Best Japanese Restaurants in Melbourne
Japanese food is one of the most popular cuisines in Melbourne. Here are our best Japanese restaurants in Melbourne.
Kisume - Flinders Lane
Kisume means pure obsession with beauty and it's the whole package that impresses. We have enjoyed one soiree here and look forward to many more. A game changer in Flinders Lane. Iconic Chris Lucas has produced a distinctive restaurant different to Chin Chin et al, brimming with style and class overdrive. Kisume is a contemporary Japanese dining experience on the ground and basement levels, but its the Table at Kisume that steals the show on the first floor, a unique omakase-style dining experience seating just 12, two private dining rooms with a similar bespoke offering, plus the Chablis Bar, the first such bar in Australia. Table at Kisume is an exclusive experience of Japanese food and ambience at its best.
One top Australian critic told me this was the best sashimi he had ever tasted in the world. Guests can enjoy dishes that draw on the purity and exacting nature of Japanese food but are uniquely Australian (nearly 100 per cent of the menu features produce from Australia and New Zealand). Seafood is, of course, a highlight.
Kappo the brainchild of Simon Denton (also Hihou and Izakaya Den) with partners Miyuki Nakahara and Takashi Omi, is an intimate modern Japanese dining experience in the Melbourne CBD. Press the door bell in Flinders Lane (not Spring St) and enter a modern restaurant to be greeted with a smile and a warm towel. Sit around the counter, where you can see the chef in action (chef's selection restaurant) and allow yourself to be taken on a superb culinary journey. Check out our Best Sushi in Melbourne.
Simon Denton was a wonderful host at our invite blogger event and we felt like we were given a masterclass in the Japanese dining experience. Kappo showcases the best of Australian produce and its seasonality, given innovative and exciting Japanese technique. As Simon Denton visits Japan about twice a year, he keeps abreast of nuances and trends in Japanese dining and brings innovative ideas back to Melbourne. We felt Kappo is a standout dining experience in Melbourne in a sea of fine dining choice.
Choose your chopsticks...
Zensai consisted of four elements in the one dish; Warm seasonal vegetables, walnut miso, as well as Ocean Tartare, then Sea Urchin, egg tofu and fresh truffle. Finally the refreshing hit of Coffin Bay Oyster, white sesame, finger lime. The equivalent of Japanese h'ordouvres,, the Zensai was a triumph of refreshment, taste and texture. The land and sea were duly honoured in an exciting dish. The Zensai was served with a standout champagne De Sousa Brut Tradition, Avize.
Grated turnip, Queensland Grouper, lotus seed, black radish, snapper dashi, wasabi was a superb dish showcasing the best of Australian fresh produce treated with Japanese technique. This course was served with a captivating Tasmanian wine, the 2014 Domaine Simha Field Blend, Derwent River in the Chablis style.
Kappo is a unique dining experience in Melbourne, sitting around the counter. Simon says it's not just about the diners watching the chef, but the chef watching the diners. Kentaro Usami (formerly sushi chef at Kenzan) wowed us with his exceptional cooking.
Simon Denton served us sake from a pewter... All night there was an interplay of pouring vessels and various sake cups.
Kappo brings out the sushi master, with Kentaro preparing a series of Black rice sushi of the highest quality. The Chu-toro, black garlic was one of the highlights for The World Loves Melbourne. The toro (upper belly) was a talking point at the table. Silky and flavour hit of the sea.
The King George Whiting was a delicate treatment of an Australian seafood icon. Who would have thought such a delicate dish and harmony could be produced from this fish?
Another highlight in the black rice sushi series was the Cured Salmon and Yarra Valley salmon roe. Presentation was first class and the roe had a touch of wasabi to balance the dish. A simple dish yet such delightful flavours honouring the natural ingredient.
Siimon Denton has an affinity with the Yarra Valley, with his winery interest, for which we partook of a Nebbiolo with superb depth and bouquet.
It was then on to the grill...
