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Japanese eats

/ 05 Oct 2016
When it comes to Japanese dining in Melbourne, there is no shortage of options – from fine dining restaurants to izakayas, sushi bars and drinking dens. Those with a soft spot for sashimi or a hankering for saké are well catered for, with new arrivals set to complement existing establishments.

New to the scene is Hot Sauce Laneway Bar. This edgy diner and late night drinking den within QT Melbourne serves up a fusion of Japanese and Korean street food alongside Asian-inspired cocktails, a large selection of Japanese and Korean beer as well as rare Japanese liquors. The share menu caters for both grazing and more substantial meals with playful items such as the Steam and Stuff Me Baos, the intriguing Taiwanese Hot Dog within a Dog and a choose-your-own Big ass bowl of Asia as a sweet ending. The intimate 60-seat (bar seats only) venue somehow creates a sliver of the bustling Asian bar scene with a Melbourne sensibility.

Those feeling inspired after a night at Hot Sauce, can pop next door to QT Melbourne’s new Japanese knife store, Tanto. Here, budding chefs can purchase the necessary hardware to recreate some of those refined dishes. Tanto sells a range of expertly crafted Suisin knives sourced by 1oth generation sword makers from the legendary Sakai. A knife-sharpening service is also available to keep blades sashimi-sharp.

A new ‘restaurant-to-retail’ experience will arrive at Emporium Melbourne when Calia opens next month (November). With a menu designed by Tokyo’s Michelin Star Chef Francisco Araya, Calia will focus on providing high quality Japanese style cuisine at affordable prices. Diners can try, purchase and take home some of the produce at the adjoining marketplace-style retail store including the highest grade iki-kime sashimi and sushi ingredients from sustainable seafood and fish supplier Mark Eather (who supplies Vue De MondeDinner by Heston and Brae, amongst others).

Saké Restaurant & Bar recently opened a new venue, Saké Flinders Lane, in the midst of the city’s most dynamic gastronomic strip. The two-storey venue includes a dining counter combining a sushi bar and spectacular robatayaki grill serving Japanese staples such as yakitori and dishes unique to the Flinders Lane venue.  The tofu, togarashi and furikake spice mix are all made in house, as is the miso paste, which takes six months to prepare. The venue hosts the largest range of umeshu, saké and Japanese whisky of all five Saké establishments and the downstairs dining area houses an impressive library of 80 urns filled with traditional shochu.

A well-guarded secret of Melbourne’s dining scene, the quietly seductive Minamishima – the Age Good Food Guide 2016 Restaurant of the Year – has just been awarded three chef’s hats alongside Melbourne’s culinary crème de la crème Attica and Vue de Monde at The Age Good Food Guide awards 2017. The intimate, 40-seat restaurant tucked down a side street in Richmond serves the pure, unadulterated omakase (chef’s selection) of sushi master Koichi Minamishima. Arguably the best sushi in Melbourne, diners can choose from a 15-course sushi omakase at the long bar, or a handful of shared dishes followed by 10 courses of individual sushi then dessert in the elegantly understated dining room – both featuring the very freshest of Australian and Japanese produce. Saké pairings are also available. (Minamishima images by Eve Wilson)

Restaurateur Simon Denton’s penchant for Japanese has lead him to open three of Melbourne’s most coveted Japanese destinations. Hidden in a basement, behind heavy black curtains lies Izakaya Den serving Japanese-style tapas along with an impressive selection of Japanese beers and sakés in a long, narrow and buzzing space. Hihou, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, ring-the-bell-to-enter first floor bar serves an extensive selection of Japanese-inspired drinks such as hot shochu, saké and plum wine, along with Japanese beers and whiskey. Beneath this secret bar, Kappo serves high-end Japanese cuisine to a discerning crowd. The food here is traditional but with a modern touch and diners are guided through their meal with an omakase (chef-selected) menu. Instagrammers beware – flash photography is strictly not allowed.

Opened last year on the ground level of Fitzroy’s new 127 Brunswick Street (a five-level venue), Ichi Ni Nana offers a traditional izakaya experience. In neighbouring Collingwood, CIBI delivers the only traditional Japanese breakfast in Melbourne and is also home to an exhibition space and retail outlet. Back in the city centre, laneway restaurant Shimbashi serves up the only handmade soba noodles in Melbourne while at Crown Melbourne the stylish Nobu offers a selection of killer cocktails along with its contemporary Japanese cuisine. On the south side of the city, Toko in Prahran opened last year and is complete with a sushi bar where the chef’s can be seen hard at work as well as a whiskey room and outdoor bar. Tokyo Tina continues to entice the fashionable set to sample its array of Japanese eats in Windsor while in beachside St Kilda, Wabi Sabi Garden and Ichi Ni Izakaya are popular options for Japanese fare.

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