Palladium to rock our booties at the concert. It was a great Japanese meal since the last one I had in Japan. I highly recommend it.
KOKO at Crown Level 3, Crown Towers
8 Whiteman Street,
Southbank VIC 3006