If, like me, you one day find that your eating itinerary for a holiday in Japan is frequently waylaid by the country’s predilection for taking week-long public holidays, you can always visit Kisumé.
Spread across three levels in Melbourne’s Flinders Lane, the restaurant is the latest addition to the epicurean leviathan Chris Lucas’s stable of Melbourne (and soon to be Sydney) dining stalwarts (Chin Chin, plus Kong and Hawker Hall, to name a few), though one that’s remarkably different in tone. On an all-too-brief recent visit, the ground floor dining room is enveloped in an air of quiet reverence for the space, one that’s far from monastic. Tables for two are intimate, as is the proximity between the pink velvet seats lining a luminescent bamboo sushi bar (waiters frequently mistook the man dining alone adjacent to me for my father). The walls are notably lined with Polly Borland’s sometimes unnerving, always striking surrealist portraits of masked figures (try and decipher which is Nick Cave), likewise the work of Japanese photograpehr Nobuyoshi Araki, with both artist’s work spotlit in a canny impression of a New York gallery space.
The food too is treated with the same reverence, and Lucas has repeatedly cited that same city’s glamorous sushi bars as being influential in Kisumé’s development. A spot at the bar, helmed by sushi master Yosuke Hatanaka (pictured top left) and master chef Moon Kyung Soo (top right) is akin to watching artists at work in an open studio.
A lunch-friendly feature box, with iterations available in either tuna or salmon, is an often exquisite introduction to the restaurant’s raw menu, which is laid on on paper placemats and encompasses a dizzying array of fresh Australian and New Zealand seafood prepared by the high end sushi masters. A second signature dish of tuna tataki, seared and served with puffed rice and nasturtium leaves, is accompanied by cubes of velveteen wasabi cream tofu gilded with roe and gold leaf. Arranged in a circle, they encase a pond of viscous spicy ponzu sauce I could’ve happily bathed in. A final course, featherweight sheep’s milk yoghurt and matcha meringue encases an impossibly fresh blackberry sorbet that’s cut through with strawberries. In appearance and execution, it more than lives up to the restaurant’s name, which when translated says it all really: “a pure obsession with beauty.”
Tile and cover image: Courtesy of Kisumé/Facebook