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Kisumé Japanese Restaurant
The new fine-dining venture on Flinders Lane by the Lucas Group
Any Melburnian foodie worth their salt is aware of the Lucas Group and its portfolio of very successful restaurants:
- Chin Chin, a loud hall of colourful South-East Asian food and cocktails on Flinders Lane that still attracts queues of several hours' wait, some six years after its opening
- Hawker Hall, a similar style venue to Chin Chin but on South Yarra's Chapel Street and with more of a focus on street food, that once infamously proffered a wait time equal to a return drive to Torquay with a beer stop in the middle
- Baby Pizza, quiet stalwart of the group, churning out delectable, fresh Italian food on Church Street, and
- Kong, offering Japanese-Korean BBQ fusion also on Church Street, and perhaps the most casual venue of the lot.
Set over three levels in a converted 1950s office building on the ever-popular Flinders Lane, the aim of Kisumé is sophistication, in order to differentiate it from its Lucas Group cousins. Unlike the others, bookings are accepted here (hallelujah!).
Visiting to attend a work function, I almost walked straight past Kisumé until I noticed its unusual round street-facing window. Looking through, you get a fishbowl vibe - which, for a sushi bar, I suppose is fitting - but upon entering, the restaurant feels less insular and more like a long bustling den of warm, subdued hard surfaces.
Beyond the small reception table, I could see a long, warmly lit wooden bar with sushi chefs hard at work behind it. Apparently all the restaurant's fish is sourced from Australia or New Zealand, with some stored live in a Moorabbin factory owned by the group. Moon Kyung Soo has been appointed Head Chef, accompanied by sushi chefs Yosuke Hatanaka and Shimpei Hatanaka.
I waited for the ultra-polite, black-clad maitre-d to deny tables to about four parties ahead of me (the lack of availability due to bookings - and yes, the place had only been open for a week) before someone else ultra-polite and black-clad could lead me downstairs to join my party in the basement level's semi-private nook. It all felt a bit Mad Men: an exclusive, opulent world going on under the radar.
The lower level, too, was full, but not obnoxiously loud. The upper (first) level houses a concept chablis bar, already open; plus bookable, curtained-off dining nooks for 16, and a 12-seat kaiseki bar offering 12-15 courses for $175pp, opening next month.
Though there is a subtle degree of ostentation in the design - namely in provocative photographs by Nobuyoshi Araki and Polly Borland, and a recurring, red and black, psychedelic optical illusion, such as on the website and menu - loud and colourful elements have generally been avoided by designer Fabio Ongarato and architects Wood Marsh: dark tones, muted textures and clean lines are the name of the game here. Even the cutlery is understated and schmick.
A party of ten, we partook in the $88pp set menu, washed down with bubbly, sake and reds recommended by the extremely knowledgable (and subsequently slightly intimidating, to some) sommelier. (How's that for alliteration?!) Being one in our group relatively familiar with sake, the onus fell on me to choose, and the sommelier did a superb job in guiding us to the delicious Tengumai Yamahai Junmai.
But -- the food! That's why everyone reads blogs, right? A nice touch, I thought, was that warmed fresh plates were provided at appropriate intervals. And we used them to eat (drumroll please)...
Sea Urchin 'Uni' Rice Crackers - sweet corn, caviar, kizami wasabi:
What did I think? A light and creative merging of flavours and textures.
Crispy Wagyu Truffles - truffle miso, mozzarella:
What did I think? Meaty, relatively simple, but good. One for the boys.
Eggplant Miso Yaki - white miso, shimeji & shitake mushroom, green chilli:
What did I think? Surprisingly sweet and sensual. The chilli offset the sweetness from the miso.
What did I think? So. Much. Food! High-quality fish and beautifully prepared. Top marks for the fun soy spray bottles.
Miso Soup - chrysanthemum tofu:
What did I think? Classic miso broth with a beautiful decorative tofu centre.
Kakiage - whiting, prawn, mushroom, asparagus, eggplant, corn, three salts:
What did I think? A grown-up version of combination tempura.
Steamed Miso Chicken Mandu - sesame oil, coriander cress:
What did I think? Light and yum. Nothing particularly unusual.
Spicy Cucumber Tataki - baby cucumbers, cucumber vinaigrette, coriander cress:
What did I think? Refreshing but very simple.
Crispy Flathead with Wasabi Yoghurt:
What did I think? Better tasting than it looks! Sort of like a giant fish finger - but that sauce makes it.
Foie Gras & Beef Tenderloin:
What did I think? Ah-may-zing. Rich, melt-in-your-mouth goodness, and so pretty on the plate.
Red Russian Kale Salade - burdock root, pine nuts, kabosu dressing:
What did I think? Meh. Kale.
Honeydew Salad - honeydew granite, tofu ice cream:
What did I think? Not terribly sweet, so a good dessert for non-desserty people, and a nice weight.
Hazelnut Dacquoise - dark chocolate mousse, Frangelico centre:
What did I think? Gorgeous presentation, and smoothly delectable.
Matcha Pavlova - blackcurrent sorbet, whipped sheep's yoghurt:
What did I think? I'm not a big fan of matcha, but I enjoyed the sorbet surprise in the middle.
So does Kisumé live up to the hype? I really enjoyed it. Of course, I wasn't paying, but I would. The food and presentation are high quality; the service is thorough (we had a convivial Italian waiter who served everything with a sideways smile); and there's nary a piece of American cuisine to be seen. I'd like to try the ground floor's sushi bar next time and, eventually (when it's opened, and I'm rich), the upper level's exclusive Kuro Kisumé. I find the website a bit vague and dare I say it, pointless, but for a first visit within the its first few weeks, I'm impressed by Kisumé's slick operation and high standards.
One for the list.
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