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By Hudson Brown
April 11, 2018

Where to Eat When You're Craving All the Food You Ate on Your Trip to Japan

Go to Japan without ever leaving Melbourne.
By Hudson Brown
April 11, 2018


in partnership with

Go to Japan without ever leaving Melbourne.

It's no secret Australians love Japan and its food, and with the plethora of restaurants, bars and eateries on offer across Melbourne, we're spoiled for choice when it comes to reliving all the great food consumed throughout our travels to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Whether you loved the izakayas of Tokyo, okonomiyaki from Osaka or kushikatsu from Kyoto, the odds are good for finding a Melbourne alternative that'll transport you back to your foodie happy place. And to help make that discovery even easier, we've pored over our directory and enlisted some help from our friends at American Express to pick out the very best Japanese fare found around Melbourne.

There are modern takes on Japanese classics, underground bars serving up nibbles inspired by Tokyo beer culture and some sophisticated options representing the best of traditional Japanese cuisine. Whether you're looking for dinner for one or for a spot where you and your mates can get rowdier than the typical Tokyo 'salaryman', we've put together a selection of Amex-accepting joints that have got your Japanese nostalgia needs covered.

Got yourself in another dining situation and need some guidance? Whatever it is, we know a place. Visit The Shortlist and we'll sort you out.

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    For those familiar with the work of the crew behind Hanoi Hannah and Saigon Sally, you’ll instantly recognise Tokyo Tina’s sense of fun served with a healthy dose of sophistication. Slotting in somewhere between its two sister restaurants, Tokyo Tina is slightly more sophisticated than the playful Hannah, but a little on the cheaper side when compared to Sally.

    Mixing things up from your garden-variety Japanese restaurant, the options show that the team tasted their way through the streets of Japan when putting Tina’s menu together. Some favourites include Port Lincoln kingfish served with wasabi and apple and placed in a bite-sized charcoal cone, while the open California roll with WA spanner crab highlights the natural sweetness of crab meat without going overboard.

    Located at the Windsor end of Chapel Street, on entering the busy but well-designed space, you’ll feel part of the street food culture of Japan.

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    Replacing Prahran’s much-loved Japanese restaurant Toko, a slightly more casual iteration emerged in Tokosan when it opened in 2017. Dubbed as Toko’s cheeky little sister, the latest venture from Matt Yazbek is focused on its drinks menu but a classy, yet laid-back Japanese menu keeps everyone fed.

    The interior is lit with neon colours, while a 16-metre-long street art mural and DJs bring the theme to life. Of particular interest is the karaoke room, bookable for functions of 20 people — prepare to give your vocal chords a workout.

    Highlights from the pub-style Japanese menu include sticky grilled pork ribs with a jacket potato, Japanese-style chicken burgers and popcorn shrimp with spicy aioli, while Tokosan’s cocktail list — named after Kill Bill characters — includes hits like the gin, cucumber and passionfruit O-Ren Ishii, the Boss Tanaka with bourbon, apricot brandy, ginger ale and lemon juice, and the sake-infused Sofie Faale.

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    Opening its doors to much fanfare in mid-2017, Kisumé has lived up to the anticipation many times over. Headed by Chin Chin’s Chris Lucas and helmed by Korean chef KS Moon, the three-storey Flinders Lane-based restaurant is bound to bring back memories of your favourite culinary moments abroad.

    Inspired by classic Japanese design, the interior of the restaurant is minimalist in nature, featuring timber flooring, grey leather and matte brass complemented by dusty pink curtains. Across three-levels, Kisumé consists of a restaurant, a speciality sushi bar and ‘The Chablis Bar’, a wine wall of separate glass cabinets devoted to Chablis, pinot noir, riesling and a mix of sake and Japanese whisky.

    Don’t miss Kisumé’s standout steamed king crab gyoza with quail egg and bonito vinaigrette or the sushi bar’s array of specialty rolls and sashimi, such as Alaskan king crab with spring onion, flying fish roe and soy paper.

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    Centred on the 30-metre bar that stretches from front-to-back of Izakaya Den, this underground Russell Street restaurant shows its love of Japanese-inspired food and drinks with an experience that plays on the back alleys of Tokyo or Osaka. The menu here serves up tapas-style dishes like nibbles of chicken, sweet corn kakiage, tuna tataki and grilled pork belly. Embracing ‘izakaya’ culture with all its casual, sharing and atmospheric qualities, the Den provides an authentic Japanese eating experience that’ll transport you straight to the dimly lit streets of Shinjuku.

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    The dimly lit back streets of Tokyo often feel full of mystique and curiosity — and Hihou is a kind of bar that draws you into this secret world. A black unmarked door with a doorbell is the only clue you get when you arrive at the Flinders Lane bar. Buzz the doorbell, wait to be escorted upstairs by the man in a suit and take a seat in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows.

    Hihou’s drinks list opens with a range of tangy, sweet and strong sakes and plum wines, and continues on with an on-trend cocktail list featuring Japanese ingredients, the Co-Cha is particularly nice with a mix of calvados, Yuzuko, Pedro Ximenez, lemon, pineapple and tonic water ($22).

    The food menu is geared towards snacking, with the eatery serving up bar snacks like pastry cigars filled with spicy tuna tartare and a Japanese hot dog served in a sweet bun with pickled onion and wasabi mayo.

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    Hawthorn might seem a world away from the fine dining experiences of Japan, but for the past 20-plus years, Ocha has been serving up refined, elegant and unforgettable Japanese cuisine. Long acknowledged as one of the finest Japanese food experiences you can have in Melbourne, at this eatery traditional techniques are combined with sublime imaginative touches to make for a truly memorable meal. Created for shared dining, the menu focuses on enjoying food with your companions. Serving up a playful rendition of Japanese classics, don’t be surprised if your sushi arrives at your table like it’s been turned inside out or upside down. This playfulness extends to crowd favourites including the beef tataki and vegetable tempura.

    Like Japan where the best restaurants are booked out weeks in advance, Ocha is no different, so plan ahead if you’re looking to experience some of the best Japanese in town.

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    While every restaurant on this list will take your mind back to Japan, Ichi Ichi Ku is perhaps the best package among the bunch. Whether it’s the tight and tiny space, the izakaya chefs’ surgical salmon slicing, roll rolling and nigiri constructing skills or the lowly lit ambience on display, Ichi Ichi Ku recalls everything we love about Japan.

    At this popular South Yarra spot, the food mostly consists of Japanese classics like tempura udon bowls and chicken teriyaki don, and the brown rice maki sushi is a favourite if you’re after something slightly healthier. Dessert offers up something a little bit different with a fusion of Japanese ingredients with traditional western desserts — don’t miss the black sesame cheesecake with red bean paste, as well as the matcha tiramisu.


As you drink and dine with your American Express, reap all the sweet rewards of being a Card Member. Explore the many ways American Express has your back here.

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