Yakimono sits right beside Lucas Restaurants’ crown jewel, Society, in the 80 Collins precinct. And yet, it’s a world away.
The kitchen helmed by chef Daniel Wilson (ex Huxtable and Huxtaburger) serves up to 70 people around what could be Melbourne’s largest kitchen bar. There’s room for 300 people across two levels, including high tables jutting from the bar, a private dining room for 14 people, an outdoor terrace, and booths on the second level.
Openly drawing inspiration from Blade Runner 2049, a lofty neon sign announces the entrance just off Collins Street. Blue, pink and purple hues illuminate glass walls and windows. Orb lights glow in all sorts of different shades. All that’s missing are the holograms.
Lucas lived in Tokyo for three years and considers Yakimono his charcoal-fired homage to the places that left a permanent impression. Beyond that, it’s a tribute to the interplay of tradition and modernity that pervades so much of contemporary Japanese dining.
On the menu’s all-day rice and noodle section, you might find smoked-eel udon with shimeji mushrooms and an onsen egg; squid-ink somen noodles with chilli and cured egg yolk; and spanner-crab-and-prawn egg rice with toasted nori. Committed diners can work their way through bites such as crisp gyoza; a mochi waffle with smoked salmon roe and yuzu crème fraîche; and the karubi dog, served on a soft bun with miso mustard and jalapeno mayo. There’s a raw section too, including hand rolls with fillings like spanner crab and bacon and egg, and skewered protein grilled over fire.
The biggest dish on the menu is a whole miso-glazed Bannockburn chook served with a myriad of sides. It’s butterflied and charred on the bottom, with the radiant heat and smoke turning the top golden before it’s glazed with miso, mirin and sake.
For dessert, you might try the Yaki-kult ice-cream sandwich – a monaka-style wafer shell shaped like a milk bottle and filled with yoghurt soft serve and raspberry gel. Also, banana-shiitake cake topped with cubes of plum-jelly wine and caramelised banana slices.
A dozen or so Victorian beers feature on tap, plus eight Japanese beers by the bottle and can joining a huge range of sake, shochu and Japanese whiskies. Cocktails are named after Tokyo neighbourhoods – like the Nippori, which has mezcal, oloroso sherry, rum, purple carrot, shiso, jalapeno and lime.