Ju Ge Mu & Shimbashi, 13 Feb 2009

After seeing a keen photographer friend’s photos of this restaurant on Facebook, I was absolutely fascinated. There were several showing a man with a heavy-looking cleaver cutting up fresh soba in the storefront window. Fresh handmade soba – in Sydney! I never knew there was such a thing available in Sydney but, then again, I’d never gone searching either.

I called the restaurant on a Monday not knowing they are closed Mondays, so I had to call again the next day. I made a reservation for the Friday but was given a time by which we had to leave, as the restaurant was rather booked being so close to Valentine’s Day. We were quite keen on trying the place, and thought the hour-and-a-half allowed would be sufficient, so we went ahead with the reservation anyway.

Parking is a bit of an issue along the particular stretch of Military Road where Ju Ge Mu & Shimbashi is as there are clearway restrictions, but Monsieur Poisson manages to find a spot on a side street.

Ju Ge Mu & Shimbashi is a little confusing at first as it is essentially two restaurants in one. Ju Ge Mu is the teppanyaki restaurant, while Shimbashi is the soba restaurant and each side is decorated differently. When you telephone for a reservation the staff ask you which side you would prefer to sit at, although you can order from both menus regardless. The only instance where it would be of importance is if you want to sit at the teppanyaki bar, which seats only 6-8 people from memory, in order to be close to the sizzle of the chefs displaying their skills. The restaurant has two doors, side-by-side, separated by a partition, with one for each restaurant. You can enter through either door, however, as the two sides are mutually accessible within. We are seated at our reserved table on the teppanyaki side, near the partition dividing the two. The teppanyaki restaurant has a red and black colour scheme, whereas the soba restaurant has a brown and beige earthy feel. The soba-making window is, of course, at the front of the soba side but on this particular evening there is no soba master in action.

We are given the standard menu as well as the Valentine’s Day menu, even though it’s not until the following day. We order hot green tea, grilled beef tongue, soft-shell crab tempura, tuna tataki, duck soba and prawn okonomiyaki from the standard menu, and chicken and mushroom two-flavoured soba from the Valentine’s menu.

Mistress and I are delighted when the tea arrives in a white, Chinese-style teapot and is placed on this dainty, felt coaster much like the ones sold at hart & heim. The tea is the greenest in colour and the most green tea-flavoured I’ve ever had. As we’re enjoying the flavoursome tea, our grilled beef tongue arrives as a serve of two juicy skewers.

The soft-shell crab tempura has a light if slightly thicker batter than normal and is served in a black, wicker basket. It is not accompanied by the usual tempura dipping sauce, but instead a tartare-type sauce (but pale yellow in colour) and a spicy salt mixture.

The tuna tataki is beautifully presented on a long, white, rectangular platter but is sitting on a peculiar, sticky, sesame-like sauce. It’s fresh, but it’s unusual.

Both the sobas we’ve ordered are of the cold variety, which arrive on bamboo mats ready to be dipped into the accompanying hot broth. Each soba has been considerately split into two half-serves by staff who have observed the three of us sharing all our food, so we end up with four little lots of soba populating the table. The two bowls of strong broth are similar in taste, with the chicken and mushroom one containing a variety of different Japanese mushrooms. It comes with plain soba as well as cucumber-flavoured, and the latter with its faint green tinge and little green flecks of cucumber skin is especially refreshing. The soba here really is a highlight. The texture is smooth and light with the noodles being thinner, less chewy and also lighter in colour (ie. not cement-grey) than the dried variety. When we’ve almost made our way through the soba, a small pot of the noodle-cooking water is placed on the table for us to dilute the dipping broth for drinking. This practice, I’ve heard, is very common in Japan.

The prawn okonomiyaki arrives at the end, on a mini-hotplate replete with its own spatula which resembles a paint-scraper. The okonomiyaki is firm but not overly doughy, nor overly filled with cabbage so it doesn’t break apart into mush when we carve it up. It is also decorated on top by a wavy pattern of mayonnaise and Japanese barbeque sauce.

We’re quite full and are also a bit pressed for time so we decide to give dessert a miss. However, on subsequent visits we did try the tempura ice-creams, which I highly recommend, but unfortunately there are no photos!

Ju Ge Mu & Shimbashi
246 Military Rd, Neutral Bay NSW
Tel: (02) 9904 3011

Opening Hours:  Mon  CLOSED
Tue-Sat  12pm-2pm (lunch)
Tue-Sun  6pm-9:30pm (dinner)

happy eating!

LATEST UPDATE: Ju Ge Mu & Shimbashi scored 14.5/20 in The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2010, which is only 0.5 from being awarded a one-hat restaurant honour.

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