23 April 2024

Check out this new authentic Japanese restaurant on your next South Coast trip

| Lisa Herbert
Join the conversation
Pork ramen soup with garnishes and implements

Merimbula’s Umiko Izakaya’s ultimate Pork Ramen is deep and comforting. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

Japanese chef Kaoru Ito hails from a place called Mie, between Osaka and Nagoya in central Japan.

About seven years ago, while washing dishes on a working holiday in Melbourne, Kaoru fell in love with nearby Spanish restaurant Mo Vida.

The young foodie spent quite a bit of time eating in his food hero Frank Camorra’s laneway restaurant, and eventually found himself working at the Lorne iteration of Mo Vida, and its cousin restaurant Coda, over a period of three years.

In Lorne, two families of “very special people” connected Kaoru with Merimbula chefs Jamie Sverdrupsen and Brett Kryskow – and the rest is history.

CHefs Brett Krystow & Kaoru Ito in new Merimbula restaurant Umiko Izakaya.

Brett Krystow and Kaoru Ito are extremely happy to open Umiko Izakaya in Merimbula. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

Jamie and Brett met about 23 years ago, when young chef Brett moved into a share house over the road from Jamie’s home at Short Point, Merimbula.

A little older than Jamie, Brett quickly became a mentor. They worked together, tag-teaming at Merimbula’s The Waterfront, each taking off and working overseas for a time, in Japan and Fiji.

Fortuitously, Jamie and Brett have always, by their own admission, wanted to open a Japanese eatery.

“We’ve both spent time in Japan, and love the food and culture,” Jamie says.

With Kaoru now living in Pambula and “not planning on leaving here anytime soon”, the three food-lovers came together to open an Izakaya, called Umiko.

Interior at Japanese Restaurant Umiko Izakaya in Merimbula

Step inside the interior of Umiko Izakaya in Merimbula. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

Kaoru says he is extremely excited to be cooking the food of his heritage in Merimbula and looked forward to sharing his food “with the people of this coast”.

As fans of Japanese food we recently dined at the delightful Umiko, first selecting the Tempura Tuna.

Thin slices of tuna are enrobed in nori, garnished with Yuzu zest and dressed in a house made dashi-soy with added Yuzu juice. Accompanied by dashi mayo, with only fleeting evidence of having been fried in an almost invisible batter, the dish is delicate and balanced.

We do love our dumplings, and Umiko’s pork Gyoza are a classic combination of finely prepared pork, chives and cabbage, made with wafer thin wrappers.

The Gyoza are again cooked in Kaoru’s dashi-soy liquid, (a liquid made with bonito shavings and kelp to draw the umami into the broth, and left to ferment for around a month).

3 Japanese dishes, Umiko Izakaya

The pickle plate is a stand out. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

The dumplings arrive dressed with a dipping sauce with added Japanese grain vinegar which cuts through the rich pork filling.

We also delighted over the Tokotsu Shoyu Ramen, a deeply flavoured 10-12 hour pork broth with an added Tonkotsu oil comprising garlic and chicken fat.

The deep bowl of soup is adorned with pork neck Choshu, Osaka egg cured in a soy-based sauce, bamboo shoots prepared in a soy, sake, mirin and sugar bath, with masses of egg noodles, seaweed and fresh spring onion greens.

You could not ask for a more comforting soup.

Bare area in Japanese Restaurant in Merimbula

Try some sake at the colourful bar. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

We also tried a couple of sake, a favourite being the sparkling, which was a perfect foil to these rich umami flavours.

Jamie and his partner Kat Harley also run nearby Italian eatery Bar Monti and are finding success there.

Jamie says his Monti’s staff are encouraged to spend time in the Umiko kitchen with Chef Kaoru and Brett, to explore Sashimi techniques for example, adding to their training and enriching our local food culture along the way.

A colourful corner in Japanese restaurant Umiko Merimbula

Colourful corners and very cute graphics as well as stickers on napkin boxes give that Japanese feel. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

Brett also teaches cookery full time at Bega TAFE. He says, as a cookery teacher, “it’s important to offer another venue for cooks/chefs to train, learn, and broaden their skills and knowledge”. He spends many of his nights at Umiko.

“I really wanted to bring something to the community that wasn’t here. Somewhere for people to come and enjoy these delicate flavours and a new atmosphere,” he says.

The passion of these three chefs for their Japanese food and new eatery seems to herald an injection of flavour and depth into the Far South Coast food culture, on many levels. The graphics are pretty cool too.

Umiko Izakaya is at 56 Market Street, Merimbula. Open for dinner Wednesday to Saturday from 5 pm. Bookings are recommended. More information is available here.

Original Article published by Lisa Herbert on About Regional.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Sounds really good. I’ll definitely stop by next time I’m down the coast.

I go to Merimbula quite often. I will definitely visit the new Japanese restaurant.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.