What happens when you combine one of Melbourne’s best microbreweries with a Japanese restaurant? A special Japanese-style award-winning beer — and a five-course dinner to celebrate and launch the restaurant.
Mensousai Mugen is a hidden Japanese restaurant off a laneway, Bligh Place, near Flinders Lane and Elizabeth. I can’t remember the last time I walked down that particular bit of Flinders Lane, so it was a treat to discover Mensousai and its sister bar, Robot Bar (which I’ve been meaning to go to for ages).
On two levels, Mensousai has an izakaya-style lower level that was perfect for the Thunder Road takeover. Don’t know Thunder Road? They’re one of the best microbreweries in Melbourne, brewing their own concoctions and resurrecting old Melbourne favourites. (Keep an eye out for the Brunswick Bitter signs up all over town.)
Thunder Road’s Master Brewer, Colin Page, and Senior Brewer, Marcus Cox, teamed up with Yoshi Kurosawa (the owner of Mensousai Mugen and Robot Bar) to do a special collaboration brew. A Belgian-style Saison beer, the guys added in traditional Japanese plants. There are hints of konbu – edible kelp; ume – Japanese apricot; shiso – a culinary herb; and yuzu – a citrus fruit, and the only one I’d heard of previously.
The resulting beer is Saison Japon, Silver Medal Winner at the Australian International Beer Awards 2014. You can see the botanical ingredients cleverly inserted in the design on the bottle.
Guest chef for the evening, Kin San, intermingled the four Japanese ingredients into the menu. We were served:
- 桜鯛の昆布締め、柚子風味の寿司ご飯を添えて- Japanese konbu seaweed cured snapper with yuzu sushi rice roll
- 和牛の低温調理 和風焼肉のたれと黒山椒の香り – Sous-vide cooked Wagyu slice with spicy fruit soy dipping sauce and black sansho pepper
- 鴨の胸肉のロースト、そば粉のクレープ包み北京ダック風、柚子味噌で。- Roast duck breast slice wrapped soba crepe with yuzu & saikyo miso dip
- 豚バラのコンフィ、パースニップのピューレに赤ワインヴィネガーと蜂蜜 のカラメルソースで – Slow cooked pork belly and parsnip puree with beer wheat served red wine vinegar & honey reduction
- その日の新鮮な白身魚の料理、銀あんかけと柚子のすりおろし – White fish of the day served with Japanese Gin–an sauce
The Thunder Road brewers talked us through the beer pairings, which changed with each menu item. (We also drank tastings of Collingwood Draught and the Full Steam lager, alternating the beers with the different courses.)
My favourite dish — and those of my fellow tablemates — was the slow-cooked pork belly. It was literally falling apart, and so fun to eat with chopsticks. The addition of slightly bitter malt kernels, which burst in your mouth almost like Pop Rocks, made it a standout. But what was stellar about the lineup of dishes was the consistency: each and every course was just as good as the next, from the first sushi to the final fish.
After dinner, the night kept on going: right next door at Robot Bar! We imbibed endless jugs of the Saison Japon, which the bartender gamely ran across the laneway to re-fill for us.
Right now, Mensousai Mugen is one of the only places in town you can try this unique Japanese/Belgian/Australian beer. Drop by Bligh Place for some of Mensousai’s signature ramen — and pair it with Thunder Road’s Saison Japon!
11 Bligh Place
Thunder Road Brewing
130 Barkly Street
Brunswick East 3056