It's fun to sit at the bar and try a variety of dishes.
It's fun to sit at the bar and try a variety of dishes. Photo: Eddie Jim

396 Bay Street Port Melbourne, Victoria 3207

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Opening hours Tuesday-Saturday noon-3pm, 6pm-10pm
Features Accepts bookings, Business lunch, Degustation, Family friendly, Licensed, Lunch specials, Long lunch, Vegetarian friendly
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Motomu Kumano
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9646 2296

Just about every shopping strip has a Japanese restaurant but few are as welcoming, versatile and delectable as Komeyui. Chef Motomu Kumano opened his small, amiable restaurant nearly three years ago, after six years at Kenzan followed his move to Melbourne in 2005. The heart of Komeyui is rice, cooked in a special cast-iron pot (hagama) that's been superseded by electric rice cookers in most Japanese kitchens.

The old-time technique is trickier than pressing a button but Kumano believes it brings out the true nature of each grain of rice and that the iron vessel conducts health benefits too. I'm no rice-soul-spotter but I can say that this rice is distinct, nutty and lively.

The menu is diverse, with grilled, fried, steamed and hot pot dishes, both traditional and gently tweaked. Sushi and sashimi come a la carte but it's fun to sit at the bar and let Kumano line up dishes until you beg for mercy. He's a big fan of Australian seafood and loves to showcase it with handy knifework, a little seasoning, and maybe a brief blast with the blowtorch. Hot dishes can be nostalgic, as with his grandmother's sticky, starchy pumpkin mochi cakes with the texture of glutinous rice and a dressing of sake and soy. Foil-wrapped salmon bundled with miso butter has a similar comforting sense of old Hokkaido. Pride is obvious in every dish: rich, silky agedashi tofu comes with a bonito flake flash-mob and the onigiri (filled rice balls) form cute, precise triangles.

Pumpkin mochi cakes with sake and soy dressing.
Pumpkin mochi cakes with sake and soy dressing. Photo: Eddie Jim

There's a contemporary edge to other offerings. Surf clams with rice vinegar foam have the oceanic intensity of a dumping wave without the bathers-twisting negatives. Fried duck breast is marinated in a red wine and soy dressing, which I bet grandmother never tried.

Komeyui's welcome extends to vegetarians (ask for the separate menu), kids (there are high chairs and plentiful indulgent smiles), takeaway lunchers and sake lovers (drink matches punctuate the menu). ''Kome'' means ''rice'' and ''yui'' means ''knot'', as in unity and togetherness, and Motomu Kumano and his team ensure both rice and warm gatherings are easy to enjoy at Komeyui.

Rating: Four stars (out of five).