Our thoughts on some Melbourne degustations is that while they are brilliant, you are assaulted with a volley of rich overpowering courses, which results in a "heavy" feeling afterwards. Kappo balances the courses. The grill was a perfect interlude. In fact you leave Kappo having eaten plenty but not feeling heavy at all. The Grilled pine mushroom, shiitake, Japanese turnips, kabosu jelly, daikon and ginger, sesame and salt gave us outstanding Japanese flavours and contrast in the winter menu. Moreover there was a sense of theatre in the grill process by the chef in front of us.
The high note of the night was the theatre and taste around the Tasmanian green lip abalone tempura with guts sauce. Simon explained the only description of the abalone sauce could be "guts sauce". The theatre of the guts sauce poured around the abalone tempura was classic. A great sauce stands on its own and this sauce was compelling, rich and almost rustic. The combination with the tempura was stunning. This had the "wow" factor.
Kappo kept the high notes coming with this Rainbow trout, Yu-an miso, lotus root cake, slippery jacks, leek, chrysanthemum flower. For many this was the highlight of the night. The flavour combinations and textures were exquisite, not to mention the delicate treatment of the Rainbow trout. this was perfectly paired with 2011 Denton Nebbiolo, Yarra Valley. We also enjoyed the best of Japanese rice with Yam potato and sansho pepper rice with pickles.
Famous by now is the Yuzu and Honey sorbet, with appeals to Simon Denton to never take this off the menu. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus, the size of a large lime but bright yellow in skin in the winter or green in the summer. Originating in East Asia, it has knobbly skin and looks a bit like a cross between kaffir lime and lemon. Yuzu is highly aromatic, and combines well in dishes, brilliant in combination with honey. The Yuzu and Honey sorbet was a refreshing way to end the meal with a hit of sweetness and citrus, but not too sweet.
Yet there was more. It was Joyce's birthday from Melhotornot and we sang happy birthday as the Warm tofu cake, winter pineapple and fuji apple, chocolate sauce and fresh truffle was served. We imbibed this dessert with something akin to a dessert wine, the orange toned Umeko Umeshu, Wakayama.
The dessert part of the menu is definitely not an afterthought. After all of this we were presented with a stunning Japanese treat box; brown sugar manju, mandarin jelly, wasabi cream cheese cheescake. Wasabi in a dessert was welcome.
Again, a delightful sense of theatre added to the experience. Imbibed with Houjicha tea.
Kappo takes you on a dining journey through tastes, textures and innovative treatment of fine Australian produce with first class Japanese technique. The World Loves Melbourne loves the concept of the counter experience, and to have Simon Denton host us at the counter was a privilege and memorable experience. The Herald Sun lists Kappo as among the top 5 restaurant experiences in Melbourne and we can see why. Check out the winter menu (or any season in fact). Highly recommended.
Sake - Flinders Lane and Southbank
Saké Restaurant & Bar has been a favourite in Southbank and recently brought its award-winning contemporary Japanese dining experience to Melbourne’s much-loved gastronomic destination, Flinders Lane. The World Loves Melbourne has enjoyed fine meals at Sake in both Melbourne and Sydney. Check out our Best Sushi in Melbourne. We enjoy the vibe in the Flinders Lane restaurant; modern Japanese cuisine in a modern atmospheric environment.
The two-storey restaurant at 121 Flinders Lane has a vibrant street-level entry with a dramatic dining counter combining a sushi bar and spectacular robatayaki grill. The sweeping natural stone counter provides seating for more than 50 diners overlooking Saké’s world-class culinary team. This level seats over 125 customers and features intimate and communal tables.
The downstairs level showcases an expansive natural Japanese stone bar from which diners can watch a stellar drinks crew shaking, stirring and pouring signature and seasonal cocktails, as well as Melbourne’s largest selection of saké, shochu, Japanese whiskies and micro-brewed Japanese beers. This level also features a light-filled, modern terrace that accommodates outdoor diners and floods the restaurant with natural light during the day and provides romantic and atmospheric lighting in the evening.
National Saké Brand Culinary Director Stephane Chevet described the menu as bringing an innovative and playful twist to the signature Saké style and showcasing Victoria’s high quality local produce and ingredients.
