14 Beatty Ave Armadale, VIC 3143
|Opening hours||Tue-Sun 5pm-late|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9822 7941|
Kingfish and truffle? Brisket doughnuts? What the …? Welcome to the cross-cultural stylings of Sonny Chiba, a mod-meets-trad Japanese restaurant that seamlessly blends Euro flavours with Japanese flair.
"I've always fallen for Japanese food because of its simplicity, its freshness, its beauty," says owner Daniel Russo, "and the moderation. I love how Japanese live by the rule of being eight-tenths full. It's kind of their mantra."
Working the hibachi is Japanese chef Kunihiro Nakajima (ex-Izakaya Den), who, according to Russo, "is a total character, loves skateboarding, and is all about '80s and '90s hip-hop".
"Sashimi is what we hang our hat on," says Russo, who is conscious of competing for the best quality seafood with Melbourne's bigger restaurant fish, such as Supernormal and Kisume. "We hustle every day, and the quality of our produce is definitely on par," he says.
The Hiramasa kingfish is a standout, a mind-bending flavour profile of buttery fish on a tangle of sheer fennel slices with a delicate white truffle vinaigrette that pushes the richness factor but doesn't overpower. "In season, we use fresh white truffle," says Russo.
Fleshy Tasmanian salmon is thick and lush, draped over vinegared rice in the nigiri, and line-caught sea bream gets a chilli-citrus kick with jalapeno and yuzu.
"We wanted to have some fun with the food," Russo says, and nothing says fun like a prawn sando, with pert, poached prawns, pickled daikon and a thousand island-ish "pink sauce" slathered on soft milk bread..
Free-range pork shoulder is minced daily and turned into pork gyoza, and brisket doughnuts tap into the Tokyo curry puff trend, with a dash of Eastern European pierogi inspo.
The downstairs dining room is a slick, clean-edged space – not a plant or painting in sight – that will make lovers of minimalism feel right at home. Natural oak adds warmth, along with the happy, boisterous buzz from diners who prop at the high bar for a prime view of Nakajima searing edamame or grilling pork-belly skewers.
Add some snappy cocktails, such as a summery elderflower gimlet, and a tight, low-intervention wine list, and you're good to go.
Hot tip: the private upstairs dining room and rear terrace have "office Christmas party" written all over them.
Looking for more contemporary Japanese food in Melbourne? Try these:
The menu may skew traditional, but the vibe is cool-kids Kyoto at cute Tamura, with top-notch sake and top-shelf jazz by Japanese DJs; they do a katsu sando, too.
43 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
Chris Lucas's opulent triple-decker with a sushi bar of epic proportions, luxe bar and curtained rooms for privacy.
175 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Tick what you want from a list of snacks and shareables – grilled octopus, duck hearts with togarashi, and dumplings.
shop 2, 157 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda