The simplest way to describe Kisumé, the luxe Japanese restaurant from lauded restaurateur Chris Lucas, may be this: three storeys of considered grandeur. Its design is impressive — a Chablis bar, a Kisumé Winewall, avant-garde art — and considered attention to detail travels throughout the three levels, from the menu down to the nifty coin-sized refreshment towels that entertainingly expand when you open them.
The space, conceived by Australian firm Wood Marsh, unites sophisticated clean lines and a monochromatic palette of buffed metal and leather banquettes. The design doesn't scream Japanese restaurant, just cleverly hints at it, from the touches of red to Nobuyoshi Araki's provocative photographs of Japanese women.
In the kitchen, there's acclaimed Korean-born chef K. S. Moon. Known the world over for his innovative flair. Moon arrived fresh from his Singapore restaurant, Mikuni, armed with some serious certifications including as an international sake sommelier. And his knife skills are impressive.
Raw fish dishes are all elegant and mostly restrained, allowing the quality of the (well-sourced) produce to speak for itself. But some border on over-the-top, with gold leaves and teaspoons of caviar. The raw dishes' vivid flavours would imaginably hit a fair few diners with the realisation of "wow, this is what tuna really tastes like".
In the cooked section, knockout items include the pork kimchi gyoza ($19.50), satisfyingly packed with flavour and crunch, and the hapuka with spicy miso ($39.50), which is substantial in size and spice. The cucumber tataki with cucumber vinaigrette is a lovely palette cleanser ($22.50), perfect before delving into dishes such as the Berkshire baby back pork ribs with maple soy glaze ($45.50).
Like classic Japanese desserts, Kisumé's are not overly sweet. All are artistically plated and perfect for sharing and gushing over — notably, the hazelnut dacquoise, a bulbous composition of chocolate mousse and Frangelico cream ($18.50).
Unlike a slew of Melbourne restaurants, which have stepped away from reservations for walk-ins only, Kisumé takes reservations for all group sizes. You can also pick your location from the private room, the Chablis Bar, the sushi bar, the restaurant and the Table — a 12-person dinner hosted by Moon for a cool $220 a head.
I've visited Kisumé three times, and each time the service varied. The restaurant has a mix of incredibly passionate waitstaff, with impressive knowledge of the menu, and others who simply cover the basics, etching down your order and scuttling off. If service was consistent, and perhaps delivered with a little more warmth, it would make shelling out for the (hefty) bill a lot less painful.