“We’re looking at featuring dishes such as Nihon braised wagyu short ribs with seared foie gras, asparagus and caramelised onion; slow-cooked abalone with garlic lemon soy and taro crunch; southern rock lobster sashimi with ito togarashi, hijiki, and ume neri glaze; and Himalayan salt-chilled seared snapper, with karazumi, lemon oil and dry soy,” he said.
Saké Flinders Lane will be the fifth restaurant in the Saké fold. The first Saké Jr., a healthy fast-fine restaurant that features create-your-own bowls, buns and rolls along with grab and go versions of Saké’s signature items, is also slated to open at 555 Bourke Street in May, further strengthening the group’s Melbourne foothold.
Urban Purveyor Group Chief Executive Officer Thomas Pash said the group was thrilled to have secured a prime dining spot in the much-coveted Flinders Lane.
“We’re excited to bring the iconic, multi award-winning Saké restaurant to one of the top dining precincts in Australia,” Mr Pash said. “Flinders Lane features some of the best restaurants in the country and Saké is another powerful name to add to the already impressive list of venues located there.”
“Our new Saké will duplicate the winning strategy of its sister restaurants and also add some innovative, original and fun elements just for the Flinders Lane location, including a huge interactive dining counter, live entertainers, personalised shochu storage lockers and some other surprises.”
Supernormal - CBD
Supernormal delivers when it comes to entertaining your international guests, in ticking all the boxes. We visited Supernormal on a Saturday night with our Canadian friends and expectations were exceeded. Check out our Best Restaurants in Melbourne.
Melbourne is full of standout culinary options but we wanted to take our friends to somewhere that's "so hot right now" and somewhere acclaimed and hatted. Supernormal has made a big impression from the "get go" winning a hat at The Age Good Food Guide Awards, let alone a bold neon window display. Bookings are taken for groups of 6 or more - lucky we scraped in for an early Saturday night sitting.
Supernormal is about Andrew McConnells favourite dishes from trips to Asia, notably Shanghai and Hong Kong. The menu is set up well for groups - just share dishes from small to large offerings and you can cover a lot of ground. Start with the Raw bar and the Snacks and appetisers. The Tuna, ponzu & tagarashi above was a killer start with clean fresh flavours.
We were keen to try out a broad spectrum of the menu and should have gone for the great value set menu, but we opted to choose our own dishes, ordering several of each proving more expensive. Kimchi, cabbage & radish was a satisfying journey into kimchi. My mother in law is fastidious about kimchi having travelled much to Asia and won't rave unless she has to. Thumbs up were given to this tantalising appetiser.
Supernormal boasts a raw bar, a cool concept in itself. Smoked beef, mustard leaf, clam mayonaisse was a triumph of taste and texture with cream, crunch and silky beef. By now our Canadian friends and my mother in law were impressed with the class and broad taste profile at Supernormal. Andrew McConnell translates his Asian adventures into this one great culinary adventure at Supernormal.
The famous New England Lobster Roll could not be denied so we ordered several of these. Generous portion of lobster and a killer sauce and sweet brioche, is a cacophony of flavour. Andrew McConells take on this New York snack was developed for his Golden Fields restaurant in St Kilda (now Luxembourg) and he sold 60,000 of them there. And he says he's sold 18,000 more of them since opening Supernormal. Chart topper dish.
Dishes with finesse. The White cut chicken, cold noodles, sesame, peanuts, chilli was a hearty welcoming dish that again took us to a place of freshness, quality cuts and peanut crunch. The chilli set the dish off with a little kick.
Dumplings are so hot right now. Supernormal served up these rewarding Prawn and chicken dumplings, chilli and vinegar sauce, with 6 in a serving. The skin was slightly sticky and the fillings first class. The chilli and vinegar sauce is a must, and I found myself spooning sauce all over the dumplings.
Supernormal has picked up on some trends in Melbourne, bringing its own twist. What I love is that it's a unique offering in Melbourne, not a copy of another, or indeed predictable. This is exciting modern food built on traditional roots and stories. Fried chicken has been a Melbourne obsession and Supernormal served up a teriffic compelling rendition.
Even the Vegetable plates were cooked to perfection with crispy greens.
