191 Swan St Richmond, VIC 3121
|Opening hours||Tue-Thu 5.30pm-11pm; Fri-Sat noon-11pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa|
Could Future Future actually be the future? Maybe. This is the second venture for Milieu Hospitality, a company started by Katie McCormack (a hospitality gun) and her twin brother, Michael McCormack, who owns Milieu property, which custom designs restaurants for development hubs based on the demographic likely to fill them. Sexy, right?
But if this sounds like a not-very-good plot of a tech noir drama, it's good to note their first restaurant, Congress, a mod-European wine bar in Collingwood, actually has a bucket-load of character (largely due to the great service from Katie McCormack) and truly does give the people of Collingwood what they want.
Congress is built for people who work in shared creative spaces, get hot for stainless steel surfaces, and like natural wines and experimental share plates. The pasta is buckwheat, the pastrami kangaroo. So, does Future Future get Richmond as right?
This is an area all about "fast casual" restaurants like Belles Hot Chicken and Fonda Mexican. Future Future doesn't aim to change that script. It's a casual izakaya, with a rooftop bar opening by summer.
The package has some formal aspects. The all-blond wood dining room, a former art gallery, is elegant with an open kitchen and rather nice tools. There is complimentary fermented tea and (very crunchy) nori-favoured crisps on arrival. But the menus tell a different story. The tight wine list has natural standouts from Unico Zelo and Patrick Sullivan, but also offers Quealy friulano on tap for $60 a litre. Party down.
Running the kitchen is chef Atsushi Kawakami, formerly sous at Kappo, and before that, Wabi Sabi. The body of his menu is taken up by donburi bowls, and a couple of meatier mains, but the pitch overall is decidedly snacky.
Following the Congress tradition there's another crumbed meatball sando, this time, a garlicky beef ball swaddled in trashy bread with piquant tonkatsu sauce. There's also a milk bun starring panko-crumbed prawns, cucumber, leek twigs and a sort of thousand island sauce. They'd both be even better with a little more moisture.
More elegant: pillowy, slightly sticky pumpkin agedashi tofu is nicely complimented by the typical soy-mirin broth. Tuna tataki is plush, fresh, judiciously marinated. With it are ultra soft cubes of avocado whipped with silken tofu that taste fruity, like a solid smoothie. I like it, but the proportions feel off. Too much creaminess to fish, finished with very crunchy nori turned toffee crisps.
I'm not convinced straddling the smart-casual divide translates as well as choosing a side. The food appears designed for fast-paced, boisterous joints serving big pitchers of Orion. But the minimalism of the space and attempts at formal service (business partner and manager Stefanie Breschi is a Bistro Gitan pro, while her floor staff are not just new but green, unaware of when to clear dishes, change plates, fill waters) makes you pay more attention than you're meant to give to izakaya food.
After our round of chicken (thigh, "crisp" skin and a soft mince version – all could take a few more seconds on the hibachi), palate fatigue sets in from the repeat signature of sweet soy. The chirashi donburi bowl – fresh tuna, kingfish and salmon sashimi over rice with pickled daikon – represents rare menu relief.
We then dive back into okonomiyaki, a matcha-flavoured crepe filled with shredded vegetables and provolone cheese, that is a big smoosh tasting only of the heavy squiggles of kewpie mayo and super sweet okonomiyaki sauce.
A wagyu striploin with six score marbling is oddly pale, soft and again, sweet, having been marinated in miso, the prevailing flavour. Are brussels sprouts and kale crisps its natural bedfellows? I'm not quite convinced.
The great news is, it's very early days and this is a restaurant whose entire goal is making Richmond happy. Some tweaks could see that right. Crank the tunes, dim the lights, relax a little and bring the party to match the party food.
Pro Tip: A big upstairs bar will be opening in summer
Go-to Dish: Pumpkin agedashi, $10