It’s pretty difficult to find Don Bay on your corporate lunching adventures. It is tucked away in a little hidey hole on the side of the drab office building that is 440 Collins Street. Don Bay is so tiny and so popular that during the 1 pm to 2 pm lunch slot it can sometimes feel like you are standing on a packed train from Shinjuku to Shibuya. Your chin may end up resting on the shoulder of the person in front of you. You might get a waft of the peach shampoo your work colleague massaged into his hair that morning.
Don Bay is a minute Japanese take away lunch spot that appears to cater solely to the ravenous suits that work in the 440 Collins Street office building. In fact, I’m not sure that there are many people who know about this place that don’t work at 440. I have tried to explain to my own work colleagues where Don Bay is but it’s all too difficult for them.
It is such a shame that Don Bay is so small. It’s pretty much standing room only, apart from a couple of high chairs and benches. This is not the sort of place you go with your work colleagues to spend a leisurely hour moaning about your bosses latest efforts on team work or your secretary’s newest love life drama. Everyone in Don Bay would hear you. It is a place to get an authentic take away (or sit, eat and leave) Japanese lunch for around $10 give or take.
My usual is the Sansai Udon. It’s a warming soy based udon noodle soup filled with fried bean curd, what they call “edible wild greens”, and other vegetables like shiitake mushrooms (my favourite) and seaweed. The soup is hearty and the veggies are crunchy and full of flavour. Perfect for a cold winter work day.What I love about this soup is it just feels healthy. I tell myself that it’s low fat even though I don’t actually know if that’s true. Unfortunately, the let down of this dish is the promise of the fried bean curd. There is only the slightest sprinkling of bean curd on the top. It’s like a garnish really. Don Bay recently changed their menu. The old vegetable udon soup had thick luscious slices of bean curd that soaked up the salty broth and tasted fantastic. I miss that delicious bean curd – sniff sniff.
Don Bay has a good sized menu that includes a great range of udon noodle soups like the ebi ten udon with tempura prawns or the chicken udon with plump bits of grilled chicken and vegetables. There are also other Japanese lunch dishes on offer like bento boxes (10 different varieties!) and katsudon. My Love is in love with katsudon. Ever since our trip to Japan and the amazing katsudon we devoured in Matsumoto (see it here) he has been trying desperately to find katsudon in Melbourne that stacks up.
Don Bay’s katsudon was disappointing. It was a small bowl (maybe even very small) filled with rice and topped with fried pork, egg and onion. In my opinion the flavours were average but their biggest blunder was the pork. It wasn’t crispy! Katsudon should be crispy. Even the name sounds crispy. I don’t think the pork was made to order. Overall a lacklustre dish.
I like Don Bay and I don’t like it. I like the variety of dishes on the menu and I really like the udon noodle soup. I don’t like the lack of seating or the katsudon. But sitting and savouring is not really what this place is about. Don Bay is about grabbing Japanese on the go. It’s about sitting at your desk with you little wooden chopsticks shovelling rice and sukiyaki in your mouth while you finish your month end report. It’s about spending 20 minutes flicking through Elle magazine on a high chair while you slurp broth and noodles before you hurry back to your 2 pm meeting. It’s a hearty worker’s lunch spot for around $10 a meal, and it’s really not that hard to find.
Don Bay – 440 Collins Street Melbourne (enter via Gurners Lane)