Japan does two things better than any other country on the planet: elegance, and crazy. Simon Denton’s stunning Japanese cocktail bar always had sophistication and grace nailed – you’re handed hot towels as soon as you sit (for your dirty, dirty, uncouth paws). And now, as well as beautuful sashimi, and precise cocktails, he’s introduced occasional Japanese games nights where you’ll be rolling some sushi with your face. Melbourne.
Don’t expect a bandana toting crew screaming ‘irasshaimase!’ when you walk into this renegade ramen joint. Here they roll their buckwheat noodles in a pasta maker and are pushing an eclectic mix of Japan’s favourite soup, Chinese-style pork buns, frosty shakes and caramel pie. Party down! Collingwood.
Another one of Simon Denton's venues, this hard-to-find Russell Street Izakaya pushes good times in the form of an extensive beer and sake list (including those cute foil-capped panda cups), and some serious food. Go for a set lunch of say, sesame-flecked tuna tataki – the tartare of Japan – little salads and grilled meats that come quickly from the large open kitchen. Melbourne.
This ex-bank turned sake bar, restaurant and shop is Andre Bishop's joint. The man is a sake master and downright Japophile, and you can tell. Warm up to the braised pork belly pie with a zesty Hitachino ale and some Japanese beer snacks (chicken skin crackers!) Got a group? They have a tatami room out the back for private parties of ten. Brunswick East.
Being almost impossible to find, and seating just 12 people, Hajime is a real tempura house, and the quality of these morsels of magic compared to some of the Japanese available in Melbourne is like the difference between line-caught blue fin tuna and the fish John West rejects. South Melbourne.
Collingwood’s first - and only - hipster house combining JFC (Japanese fried chicken) and Led Zeppelin is a slick Japanese dive bar. The short booze list prioritises good times over precision drinks (Pocari Sweat cocktails are a thing) and $4.50 gets you something speared and charred from the grill, be it juicy pork or zucchini/tofu kebabs. Collingwood.
Saké is Sydney chef Shaun Presland’s contemporary Japanese restaurant where teriyaki burger balls and sake bombs rule. If you're Southbank-bound Sake offers a fun and flashy venue and beautiful (though pricy) sushi platters, but we come here to prop up the bar and down some Asahis, sakes and karaage chicken. Melbourne.
Don’t be fooled by the Trainspotting-style entrance - be brave and push on for some of the city’s best and most underrated Japanese fare. Top value is the set lunch at $18 per person with a choice of five or so mains accompanied by a brothy soup, pickled vegetables and perfect rice. Melbourne.
There are two styles of teppanyaki bar in this world. One involves a whole of razzle and egg being flung at your face, and the other is a more sedate affair where your chef is more focussed on cooking the food than getting laughs. Teppankai is the latter kind. Located in the increasinly popular just-behind-the-Jam-Factory precinct off Chapel Street, they feed you tempura sushi rolls, grilled prawns and steaks till you cry. South Yarra.
Purple Peanuts does excellent brown rice sushi – fresh, tightly wrapped nori rolls with added vitamin B. If that's too healthy for you, check out the Japanese take on a burger, a slab of fried chicken marinated in soy, ginger and sake and whacked in a Turkish bread bun. Melbourne.
A new bar and restaurant on Chapel Street is dishing up Japanese style tapas bites, a craft beer selection that will make a hop-head clap their hands with glee and a cocktail list that is 50/50 classics and drinks with a Japanese twist. Plus the soundtrack is a best of mix of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Windsor.
Chapel Street has a new master guiding them in the art of Japanese food, cocktails, whiskey and iced tea. You can go three rounds with the menu but we are hoping that at the end you don't find yourself being counted down upon the polished concrete floor. Windsor.
Want to attend the Melbourne Food Awards?