Zeroing in on the best the bold new Japanese-inspired grill bar has to offer with chef Daniel Wilson.
While Society has (quite rightly) grabbed all the headlines, there’s more to the Lucas Group’s openings at 80 Collins. If fast-casual eating in the contemporary Japanese mode is something that fires your imagination, you’re going to love Yakimono.
Spread over two floors, this vast and gleaming space is a tribute to the magic of combining things cooked over fire with ice-cold drinks, including (but not limited to) a whole lot of beer on tap.
Writing the menus and running the small army of grill chefs is one of Melbourne’s favourite culinary sons, Daniel Wilson. Okay, technically he’s from New Zealand, but with a career that started with Andrew Blake in Southgate, took in the co-head chef role at Blake’s Cafeteria in Prahran, as well as work with Jacques Reymond at Arintji and The Gresham in Port Melbourne before he opened Huxtable, the small but mighty Smith Street restaurant that begat the huge success of Huxtaburger, it’s fair to say that his influence on Melbourne (and Melbourne’s influence on him) is significant.
In this latest chapter he gets to put his love of Japanese flavours to the fore in a restaurant that he describes as “a high-impact, irreverent” take on Japanese street food, fuelled by restaurateur Chris Lucas’s “mad love of Tokyo but with added Australian sensibility”.
Here’s the word from Wilson himself on his picks of the opening menu.
What does that high-impact, irreverence mean in practice on the menu?
It’s in sections, so you’ll mix it up from bites, to raw, big share-plates, crunchy salads or a bowl of noodles with loads of heat and crunch and dipping. Raw could be tuna with smoked paprika (a simple-looking dish but a real flavour-bomb), we’re grilling everything from barbecued octopus with crisp and sweet chilli to wagyu rib steak with ponzu and daikon. I personally have a lot of love for the spiced beef tartare with yuzu, crisp chilli and sesame cracker.
And there’s things on sticks?
You bet. Go for chicken tsukune – hot and with just the right amount of fat for flavour.
Lots to like here – try the smoked-eel udon.
I’m here for a good time not a long time – what do you recommend?
So much to choose from. There’s hand rolls, like the grilled oyster mushroom, the shiitake and aioli. There’s soba cha, or some sweet spicy barbecued baby-back ribs. I’d order the cabbage slaw with spicy mayo and nori with that. Or any of the gyoza; the pork and ginger with sansho, say. The curried sweet-potato gyoza with miso, apple yoghurt are great, especially with the sauce.
How about a drink?
We’ve got loads of beers (10 of them on tap, alongside some wines on tap), sakes and cocktails, plus a full wine list, so all vibes covered and catered for. I love the Nippori cocktail – the guys make a syrup from kitchen ingredients like jalapeño, purple carrot and shichimi then blend it with mezcal, dark rum and oloroso sherry, and there’s a salt rim kinda like a Margarita but with powdered red shiso and purple carrot.
Got anything light and fresh to eat?
The mixed sashimi with ginger and finger-lime dressing is light but still a good serve of protein. I’d also actually suggest the rice with spanner crab and prawn, I know it’s carbs, but it’s very light. The iceberg wedge salad is another winner here; the tomato ponzu dressing adds loads of flavour.
I like tasty food but I don’t eat animals.
The mozzarella tofu served with shiitake miso mustard and green-onion furikake is a must-try, whatever you like to eat. I’d also suggest an order of those sweet-potato gyoza and a grilled king-oyster mushroom handroll – they’re both vegan, and we can tweak most of the rest of the menu – it’s a pretty informal vibe.
Name the dish that captures the Yakimono vibe.
Tokyo chicken says it all really.
Let’s go big. Let’s go crazy. What have you got for me?
I have a whole miso-glazed chicken with smoked chicken-fat rice, spicy slaw and charcoal salt with your name on it.
And to close?
That’s gotta be the mochi waffle. We serve it with hazelnut buttercream and salted macadamia praline. I’d come back just for this.
Yakimono, open noon-late daily (dinner only till 12 November), 80 Collins St, Melbourne, 03 8616 7900, yakimono.com.au