Ima Project Cafe is one of Melbourne’s standard-bearers for Japanese breakfast. Almost every weekend, there’s a line out the door of people waiting to feast on its teishoku – a set meal of fish, rice, miso soup and pickles. It also does excellent donburi, toasties and soba salads.
But if you’ve been craving, you’re out of luck. The Carlton spot is closing for regular cafe service for the next few weeks so it can road-test a new after-dark concept. The idea’s been in the works since Ima’s inception – and it finally launched last week, in pop-up form.
The new dinner menu is designed to share, unlike the per-person portions of the cafe. Start with oysters, tsukemono (assorted pickles) and crab korokke (Japanese croquettes) with tonkatsu sauce. Then move on to agedashi tofu, karaage with yuzu-kosho mayo, pork katsu, motsu nikomi (beef tripe stew), and mentaiko pasta with spicy, creamy salted cod roe.
You can also order barbequed skewers of chicken thigh, pork belly, oyster mushroom and cherry tomato, plus look out for specials on Ima’s hanging scroll menu.
To drink, find Japanese imports sourced by consultant Melissa Mills of Sake Connect, with a strong focus on small, sustainable, organic, natural and female-led brewers.
Wines are all local, and there’s a small selection of cocktails, beers and non-alcoholic drinks, plus the usual cafe drinks menu of coffee, matcha, hot chocolate, chai lattes and teas.
Small changes have been made to the space – mostly DIY by the team or with help from friends. The lights are dimmer for a more intimate feel, new shelves have been put up to display the wines and sakes, and the crisp white noren (fabric dividers) hanging over the pine service counter are now a moodier navy hue.
Ima at Night runs Tuesday to Sunday from 5.30pm to 11pm until June 25.