Kakizaki restaurant review

Palate-cleansing alfonsino nigiri.
Palate-cleansing alfonsino nigiri. Photo: Pat Scala

479 Malvern Rd South Yarra, VIC 3141

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Features Degustation, Licensed
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9827 9029

As far as "blow it all on sushi" moments go, the hours following a tangerine toupee inheriting the United States' nuclear codes proves a good one. Whatever baggage you're carrying when you arrive at Kakizaki, a four-month-old sushi-ya in deepest South Yarra, feel it drop as you pass through the fabric-draped door.

It's omakase all the way at this modest, woody shopfront in the middle of Malvern Road. Decision-making is off the table. Excellent fish is on it. If you have a better solution to the woes of the world, I'd like to hear it.

The format of Kakizaki is familiar to devotees of the fin. For $100 a head, a series of appetite-stimulating dishes bookends 12 palmed-to-order nigiri. If your mind has jumped immediately to Minamishima, reel it back an inch. Kakizaki is more the kind of sushi-ya you'd find around the edges of Tokyo's Tsukiji markets.

Chef Yuji Matsuzaki prepares sushi.
Chef Yuji Matsuzaki prepares sushi. Photo: Pat Scala

Scoop-backed leather chairs run along a solid counter of oregon pine. Behind it, chef Yuji Matsuzaki engages in quiet sushi showmanship before a backdrop of rattan. The smell is warm wood and water. Stands of bamboo, and mounted squares of beautiful fabrics nail home a smart-humble aesthetic. You may not find the chairman of Toyota here. You will find sushi that blows your regular lunchtime hand-roll out of the water.

Every sushi chef at this level has a signature. Matsuzaki's, as you may have already read from the room, is understatement.

You begin with a palate-cleansing sashimi of red-skinned and squeaky alfonsino, tumbled with a micro dice of cucumber, tomato and yuzu.

The tasting platter.
The tasting platter. Photo: Pat Scala

Next comes a tasting platter with stars from your favourite bento boxes: fish cakes, firm and fragrant; a tempura oyster capped with tartare sauce, shavings of pork tossed in a sesame dressing with crunchy green shoots and savoury Japanese custard (chawanmushi) topped with rounds of sticky okra.

So far, so izakaya. But where you might now expect a chef with some history at Sake to lay it on thick with the glitzy nigiri, you find instead deeply subtle whiting that's so clean you mostly taste the cereal-y vinegared rice it arches over.

You reach for soy, but there is none. Nor wasabi. But initial panic yields as this focus-sharpening move leaves you wide open for the subsequent just-warmed half scallop to hit with the full force of the ocean.

Eel nigiri.
Eel nigiri. Photo: Pat Scala

Subtlety is the name of the game here. Some will no doubt find a few mouthfuls austere, but it won't be the buttery sea perch stamped with a fragrant shiso leaf, nor blush pink tuna enhanced with a roasted nori emulsion, nor the flamed prawn, wrapped around the rice pack like a striped Dutch clog. Certainly not your next hit of alfonsino, razzed up with fiery yuzukosho – a pungent paste of yuzu peel and chillies.

The god is always in the details at great sushi restaurants. Here it's the curve of the hand-made ceramics and house-pickled ginger. It's in getting to choose your favourite thimble when you order sake (the better choice over an OK collection of Australian wines and Marlborough sauv blancs). It's in the quiet welcome and the savoury farewell of tea-infused panna cotta.

Keep calm. Eat sushi.

Pro Tip: Make sure you book to sit at the bar for ringside action.

Go-to Dish: It's omakase so anything could happen, but hope for the tempura oysters and otoro nigiri (fatty tuna belly).