277, Carlisle Street, Balaclava, VIC 3183
88% likes on Urbanspoon means that they get it right on many counts. So, this place is pricey and it's what you would expect with good quality Japanese. You don't go there for quick serve bento and a California roll (mate!)... oh wait! they DO have California roll but it comes with flying fish roe...and it's $15. This is not your food court generic sushi joint.
This is not a huge place but I really like the ambience and deco. If there's a down side, it's like many restaurants these days that occupy one shop front - so, you are sitting rather close to strangers. Some see this as a challenge, at En Izakaya - it's an opportunity - to see what others are eating and what you might be missing out on. Despite the space, it doesn't get terribly noisy.
Other things to do close by: Shops on Carlisle are closed usually after 6, so there's not a lot to do but it's a short drive to St Kilda and Chapel Street.
I am just going to get to it - everything we ordered, I liked. There was nothing not to like:
Beef Blade in Soy and Mirin melts in your mouth and it's the ultimate sticky meat. Comes with delightfully silken tofu.
Braised Otway Pork Belly is AMAZING if you like pork belly (which I love love love).
Miso Pumpkin Soup was on the specials board and it's a cross-cultural experience.
If you are going to this place - you really need to get into the spirit of the Izakaya - learn to share your dishes - it's like Japanese tapas or dimsum. Don't assume you will get the one dish and it's yours alone.
The service is polite, friendly and they do try to make an effort. With the long lay out of the shop - they have a lot of distance to cover and the bar needs to be staffed. They manage it quite well I think though the busier it gets, the more clearly harried the wait staff are. Completely run off their feet - I suspect it's a bit from punters ordering more after the first order because either the serves are smaller than they expected or it's so good, they want more. So, service is more complex than the usual menu, order, serve, eat, clear, pay cycle.
This is a great find though my advice would be to go earlier in the evenings before it gets crazy busy :). It's a pricey place and the serves are not what you might call 'family friendly'. Be prepared to try lots of different things - and then figure out what you want more of, and order it.
A Cultural Moment
Izakaya(s) are originally casual drinking houses (think sake) and small dishes of food. People (men) used to go after work and hang out and smoke and order bits and pieces of snacks, often sharing the variety of dishes. A place to unwind and relax and drink some more.