When chef Motomu Kumano closed his Japanese restaurant Komeyui in mid-March, the plan was to relocate and reopen just a few days later, with the old space set to become a yakitori joint.
But it didn’t work out that way. The new concept, Yakitori Bar, remains closed. And instead of taking days to move Komeyui from Port Melbourne to South Melbourne, the coronavirus pandemic meant it took months.
In between lockdowns, Kumano and his team were finally able to open Komeyui once more.
It’s a much larger space than the cosy original, and it feels more modern. Instead of the old floor-to-ceiling blond timber fit-out in Port Melbourne, architecture firm Baenziger Coles has given the new spot concrete finishes, white walls, slate floor tiles and black furniture.
Behind the sushi counter is a large cast-iron pot called a hagama, a traditional Japanese rice-cooker (the method dates back more than a thousand years). It’s said to bring out the natural sweetness of the rice – fitting, as Kumano’s philosophy revolves around the grain.
“Kome means rice, and yui means knot or connection. So Komeyui, a word just made up by me, means ‘rice connection’,” he says. “Rice is the most important element of the restaurant. And connection: I want to use food to connect people with other people, cultures with other cultures.”
Kumano grew up in Hokkaido, in the north of Japan, and moved to Melbourne in 2005. He worked as a sushi chef at Kenzan’s offshoot at the GPO for six years before leaving to open the original Komeyui in Port Melbourne in 2011.
As at the original, sushi and sashimi feature prominently at the new diner. Toro (tuna belly) is imported from from Japan, but Hiramasa kingfish, King George whiting, calamari and garfish are all locally sourced.
“The taste is more clean and more fresh because they’re caught in local ports and supplied straight to us,” Kumano says.
A great hulking piece of stone runs the length of the 12-seat sushi countertop, reserved for those ordering the 10-course sushi omakase, or tasting menu. Instead of plates, each piece is served directly on the cold stone.
Everywhere else in the 80-seat dining room diners order from the à la carte menu, which incluses sushi and sashimi as well as larger dishes such as hitsumabushi (a grilled eel rice bowl served with green-tea broth that’s poured from teapot); Canadian black cod (marinated in sweet saikyo miso from Kyoto, then chargrilled); and pork belly (braised for 10 hours in soy sauce).
Smaller dishes include crisp seaweed topped with your choice of spicy tuna, abalone pate or grilled eel with mascarpone; chawanmushi, a savoury steamed custard that can be served with foie gras; Wagyu tataki with egg yolk cured in soy sauce; and deep-fried salmon-skin crisps.
There’s an eight-course omakase available in the dining room too. The current iteration includes an oyster with clam jelly; Wagyu sashimi with soy hollandaise; grilled dry-aged garfish; deep-fried zucchini flower with a prawn mousse; and a matcha soup with shiratama (rice cake) and brown sugar ice-cream for dessert.
To drink, there are 30 sakes to choose from; 50 wines; Japanese whisky; yuzunade (yuzu lemonade); and brown-rice tea.
181 Ferrars Street, South Melbourne
(03) 9645 5420
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on June 9, 2020. Menu items may have changed since publication.