175 Flinders Ln Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Opening hours||Daily 11am-late|
|Features||Bar, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9671 4888|
There's a paradox at the heart of Kisume's chef's table. The luxurious 12-seat communal dining counter is on the top level of the multi-zoned Japanese eatery owned by restaurant ringmaster Chris Lucas (Chin Chin, Hawker Hall).
On the one hand, there are very few places in Melbourne that so deeply revere Japanese dining culture. And yet you would not, could not, will never find a restaurant quite like this in Japan – it's actually as Melbourne as avoiding PSOs on the 96 tram.
Let's look first at what is Japanese, your $195 ticket to Tokyo, if you will. There is just one offering, a 19-course omakase (chef's selection) that is a progression of (mostly) sushi dishes. They're conceived by Shinya Nakano, a Kyoto-trained sushi chef who spent eight years at Melbourne's Nobu before joining Kisume 18 months ago.
Nakano's awe-inspiring knifework, his reverent attitude to rice, seafood and wagyu beef, his deft application of heat, whether by blowtorch or hot charcoal, the contiguity of modesty and mastery, all this is very Japanese.
But you're long-hauled back to marvellous Melbourne by other aspects of the experience. The sushi dishes showcase sublime seafood and rice but from Australian and New Zealand waters and most morsels are far from traditional.
Oysters bathed in champagne sabayon (a foamed sauce of egg yolk and wine) are a French classic. Here the champagne is subbed for premium sake while yuzu, a Japanese citrus, brings spark. A good oyster is already transporting; this is warp speed.
Calamari – scored so finely it looks pleated – is seared and served over rice with a dab of housemade XO sauce, a Hong-Kong-style dried seafood condiment.
Tasmanian bluefin tuna is in season now and toro – the fatty belly – is aged five days to intensify the flavour. Radically, Nakano serves a 'double toro' nigiri, with a raw slice of tuna belly laid over rice, and another torched slice laid crosswise over that. On top is a tiny mound of shibazuke, a famous eggplant and shiso pickle from Ohara, outside Kyoto, crowned with a teeny pile of caviar. The flavour balance is exceptional: the salty funk of the pickle, clean pop of the caviar, the light char and raw smoothness of the fish.
There's harmony and skill but also a wildness. If we see sushi chefs as an intense, formal symphony orchestra, this dish is as though a first violinist suddenly ripped free of his tux, picked up an electric guitar and strutted shirtless through a thrilling solo. All the technique is there, all the classical underpinnings, but the expression is untrammelled and free.
Creativity also shines through in the astonishing vessels: asymmetrical, architectural, almost as exciting as the food. Even the structure of the meal is unusual, with diners eating in sessions, as though they had tickets to a performance – and they do.
The drinks matches pluck from Kisume's adjacent Chablis bar, as well as a lovably rogue sake list.
Desserts are brilliant; rice ice-cream is cloaked in green apple 'snow' and sits on a sweet, crunchy porridge of fried buckwheat sluiced with miso caramel.
Authenticity is a furphy. Kisume instead poses this question: what, actually, is the point of recreating one place in another? Surely Australia's culinary energy comes in large part from contextual rethinks. This culinary highwire act uses a deep respect for tradition to broaden what's possible with Australian produce in a Melbourne setting. The results are exhilarating.
Rating: Four and a half stars (out of five)
Tasting menu: $195