Supernormal largely caters for shared dining and the Slow cooked Szechuan lamb, spring onion pancake, coriander paste was a highlight. The slow cooked lamb was delectable but it was the sauce that arrested attention. And we love a good spring onion pancake.
And so I had to take another photo of this dish. So pretty, and perfect to show off to international guests. We also enjoyed the Whole Roasted Flounder as a satisfying but not too heavy dish. Dishes were consumed with Iceberg salad.
Not only was the food top notch but the wine list proved a winner. The Magpie Estate Shiraz Grenache was superb with our meal, so we ordered another. Some say you should choose a good white or even a pinot with Asian flavours, but a great red can also do the business.
The ambience at Supernormal is of a buzzing restaurant with an element of quirk. This is not an ostentatious fit out by any means. Almost a sophisticated cafeteria feel about it. The bar is sleek and modern and the tables pleasant enough, but the ceiling and pillars suggest a once humbler setting. Exposed brick and polished concrete floor. Can we call it semi industrial?
Supernormal has been captivating since it opened. Next time we might launch into a few numbers in the downstairs karaoke bar. Highly recommended.
Minamishima - Richmond
Minamishima is about sushi fine dining, with a set menu to show you what the chef can do... Sushi is showcased with delicacy and skill of a master.
At the heart of the omakase offering from sushi master Koichi Minamishima lies not only 25 years of experience, but also an increasingly rare culinary art form. The World Loves Melbourne loves the goal - to fill each diner with joy through the art form of sushi.
Tucked down a one-way street in Richmond is Minamishima, the most intimate Japanese dining experience in Melbourne. Omakase involves placing faith in the integrity of the chef. There is no a la carte menu; this is a journey through a progression of courses with the utmost focus on texture, balance and appearance – as decided by the chef.
Minamishima's omakase is produce-driven, focusing on raw ingredients as they come into season. There are two dining options. At the sushi bar a seasonal entree is served to whet the appetite, followed by sushi presented to the diner one piece at a time. Broth and a traditional dessert follow.
In the dining room and private area that can accommodate up to eight people, the focus extends to the cooking method, from steamed through to grilled. Sushi is also presented but in harmonious groupings, via traditional table service. Sake and wine pairings are also available.
Tokosan has opened it's doors in Melbourne following the huge success of Toko in Surry Hills Sydney, and the Prahran and South Yarra "creatives" are giving it the thumbs up. The World Loves Melbourne was invited along to experience this modern stylish Japanese cuisine. Toko Group has had its sights set on the south for some time with previous Toko Melbourne located in a prime precinct at 142 Greville Street Prahran.
Tokosan is a place for fun and playful dining.
Get on it!
Gaijin Japanese Fusion - South Yarra
Gaijin Japanese Fusion is a popular affordable Japanese restaurant in South Yarra that is full of soul and character and impresses with its playful top notch cuisine.
With one of the highest ratings on Urbanspoon Gaijin serves up Japansese cuisine with a twist. The World Loves Melbourne was invited to sample the menu, particularly six standout dishes that have stood the test of time.
The word "gaijin" means "outsider" or "foreigner" - we wondered if this applies to the fusion cuisine. In any case Gaijin is open for dinner seven days a week, and is developing a presence in the CBD serving lunch.
The menu is extensive at Gaijin, at times playful with the fusion, and is unique in Melbourne. Try to find a list of places that are Japanese fusion (I can only think of a few). Gaijin shows flair and is happy to bring on the spice, with several dishes featuring its own spicy mayo. Gaijin also offers an "all you can eat" special from Monday to Thurday that has proved popular, featuring sushi and sashimi.
Gaijin impressed with the Big Bang dish, surprising due to the level of fusion, featuring crab stick enoki mushroom and cream cheese rolled in salmon slice then baked with spiced mayo. This dish was one of my favourites of the night. The inclusion of cream cheese was unusual but worked wonderfully. The balance of flavours is perfect with a hit of mushroom and salmon and the cream cheese bringing it together. The spicy mayo sets the dish off. A stunner.
Gaijin served up this Miso soy bean paste soup with tofu and seaweed which was more along traditional lines.
