With no media press release and little public knowledge of its opening, this is the epitome of a Melbourne hidden gem. Granting, I don’t believe this will last long. Chef Koichi Minamishima had previously worked at Kenzan since the 1980’s and wanted to create a unique sensory experience. The location is just off Bridge Road in Richmond and upon walking into the restaurant, the hushed setting, soothing ambience music and quiet, unobtrusive wait staff will seemingly transport you to a sushi-ya in Japan. A striking long wooden sushi bar, seating twelve diners, extending down through the restaurant and a few tables segregated at the back, for groups of diners, make up the restaurant.
Along the sushi counter, it is an “omakase” experience so there is no food menu and the tasting course is left to the hands of the experienced chefs. Some of the fish are flown in from Japan and the latter being sourced locally, according to what is fresh and in season. The group dining tables offer a similar menu, with a 10 piece nigiri platter alongside hot and cold items off the a la carte menu.
Before starting the omakase, we enjoyed a cold dish comprising of slow cooked pumpkin, okra, tomato and Japanese eggplant in a light savoury sauce; a refreshing start to the meal.
I am currently enamoured with yuzu, a citrus fruit which is like a cross between a lemon, mandarin and grapefruit, so obviously I order all things yuzu whenever I spot it on a menu. My yuzu sake was chilled and very refreshing. Mr A also ordered appropriately for the warm weather – a crisp pale ale from Japan. To aid with any enquiries, general manager and sommelier, Randolph Cheung (with a history at many notable restaurants) is on hand to assist.
Our first of many courses was a cured King Dory. Typically, the fish has a mild flavour; so through the process of curing, the briny flavour was emphasized while retaining its firm texture.
The silver bream had a nice kick from the ginger and scallions, and thoroughly complemented the slightly sweet fish.
The King George whiting required very little soy sauce as the firm texture and clean flavours clearly showed the impeccable quality of the fresh fish.
Topped with a fine grating of Japanese spices and lightly salted, the calamari was sourced locally from Victoria. Biting through the delicate flesh left a delightfully sweet flavour and creamy consistency in the mouth.
The octopus was cut in a way to allow some chewiness and crunch of the flesh to come through.
While the rate in which the pieces were placed in front of us was swift, though not hurried, I allowed myself plenty of time to stop and fully appreciate the next course. The New Zealand scampi was insanely sweet, succulent and refreshing; balanced nicely with a light coating of nikiri (a sweet and salty soy glaze with umami qualities) from the chef’s deft brush stroke.
The Japanese geoduck clam had a fantastic snap to the texture; a great example of how the Japanese not only embrace the flavours and quality of raw fish, but the textural complexities of the different varieties.
Torigai, which is a Japanese cockle, was more chewy with the spice of ginger lingering on tongue. This was another great example of contrasting textures.
A contender for one of our favourites that night, was the torched Japanese flounder fin. By charring the fish, it resulted in a fat-like texture and literally melted in the mouth to leave an unctuous, luxurious quality lingering on the taste buds. The richness of the fish was flavoursome enough without any soy sauce and many blissful eye-rolls ensued.
While I had my delicious yuzu sake topped up, Mr A went with his own glass of sake. It was a very fresh and textural sake with fruity notes, suiting the seafood particularly well. Next time, I will be very interested in trying the matching sake course ($70).
Next, we had the yellow fin tuna, which acquired a balanced savoury flavour through the process of being cured in soy sauce.
With a selection of the fish being flown in direct from Japan, the otoro was sure to be a highlight. For those unfamiliar with otoro, it is considered to be the finest cut from the lower belly of tuna which means it has the highest fat content. The exquisite flavour of the marbled fat was evident in each bite; the consistency was rich and creamy with a buttery mouthfeel.
The charred savoury aroma quickly drew our attention and soon enough, we were presented with the torched otoro. The torching liquefied the marbled fat to heighten the melting experience and added a delectable smoky flavour to the fish.
The two chefs worked harmoniously with impressive precision. The chef to the right of the photo is Chef Koichi Minamishima.
The Tasmanian salmon roe provided briny bursts of flavour, leaving us to savour each pop.
Battera is an Osaka-style of sushi, also known as “boxed mackerel sushi”. By curing the mackerel in rice vinegar, the distinct vinegar flavour cut through the rich and oily fish. Though, not a favourite of ours, it was an interesting addition to the omakase.
Our last nigiri course was a beautifully torched anago (Japanese conger eel) lightly brushed with nikiri. The requisite charred flavour added to the delicious flavours and left the delicate, sweet meat just falling apart.
Included in the omakase menu, the final savoury course was a simple and homely soup with seaweed and a “fish dumpling” made from kingfish and crunchy calamari bits. The food was gradually catching up to me but it was a refreshing end to the meal and cleansed our palates.
As a finale for the omakase meal, we were presented with a wagashi, a traditional Kyoto dessert; something that Chef Minamishima learnt in Kyoto himself. Utilising the seasonal produce, white grapes were skinned and cooked in a jelly similar to agar agar and really featured the natural sweet of the grapes. It proved to be a satisfying and cooling end to our meal, especially when accompanied with a steaming hot cup of houjicha (an aromatic roasted green tea).
Many will baulk at the price per head – at $150 a pop, it can be considered quite expensive. Though, the brilliance of the chefs is indisputable. With each individual grain of rice perfectly cooked and retaining their bite; the finesse shown while preparing the fish; the flavours and varying temperatures utilised to enhance the fish; all accumulating into a harmonious mouthful to illicit sighs and head shakes in disbelief – disbelief, that it could be this good.
I have yet to encounter an omakase experience in Melbourne that entails so much depth and thought into the dining experience that makes me almost believe I’m back in Japan. Even if you have a trip to Japan planned in the near future, a visit to Minamishima will leave you with no regrets, at all. I promise.