Okonomiyaki and soba noodles are two of my favourite Japanese dishes that aren't very commonly found in Sydney's Japanese restaurants. Whilst browsing the Internet one day, I chanced upon Jugemu and Shimbashi, a restaurant that specialises in teppanyaki and freshly made soba. I decided to pay a visit to Jugemu and Shimbashi one Sunday evening, and arrived without a reservation just as the restaurant had opened.
Upon entering, a host greeted us and asked if we had a reservation, to which I said no. My boyfriend remarked that the host had a look of stifled disgust on his face at the thought of people trying to dine at their establishment without a reservation. However, we still managed to get a table for dinner, despite only having it until 7:30pm, so that left us an hour and a half to eat - of which I thought was ample.
Street view of Shimbashi
To clarify, Jugemu and Shimbashi are actually two restaurants that are connected to each other. Both the restaurants follow the traditional Japanese custom of specialising in a certain dish - Jugemu specialises in okonomiyaki and teppanyaki (grilled dishes), while Shimbashi specialises in freshly made soba noodles. Despite being two restaurants, you can order the same menu items at both restaurants which is extremely convenient. After being seated on the Shimbashi side, we were brought copies of the regular and specials menu.
Traditional Japanese decor at Shimbashi, with both Japanese sunken style tables and Western style tables.
It didn't take us long to order, and shortly after our orders had been placed, our first dish had arrived. The Nasu Dengaku ($10) consisted of grilled eggplant with a sweet miso sauce. It's one of my favourite Japanese dishes, and is quite simple. The eggplant was soft, but still retained its firmness. It was complemented well by the sweet miso sauce. Despite its simplicity, it's something that never fails to please.
Stuffed Zucchini Flower Tempura
The next dish to arrive was the Stuffed Zucchini Flower Tempura ($10). The tempura batter was perfectly crisp, and as I bit into it, it revealed a creamy interior. The sauce it was served with was a nice accompaniment, and we finished these very quickly.
Mini Jugemu Specials Okonomiyaki with additional seasonings
The okonomiyaki was one of the main reasons why we had come here, and you can imagine my excitement when it came out. The waiter had advised that we should get the mini size for the okonomiyaki, as we had ordered a lot of other other food. The Mini Jugemu Specials Okonomiyaki ($16) was a delectable mixture of calamari, scallops, pork belly and prawn topped with shallots, mayonnaise and a sweet okonomiyaki sauce. The okonomiyaki was also presented to us with a container of katsuobushi (dried fish flakes) and dried nori (seaweed) for us to scatter on top of the okonomiyaki as we liked. The katsuobushi is a traditional accompaniment of okonomiyaki. The katsuobushi flakes waved gently on top of the okonomiyaki and helped to accentuate the flavour. The Jugemu Specials Okonomiyaki was one of the best okonomiyaki I've ever had. All the elements of the savoury pancakes were perfectly chosen and cooked well.
Wagyu Sukiyaki Korokke
Korokke is the Japanese name for a croquette. The korokke at Shimbashi contained pieces of wagyu beef. Sukiyaki is a Japanese hotpot dish with sweet soy sauce. As such, I had expected the korokke to have a slightly sweet flavour, but I didn't detect any. The korokke's exterior was crisp and not oily though. The interior of the korokke was creamy and had many small pieces of beef, but I thought the quality of the beef wasn't excellent. Overall, this dish was one of the more disappointing ones.
The Spider Roll ($19) contained tempura soft shell crab, nori and mayonnaise, adorned with fish roe. The small, crunchy pieces of soft shell crab in each roll were crisp and provided a nice contrast to the soft sushi rice.
Three kinds of freshly made soba with duck broth dipping sauce
Our last dish of the evening was one of the main reasons we had come here. We had selected three soba pairings from the specials menu, and the waitress showed us which one was which when the dish was brought to our table.
L-R Original soba, Earl Grey Tea soba, and Snow White soba.
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat and are commonly served cold, with a sauce for dipping the noodles. We had lots of fun trying out the different flavours of soba noodles. I was a little disappointed as I had actually wanted to try the Green Tea soba, but hadn't seen it on the menu that night. However, the quality and taste of the soba noodles we'd picked soon made up for it. The Snow White soba was named for its pale white colour, and I found that it had a mild, delicate flavour in comparison with the other flavours. The Original soba was a traditional buckwheat noodle, with no flavour added. The Earl Grey Tea soba was my favourite flavour. Out of the three kinds, it was the most flavoursome. It had a lovely bergamot taste and a beautiful beige colour. All the soba noodles were cool and refreshing. Most definitely the best soba I've had in Sydney.
The soba dipping broth was very different to the usual pairing of soy sauce that I usually eat soba with, but neither my boyfriend and I were complaining. The soba broth with duck fillets, baby cos and enoki mushrooms was full of flavour. The duck fillets were soft and tender. Everything about the broth was perfect, and it was delicious when eaten with the soba. After we had finished eating the soba noodles, a waitress came with a jug of hot water and informed us that the broth was to be consumed as a soup, once we had watered it down. It tasted great as a soup, and was the perfect way to end a lovely evening.
Both my boyfriend and I were delighted with the quality of food at Jugemu and Shimbashi, and would return just based on the food alone. The ambience was beautiful and calm. Although it was a Sunday evening, the two restaurants became busy very quickly, and I would recommend making a reservation before coming in. As for myself, I definitely won't be coming in without a reservation again. Due to the level of business, the waitresses and hosts looked rather busy throughout the entire evening. I found the service exceedingly polite, but perhaps, a tad lacklustre and cold; but this didn't put a damper on an evening eating such great food.
Where: 246 Military Road Neutral Bay NSW
Why: Fresh soba noodles and okonomiyaki, as well as other traditional Japanese dishes.
Cost: $96 total
When: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 12pm - 2pm.
Tuesday - Saturday 6pm-9:30pm