THE first time I walked into Iori at the Civic bus interchange, many years ago, I remember the quiet and tranquillity. That’s no surprise since Iori means a place to relax in Japanese.
It’s a small and intimate place celebrating traditional Japanese cuisine, including sushi (perhaps the most famous Japanese food) and sashimi through to modern interpretations of dishes steeped in history, all skillfully prepared, meticulously presented and as fresh as can be.
Iori, after more than a decade in the city has branched out, first with Coo Japanese Izakaya, a lunch and take-away operation and then with Iori Plus+ Japanese Fine Dining, at what we feel is an unlikely location – the “Croatian-based” Deakin Football Club.
On size, Iori Plus+ is the extreme opposite of the original. It is a massive and open concept in the middle, supported (thankfully) on either side by smaller dining areas, including booths with curtains that can be drawn closed for privacy. We agreed the ambience isn’t quite “fine dining” and wondered whether the food would live up to the name.
Iori came through with the food and we approved that the menu features some of the dishes the city restaurant is so famous for (such as char-grilled eel and silky, deep-fried eggplant).
We decided to share lighter dishes, starting with the sashimi assortment. The Japanese are some of the world’s biggest consumers of seafood, so it was no surprise that this dish was beautifully presented, each item a piece of art in its own right. The raw seafood was super fresh and up to its reputation as a Japanese delicacy ($18).
The Agedoshi Tofu – an absolute favourite – was delicious. The bean curd was lightly deep fried and topped with nori and shallots. Sometimes deep frying can produce quite an oily dish but not here at Iori Plus+.
The line-up of tempura was too impressive to pass by. We went for the assorted ($18) which the menu described as “a very famous Japanese style”, with prawns and vegetables served with special dipping sauce, a small bowl of chilli mayo, a bowl of special coloured salt (half chilli and half green tea) and some grated horseradish. Yumbo.
The mains showcase a range of tempting Wagyu beef dishes, but we settled for a simple piece of salmon ($34), which was larger than we expected.
On the fine dining promise, Iori Plus+ needs to lift the bar in some respects, something that would be easy to do with a bit of effort. The cheap, wooden chopsticks (mine didn’t split cleanly when pulled apart) were a big disappointment and the service seemed a bit awkward – perhaps everyone is still getting settled in?
Iori, Deakin Football Club, Grose Street. Open for lunch Monday to Friday; dinner Monday to Saturday. Call 6282 3999.