31 Spring Street Melbourne, VIC 3000
WHERE AND WHAT
Simon Denton, Miyuki Nakahara and Takashi Omi are the mothers of reinvention. When Denton's Euro-Japanese restaurant, critical darling Verge, reached its use-by date, the trio turned it into the cafe version of their nearby hipster paradise Izakaya Den. Like the Den, Nama Nama has a great line in style smarts and an irreverent Japanese pop-culture aesthetic. The food is served fast and furious - a little more expensive than the competition, yes, but with proper table service, a neat little drinks list and enough brio to fuel the city grid.
WHERE TO SIT
Melbourne meets Tokyo at the Denton Corker Marshall-designed space overlooking the Treasury Gardens. Tables are made with bases of Japanese drink crates, pale wood dominates, and the bar is a bright pop of primary yellow. Seating is close and tight, although up a few stairs at the back is a single-table space that fits six cosily - not exactly far from the madding crowd but cloistered by glass walls and a lattice framework housing mini-serves of Sapporo and pop art sake glasses. Grab a cheesily captioned fridge magnet to go.
WHEN TO GO
Monday to Saturday, 8am-9pm. Closed Sunday.
Saporo or sake? The coffee is by Market Lane. And there's proper tea, of course.
Nori rolls, the city workers' lunch of choice, are laid out on the counter: six choices including eel and omelet, and fresh tuna with wasabi mayo and cucumber. The beauty is in the texture of the rice - non-gluggy, each grain separate and the non-fridge cold temperature just right. Udon is the Nama Nama specialty - from 11.30am each day the fat, slippery, house-made (by machine) wheat noodles are available only to eat in. The full, fat flavour of wagyu marries well to the bolder Kanto-style (translation: Tokyo-style) broth with onion and spinach, and vegetarians get their own meat-free broth with tofu, wakame and shimeji mushrooms. Or you can construct your own bento box with options including a Japanese-style puck of sticky shredded duck with miso sauce, kingfish tartare and assorted hangers-on. Time for dessert? Japanese-takes-on Western classics include a tiramisu and chocolate shochu brulee.
Come lunchtime, this joint's jumping with all manner of city worker bees, parliamentary escapees and people scouring the film guide for the next session at the Kino cinema.
Because Denton and co manage that Japanese cool thing effortlessly.