Look, this isn’t Minamishima. We all know about the undisputed sushi king of Melbourne’s $185 a head experience in its hush-hush dining room that looks like the literal million bucks it is. But at a realistic $300+ after all add-on courses, it sits alone on an exalted, perhaps even lonely throne.
Enter Sushi Kakizaki: a $100 per head, 12-piece sushi omakase affair that still packs in the frills and the fun parts. It’s no Minamishima, but Minamishima is no Kakizaki. The vibe is decidedly your friendly neighbour’s sushi-ya, if such a thing exists in an Australian city. But while it may be a ‘corner shop’ Japanese restaurant, you notice the quality from the moment you step through the door. The 3/4 noren (the split curtain) is the first clue, immediately followed by an overwhelming sense of being teleported to Tokyo: bamboo, Oregon timber, and a dining space that only seats 16. We were told that given Kakizaki is an omakase-only experience, they usually cap bookings at 10 – the number of seats at the counter.
And for sure, the counter is the perch of choice in order to bear witness to sushi itamae (high-level chef) Yuji Matsuzaki’s hands work in crafting his handiwork. With 12 years of sushi-making under his belt (and a certified washoku – Japanese cuisine – practitioner with Japanese National Culinary Licensing), Matsuzaki’s done stints at multiple Japanese restaurants in Adelaide, the latest before Kakizaki being nearly 5 years at Sake Restaurant in Melbourne. He knows a thing or two about slapping fish on rice. Of course, taken together with the restaurant’s exceeding attention to detail – cross-sectioned wood plates, a dizzying array of sake cups (from which to choose), ceramics and other odds and ends – he knows how to set up the right vibe, too. One thing I did wish he would do is to introduce himself at the beginning of our meal, rather than appearing only at the start of the nigiri course. Needing to prepare starters at the back is understandable, but a quick hello doesn’t hurt. A bit more conversation would also help: he certainly seemed like the (very) shy type, a bit more warmth and banter goes a long way!
I mentioned it before but it’s worth repeating: do not just casually walk in here expecting to be able to have a quick, a la carte lunch. Kakizaki does neither a la carte, nor lunch! It’s a dinner-only, omakase-only experience. Come with a reservation, a craving for fish and $100 and you’re set. Of course, get some drinks too: the sake is where it’s at – you can’t pick your own wine glass in the same way you can a sake cup! And there’s a lot of variety.
You might think $100 for 12 pieces of sushi, at an average of $8 per piece, is on the pricier side. You’d be right, if it weren’t for the fact that Kakizaki’s omakase includes a series of fully-formed starter dishes to whet the appetite, that are far more substantial than ethereal amusé courses at many Western restaurants which always seem to fade into memory’s abyss a little too quickly. Matsuzaki describes these starters using kaiseki terminology, and in fact refers to Kakizaki’s omakase as a ‘kaiseki omakase’. I’ve written on kaiseki and kaiseki restaurants, while having eaten at many more. Notwithstanding Kakizaki’s genuine otsukuri and hassun courses, I’m a little iffy about describing the overall meal using this moniker that’s rather strictly-defining.
Now that I’ve gotten rid of my inner pedant, onto the meal: it was lovely. While some people wouldn’t mind launching straight into nigiri, a proper sushi omakase should include – and nail – the buildup. An initial otsukuri of snapper, with firm, bitey flesh and sweet undertones, plus a triplet of ocean trout with apple & umeshu showcased Matsuzaki’s impeccable knife skills, which set the bar high. Buildup, success.
This was followed up with a hassun, the aim of which is to showcase seasonal ingredients. A deep-fried oyster is the kind of dish you never knew you wanted until you have it: JUICY! The vegetables – asparagus, enoki, celery, spinach – were appropriately ‘dashi sweet’ while still retaining their fundamental flavours, while the fish cake was an appealing, meaty morsel.
A second act, featuring super sweet mackerel, miso cod, scallop and unagi in various configurations followed. I liked them all, particularly the unagi chawanmushi (a first for me!); however, the scallop tempura was missing something in terms of flavour: perhaps salt.
And then we have the piece de resistance, or rather, 12 of them: nigiri. Sushi fanatics will immediately note that Kakisaki’s shari (sushi rice) is on the small side, which results in smaller pieces, allowing neta (sushi topping) to make more of an impact. I’m a fan of this approach: when there’s too much rice, the neta will be out of balance unless it’s enlarged to compensate, and more often than not one comes out feeling bloated. If your sushi is too big to eat in one bite, it’s too big, full stop. While sushi is technically more about rice than fish, a smaller, thumb-ful of rice is an ideal serving portion.
Overall, Kakizaki’s nigiri were fantastic – the best sushi I’ve had in Melbourne outside of Minamishima. The shari is well-formed – slightly sweet, and even more acidic (I didn’t ask, but I believe he only uses shirozu – white vinegar – with no akazu – red, which produces a slightly more acidic tinge), with good bite that holds up well for most pieces. If Kakizaki was in Sydney, it would be one of my regular haunts when taking its price point into consideration. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m not kidding about regular sushi omakase visits: we all have our vices. I particularly liked Matsuzaki’s treatment of prawn (unique serving method; high quality, sweet prawn); mackerel (extremely flavourful and sweet, without discomforting levels of pungency); swordfish (like the white fish equivalent of ootoro); and anago (I always like anago). Other pieces were at the very least, good. There was one exception: the steamed oyster. You know when they say something tastes of the sea…but not in the good way?
Yeah, nope. That piece was a struggle. Take me down a beach with a literal ton of decomposing seaweed and you get the idea.
But everything else? Dandy.
The omakase finishes off with a green tea ice cream that’s more specifically houjicha (roasted green tea), along with some chewy shiratama dango. The ice cream is 100% homemade, with frozen bits of red bean interspersed throughout, and dusted with toasted white chocolate powder. Sure, the omakase didn’t finish with a traditional tamagoyaki (egg roll sushi), but this was a satisfying compromise.
If I lived in Melbourne, you’d find me at Kakizaki’s counter every other month. Yep.
Date Last Visited: 9/Dec/2018
Address: 479 Malvern Rd, South Yarra VIC 3141
Price Guide (approx): $100pp plus drinks
This post is based on an independently-paid visit to Sushi Bar Kakizaki
- Quality sushi without breaking the bank…much
- The decor and vibe take you straight to Japan
- Steamed oysters should go the way of the steam engine
- Given the already quiet atmosphere, it would go a long way if Yuji Matsuzaki were to be more conversational
Would I return: yes
F7.5 | S3.5 | A2