Japanese food will never be a trend in Melbourne, thanks to how delicious it is. It is desirable in winter when noodle soups and ramen are the order of the day, and in summer when sushi and sashimi are all you want to eat. These are the city's finest places to enjoy sushi, sashimi, sake and so much more. Whether you want to dip into a cosy inn-style café or hobnob with the glitterati at Melbourne's stable of very fine Japanese diners, you'll find what you're looking for here.
The best Japanese restaurants in Melbourne
From elegant sushi bars to izakayas, Melbourne has it all.
Best Japanese restaurants in Melbourne
Ishizuka is a Japanese restaurant specialising in a kaiseki menu. In a commitment-phobic world it almost requires a session with a therapist to sign up for a 10-plus-course, two-plus-hour procession of miniaturised dishes for $220 a head, sans drinks. But Ishizuka is worth the time, expense, and trouble of finding it.
The Japanese-ish, French-ish modern restaurant from Daylesford has swum against the tide of real estate refugees moving to central Victoria and upped stumps to the city. It’s an evolution of the Daylesford mothership in every regard. There are several ways to tackle Kazuki’s, starting at the a la carte option of two courses for $75 and heading northwards to the chef’s menu of seven courses for $150. Our advice: go one of the tasting menus, if only to commandeer the four snacks as the first course. Your quartet might comprise meaty little Goolwa pipis on the shell, a mouthful of ocean heft with a ginger and soy backing track. A fat profiterole filled with the holy union of chicken liver parfait and thick Davidson plum and umeshu jam gets extra sweet/sour edge from the plum dust sprinkled like icing sugar over the top.
Komeyui may be lesser known among the general public, but Japanese food fanatics will feel a twinge of protectiveness if you try to recommend this restaurant to anyone uninitiated. Seats are few, the sushi is excellent value and expertly prepared, and there is a strong following for its sea urchin and sake degustations.
Being almost impossible to find, and seating just 12 people, Hajime is definitely at the expensive end of the range. This is a real tempura house, and the quality of these morsels of magic compared to some of the Japanese available in Melbourne is like the difference between line-caught blue fin tuna and the fish John West rejects.
Press the buzzer and you’ll be collected at the door that seemingly leads to nowhere and you'll be escorted into this shrine to grace and decorum. Match refined izakaya-style snacks with updated classic cocktails like the Negro-kan (Negroni) with plum-infused gin, umeshu (plum wine) and Campari, or taste through their extensive sake and Japanese whisky collection.
Supernormal is no longer just Tokyo-inspired; it now lends its flavours to some other big cities like Seoul, Hong Kong and Shanghai as well. Dishes like the New England lobster roll and the twice-cooked duck leg bao have never left the menu, but newer items like the tonkatsu sandwich and the sweet, soft, double-steamed, once-fried, O’Connor braised brisket and leek buns accompanied with a sharp, black vinegar, spring onion and fermented chilli sauce arguably outshine the classics.
This Japanese grill-centric restaurant in the off-Lygon precinct of Queensberry Street – opposite Super Ling and next door to Tuan Tuan Chinese Brasserie, which anchors the same apartment development – was opened by chef Jinwook Park and is bringing some keen snacks to a burgeoning restaurant precinct.
It's a half hour drive from the city, but Shira Nui is definitely worth the trip if you're a lover of Japanese cuisine. For lunch you can get sashimi and nigiri specials with miso and salads. Otherwise, share a platter with friends or choose from the sushi menu. Call and book because these guys fill up fast.
On a Carlton corner, Ima Project Café is breathing new life into smashed avo. Japanese twists on archetypal breakfast dishes can also be found in Ima’s miso-infused tomato baked eggs and the porridge drizzled with Mitarashi syrup, a traditional Japanese sauce made from soy sauce and sugar. Plus, the classic Japanese breakfast set of fish and rice is on the menu.
What if belly-warming food could be also wholesome and healthy, satisfying without tasting soporific? Leave it to Neko Neko, a cosy little eatery cooking homestyle vegan and pescatarian Japanese for which it has amassed a loyal following. Forgoing dairy and red meat – staff instead pack dishes with vegetables cooked, raw and pickled while working in plenty of seeds and whole grains, elevating dishes that would usually leave you feeling comatose into lighter but no less satiating weeknight dinners.
Andre Bishop has captured the essence of a Tokyo izakaya down to the snacks, staff and Japanese rock’n’roll. The place is no larger than a train carriage, with only bar seating and a few satellites for intimate couples, but this isn’t a bad thing, as it keeps the celebratory atmosphere of the place at a maximum at all times.
If you loved Congress’ pigs head sanga, you’ll be pretty happy with Future Future’s crumbed meatball katsu-sando. Recipe: take one fat puck of beef, introduce it to a fryer, slap it in spongy white bread with a shameless amount of Kewpie mayo and tonkatsu sauce, then salvage its dignity with the fresh crunch of daikon.
The opening of a restaurant from Chris Lucas, the svengali behind Melbourne greats Chin Chin, Hawker Hall, Kong and Baby, is generally accompanied by the kind of media hoopla reserved for retiring members of the Royal family, so here’s the deal: all you have heard about Kisume, the Lucas Group’s three floors of Nipponesque dining power, is true, and then doubly so.
More of Melbourne's best eats
Unless you have the metabolism of a nine-year-old, and the finances of a Kardashian, you never stand a chance against Melbourne's ferocious dining machine. The openings just don't stop and ain't nobody got time to keep on top of what's what. Except us, that is. So behold, our eat-and-destroy list – a guide to Melbourne's 50 best restaurants.