Sushi Ten, Carlton

Where: Sushi Ten, 178 Rathdowne Street Carlton

What: Best salmon sashimi don in Melbourne

Who: Proud Perthian

Bloat score: 0 – Living the dream

Since getting back from Japan a few weeks ago, I’ve turned into an incorrigible wanker who refuses to dine at any old Japanese spot in Melbourne because I’ve developed a newfound intolerance (entirely separate to my existing dietary intolerances) to subpar sushi and mediocre donburis. Sadly for my highfalutin ways, Japanese is one of the few cuisines that have intolerance-friendly options for me in the form of sushi and sashimi and so long as I steer clear of ramen, udon, takoyaki, curries (the list goes on), so it wasn’t too long before I found myself at a Japanese restaurant. Thankfully for me, it was Sushi Ten.

Sushi Ten’s reputation precedes it – it used to serve its famed donburis from within Port Phillip Arcade before shifting to Rathdowne Street. Rosé Doré and Monemoiselle (who last featured in this review of Good Times) are its number one fans who wax lyrical about it whenever we’re in the vicinity, but after several ill-fated attempts to visit it together, I ended up going there with Proud Perthian, who also battles with her own intolerances and was looking for a bloat-free option.

The first thing you have to know about Sushi Ten is that it’s cash only, which in this regard, renders it identical to nearly every restaurant I visited in Japan. Because I am spoilt by virtue of living in Australia’s cashless society, I trudged a few blocks to the service station on the corner of Elgin and Rathdowne and grumpily paid $2.90 in ATM fees to get cash out, but it isn’t too far if you find yourself stuck without cash like we were.

The second thing you should know is that Sushi Ten isn’t BYO, although it’s still a good idea to buy a bottle of whatever at the liquor shop nearby and get cash out with your transaction if you’re stingy / lazy like me and don’t want to pay $2.90 in ATM fees or walk further. Just remember you can’t uncork whatever it is (lol who am I kidding – I never buy anything with a cork in it) at Sushi Ten – I saw the deathly ramifications of this unfold when I witnessed a couple have a near fight because one of them bought a bottle of wine and opened it in Sushi Ten after following the other’s instructions.

Sushi Ten is tiny – there’s a counter by the window for solo diners and a few communal tables but while there was a steady flow of people when I visited, it was never packed. Service is haphazard owing to the overextended duo Yukio and Yukiko who man the shop – Yukio typically makes the food in an open-plan kitchen where you can witness his dextrous handiwork while Yukiko manages the register, but if she isn’t around when you walk in, just take a seat and go up to the counter when you’re ready to order.

Proud Perthian and I had both had appalling bloat days and decided to play it safe with our orders, although not so safe that we couldn’t share a serve of gyoza ($7.90) between us (we’re not fools) and not so safe that I steered clear of spice – I ordered the spicy salmon sashimi don ($15), while Proud Perthian went for the chicken teriyaki don ($13).

It’s hard to eat another gyoza after the breathtakingly amazing potsticker ones I had in Kyoto – sorry, I can’t help it, I AM THIS PERSON NOW – but Sushi Ten’s gyozas were delightful. The gyozas were pleasantly charred on the bottom with crisp laced edges and piping hot herbed pork filling – my only complaint is that there weren’t more of them.

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But the true highlight of my meal revealed itself to be the spicy salmon sashimi don I ordered. Slivers of fleshy pink raw salmon were interspersed with so many other ingredients I lost track – kimchi, cooked teriyaki salmon, sheets of nori, wakame (seaweed), avocado, tobiko (roe), pickled ginger, a skerrick of wasabi. Drizzled over the salmon sashimi was a light peanuty chilli dressing, not so heavy it overwhelmed the freshness of the sashimi, but just enough to significantly raise the heat quotient of the dish. Every spoonful was an explosion of flavours in my mouth – I loved this so much and I didn’t want it to end. I also enjoyed the contrast between the warm rice and cooked teriyaki salmon and the cool raw fish. Afterwards, I felt light yet sated – a most unusual feeling for someone who gets bloated after something as innocuous as an overripe banana.

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I was dismayed by Proud Perthian’s chicken teriyaki don when it arrived because it looked so small in comparison to my mountainous bowl but she reassured me that it was more than enough. Perceptions of minute portions aside, it looked amazing – it didn’t have the deep dark brown colouring that I’m used to seeing in store-bought gelatinous chicken teriyaki sauces, which meant it didn’t have an overwhelming sweetness to it. It looked homemade in the best way possible – glistening with fresh pan juices, replete with vegetables. It soothed Proud Perthian’s embattled tummy and satisfied her in equal measure.

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Sushi Ten isn’t suitable for a fast meal, despite its outward appearances as a takeaway shop – our main dishes took around 40 minutes to come out, which isn’t too long, but it’s not an in-and-out joint per se. What it lacks in speed it makes up for with impeccable dishes – I’ve been twice in three weeks and I can fast envision it becoming my new (old for everyone else) local. Sushi is also prepared fresh onsite and the table behind us had ordered a platter of different assorted sushi – something I’m extremely keen to experience for myself – and you can buy mochi (maybe one of my favourite desserts?) for $2. It’s a slice of Japan in the leafy streets of Carlton.

Sushi Ten is open Tuesday to Saturday from 12pm to 3pm and 5pm to 9pm and on Sunday from 5pm to 9pm.

Author: Sonia Nair

Sonia Nair is a Melbourne-based food writer who persists with her love of everything deep fried and spicy, despite being diagnosed with a histamine intolerance and lactose intolerance after incorrectly thinking she was fructose-intolerant for several years.

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