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For a high-class teppanyaki experience, Koko wears the crown
Although it originated in Tokyo in the 1940s, teppanyaki has proven far more popular with Westerners than with the Japanese – the largest teppanyaki chain in the world, Benihana, was founded in New York and has over 100 franchises in America alone. Americans’ love for teppanyaki is mirrored in Australia, where people continue to book front row seats to their dinner prep.
On a balmy Sunday night, Koko is packed to the rafters within an hour of opening. Diners are seated around large steel hotplates, where the teppanyaki chefs showcase their skills, or individual tables if they choose to order off the al a carte menu. To get to their table, certain diners are required to nimbly manoeuvre the stepping stones in a rock pool that sits at the centre of the restaurant – wear stilettos at your peril.
Ensconced on the third floor of Crown Towers, Koko is as sleek and sophisticated as the luxury hotel that houses it, and the prices reflect this – set menus start at $100 a head and max out at $198. And ordering individual items will set you back by just as much, if not more.
A glass of French pinot noir from Burgundy for $25 continues the luxe theme, and if you’re dining with royalty why not splash a cheeky $4,600 on a bottle of Bordeaux. We’re surprised to be saying this, but the best bet if you’re counting your pennies are the cocktails, which are at standard Melbourne prices, and carafes of sake that cost anywhere from $30 to $70.
A well-heeled crowd frequents Koko, but it’s a diverse one. Families treat their young children who are transfixed by the chef’s antics to $140-per-head set menus, while impeccably dressed couples choose to sit by the floor-to-ceiling windows that boast expansive views of Melbourne skyscrapers along the Yarra. More commonly, large groups of friends and families frame the grills – teppanyaki provides a focal point for the evening so for big groups the appeal lies in performance and convenience – the momentum of the night is sustained by the knowledge that your next course is only minutes away.
The chefs at Koko are courteous but restrained, in line with the tranquil atmosphere. Prawns, salmon, calamari and chicken breast are methodically grilled and conspicuously timed to arrive within one second of each course being completed – we finish our eight-course Akane menu within an hour and a half. The highlights are found both on and off the grill – the deep fried oyster tempura drizzled with curry salt is fresh and piquant, while the prawns are grilled to such a crisp you can ingest them whole, tail and all.
Koko is a place for people with deep pockets, and a place with enough pomp to commemorate an occasion, but without the theatrical flourishes that put white-clad diners on edge.
8 Whiteman St
|Opening hours:||Sun-Thu noon-2.30pm, 6-10pm; Fri, Sat noon-2.30pm, 6-10.30pm|