Pabu Grill & Sake
Pabu Grill and Sake involves a Vietnamese person putting his modern twist on Japanese izakaya aka tapas dishes. With its dim decor, you could miss it on the underwhelming street of Smith St.
In fact, I thought it looked quiet, but upon stepping in, observed all the tables to be taken and only seats at the bar available. We did book, but the place isn’t entirely big and if it’s only two people, it’s easy to talk and share dishes at the bar. It’s not exactly the same bench as the bar, but a lower bench attached on the side so it’s not too bad.
We were given menus and also briefed by a staff member about their restaurant’s special characteristics – unsurprisingly their sake and charcoal grilled skewers, as indicated by their name. Their menu is extensive, so it took us while to come up with a selection we were happy with. It was also my birthday, so it was an excuse to go all out!
The first dish that we chose that seemed special was from the quick tapas menu, the gyu tataki, thin slices of seared porterhouse beef topped with roasted sesame, red ginger, wasabi mayo, spring onion and garlic ginger citrus soy ($14.50).
It was thin and beautifully presented. The wasabi mayo didn’t have too much of a kick compared to normal wasabi, but still had just enough flavour to spice up the tastebuds – perfect for someone like me who can’t take wasabi.
I also ordered a cocktail, as sake by itself is a bit much for me, thus I ordered a sakurajima mojito ($14), which contained rice shochu and not sake. Shochu is apparently a bit stronger than sake. It was mixed with Barcadi, Sprite, sugar syrup along with lime pieces and mint leaves. I do lean towards drinks with mint as I enjoy the refreshing Asian flavour, but if you are a sake fan you can try a variety by ordering one of their sake tasting flights.
Back to our meals, next up was the watani kani karaage aka the soft shell crab (below) served with spicy miso, chilli mayo and rocket salad ($11). My friend found this okay, but for some reason this seemed the right degree of crispiness for me and I love pairing it with chilli mayo so I really enjoyed it.
From the seasonal specials menu we chose two items. Our appetites were drawn towards the ebi soba because the buckwheat noodles were served with two things we love, prawns and mushrooms tossed in garlic, butter and chilli soy ($16, below). This was tasty but not amazing enough to warrant the price tag for the portion, although we know that prawns will always bring up the price, $16 is still enough to buy a decent and more filling meal elsewhere.
The other choice was the teriyaki chicken, grilled chicken thigh fillet with mash sweet potato served with creamy sweet soy on a hot plate ($16). As the description suggests, this is not your typical takeaway teriyaki chicken, and you can feel the modern influences from the owners shining through.
The sauce was not the usual light brown sauce teriyaki sauce, but yellow and creamier, and this really seemed to work! The buttery and creamy sauce was so nice we tried to scoop as much as we can to drizzle on our rice and the sweet potato was a nice addition.
Of course, we had to try what they specialise in – charcoal grill. To try a variety, we chose the Pabu Sumiyaki Set ($16.50). This includes five skewers: tsukune (chicken ball), yakitori (chicken thigh), chilli inari kushi (bean curd), gyu kushi (beef) and buta kushi (pork belly).
Unexpectedly, our favourite one was the non-meat skewer, the chilli bean curd (bottom skewer)! It had a little of a sweet, dark sauce and was sprinkled with chilli powder. This combination was excellent, the sauce was very flavoursome and the chilli just added a touch more excitement.
The chicken skewers came second, mainly due to their decoration of various sauces from teriyaki to chilli mayonnaise. Disappointingly, the ones we were looking forward to, the beef and pork belly, were too plain. They relied more on seasoning for their flavour, thus we only found them chewy and tasteless.
The plan was to order this set…in order to decide what skewers to order more of! And you guessed it – we ordered more of the chilli bean curd ($3.50 each). Eager to try more (or even the whole menu?) we also ordered the sake kushi, grilled salmon with salt, pepper and lemon ($4.50 each) AND the hotate, scallops wrapped in bacon with wasabi mayonnaise ($6 each, only two pieces on a skewer).
The only problem with waiting for a second round of orders, was that somehow it got busy. I was surprised as I thought it was already busy before that, but it seemed our order found its way behind a large line of dockets. As a result, this left us to digest and we weren’t as hungry when we finally received the skewers. The chilli inari came sprinkled in a lot more chilli than the first time, so weak little me had to brush some off, but they were still as tasty as ever!
The salmon was ok but similarly to the way the beef and pork belly were presented, nothing amazing. Finally, the scallops were interesting and perhaps would be suited for bacon-lovers! Although maybe I would have enjoyed them more if I wasn’t so full.
All up, our experience at Pabu was nice and I really enjoyed some of their experimental flavours and the decor is nice for a place on Smith St. The downside to tapas is the price – some people think it’s nice to have small dishes, but if you have hungry appetites like me the bill will not be pretty.
I also think they may need to find a better way to cope when it gets busy in order to compete with other modern Japanese restaurants in Melbourne. It’s a nice place to visit for some Japanese with a difference, but maybe visit a bit earlier in the evening before they get busy for a decent meal!
Pabu Grill and Sake is open Mon – Thur 10am – 10pm, Friday 10am – late, Saturday 5pm – late and Sunday: 5pm – 10pm. It is located at 190 Smith St, Collingwood.