One of the first of many Japanese cafes to have emerged on Smith Street, Wabi Sabi Salon remains a quirky local secret with a charming, bohemian vibe. The Wabi Sabi team, who run a similar ‘Garden’ restaurant of the same name in St Kilda, received the award for Best Melbourne Japanese Restaurant in 2010.
Perhaps a bit cluttered inside, their authentic Japanese trinkets and paper lanterns nevertheless make you feel like you’re on holidays in Tokyo. For lunch, there are sushi roll and miso sets or select from a meat, fish or vegetarian main with rice and side salad, partitioned neatly in clunky black bento boxes. Most meals come on handcrafted ceramic dishes with bright banana leaf blankets.
Their menu is cheap and good for sharing (a stuffed chicken-wing pork gyoza looks unusual but tastes good) but the mains, while alluring, are pricey for the locality. There is an extensive local wine list, with are some familiar alongside some lesser-known Japanese beers, plum wine, sho-chu and a variety of sake.
There are several areas to dine at Wabi Sabi: on bamboo stools out the front, a mezzanine upstairs, a little Japanese garden out the back, or at tightly packed tables in the main dining room.