Ichi Ni Nana

Ichi Ni Nana is a people-watching party paradise.
Ichi Ni Nana is a people-watching party paradise. Photo: Chris Hopkins

Ground level, 127 Brunswick Street Fitzroy, Victoria 3065

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Opening hours Mon-Thu noon-late; Fri-Sat noon-3am; Sun noon-11pm
Features Licensed, Bar, Outdoor seating
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, eftpos
Phone 03 9417 4127

Stop wondering where you'll be hanging out this summer. It's here, at 127 Brunswick Street, a three-venue, five-level indoor-outdoor dining and drinking playground. This optimistic megalith was carved out of an 1850s pub by Vince Sofo and Paul Adamo, nightclub guys from way back and owners of the currently closed Espy.

With this venue, their Ichi Ni group of rollicking Japanese restaurants expands from two (Ichi Ni under the Espy in St Kilda and Ichi Ichi Ku in South Yarra) to three.

Ichi Ni Nana is on the ground floor; the name translates as "one two seven". Upstairs there's Village People, a hawker food bar, and climb again and there's UpSide, where DJs and drinking dominate. Mezzanine hangouts add to the zones; clever design breaks large spaces into cool nooks, breezy outdoor decks and pick-up pash spots. It's a people-watching party paradise.

Snackable: smoked octopus rice crisps.
Snackable: smoked octopus rice crisps. Photo: Chris Hopkins

The food at Ichi Ni Nana is enjoyable and boisterous with flavours dialled high to parallel the volume in the room. An extensive Japanese greatest hits menu romps through sushi and sashimi, grills, salads, tempura and dumplings. Fans of Kewpie mayonnaise are well served.

My merry dance through the menu includes lamb saikyo yaki, grilled cutlets brushed with a sweet miso dressing. The char is good, the meat succulent and the glaze has a perfect salty, fermented kick.

Octopus rice crisps are a lovely snack; smoked octopus flesh is bound with mayo, scattered with roe and piled high. Sashimi is fresh and pert. Oh, and the cocktails rock: the Kollins with sake, gin and cucumber is a refreshing "yes".

Miso glazed lamb cutlets.
Miso glazed lamb cutlets. Photo: Chris Hopkins

I always order nasu dengaku (miso-baked halved eggplant) when I can; here the dish is reworked with small, long eggplants: it looks cool because the eggplant can be arranged like Stonehenge but there's less caramelisation and alchemic eggplant melt. I think it's a case of "don't mess with a classic" but I still reckon you should order it and tell me if you disagree.

Some dishes would be winners if the cooking was on point; battered flounder nuggets presented in the atrophied skeleton of the fish would be ace if the batter was thin, crisp and hot. A platter of five scallops with five different dressings is let down by stringy shellfish.

Much better is the beetroot salad with raw, blanched and roasted root veg, a tart yuzu dressing and – oh yeah – a squiggle of mayo.

Beetroot salad slathered with mayo.
Beetroot salad slathered with mayo. Photo: Chris Hopkins

Service is efficient, friendly and caring; Ichi Ni Nana is new but staff have cycled through the owners' other venues so they've hit the ground running.

The mood is so upbeat that if you don't have fun you either hate noisy restaurants or you're full of bah humbug. See you on the other side of Christmas!

Rating: Four stars (out of five)