At first sight, with its minimalistic interior design complete with cool pastel walls and plywood furniture, the Grand Lafayette feels just like any other Melbourne café. And in many ways, that’s exactly what it is.
The breakfast and lunch menus consist of popular western dishes infused with Asian flavours and ingredients, resulting in dishes like matcha french toast and wasabi scrambled eggs. This concept is nothing new. The fusion of eastern and western flavours is currently a big trend, and cafes all around the city have jumped on the bandwagon. But unlike the rest, Grand Lafayette is an all-day dining venue serving up café style dishes well into the late evenings.
Typically, breakfast and lunch dishes are served from 8am – 3pm, but each night from 5:30 – 10pm, the Grand Lafayette becomes an all-you-can-eat Japanese diner for a budget-friendly cost of $32.80 (excluding drinks and dessert). And with no time restrictions, guests can spend as much time as they like grazing on an assortment of dishes, as long as they eat everything they order. If you don’t eat everything you’ve ordered, Grand Lafayette will charge you $5 per 100g of wasted food.
On the all-you-can-eat menu, there are a total of 26 individual dishes to try out, with the option to add a sashimi platter for an extra $18.80. The dishes on offer are small in their portions, allowing one to get a taste of almost everything on offer, without gorging. There’s of course the classic crowd pleasers such as chicken katsu, agedashi tofu, and gyoza, which are expected in all Japanese diners. And the team behind Grand Lafayette do these staples well. The agedashi tofu, for example, was crispy golden on the outside and silky smooth on the inside, served with a lovely bittersweet tsuyu sauce. And the soft shell crab maki with jalapeño mayo and avocado was a well balanced twist on the hand roll, with the jalapeño mayo giving a pleasant kick to the otherwise rich and creamy flavours of the rice based dish. None of the standard dishes were mind-blowing, but none were a disappointment either. They were just the simple and tasty Japanese flavours that everybody enjoys.
Besides the standards, there were some surprising dishes that one would not expect to find on a budget-friendly all-you-can-eat menu. And these, were a hit and miss. Firstly, the beef tataki, served with yuzu shichimi dressing was quite unbalanced. The thin slices of seared eye fillet were tender and juicy in texture, but the overpowering acidity of the yuzu shichimi dressing was a strong distraction that completely overwhelmed the taste buds. Furthermore, the beef tataki left a lingering sour tingle on your tastebuds, similar to the aftermath of consuming salt’n’vinegar chips. It was the opposite of a refreshing and tantalising starter.
Then there was the braised beef bao with Japanese sweet soy. The bao itself was exactly how it should be, light and fluffy. But the braised beef was very chewy and drowned in sweet soy sauce. Another unbalanced dish. In contrast to this, the pork belly bao with braised pork belly drizzled with kimchi teriyaki sauce, was a great example of a balanced dish. The braised pork was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the sweet teriyaki flavours were nicely balanced off by the slight spicy kick of the kimchi.
Another great dish was the yuzu kingfish (pictured in the header) served with a drizzle of yuzu soy dressing and a sprinkling of wasabi salt. The fish was fresh, and the wasabi salt was a great palate cleanser, and I would even argue that it was better than the traditional wasabi paste.
With its hit and miss offerings, Grand Lafayette may not be the best Japanese diner in town, but it’s not the worst diner in town. And when you take into account the fact that the whole meal costs $32.80, there’s really not much to complain about. After all, who doesn’t love a good bargain? Especially if it’s edible.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Address: 9 Clifton St, Prahran 3181
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri (8am – 3pm, 5:30 – 10pm), Sat-Sun (8:30am 3:30pm, 5:30 – 10pm)
Images supplied and credited to Griffin Simm