Sozai is one of many on my restaurant repertoire list. Thankfully, I put suburbs next to names of eateries to make the decision making process even faster. A cold night in Melbourne, I can take comfort in going to one of my old favourites, ensuring I will have a good meal. It’s also not too far away from the nest either.
The electric blue neon ‘Sushi (fish) Sozai’ sign at the top of the window will be the beacon of light letting you know you have arrived at your destination. Pleasant exterior with wooden paneling, a very typical Japanese style. A few tables out front, only really used to eat in the summer. In the winter they’re just used for a quick hit of nicotine during a meal by some patrons.
As you hope for when you go out for Japanese food – a clean, sleek fit out in which you feel very comfortable to dine. This snap was taken when Sozai was emptying out. An hour back or so, around 7:00pm, take-aways run in and out continually while the place is packed with sit-in diners. I have been known from time to time to take advantage of the efficient take away service.
Stock standard bowl of miso soup ($3.50). This is a great way to start any Japanese meal (unless you burn your mouth). In the winter, there are not too many nicer pleasures than cupping your hands around a hot dish and slowly warming up the ol’ body with small gulps at a time.
I can never stop myself from ordering this appetiser. Once they arrive and I have my first heavily salted bean, I can not stop eating them. The edamame beans ($7.00) at Sozai are served warmed with large sodium crystals dispersed throughout. I recommend these as a delightful snack to share with up to 4 people before your meal. Warning – these are addictive.
The gyoza – pan fried home-made pork and vegetable dumpling (6 for $8.50). Small parcels of minced fillings in a very delicate Japanese type dumpling wrapper. These work well to share between 3 or 4. They aren’t award winning Xiao Long Bao – just tasty, lightly fried mouthfuls. Dip them in the sauce provided for extra flavour.
Nasuden – lightly fried eggplant with miso glaze ($8.00). Love it, and order it every time I see it on the menu. On this particular occasion, you may notice the closer portion was slightly overcooked. It still tasted ridiculously good. The delicious miso paste, combined with the moist warmed eggplant is heavenly. Nice to share between three people.
Ebi tempura – prawns and vegetables deep fried in Japanese batter ($12.50). I always like to think that tempura batter is a far healthier alternative to the regular bread crumb/beer batter – I think I want to go on keeping this belief. The prawns are the best on the dish by far. The vegetables are only there to say hello with no real added value. A light soy based dipping sauce is provided too. I often let the napkin soak some of the residual oil from the tempura for a good 5 second before I pick it out and chom it in two mouthfuls (max).
If you want an insider’s tip for Sozai that you may use on your own, it is ‘ask for the Nasuden nigiri’ ($3.00 per piece). They are the seaweed wrapped eggplant sushi. Using the same eggplant displayed earlier, only finely cubed sitting on a bed of Japanese rice. Need I say more – order, order, order. Two per person is perfect. The entree sushi platter – 4 pieces maki + 4 pieces nigiri ($13.00) was put on the same dish. Good use of space if I say so myself. Excellent, fresh pieces of sushi. Flawless every-time. Unfortunately, this is the extent of sushi for this meal.
Chicken thigh fillet with teriyaki sauce with steamed vegetables ($21.00). I’ll admit this photo does not look too appetising. To be honest with my loyal readers, the taste is not great either. I have a brother with a condition that does not allow him to eat fish products, thus we often order the chicken teriyaki for him. It’s very edible, but most definitely not Chommery Approved.
The unagi don – sizzling smoked eel with steamed rice and thin omelette ($20.00) is a dish that many may not see on a regular basis. Besides eating this dish time and time again at Sozai, I have only one other fond memory of eels. When my brother and I were young children visiting the Botanical Gardens in South Yarra, we would run to the edge of the lake and our caring father would hold us back while we tried to catch one of the eels in the water. We were not so lucky. This could be Mr Sozai’s source. Roughly 5 soft, sweet, succulent pieces of eel sit pretty with a Japanese egg and sliced peas. We commonly put this in the middle and share between three. No more spiel, just try some eel.
Sozai is not out of this world, heart stopping, fine dining, three chef hat winning cuisine in Melbourne. Alongside Hibari on Malvern Road, it is one of my local go-to Japanese joints. The following reasons are why I keep going back to Sozai, and why I feel you may enjoy yourself too:
- The produce is fresh
- The interior is wooden and warm, not to mention clean
- The sushi is excellent
- You can often get in if you don’t have a booking
- The prices are very competitive
- It’s open seven nights a week (very rare for Japanese restaurants)
- The overall food standard makes me smile
- Reliability, convenience and taste are all checked
The Important Details…
Noise: Fair amount of chatter floating aorund
Bookings: Yes – wise to do so
Suitable for: Young and old
Dress: Casual – smart casual
Price: $30-$35 p.p. (very reasonable)
My View: Consistently pleasing
Address: 1221 High Street, Armadale
Phone: (03) 9824 8200