1st floor MidCity Arcade, 200 Bourke Street Melbourne, VIC 3000
I recently made my first ever trip to Sushi Hotaru, the Japanese restaurant famous in Melbourne for its long lines and affordable sushi. I’d walked past the restaurant on only one occasion before, and remember a huge line snaking down the corridor, so I was a little apprehensive about how long I’d have to wait for my meal.
We arrived at around lunchtime on a Sunday and sure enough, there was a crowd of people waiting to be seated, but fortunately not as many as I’d anticipated. The waitress gave us a number, and the wait began. In the end, it was only around 20 minutes before our number was called and we were shown to our seats. Perhaps we got lucky this time around – I’ve heard others who have had to wait for hours during peak times.
The restaurant looks deceptively large from the outside, but the seating capacity isn’t huge. There are only a handful of actual tables, which are usually reserved for families or larger groups. The rest of the seating options are all on high-stools surrounding the sushi train, which traverses around the restaurant with the sushi chefs in the middle preparing food in plain view. Plates of sushi can be grabbed directly from the train, and each pair of seats also has an iPad mounted on the table that can be used to order any dish on the menu. The basic rule at Sushi Hotaru is that all dishes are $3, except for the gold plates (which contain sashimi), drinks, noodle dishes and desserts. This simple formula means that it is easy to keep track of your bill as you eat, which I found to be very useful. As for the food – I would say that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. It definitely wasn’t top-class sushi, nor did I expect it to be at only $3 a dish, but the seafood tasted quite fresh, the presentation was great and there was a huge variety of food.
We mostly stuck to the nigiri, which are basically slices of seafood or meat atop an oblong mound of sushi rice. Of those that I sampled, my favourites were definitely the scallop, prawn, salmon and spicy tuna. The scallops were beautifully tender and sweet. The spicy mayo on the prawn and tuna nigiri added a lot of flavour and I personally just have a soft spot for raw salmon. I probably wouldn’t recommend the squid or beef nigiri – they were both quite tough and hard to chew.
Takoyaki is a must-order for me whenever I each Japanese, and this time was no exception. If you’ve never had them before, they’re delicious battered balls traditionally filled with diced octopus. The takoyaki at Sushi Hotaru was very tasty, but I felt that they could have been a bit more generous with their octopus filling.
For me, the highlights of the meal were the seared salmon and scallop box sushi, and the soft shell crab hand roll. The thing that really appealed to be about the box sushi was the lovely smoky flavour that was imparted on the seafood through light searing, which added another dimension to the dish. As for the soft shell crab handroll – the crab was crispy, delicious, and very well balanced by the rice. At $3 per roll, I had no choice but to order a second one to finish off my meal!
I really enjoyed my experience at Sushi Hotaru. I didn’t end up trying any of the sashimi – to be honest they didn’t look super impressive and at $7.90 a plate, I knew that my go-to sashimi place could do much better for much cheaper. That being said, the rest of the food was generally of a pretty high standard and although it’s not the most convenient place to dine at, it would definitely be somewhere I’d recommend if you’ve got a big craving for sushi.