Creative sushi chefs and excellent produce make Melbourne a great place to explore the magical combination of rice, seaweed and protein. The fact that it makes for a swift, filling and inexpensive lunch makes sushi an irresistible siren song to busy workers and students, who flock to the hundreds of restaurants that fill every corner of the city. To make things even easier, at all these venues, you’ll be able to dine in confidence with the knowledge that these venues welcome American Express.
The multi-storey venue at 127 Brunswick Street is your one-stop shop for Asian cravings. Head upstairs to Village People if you feel like southeast flavours, or stay on the ground floor for Ichi Ni Nana: with its moody interior and large courtyard, it’s the place for izakaya snacks and sushi. The volcano roll sees inside-out triangular domes of brown rice swaddling raw salmon, cooked prawn and fresh asparagus with a show-stopping layer of creamy, scorched scallop. It’s plated like a Hawaiian fantasy complete with bright flowers and dry ice fog – but, theatrics aside, this is one delicious roll.
Hawthorn is known for its award-winning brunch spots, but it’s also home tosome damn good sushi. Inside a shopping arcade a stone’s throw away fromHawthorn station, you’ll find Grain and Nori, offering classics and someleft-of-centre options. In the beetroot and mushroom roll ($3.30), neon-purple rice hugs shiitake mushrooms cooked in miso and garlic, with a French green bean adding crunch. The Triple ‘S’ ($4) is a take on a schnitzel sandwich with miso mayo delivering salty, nutty creaminess. And check out the vending machine dispensing onigiri – a popular snack in which the nori is provided separately to keep it extra crisp – bursting with smoky, soy-infused cooked tuna sprinkled with bonito flakes and sesame seeds ($4).
CBD Japanese restaurants with interesting nigiri menus are surprisingly rare. Rustic, laidback Izakaya Chuji is here to save you from salmon and tuna belly fatigue with its kajiki nigiri. The generous slabs of marlin, with its distinct, marbly, purple-white sheen, are fresh, slightly firm and clean tasting, with a lingering oceanic aftertaste. These guys aren’t skimping either: their nigiri has a very generous fish-to-rice ratio. Wash it down with one of the Japanese beers on the extensive list, featuring the usual suspects among more crafty choices.
Chris Lucas’s high-end Japanese venue Kisumé is as famous for its Chablis bar and good-looking clientele as it is for its sushi. In the gunkan maki feature, five exquisite pieces are plated with an artist’s eye for detail. Commonly wrapped in seaweed, here they’re luxed up with seafood. There’s tuna embracing rice with a crown of black tobiko, hapuka capped with wasabi-laced raw salmon, light kingfish offset by a gutsy tuna tartare, salmon with a crest of glossy salmon roe orbs, and avocado with delicately sweet spanner crab and a smattering of chives. Grab a seat ringside and watch the chefs’ incredible knife skills.
At this Port Melbourne fine diner, kimono-clad waitresses bring you complimentary rice tea as soon as your bum hits the chair. The restaurant’s attention to detail is further evident in its sushi. A harmony of flavours is created in the Wagyu maki roll: seared, buttery tendrils of sirloin in a sweet soy-based marinade are offset by the sharpness of the grated radish, zesty chives, sesame seeds and savoury dehydrated soybean flakes. This is a rich, satisfying experience and with four pieces in a serve, and we won’t judge if you place a repeat order.
This unpretentious neighbourhood eatery in Port Melbourne does great bento boxes but diehard sushi lovers will veer towards the rainbow roll. A seafood lover’s delight, the inside-out roll is jammed with springy king prawn mollified by cooling avocado and cucumber, with each piece topped with different sashimi – from glistening raw salmon, tuna and kingfish to tender prawn. The whole thing is drizzled with house-made mayonnaise and with eight pieces in a serve, it makes for a light lunch or an entrée to share.
Chapel Street’s bustling eatery Mr Miyagi (yes, named after the beloved Karate Kid mentor) doesn’t take itself too seriously – and the salmon nori taco is the perfect example of this. Making all your fusion dreams come true, this moreish pocket sees brittle, deep-fried seaweed encasing sushi rice, grilled salmon belly and napa cabbage kimchi, all smothered in kewpie mayo laced with chilli oil. Finished with peppery cress and spring onion, this is a showcase of textural and flavour contrasts we guarantee you’ll be back for.
A favourite with the concert-going crowd, Southbank’s Saké offers sophisticated Japanese dining with a view. Part of Neil Perry’s empire, the restaurant’s long menu features cold, hot, grilled and raw dishes – and everything in between. In the vegetable roll, crunchy eggplant tempura, pickled radish and shiitake furikake is wedged between perfectly vinegared rice, and sprinkled with an addictive seasoning of kombu, dehydrated shiitake and a good helping of chilli. With strong seaweed notes and meatiness from the eggplant and mushrooms, it’s sure to impress vegetarians and carnivores alike.
In Market Lane, Melbourne’s foodiest of streets, you’ll find veterans like Flower Drum, HuTong and upmarket Japanese at Shoya. Start off proceedings by dabbling in the nigiri – like the eye-catching red-bottomed surf clam reclining on soft pillows of rice with a generous layer of wasabi delivering a pungent, herby kick. This top-shelf clam hailing from the island of Hokkaido has been expertly sliced to make its nicely firm texture and mild smoky flavours really shine. Delve into the first-class sake and shochu list and then armed with Dutch courage, head upstairs to the karaoke rooms.
At the Windsor end of Chapel Street, buzzy eatery Tokyo Tina’s creative take on Asian flavours means you can travel from China to Vietnam to Japan sans the hefty airfare. Begin with the freewheeling deconstructed version of a California roll. A pretty mound of rice decorated with morsels of vibrant broad bean and fresh, juicy rockmelon arrives topped with the pièce de résistance – Western Australian blue swimmer crab – all garnished with salty black fish roe and a touch of wasabi mayo. It comes with four super-crispy seaweed sheets for DIY rolling, making this dish not only tasty but also fun to eat.