Being a soft shell crab tragic I was keen to try the Crispy soft sheel crab with deep fried soft shell crab served with tempura crunch, cucumber, and the Gaijin special mayo. The crunch was welcome and is a trademark of Gaijin. Crunchy soft shell crab was rewarding, with tempura providing the crunch.
Gaijin is one of the few restaurants I know with a relatively low staff turnover and consistency in the kitchen and in service. These chefs have been with the restaurant for several years and its given Gaijin some excellent momentum. The locals love this place and Gaijin often satisfies requests for functions, celebrations and even baby showers!
Fusion sushi rolls baby. Bring it on. Gaijin continued with the crunch and the spice with the Crunchy spicy salmon special. Not only is the raw salmon inside the sushi but is also placed on top for double effect. Again the Gaijin spicy mayo is unique and brings a wonderful spicy dimension. Served with wasabi and ginger on the side, I loaded up on spice and heat and loved the experience. I could really get into this crunchy theme.
Noted also is the quality presentation of the dishes on the plate. All the dishes we enjoyed were presented wonderfully.
I was understanding that Gaijin does sushi extremely well. The Tasmanian was a delightful fusion of cream cheese, avocado and crab stick wrapped with salmon slices, rolled with sushi rice and nori, then fried to perfection. With the fried element this dish becomes indulgent and filling. I was taken by this dish in terms of its interesting flavours and the overal balance. The sauce also set the dish off.
Gaijin is an attrative restaurant that is welcoming with warm colours and minimalist decor including select artwork, gold curtains at tables by the window, and a Hello Kitty doll. At night the ambience is intimate with candles.
Staff are friendly and the owners themselves take a hands on role in the restaurant. One of the owners Indira was on service the night I visited and was informative about the dishes and philosophy of Gaijin.
This was a night of indulgence. The Baked Dynamite was another crowd pleaser with California roll topped with diced scallop, crab stick and spicy mayo garnished with teriyaki sauce and green onion. The concept of a baked sushi dish was interesting and made me think of the comfort food of a pasta bake. In the same way this dish could be termed comfort food. Quality sushi with diced indulgence of the scallop and crab stick.
Gaijin then produced another highlight, the Spicy Pork Belly. Again the fusion came into play and this dish reminded me of similar dishes in Korean restaurants. The pork belly had a slight sweetness as well as the spice and was served with sesame on top. The pork had been well marinated and was melt in the mouth.
Gaijin serves impressive dessert fusion with this Black sesame panna cotta with coconut. The best of Italy and the best of Japan. Recently I enjoyed black sesame ice cream at a restaurant in Sydney and I love the black sesame flavour in dessert. This panna cotta had a wonderful creamy texture and the black sesame flavour was perfect, not overdone.
Also popular at Gaijin is the Greentea creme brulee, which is somewhat sweeter.
Gaijin is a restaurant we fell in love with and is a fun excellent dining experience at affordable prices. Highly recommended.
Ok so it's been a little while since I've visited Nobu in Crown. Come here to experience the influence of the legendary master chef Nobuyaki Matsuhisa. The World Loves Melbourne visited Nobu for a special dinner wanting to impress interstate visitors, and we were amazed by the coming together of Peruvian and Japanese fusion. We know there are other Nobu establishments elsewhere in the world, and The World Loves Melbourne was taken by the one in Dubai. Robert De Niro connections are impressive. Although many celebs are to be seen here...
So you walk down the stairs into an ambience of sophistication, the fit out here is lavish and well appointed. And you are met by a super chic waiter who escorts you to your table…
For first timers it takes a few minutes to work out the menu - don't let fusion become "confusion"! Amid the general noise in the place you need to listen very carefully to your waiter who will explain the state of play. We enjoy the ambience and whole backlit thing going on... Mood lighting impressed our interstate guests – there's a great sense of occasion here. (Photo above and below courtesy of website).
The World Loves Melbourne is a big fan of the signature black cod miso, cod that has been prepared for days, marinated, and glazed with miso. A tender amazing dish. The wagyu rib eye with red pepper miso, ponzuy and anticucho sauces, also packed a punch and was happily shared.
