A dish of wagyu tataki at Iori Japanese Restaurant, East Row Civic.

A dish of wagyu tataki at Iori Japanese Restaurant, East Row Civic. Photo: Gary Schafer

Rating: 14/20

  • 41 East Row, City, 6257 2334
  • www.iori.com.au
  • Owner Mamoru Aizawa, chef Freddy Ng
  • Open lunch Monday to Friday, dinner Monday to Saturday
  • Licensed and BYO, corkage $10 a bottle
  • Wheelchair accessible

This strange little restaurant makes it into our little suite of top places every year.

I really like the way the menu reads, almost the same way I like watching people do crazy things on YouTube.

In one clip I saw recently the idea is to stack as much food on to various animals as you can within a time period - dogs, turtle, frogs, you get the picture (just google super-weird Japanese game show).

At Iori (the specials are ''first order, first take''), you get a dish called CSI (chef's special invention).

Or ''bara aria'', an aria to the barramundi; and ''three li'l piggies'' (panfried pork belly, deepfried pork loin, and pork in a broth), all of it making light of restaurant terminology in a playful, slightly insane way that appeals to me greatly - should be more of it.

Underneath the craziness, the food is very good, pretty well perfectly put together simple Japanese dishes, hundreds of them.

Waygu tataki ($20) is an uncomplicated dish of very thin, raw, well-marbled beef dressed with spring onion and ''delicious'' vinaigrette. Throw away the '70s grated carrot and iceberg lettuce, plonk it on an in-vogue floor tile and you'd pay twice as much.

Did someone say eel? Another food they do really well is this slippery fish (note, no one can stack food on a live eel). If you love it as I clearly do, Iori's real eel meal deal - those strange names again - is the dish for you. Around $45 will give you all the eel you need for a month: in a roll, tempura, simmered, chargrilled all with a pleasant salty dipping sauce.

And of course, since this is Japanese, Iori's sushi and sashimi combinations never fail to excite, such a fresh, precise arrangement of tuna, kingfish, salmon. Looking at the menu, it feels like prices have increased, with more dishes well over $30 now, but the value for money is still pretty good.The wine list, though, leaves me cold.

I wish they'd go visit Asuma up in Sydney and see what is possible in pairing good Japanese food with a great wine list. But then the eclectic mix of totally unsuitable wines almost makes sense at Iori.