There's a valid reason why the hands folding the spider rolls spend years learning how-to food origami. It's the haiku of cuisine and it's a hard home-cook DIY ask. It really makes sense to leave it to the masters.
In Melbourne, the city's moody laneways and underground dens lend themselves to an über-urban take on locations for locals to get their yakitori fix. Here, we decode the top five Nippon noshery's in Melbourne:
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1. Nobu, noburestaurants.com
Nobu Melbourne is part of the glittering global empire of A-list favoured Japanese restaurants owned by superstar chef Nobuyuk "Nobu" Matsuhisa. The star power doesn't end there, the original Nobu New York was co-founded by Hollywood heavy hitter Robert De Niro, giving the all important celeb seal of approval. Located in The Crown complex on the sparkling banks of Melbourne's Yarra River, this glossy eatery has an exceptional cosmopolitan fusion menu catering to the business blow-out luncher and well-heeled snack-with-sake supper clubber. Nobu's menu is stacked from robata grill delights to hot/cold share plates to any and all sushi/sashimi combos imaginable. Must-eat dishes include Nobu's signature black miso cod, yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno, and in a nod to Nobu's time in Peru, tiradito Nobu-style (Peruvian raw fish dish with a Nobu twist).
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Yu-U flips the switch on the selfie generation by having no website (true story) and a door that's a graffiti-heavy number hidden down Flinders Lane. But it's worth the hunt, once inside, head downstairs into the subterranean cool kids club where Chef Yoshiki Tano grills up yakitori delights which are pots of culinary gold. Lunch is bento boxes at the ready, dinner is panko fried pork fillet with tonkatsu sauce, some like it hot share plates of edamame, fish cake tempura, and pan fried duck breast with BBQ sauce, plus more charcoal-grilled skewered chicken yakitori than you can poke a, well, skewer at. You can have your sake warm, room temp or cold, paired with an ice-cool, palette cleansing maccha green tea ice-cream to finish.
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3. Izakaya Den, izakayaden.com.au
Another basement-dwelling beauty, Izakaya Den is a hungry and thirsty inner-city hipster's hero. On Russell Street in the centre of town it's open late most nights and until the witching hour (midnight) on Saturdays, providing wasabi and sake fuelled fun for Melbourne's night owls. Chic proportions of chargrilled bites like the Hervey Bay scallops in wasabi oil, sit with sweet corn 'Kaki-age' (tempura for the layman), and health-lovers agedashi tofu with quinoa and tomato, leaving space for a slice of miso pound cake with walnuts and cream.
4. Kenzan, kenzan.com.au
This classic Japanese eating house on Melbourne's main drag, Collins Street serves up traditional Japanese delights to city types, politcos, and inner-city shoppers in a classy lacquer-heavy locale. Established in 1981, it's got long-term culinary chops and is on speed dial with loyal locals. The menu mantra is sushi sushi sushi - with a solid list of sticky rice wrapped fresh, cooked seafoods and vegetables to choose from,plus a dedicated sushi bar. Taking it old school, Kenzan also offers 'Sukiyaki', a traditional Japanese hot pot of beef and vegetables cooked at your table - the culinary equivalent of 'dinner and a show'.
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5. Hako, hako.com.au
The word 'Hako' is Japanese for box or container and this classy Flinders Lane joint has subtly boxed up the market for traditional Tokyo-inspired dining in Melbourne. Chef Masahiro Horie's first incarnation of Hako was a hole-in-the-wall gem. But as with all good things, once word got out about the mouth-watering soy sauced delights issuing forth from his tiny kitchen, there were too many mouths too feed and not enough rice plates to go round. The move into the larger split-level premises they occupy today translated to a larger following, but the same boutique quality. 'Small nibbly things' like the blue swimmer crab meat wrapped in shiso leaf get you off to a delicious start, strongly followed by seafood fancies like cuttlefish tempura and main meats slow cooked beef ribs. Sushi and sashimi are well represented here, too.