Wednesday 6 March 2013

Tsubu Bar (Japanese Beer Garden)

University Of Melbourne, Gate 6, Swanston St,  Carlton,VIC

Tsubu Bar on Urbanspoon

This is a bar/beer garden within The University of Melbourne. However, it is relatively open and it is a great place to eat if a bit pricey. If it's not raining, eating under the big tree is a real treat on any given day. The cuising is contemporary Japanese and it's a bar, so you get a range of alcohol, and in particular Japanese beers too. My confidence in this place was recently borne out and boosted when I took a group of 6 guests from Tokyo here and they pronounced the food authentic and yummy! 

The Place
Set within The University of Melbourne, it has both indoor and outdoor dining spaces. Indoors, the sound insulation is not great, so it does get very rowdy. Outdoors, it's set in the courtyard under a huge tree with movable tables and chairs. The outdoor area is also really kid-friendly and pram-friendly. A relaxed atmosphere and the only thing you might have to deal with is the falling tree leaves and the smoker/non-smoker angst. Forget about parking - you could try Grattan street but there's nothing else really close by for the public.

The Food
The food is contemporary Japanese and is of high quality. Don't just rely on the menu in the their website - which includes about half the options they actually have. For me, the highlights include:
Crispy Crumbed Pork - Tonkatsu without drowning in pork... if that makes sense. It's different to the more traditional places where they serve you a big slab of pork. The smaller version here is really tasty too.

Soy and Ginger Chicken (on and off again) - At the moment, it's off the menu - but I am putting a place holder here for when it comes back - if you should see it on the menu - order it! It is so delicious and feels really healthy, fresh ingredients and taste, generous serving of stir fried delicate vegetables and rice. So yummy!

Pork Belly in Caramalised Soy (on and off again) - This is on the menu at the moment and oh how joyous that makes me feel. I think it's back by popular demand and has a rich sauce and tender pork belly with a healthy dose of vegies. Yum. Check out the photos Jon took below of the Pork Belly.

Citrus and Chilli Chicken Skewers - small dish (pictured here), very apettising and very tasty without being overly greasy.

The range of cold vegetable sides including edamame, soy beans, string beans, broccoli (pictured here), with a range of flavours. Perfect for sharing.

Chicken Tsukune (top) and Pork Belly
The Service
You order at the bar and they are very patient and happy to explain how it all works. You get your drinks, and they bring out the food. I'd say that 9 times out of 10, they are friendly and courteous. The service is relatively quick given they prepare a lot of the mains only when ordered. None of that microwaving business here.

It's always a pleasant experience here. That's why I go there even though it is pricey and for some, the serves might be smaller than they expect. It's a highly tasty pub meal in salubrious surroundings (just don't overdo the beer).

Cultural Moment
The Beer Garden phenomenon in Japan is not entirely new... and it's not a far stretch from the traditional Izakaya as explained in the article on Izakayas. However, the beer garden is usually outdoors and since space is at a premium in Japan, particularly in the big cities, you will find them on roof tops. Additionally, many of these roof top beer gardens would be sponsored by one of the major beer companies - so they might have exclusivity.

The main difference between many of the beer gardens in Japan and Tsubu Bar (other than the roof top thing) is the concept of nomi-hodai - all-you-can-drink. Imagine that! This is sometimes coupled with a buffet too!

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