Dare I say it? Fusion seems to be the order of the day at this recently opened Bourke Street restaurant, where a collaboration between Shigeo Nonaka of Shoya and Kyle Doody (whose CV includes Gallic establishment Jacques Reymond) sees the birth of a French-Japanese menu.
The vast dining space designed by Victor Isobe exhibits the concrete walls, mix of dramatic spot and subtle soft lighting, and black-grey -silver colour scheme with the odd splash of red that have all become trademarks of the industrial-chic theme that is sweeping the city at the moment. Anyway, make your way towards the back of the restaurant for a more intimate experience and the chance to get up close and personal to the masters at work without shelling out chef’s table prices. The sushi and sake bar seems to get overlooked in reviews (and on the website itself) but it is a really fun experience where you can order from the a la carte menu or a cool calligraphy-written sheet of tissue paper.
Staff talk you through the sake menu, which runs from moderate to eye-wateringly exy, and hot and cold offerings are decanted into a carafe before being poured into individual little glasses – all good scene-setting theatrics.
We opted for super-fresh and beautifully presented selection of sashimi – you can discuss which fish to go for with the chef working opposite you, making for a nice personal touch.
The main restaurant menu is spilt into three sections – tastes, larger and meat locker. Plus there is a pretty good selection of oysters served natural, with yuzu foam, beetroot caviar and wasabi tobiko, and traditional shallot and red wine vinegar.
Feeling thrifty we ordered from the tastes section, first up, Hokkaido crab croquette with smoked potato aiolo and toasted corn – too much potato and too little crab, but maybe that is what you get for $4 a pop. Next, seared Port Phillip Bay calamari with seven spices, warm roquette and cucumber vichyssoise. Again, great seafood ingredients. Again, no real flavour. Watery sauce and squid a little too charred.
Beautifully presented but nothing more than ‘nice’ was the whipped chevre and beetroot tuilles with black olive caramel, buttery walnuts and rye crostini. Even reading that back to myself I struggle to understand how those ingredients struggled to lift this dish.
Perhaps the most successful France-meets-Japan dish of our visit was the slow-roast duck gyoza with sauce a la orange. Five dumplings bulging with tender duck, although perhaps the flavour of the meat was a little too delicate to stand up to the super-citrus sauce due to the addition of julienned pieces of rind – a step too far me thinks.
The star of the hot offerings? Wagyu beef with truffled pomme puree offered up a rich, creamy combination that was spot on. Glazed shallots and mini radishes added a good sweet-earthy hit, but (another one) the kipfler potatoes were slightly underdone. Little hard nuggets that refused to be speared by a fork.
We turned our attention back to the bar menu and get a selection of yakitori, which includes tender chicken thigh with spring inion and chewy but flavourful giblets and heart.
Overall, the service is slick and discreet. The food, hit and miss. Stick with the sushi and sashimi, with maybe the odd oyster thrown in for good measure. Looking forward to the promise of tempura, which will soon be gracing the menu, too.
131 Bourke Street, CBD
Tel. (03) 9639 1296