Tuesday, October 23, 2012

COOL JAPAN @ Nama Nama

I had walked past Nama Nama on my way to work for so long before Yalei and I decided to hit it up last week. The younger brother of Izakaya Den reaks of Japan chic, and I'd wondered about this neat little eatery, tucked away in the corner of the city, for quite some time. Nama Nama fits in with Melbourne's CBD as much as it stands out, but is made particularly noticeable by the wooden tables and seats outside the restaurant, stamped in loud red, Asahi logos. Cute.

Inside, the cafe is quite beautiful, fitted out in kind of 'scanjapan' style - that is a mix, of woody and simple Japanese design, with more westernised furnishings and affects that I associate with Scandinavia. Staff are also really great, super friendly and very attentive. When Yalei ordered her second Japanese lemonade (they have those strange click, ball openings) they asked her if she wanted to 'crack it' herself, and when she did it, three of them cheered and clapped - Adorbs. Big props to the staff.

I don't know if it was all the natural light, or the relatively quiet nature of this restaurant compared to most of the city, but Nama Nama has really good, calming vibes. It's cool, but not nauseatingly so and there isn't a particular 'crowd'. Although I'm sure it gets busy during the lunchtime rush hour, there was also enough space to feel like you had a little privacy.  

I kind of feel bad for Japanese food, because it has so many cheap imitations here in Melbourne, but there is none of this 'smoked salmon sushi' here and not a single soy sauce fish could be found.  

Enticed by the delights that are displayed on the front counter, I choose a bento box. The deal is you choose your box, and then you select its components from the little selections offered. So, you pick   a salad, a raw choice, rice piece, a house specialty and a main, with the majority of the five componants displayed at the front - hence the name, 'Nama Nama' which translates to 'fresh fresh'.

I had wanted to choose the salmon, but they were out, so choose the eggplant instead. Eggplant isn't my favourite dish texture-wise, I find it kind of sludgy, so I wasn't quite taken with this one, although the sauce was appropriately zany with the rice, and they did pop the last little piece of salmon in too, which was tasty. I also had the Kingfish sushimi, which was leaf-wrapped and tasted fresh and easy. One salad, with fried noodles was light and fitting with the rest of the bento. My favourite part however, was a little mix of cold vegetables, a mix of raw snow peas, capsicum and corn in a kind of fried pastry, wonton style cup.

However, Yalei did enjoy her Udon. Apparently Nama Nama is one of the only places in Melbourne that makes their Udon by hand - or rather, by foot. This sounds kind of nasty, but kind of neat at the same time, because they wear a sock-type covering and roll the Udon into noodles with the bottom of their soles. I'd like to see this. Yalei reported that you can feel the imperfections in the 'grain' of the noodles, but couldn't taste much of a difference, but the tempura prawns were well cooked and the soup flavoursome.

Nama Nama's udon is it's own shining star. From my research, 6 months on from opening, Nama Nama remains the only place in Melbourne 'handcrafting' their own udon, which is pretty amazing. Also, Nama Nama is open for breakfast which also provides a pretty serious point of difference to the usual brunch spots in the CBD. It also has a bar upstairs that broadsheet has called 'moody' which is cool, i guess.

Although, I did like Nama Nama and considered it a positive dining experience, I do think it is over priced. $18 for a bento box is kind of crazy; although the options were certainly more interesting in comparison to your 'sushi sushi' shopping centre kind of bentos, and felt considerably more authentic. $15 for the udon is not too painful, but isn't exactly cheap at the same time. Generally though, for me, the portions just aren't big enough to justify the price, especially with the bentos, when the majority of the fillings had been prepared earlier and were cold, and it's really due to the rice that one feels 'full' after.



31 Spring Street

Mon - Fri 7am - 5pm
Sat - Sun 8am - 5pm

Good for: Interesting and quirky Japanese food, and an uplifting lunch. I really enjoyed all-round simplicity of the venue, and the presentation of food. They also serve market lane coffee which is a bonus, and Japanese style breakfast.
Vegetarians: Are well catered for.
Seats: Customers should have plenty of seating options. Inside, outside, on the bench, on tables and even on more traditional Japanese seating arrangements. We sat at the bar, near the front window and that was fine.
Wait time: There was not seating wait.
Food waiting time: Around 10 minutes.
Cost: I spent $21.00 all up, including my Japanese lemonade and bento. Yalei's came to about $18 for her udon and drink. I didn't think the bento was amazing value, although I was glad I tried it. However, I would return to try the udon.

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