With a name that would more suit a florist, Spring Vale is actually a family-run Japanese lunch spot that reopened after a hiatus a few doors closer to Russian Market in Street 450 last month. It’s a standard shop-house-style place, fan-cooled with a rather plain fitout that might be described as patio-furniture chic.
But if the interior decoration sounds basic, it’s because the owners saved all their energy for the food.
Prepared by head chef Mama Yahata out the back, Spring Vale serves up nourishing Japanese comfort food just like you would find in kitchens back in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s islands where the family originated.
For a satisfying mid-day meal, diners can chose from the katsudon ($4), a rice bowl topped with fried pork and egg, the hot pot udon ($4.5), and the Japanese curry with deep-fried pork ($3.5 for a regular, +$1 for large), among others.
The fried tofu with garlic soy sauce is a new and particularly tasty addition since the move. As is the onigiri bento box ($4) with rice balls, fried chicken, egg and pickles.
The shoyu ramen ($4), soy-based and thin-noodled, is a flavour sensation, owing much to its homemade broth.
According to the chef’s daughter and waitress Kotomi Yahata, shoyu is a speciality of central Hokkaido and the shoyu ramen has been popular ever since Spring Vale’s former incarnation opened in 2011.
“We were the only people making Japanese food in Russian Market then,” reminisced Kotomi before listing several other Japanese eateries now in competition there.
She said the Yahata’s closed the restaurant for a few months while they dealt with some family issues before reopening last month in the new location.
Kotomi said that for the new spot, they never considered changing the oddly floral sounding name. Spring Vale is the name of a suburb of Melbourne, she said, where the Yahatas briefly lived before Cambodia.
“That’s the place where we first met Cambodian people,” said Kotomi as she brought over a $1 iced coffee. “We learned how to speak English and Khmer.”
Spring Vale is located at #73 Street 450. It is open for lunch seven days a week from 11:30am-2:30pm.