"It's all about the charcoal," says Alex Pan, who, with friends Nathan Johnston of Coffee Cartel and chef Kyle Wang, have opened Sumi, a 26-seat Asian barbecue restaurant and bar in Geelong.
"Charcoals have different burning times and can impart various flavours, things gas doesn't give you," says Pan, who also co-owns nearby Sober Ramen with Johnston. "And just as you would blend coffee, we have been experimenting and combining charcoals to come up with two different blends.
"Japanese charcoal, binchotan, provides consistent heat and the flavour can be floral with common characteristics of jasmine or stone fruit, while local charcoals are mainly fruit woods."
The single shopfront had stood empty for almost a year before the trio gave it a makeover with rendered cement walls inspired by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, a nod to Pan's architecture background, a plywood ceiling, and pale timber bar and small tables to reinforce the Asian influence.
Sumi's menu is inspired by various cultures. Wang, whose heritage is Chinese, has worked in Thailand, Hong Kong and locally including Fisherman's Pier and Vue Grand Queenscliff and he's passionate about cooking over fire.
"We're using king oyster mushroom stems as a dumpling skin instead of flour pastry for our pork dumplings, which contain a mixture of pork, spring onion, ginger, garlic and oyster sauce, while the bacon with our smoked cherry tomatoes has been cured for 28 hours with Chinese spices and Sichuan pepper."
Also on the menu are tsukune (Japanese chicken meatball skewers) served with tare (a sweet-savoury basting sauce) and a raw egg yolk, and Thai-style baby squid with chilli miso glaze and ink.
A solid range of beers and sakes and a short list of wines has been geared to the chargrilled dishes.
Open Tue-Sun 11.30am-2.30pm, 5pm-late.
47 Gheringhap Street, Geelong, 0430 805 188.