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Kappo is the Platonic ideal of the Japanese restaurant. It’s all restraint and ritual, precision and humility - and with no varnished pine in sight
Simon Denton and business partners Takashi Omi and Miyuki Nakahara have euthanised lunchtime bolthole Nama Nama for something far more ambitious. And in that they’ve succeeded. Kappo catapults itself to the apex of Japanese dining in Melbourne. Bravo.
Kappo reveals itself slowly. The entrance is not the obvious door on Spring Street but the discrete side door tucked away on Flinders Lane. As you do for entry to Hihou, the very grown-up bar from the same operators upstairs, you push the buzzer and wait to be admitted. A black-clad waiter will lead you down a darkened corridor into the bijou space - maybe 30 seats, max, the majority of them clustered around the bar (all the better to watch the food being prepared, my dear).
It’s a hushed space of elegant textures – rice paper banners on the ceiling, painted glass, and a plush, sound-squelching charcoal carpet. It’s the kind of place diners murmur to each other but there’s really no need. Denton and co bring an ebullience to the role. They’re here to have fun. So is the sommelier, who likes talking up the crazy bubblegum notes in a sake and making provocative matches. Go with it.
It’s an omakase restaurant. That either translates here as “no menu – but you get to flag likes and dislikes” or “slow”. Choose from five, seven or nine courses, but commit yourself to the cause for at least two hours. It shouldn’t be a bother. Chef Kentaro Usami comes from Kenzan and his food demands the kind of attention only achieved by setting the dial to “leisurely”.
Picture a tiny jewel of velvet-textured poached sea bream with a dab of sea urchin sauce anointing the top, like uni cologne. A curl of venison with an elegant wasabi kick. A smoosh-your-own tartare with squid, lobster, salmon roe, soy-marinated swordfish, zucchini and wakame and a nutty brown rice “crumble” to be tumbled together with a squeeze of lime.
There’s a comforting bowl of edamame tofu wearing a rakish shiitake hat in a silken kombu broth. An ascetic jumble of daikon noodles with asparagus and crisp parsnip. The only possibly description is “clean”. Sashimi, of course – look out for the King George whiting wrapped around a sliver of lemon myrtle. Pink, fat-a-licious slices of duck are a little chewy despite being sous vided before hitting the oven, but the red miso sauce is consolation.
There’s green tea tiramisu to finish, – a fine cross-cultural dialogue – but Denton reveals with a flourish the Japanesque petits four hiding in the false bottom, including miso arrowroot jelly domes. It’s the final statement-without-making-a-statement. And that is, you ask? Easy: nothing to be scared of here.
More of the best Japanese restaurants in Melbourne.
1 Flinders Ln
|Transport:||Nearby stations: Flinders Street|
|Opening hours:||Mon-Sat 6-10pm; Fri noon-2pm|