121 Lygon St Carlton, VIC 3053
|Opening hours||Lunch Wed-Sun noon-3pm; dinner Tue-Sat 6-10pm|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9349 2223|
Lygon Street's food reputation swings high and low. It was ground zero for our great Italian; is much maligned for its tourist traps fronted by pasta pimps and is a hot new hot spot for wine bars and boutique gelaterias. However you view the strip, I bet 10 silver dollars it's not where you expected to find Daylesford's relocated Euro-Japanese hero Kazuki's.
Newly homed next to a shisha bar and the glorious Mercadante, where students hoover mountains of carbs, it's a charcoal world of soothe in the middle of red sauce run.
Surprising digs aren't the only new thing. This is more reinvention that mere relocation of Saori and Kazuki Tsuya's seven-year-old restaurant. Kazuki's Daylesford was smart, but not particularly luxurious with its wooden chairs, solid tables and decorative fish. Design Office, the team behind Higher Ground, has pushed them into the heavy-hitter league. Smoky drapes, plush banquettes, sound-sucking mustard carpets and fragile ceramics create a space fastidiously detailed and minimal at once. The menu, executed between Tsuya and head chef Anthony Hammel (ex-Pei Modern) follows that luxury-meets-restraint philosophy through.
As in Daylesford you yin and yang between Japanese and European flavours and form, but mod-Oz is probably the better label than fusion.
There's no sushi or oysters, but pipis, cool, plump and glistening in their shells, gently amped by gingery soy for the full oceanic hit. Crisp nori fingers, tasting like fish crackling, come spread with a salty tarama and luminous salmon roe. A full lobe of uni, draped over a potato crisp and cultured cream, is the aspirational chip any (every) wine bar needs.
The above form a strong start to a five- or seven-course tasting menu that keeps the highs coming. Go all in and there might also be velvety chicken parfait profiteroles with a sharp-sweet spike of plum dust. Then an east-west bread course of excellent malty sourdough and midnight black paste combining sake, mirin, nori and charcoal-like sweet Japanese Vegemite. But you can also keep the journey to a tight two or three courses a la carte.
Read can, not should though. Goals are being kicked from one end of the experience to the other, making this one of the finer dining times to have dropped in 2018. Settle in. Go long. Shane Harris, late of Pei Modern and Lee Ho Fook, leads a nimble floor team, pouring Old and New World wines that play to the Japanese brief. Blossomy Josmeyer Fleur de Lotus from Alsace lifts the early game, and later there's the juicy cherry pep of a Romsey pinot noir from Doug's Vineyard when things turn meaty.
God is definitely in the detail here. Everything is tactile from stemmy Riedel glassware to the silky wood and solid weight of 888 steak knives. The table linens are silky and de-creased to military form. Every plate that lands on table is as textured as the food that's on it. The consideration of light and shade is a big factor.
See kingfish crudo delivered at perfect room temperature for maximum flavour, contrasting with the variant pops of finger lime caviar and the sweeter, juicier pomelo vesicles. Next, a mighty prawn is washed with a silky beurre blanc spiked with sake instead of white wine and peppered with little beads of faux caviar, avruga.
The yin and yang dance continues with sticky, rich lamb neck pulled back from the brink by the fresh pop of barely cooked spring peas, and curly artichoke crisps. Aged duck, at this point in the game, might loom terrifyingly rich on the horizon, but the liverish texture, the snappy skin and the counters of blackberries, the bitter back note of radicchio puree and that pinot again holds the line.
Sitting here, you can sometimes hear a spaghetti spruiker pushing carbs on the street. Inside, you might move to a piece of banana bread showered in blue cheese for a freaky delicious dessert hybrid, then, the brightest plate of mango and yuzu curd and yoghurt sorbet to close. The juxtaposition couldn't be greater. And it couldn't be better.
Pro Tip: The private dining room upstairs is a stunner.
Go-to Dish: Pipis with ginger and soy, chicken parfait profiteroles and uni crisps.