Then for dessert the amazing bento box action with the gold leaf featured a superb Hot chocolate fondant! With the killer combination of yummy green tea icecream! The flavours work incredibly together with the sweetness of the fondue and the balancing green tea, which is not overly sweet. Had to take a photo with my smartphone (sorry, the lighting is ultra dim). Presentation at Nobu is second to none... We enjoyed perfect food and company in a sensational restaurant, albeit it will make demands on your wallet.
Izakaya Den - CBD
Japanese sensation in a basement. Open for lunch and dinner Izakaya Den is a cool uber chic dining experience. The concept of a izakaya is like a Japanese tavern with small meals to enjoy with drinks.
So I journeyed down the stairs to the basement and came upon a non-descript door with a curtain across it… Aha! This was like an episode of Lord of the Rings – would I stumble upon this treasure of a restaurant? After a while I made out the word “DEN” on the door and knew I had arrived!
I then walked in to the most amazing chic cool place in Melbourne. Long and narrow, dimly lit with cool décor and a long bar. Admire the benches and tables. Cool to have the menu projected on the wall. Enjoy the chefs doing their masterful work in the open kitchen.
While sitting there eating I was enjoying the ambience of Izakaya Den. The place was buzzing on a weekday evening. We love the "counter culture" concept with sushi featured on occasion, with skillful Executive Chef Kentaro.
Kenzan - CBD
Kenzan is a super popular lunch destination for professionals on Collins St, an icon since 1982. Come here for the spider sushi featuring sumptuous soft shell crab. Imbibe fresh sushi from the sushi bar or at the tables. If you have the opportunity order the large sushi and sashimi platter, in the conversation as one of the best in Melbourne.
The name for the restaurant has been chosen to honour the renowned Edo period potter, Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743).
Hihou - Flinders Lane
Located on the corner of Spring Street and Flinders Lane, Hihou (meaning secret treasure) is a Japanese restaurant bar above Simon Denton’s Kappo.
With a sophisticated minimalist layout, Hihou has an understated and intimate feel with the right level of sophistication. A feature is the long black marble group table that's surrounded by stools with mood lighting.
Mr Miyagi - Windsor
Mr Miyagi is a playful and eclectic Japanese restaurant in Windsor that delivers on food savvy and brings loads of technique to the table. Mr Miyagi is appealing for all but is 18-35 yr old heaven, with choice music, funky cuisine with a twist and chic wait staff traversing the floor attending a patronage of young and trendy. Mr Miyagi hums and sings. It needs to be understood for what it is - that is turning formal Japanese dining on its head and serving Japanese cuisine with a twist. The World Loves Melbourne was invited as guests of Mr Miyagi to sample its dinner menu with some new options. We enjoyed the new shared dishes presented artistically and full of flavour, technique and concern for texture and balance. After establishing itself Mr Miyagi still has its mojo, and is in fact ever evolving.
The vibe here is perfect for that catch up or romantic soiree. Pop art, even a splash of neon, exposed brick walls, chic ceiling, sexy booths, polished cement floor, and long bar and naked bulbs, make Mr Miyagi fashionable. Even on a Wednesday night Mr Miyagi swings. Of course we remember Mr Miyagi from the Karate Kid movies, bringing his sage like wisdom to the younger generation.
Mr Miyagi brings the colour and vibrancy to your evening, with a touch of theatre.
The Sashimi and sushi combo will blow your mindset of sashimi merely presented on a plate - with this spectacular offering featuring spherical ice, flashing lights and a broad range of sashimi including Kingfish, King George Whiting, Salmon, Blow torched Wagyu, Calamari and Fish Cakes to name a few. Of course served with wasabi and delightful pickled ginger. Again this was a play on textures and flavours.
A showstopper is the Nori Tacos. This was revolutionary. Grilled salmon belly, vinegar rice, spicy nappa cabbage, Japanese mayo and chilli oil. The combination of tastes and textures is compelling, and presentation spectacular. For us this was a great rendition of a fish taco, with technique and flair. With a hint of chilli these tacos have a bit of kick...