Eggplant was one of those awful things in my childhood that I'd thrust my jaw away from after my parents would unsuccessfully try to "areoplane" it into my mouth. Unbelievably so, the very same thing that I'd scrunch my face over all those years ago, is now one of the ingredients that I scout for and get incredibly excited over when I see it on a menu. The turning point for me, came when I was introduced to Salted Egg Eggplant (黄金茄子) - which is a mouthful in every meaning of the word! I was tricked into trying these crispy matchsticks at a local Chinese restaurant many years ago. They were fried golden brown and seasoned with a delicious salted egg yolk batter. Low and behold, in that moment I swear I had just become a born again eggplant fan! I think food textures really do impact on what we like to eat, especially as kids and although to this day I'm still not a fan of overly mushy foods; I love the flavour of eggplant and particularly enjoy it when it's deep fried!
This is not my first time to KiRi in Shenton Park - but I do recall enjoying it's simple fixtures with very well intertwined aspects of oriental design. My first visit involved a convenient lunch with my Mum and I was glad that despite the good food, there was nothing ostentatious about this place. The same welcoming vibe carries through, even at night and I found it to be the perfect setting for a casual dinner to introduce M to a few friends. One of the many downfalls of any long distance relationship is that on top of rarely getting to see each other, some of our respective friends have to wait months on end to put a face to the name!
Aside from it's Teriyaki counterpart, I'm very certain that Karaage is probably the second most served chicken dish in Japanese restaurants across Perth. Traditionally, Karaage Chicken exhibit hints of garlic and ginger from the pre-frying marination process - some freshly squeezed lemon as it hits the table wouldn't go amiss either. There are plenty of variations around but KiRi's has definitely become one of the favourites due to it's authenticity and popping flavours. After a quick google, I just realised that "oroshi" actually means "katabatic/downward wind". The chicken is crispy, extremely juicy and the fresh, sharp flavours are reinforced in the ponzu dipping sauce. However, I will say that $18 for a couple of nuggets of chicken may not make this the most reasonably priced karaage in Perth, especially considering whole bentos with side dishes included can go out for around $7-$8 each in the CBD.
By the way - now would be a good time to mention that "Ponzu" is not only one of my favourite Japanese sauces, but also a great "puppy's name" worthy word in itself! In contrast to the Karaage, I think this Vegetarian Entree Plate is great value for money. It features a lot of the usual suspects from popular Japanese entrees, such as agedashi tofu (my personal favourite), edamame, pickles and potato salad which I found great for sharing around the table.
The potato salad at KiRi is probably the freshest and lightest I've tried yet and even garnished with fried lotus chips (they know their way into my heart!) What follows is two types of pickles featuring Brocolli and a dish of garlic and sansai vegetables. This was my first time trying pickled sansai and I loved it - it was probably my favourite thing on the plate aside from the potato salad and the eggplant.
Speaking of expanding my tastebuds, a recent dining experience managed to help change my mind about Edamame too; after trying Shiro's Sake Steamed, Truffle Oil and Green Tea Salt Edamame, I've been hooked! The agedashi tofu was probably the only average component on the plate for me; a good age tofu is light and crisp, before it's potato starch coating becomes slightly gelatinous after soaking in it's own sauce for a period of time. it's not terrible, but compared to the other fantastic ingredients on the plate it's an afterthought.
You could argue that Miso Sauce has been done to death by contemporary Japanese restaurants after Nobu's Black Cod with Miso phenomenon but I say that if it tastes as good as KiRi's then please continue to kill me softly with this sauce! Despite the thickness of each piece of eggplant; this has still managed to capture the irresistible sensation that comes from biting into a crisp coating that melts away into a soft, flavourful filling. Not only was this the most affordable dish of the night, but it was also the most deliciously memorable one. I posted a photo of it into Instagram and realised that this dish has already built up quite a well deserved reputation...amongst my cousins!
Surprisingly so, it was the main dish that left us all feeling disappointed. It's an unfortunately noticeable pattern around Perth where entrees are far surpassing their more expensive main dish counterparts in both taste and value. The tempura batter was rather heavy and the soft shell crab was noticeably old - even with the warm tempura dipping sauce and dipping salt provided, it left us with no impressive afterthought. Scanning over the other main dishes, they all seem quite pricey; especially the Margaret River Wagyu Sirloin which is almost $50 (for 200g accompanied with Asparagus and Broccolini).
We shared the above dishes family style between four people and even though the tempura didn't impress, the first three dishes were magnificent enough to leave me with yet another good impression of KiRi. We all weren't extraordinarily full afterwards and decided to step out somewhere else for dessert. "Pricey, small servings but delicious" is something that I'm sure a lot of Perth diners experience a lot but I think that the Vegetarian entrees at KiRi remain to be very reasonable. It's a cosy place and if you're looking to actually feel satisfied after a splurge, then you're going to have a nice night out at KiRi. Big eaters and penny pinchers might find a more fulfilling meal elsewhere but I urge you to seriously come on in for that unforgettable Dengaku Eggplant.
I've been compiling my list of restaurants for my list of my Top 5 Japanese restaurant experiences from 2013 - if you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments below!