It’s no surprise Shinbashi Yakiniku is all about charcoal-grilled protein. The name is a tribute to the Shinbashi district in Tokyo, and its high concentration of yakiniku restaurants. The word yakinuku dates back to the 1800s, and translates directly to “grilled meat”, but it’s evolved. Now, it’s most easily compared with Korean barbeque.
It’s a DIY affair here; you do the grilling while sipping matcha beer (slightly bitter, in a good way), imported umeshu (plum wine), or sake from hand-blown glasses.
There are two ways of dining. From Monday to Wednesday it’s $60 for all-you-can-eat pork belly, chicken, lamb, fish, prawn, squid, vegetables and Australian Wagyu beef (from Blackmore, Rangers Valley or Stockyard), but only for 90 minutes. It includes noodle and rice dishes, salads, chicken karaage, sashimi, and sides – edamame, kimchi, lotus chips. In short, it’s a feast. But a quick one.
“This way of eating is designed to show newcomers what it’s all about, so they will come back for the à la carte menu and signature ox tongue and sirloin,” says Cheng.
If you’re new to yakiniku grilling, the waitstaff can do it for you, but there’s not as much fun in that. They’re handy with the MB9+ sirloin, which has the highest level of marbling – the strips are so finely sliced, the fat melts as soon as it hits the grill. You’ll only need a few seconds each side to cook it perfectly, then a sprinkle of salt and pepper is all you need.
Owner Charlie Cheng ran his restaurant of the same name for eight years in Brisbane before sharing the love with Melbourne last year. But just after Shinbashi’s first anniversary in the southern city, a neighbouring restaurant burned down and damaged the venue. The new incarnation has been up and grilling since late June.
“It was a scary experience,” says Cheng. “But the positive messages from loyal customers kept us going.”
Among a swathe of Italian restaurants in Carlton, the dining room is all clean modern lines with brushed concrete walls, copper room dividers and pops of colour from red paper lanterns. There are Western-style dark wooden tables and bench seating, or you can slide off your shoes, slip on the provided slippers and enjoy tatami (mat-style) dining on cushions around one of the two large communal tables. On busy nights, you might not have a choice.