Time Out says
High-end Japanese that doesn't put a foot wrong
Flinders Lane is a street that likes to keep its secrets, offering mostly businesses and fast-casual eateries. But if you know where to look, you'll find some of Melbourne's fine-dining gems.
Akaiito is such a place, with an intimidating heavy wooden door the only street frontage. The inside space is deliberately dark and moody, with bluestone walls contrasting with the illuminated giant red ribbon that snakes across the ceiling of the entire space. It was custom designed for the restaurant and adds a somewhat cardiac flair to what is otherwise an extremely dark space, all shiny blacks and muted illumination.
The restaurant comprises multiple spaces, including a private dining room with light projections on the table to make it look like you're in a Japanese garden. There's also a late-night bar downstairs, which offers the food menu after the main restaurant is closed. But the best seat in the house is overlooking the sunken, open kitchen, where you can watch extremely talented chefs work their magic over hot coals, a Japanese cooking method called robata. Sixteen lucky ducks a night are seated ringside for the omakase (chef's) menu (currently on pause until 2021), but if you don't manage to snag a $165 golden ticket, you can order a la carte. The main menu is $55 per head and includes three dishes and three small dishes (everyone at the table will get the same six dishes; only the portions change). You can add any dishes you want to for an additional cost, or you can add sushi, sashimi and nigiri.
Actually, make that you must add sushi, sashimi or nigiri if you want the full experience here. We opted for the 12-piece nigiri chef selection, and although at $72 it is not cheap, you'd be doing yourself a serious disservice by not adding it. The toro (fatty tuna belly) is a perfectly sweet morsel of fish that melts like butter and coats your mouth in the purest expression of raw fish you'll ever get to enjoy.
Not that you should limit yourself to fish of the uncooked variety. The chargrilled kingfish collar with apple ponzu and daikon is perfectly crisp on the outside, with white, flaky flesh that has a firm and extremely moreish texture. Its flavour is delicate and well worth the slight hassle of working around the bones to get at the good stuff. And the miso-marinated toothfish with pickled ginger is a small puck of fishy nirvana, almost candyish in its sweetness but balanced by the grounding earthiness of the miso. It is the standout of a truly standout menu, which doesn't put a single foot wrong.
If fish isn't your scene, there are plenty of other options for you, like crisp-crunchy chicken karaage or wagyu-truffle paste gyoza. It's that sort of place, because why wouldn't you have wagyu mince and truffle in your dumplings if you could?
If you have a celebration or just feel like getting fancy and dropping a bit of cash, it's well worth finding out what's behind that mysterious door.
Cassidy Knowlton dined as a guest of Aakaiito.
349-351 Flinders Lane
|Opening hours:||Mon-Fri 11.30am-3pm; Daily 5.30pm-late|