Monday, January 31, 2011


Who would have thought that sushi would have become such a populist food in Australia!  Walking around Highpoint you can see many a squished sushi roll clutched in a toddler's fist (quite often that of my own kids).  What's not to love - sushi rolls are healthy, cheap and delicious.  It is important, though, to every so often remember that there is so much more to Japanese food than a chicken tempura hand roll and a fish-shaped soy sauce squirter.

Chiba exterior

Thank you then for the tip that led me to Chiba, a fabulous Japanese restaurant in Moonee Ponds!  I have come across a Japanese restaurant. Japanese-owned, serving AUTHENTIC, delicious food. Arguably one of the best in Melbourne... Chiba Japanese Restaurant, Moonee Ponds. Really worth the visit! said an anonymous reader.

Chiba 002

Monday night, Christmas/New Year holidays - it will be dead, I thought.  Thank God we booked anyway as it was packed, with tables constantly turning over.  Complimentary edamame or fresh soybeans were delicious to start.  I know why these are the Hollywood starlets' snack of choice - they are so healthy yet tasty, much "meatier" than regular beans.

Chiba 003
Osuimono, $5 and oskinko, $4.50

We bypassed the more ubiquitous miso to try something different, osuimono or "fish and tofu clear soup".  The soup was fantastic - a bright, clean, zingy stock base, I think made with dashi, a stock unique to Japan made by carefully boiling dried tuna flakes and a type of kelp (seaweed).  Inside the amber liquid floated juicy pieces of tofu, shiitake mushroom and white fish.  Between sips we crunched on a selection of pickles including purple, tangy and slightly sweet umeboshi or plums, sweet, fluorescent yellow pickled daikon or radish, and a dark green, salty and acidic gherkin-style pickle.

Chiba 008
Entree sashimi plate, $13.50

Look at this plate of utter perfection.  The fish is the colour of delicate underwater coral, seemingly nestling between wavy fronds of green and white seaweed.  We mixed the wasabi with soy in our bowls and dipped each slice.  If there is anyone out there who has not discovered how good raw fish is, Chiba would be a great place to start.  While cooked fish has a not at all unpleasant flaky texture, the flesh separating in petals or threads, raw fish is more solid, more gelatinous perhaps - similar to rare steak.  The taste is actually much less strong than cooked fish.  Ah, New Year's resolutions - they are easy when you are dining on sublime, Zen-like Japanese food!

Chiba 004
Nasu dengaku, $7

My favourite Japanese dish, fried eggplant spread with a smooth, sweet, white miso paste.  This eggplant was scored into diamonds, fried and then drizzled with sweet, nutty miso sauce.  With a bowl of gohan or short-grain white rice, it was divine.

Chiba 009
Whiting tempura (entree), $10

Baby whiting fillets in that classic, ruffled tempura batter.  Good tempura batter is a mere whisper of crispness, merely clinging to the fish or vegetable.  These came with a "radish dipping sauce" that was very light and sweet.

Chiba have a lunchtime menu of noodle soups and rice dishes (which include a miso soup) that is exceptional value from $9.00 to $10.50.  There's an extra discount for takeaway.  A perfect coffee afterwards from Nabiha opposite would be just the icing on the cake.

Chiba Japanese on Urbanspoon

Address:  19 Hall Street, Moonee Ponds (map)
Phone:  9326 0248
Hours:  Mon-Sat 11.30am - 3pm, Sun - Thurs 5.30pm - 10.30pm, Fri & Sat 5.30pm - 11pm

Small step to enter.


  1. Very cool! That's an interesting little stretch/street - there's an Indian place, too. And just around the corner, as Mt Alexander Rd begins to head down to Kensington, there's a whole bunch of places.

  2. I wanted to go here last year but somehow didn't make it. Do they have on the menu some home style dishes? Those are my favorites :)

  3. Yah Chiba is a real find. We've been going there since we first lived in Ascot Vale!! But if you ever want to splurge and are willing to travel - Shira Nui in Glen Waverley is divine. You should check out Yim Yam's as well for Thai - its opposite the Moonee Ponds station.

  4. Thanks for blogging this joint, but I have to nitpick a bit:

    The red pickle is not umeboshi, which does not slice cleanly like that, but probably eggplant (nasuzuke) dyed with purple perilla (akajiso). And pickles are o-shinko, not "skinko".

    The "white wavy fronds of seaweed" are actually just grated white radish (daikon). The green bit looks very much like ordinary parsley, which is often used in Melbourne as a cheap substitute for green perilla (aojiso) leaves. The real thing is only available in a few speciality Japanese stores (eg. Fujimart in Prahran), spoils quite fast and tastes pretty alien to Western palates anyway.

    And that white wrinkly thing in the foreground of your sashimi plate scares me. Squid, I presume, but was it boiled or something? Raw squid is very popular in Japan but I doubt it can be sourced here.

  5. Jani, on the contrary, thanks for your helpful comment. That's what you get when you google "Japanese purple pickles" :S I do try to ask staff but sometimes get too involved talking, eating and drinking!

    Yes it was squid, it was cooked and OK, not amazing but the other fish was fantastic.

    Is green perilla different to the purple perilla in the Little Saigon Market?

    Temasek, I have been to Yim Yam in Yarraville ages ago and really enjoyed it. Must go back again, this time perhaps to the M Ponds branch!

    Marine, I think they do have Japanese curry and some ramen noodle soups. Also try Ebi for homestyle slow-cooked pork belly, daikon and egg. Amazing! Essex St, Footscray.

    Kenny, yes, lots to explore around there! Definitely would like to try that Indian joint (Kasim, I think it is called?) as well as the Greek place on Mt Alexander that is not the Iliad (forget the name)

  6. There are heaps going on in that stretch... :) If you are near by, give me a call!

  7. Philhellene? Outside my price range, I'm afraid. Iliad, right next to my mate's wine bar, looks more my go - but IIRC you gave it a bit of thumbs down. The one in Williamstown, Santorini, is on our "to do" list.

  8. Thanks for the post! I have been wanting to check the place out since hearing about it recently. Although I had heard it is Japanese-owned, I had a friend question that. Do you know that indeed that is the case? Boy, the pictures have me drooling and I must make an effort to get there soon!

  9. I recommended this. I know for certain that Chiba is 100% Japanese owned, in other words AUTHENTIC. Thanks for visiting!

  10. @Lauren: Yes, the Vietnamese perilla is a different variety. My (Japanese) wife uses it on occasion as a substitute in cooked dishes, but the taste is different from the green variety, and neither does it stain bright red like Japanese purple perilla. As usual Wikipedia has a good rundown:

  11. Thanks for recommending Chiba - my friend also recommends it. Great photography!

  12. Awww I used to live just around the corner from here, it was my favourite restaurant!!! So good and affordable and byo!
    I miss it so much now that I live in Prahran (aka the blackhole of nice/affordable restaurants)

  13. thank you thank you thank you!!!
    no more going into town for decent japanese.

    love it when your blog comes up on my FB page.

  14. Favorite restaurant EVER! Not much I miss about Aus but Chiba is definitely one! Glad you loved it. I second the Yim Yam opposite the station suggestion. I think you would love it.


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