Izakaya Den's Simon Denton shows us what sophisticated drinking looks like

Push the buzzer, wait patiently, and when you’re collected from the door, try, try to enter Hihou with a level of decorum that’s fitting. Granted, that likely isn’t possible. This new Japanese-style cocktail and wine bar has more grace and charm in its toilets than most of us could ever hope to possess.

It's the work of Japan-and-wine-obsessed Simon Denton: the man behind that hidden haunt of sashimi, sake and good times, Izakaya Den, and it occupies the upper floor of what used to be his split-level restaurant, Verge. Now, he’s re-imagined the whole space. At Spring Street level, Nama Nama is pumping out casual deliciousness in the form of bento lunchboxes, while Hihou upstairs takes the nightshift, serving sharp drinks in a beautiful room to a strictly limited crowd.

Don’t expect the babble of Izakaya, or to find those foil-topped panda sake cups you can get there. Hihou’s drinks come in stemless Riedel glassware with large orbs of ice, and while Denton works the Den floor in his sleeves, here, he’s in a suit. You get the picture.

Every part of this drinking ritual is measured, and precise. Once seated, you’ll be given the oshibori treatment (hot towels!) before water, menus and utensils hit the table in efficient unison. It’s all so nice – right down to the menus with their soft fabric covers – and so polite, we almost don’t want to get trolleyed on Negro-kans. Almost, but we defy anyone to hit the plum-infused gin, Umeshu (plum wine), and Campari twist on a Negroni (one of eight classic cocktails they’ve turned Japanese), and stop at one. And then there’s shōchū, that barley- or rice-based spirit (kind of like strong, savoury sake), plus Japanese whisky to contend with, not to mention Denton’s carefully curated cellar of wine. In fact, if the man himself is in the house, wine is a good choice – Denton knows grapes better than you know yourself.

You’ll want to book. The split-level room only holds around 30 drinkers, and everyone’s in for the long haul, creating makeshift meals from brik pastry cigars filled with a spicy tuna tartare and one hell of a hot dog, served in a sweet, stumpy little sesame-seed flecked bun with pickled onion, and bottles of wasabi mayo and sauce on the side.

Twosomes can look out at the Treasury Garden possums from window-side seats, but groups should trade shoes for slippers and sit cross-legged on the cushioned seating platforms up the back. Japophiles and sake nerds, get an education at the sturdy wooden bar. There are no dud options in this room. Concrete walls and ceiling mounted wooden wine racks are dappled with light from soft spots and candles, and table service keeps things ticking over smoothly.

Hihou does formal without being fusty. Dress up, go early and stay as long as you're able to behave yourself.


Who won the Melbourne pub awards?

First published on . Updated on .

By Gemima Cody   |   Photos by Graham Denholm   |  

Hihou details

Lvl 1
1 Flinders Ln

Melbourne 3000

Nearby Stations: Flinders St; Jolimont

Telephone 03 9654 5465

Open Mon-Sat 5pm-1am

Hihou website

Melbourne area guide

Restaurants near Hihou

Nama Nama

25m - With ox-tongue rice paper rolls, pickles and pork char siu, you get some...

The Truffula Seed

67m - A year ago, Gabe Davidson, Stan Bicknell, and Joe Molloy (long time comrades...

Fonda Mexican - Flinders Lane

89m - David Youl and Tim McDonald have given Richmond and Windsor a taste of...

Bars & pubs near Hihou

Cumulus Up

121m - So Andrew McConnell has opened a wine bar, and it’s amazing. Which will...

Atrium Bar on 35

162m - Sofitel is home to sophisticated wine bar Atrium... but between you and...


305m - They pull out all the stops – and the liquid nitrogen – here. At any...

Other venues near Hihou

Dreaming Art Centre of Utopia

40m - Founded by Fred Torres in 1993, The Dreaming Arts Centre of Utopia (DUCOU)...


42m - DACOU stands for the Dreaming Art Centre Of Utopia and it's a place where...

Art@1 Spring St

89m - Flinders Lane's newest little art space seats 200 people in its theatre,...

Readers' comments, reviews, hints and pictures

Community guidelines

blog comments powered by Disqus

© 2007 - 2014 Time Out Group Ltd. All rights reserved. All material on this site is © Time Out.