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By Hudson Brown
January 13, 2021
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By Hudson Brown
January 13, 2021
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WHERE TO EAT WHEN YOU'RE CRAVING ALL THE FOOD YOU ATE ON YOUR TRIP TO JAPAN

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.

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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 salmon tartare with yuzu dressing and a sesame cracker, while the DIY beef brisket bao comes with pillowy buns, crunchy pickles and Kewpie.

    Located at the Windsor end of Chapel Street, the busy but well-designed space feels part of the street food culture of Japan.

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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, the three-storey Flinders Lane 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 fried chicken, sweet corn kakiage, spicy tuna tataki and grilled pork belly. Embracing ‘izakaya’ culture with all its casual, sharing and atmospheric qualities, the Den provides a 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 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 porterhouse carpaccio and crab 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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FYI, this story includes some affiliate links. These don’t influence any of our recommendations or content, but they may make us a small commission. For more info, see Concrete Playground’s editorial policy.

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