How I Melbourne: Masahiko Yomoda

Published on 19 May 2021

Photo: Ishizuka chef Masahiko Yomoda (credit: Parker Blain)

Masahiko Yomoda is the recently appointed creative director of Melbourne’s award-winning kaiseki restaurant, Ishizuka.

Chef Yomoda has combined his Japanese heritage and classic French training (Alain Chapel, Restaurant L'Osier, Joël Robuchon) to create his first autumn menu in the intimate subterranean restaurant. The result is nine courses – sakizuke, zensai, sakisui, otsukuri, yakimono, daimono, oshinogi, shokuji and kanmi – celebrating the best of autumn’s produce.

"This menu is my representation of autumn. In Japan, the seasons are incredibly important,” says Yomoda. “Unfortunately, we can’t go to Japan at the moment – I miss it! – but I want to transport myself and my guests there through the creation of Japanese flavour and atmosphere. Ishizuka’s autumn kaiseki menu is a celebration of Australian produce and Japanese style.”

We asked the chef how he likes to explore Victoria. 

In the mornings you’ll find me doing muscle training and swimming at my apartment in Southbank, getting my mind and body ready for the day. I find this to be an important refresh for the day and to allow new ideas to present themselves to me.

My local is DOC Pizza Southbank or Carlton because I like Italian food, especially pizza, and I like visiting my friend Michael Costanzo, who is one of the owners. I’m a fan of the most simple foods there; I almost always order a Margherita pizza. I also like yakiniku (Japanese barbeque), and Tetsujin because it’s very reasonably priced, fun and has good quality sushi. Golden Gai on Chapel Street is also a favourite of mine for tasty izakaya food and fun drinks.

My defining food moment in Melbourne was getting through last year as the chef of a fine-dining restaurant. I had to design a takeaway menu that would suit a variety of price-points. Ishizuka offered casual bento boxes to premium bento boxes. We used several delivery platforms and created individual menus for special occasions such as Father’s Day. I never thought I would be creating only takeaway food. It was challenging, but also an educational time for me.

I know I’m in Melbourne when I am reminded of Europe. When I was young I used to live in Paris and Lyon, and Melbourne sometimes reminds me of these places. For example, the weather and the cafe/wine bar culture – people sitting out on the street drinking wine and coffee. Melbourne feels more like Europe than Sydney does.

The best new thing I’ve found is... Masa Nishimoto from Supersake introduced me to Riserva, a great wine bar in Malvern East. It’s a very comfortable space that you can visit by yourself or with friends, they have an excellent wine list with great cocktails and talented service. I was recently taken to a bar called The Elysian Whisky Bar in Fitzroy. If you like whisky, this is the place to visit. I tried many whiskies I’ve never seen before, maybe too many. The Elysian also has wonderful, knowledgeable service.

When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I go to Chinatown and order all of the fresh seafood – Murray cod, coral trout, lobster, oyster, crab... There are so many good options in Chinatown that are all great value, and Seafood Street is one of my favourites. It's a great post-work spot, as it’s open until 2.30am. It serves fresh-cooked fish and cold beers, and has entertaining, cheeky service.

When I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to… same as above! Melbourne’s Chinatown is the best way to host friends, there are many Cantonese places that have great sharing-food – it’s easy to share happiness with friends when you are sharing food. I also like to take my friends to whisky bars!

My go-to spot in regional Victoria is… I haven’t traveled around regional Victoria as much as I would like to. I loved a trip that I took to Phillip Island a few years ago and I got to see the penguins! I would recommend this to anyone visiting Victoria. I enjoyed a trip to Geelong recently, I did some bushwalking and visited a beef farm – Victoria has excellent produce. One spot that I think uses Victorian produce very well is Oakridge Restaurant. The kitchen at Oakridge only uses local produce and much of it is produced in their own gardens. Oakridge also has excellent wine, we serve their Blanc de Blancs at Ishizuka – it's a delicious and cleansing beginning to any meal.

There’s no better value in Melbourne than rent, I think. I used to live in Sydney and it's much more expensive there. I can live in the centre of the city in Melbourne, with access to great public transport, cafes, bars, and restaurants and my rent is still cheaper than I would have paid in Sydney for a less central location. Maybe Sydney is just very expensive! Simple vegetables are of great value here as well. When buying retail or wholesale, I find that the value is much better for high-quality produce than in Japan. I like to visit Prahran Market for fresh supplies.

My favourite place to stock up on supplies is Prahran Market. It’s a good place to find high-quality food and produce. I visit weekly to pick up cheese, vegetables, meat and seafood. I try to keep an eye out for farmers’ market events as well; it’s so good to buy direct from producers. 

If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be… I miss the all-night culture of Tokyo. When you finish work, every night you can go out and drink all night if you want to, in bars and restaurants, instead of clubs. I also miss the street food culture of Tokyo: yakitori skewers, robata and izakaya-style late-night food. Melbourne has great food, but it does not have this all-night culture yet. In saying that, Melburnians, compared to Sydneysiders, enjoy dining out a bit later. Sydney’s CBD is not a good place to eat or later in the night, whereas Melbourne’s is, and there are more options opening every month.

But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the weather here. I like it so much more than Sydney and Tokyo, where the humidity is so bad in summer. In Tokyo, the winter is so harsh and the temperature in summer does not drop during the night, it stays so hot! I like Melbourne’s drier weather, it’s generally less extreme. This summer in particular was very nice. 

Experience chef Yomoda's autumn menu at Ishizuka from Thursday to Monday from 5.30pm to 10pm, B01/139 Bourke St, Melbourne, 3000, ishizuka.com.au

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