For many years, Japanese culture has thrived on and evolved from the delicate interplay between two contradictory influences, those of tradition and modernity. With one foot firmly planted forever in the past, the Japanese have proven to be world leaders in the forward-thinking arena of innovation. This is clearly evident in the areas of manufacturing, technology, fashion, architecture, fine art and, of course, cuisine – just to name a few. Renowned local restaurateur Chris Lucas lived in Tokyo for three years. During that time, he – like most Western visitors – was mesmerised by the local sights and sounds, but particularly by the local flavours and aromas, not surprisingly. It suffices to say that this experience left an indelible impression upon Lucas, so much so that he has recently opened a restaurant that pays homage to Japanese street food, a celebration of the late-night izakayas of Tokyo where the influences of tradition and modernity are harnessed to showcase a very popular version of contemporary Japanese dining.

Located on the first floor of the landmark 80 Collins Street building – next door to LUCAS Restaurants’ recently opened masterpiece, Society – and set in the heart of Melbourne’s fashion quarter, Yakimono is a high-energy Japanese-inspired eating house. It is, appropriately, “a celebration of food cooked over fire – meticulously conceived, inventively executed, riotously enjoyed”, appropriate because the word “yakimono” is essentially defined by the union of meat and fire. The bar, arguably the city’s largest kitchen bar, seats up to 70 guests and is inarguably the hero of the establishment’s carefully choreographed chaos. Bartenders dispense Japanese-accented cocktails, many of which are named after Tokyo neighbourhoods, bubble tea, sake (from a down-to-earth selection), Victorian tap beers, Japanese bottled/canned beers and whiskies, wine, as well as an impressive selection of shochu, a distilled beverage using a uniquely Japanese production process and major ingredients such as sweet potato, rice, barley, buckwheat and brown sugar. A seat at this lively and pulsating bar, or perhaps at one of the high tables protruding from the bar, guarantees you a firsthand look at all of the flame-fired goodness and a high-energy soundtrack to match. The bar is where you want to be if being transported to the sensory overload of Japan is among the goals of your evening to-do list.

The Yakimono kitchen is overseen by Chef Daniel Wilson. In fact, he may be described as the on-premise human manifestation of Kagutsuchi, the Japanese God of Fire. Wilson describes his Kiwi-Australian-inspired take on Japanese street food as “high impact and irreverent”. What exactly does this mean? Well, imagine raw tuna with smoked paprika, grilled barbecued octopus with crisp and sweet chilli, wagyu rib steak with ponzu and daikon, spiced beef tartare with yuzu, crisp chilli and sesame cracker, chicken tsukune (a well balanced hot-and-fatty take on traditional yakitori), smoked eel udon – part of the all-day rice and noodle menu – sweet-spicy barbecued baby-back ribs and the shiitake and aioli hand roll. Not surprisingly, there is also an extensive selection of gyoza, or Japanese dumplings. For something big, rich and hearty, choose the whole miso-glazed chicken with smoked chicken-fat rice, spicy slaw and charcoal salt. If, once the savoury component concludes, you have a need – read “room” – for something sweet to formally and officially close your Yakimono dining experience, look no further than the mochi waffle. Served with hazelnut butter cream and salted macadamia praline, remember, you only have yourself to blame.

This 300-capacity venue, spread across two levels – Lucas’ biggest casual restaurant to date, by the way – is open for lunch and dinner from noon till late daily. It also caters for private events with its 14-seat Corner Room, the ultimate destination for all occasions with an emphasis on F-U-N and a space that is sufficiently tucked away but is still very much part of the Yakimono action-packed vibration. Look for the large, elevated neon sign just off Collins Street and surrender yourself to the blue, pink and purple hues that will guide you through this local take on the hustle and bustle of a late-night Tokyo eatery.

Yakimono, Melbourne

DINE AT YAKIMONO

Yakimono, Melbourne

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Yakimono, Melbourne

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Yakimono, Melbourne

DINE AT YAKIMONO
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