Wok hei, the smoky flavour often found in stir-fried dishes, is common in Chinese, and especially Cantonese, cuisine. But directly applying smoke to food is a different story. “I know in some places in China they do smoke [food], but it’s very uncommon,” says Narada Kudinar. “Tea-smoked duck is really one of the only things [in Chinese cooking] that’s known to be smoked.”

Kudinar has been breaking tradition at his Sydney smokehouse Yan since 2017. The largely Cantonese- and Japanese-inspired menu includes braised winter melon with smoked almond cream, smoked chicken katsu with house-made barbeque sauce, and beef tataki with smoked mussels and anchovy crumb. Now, thanks to the restaurant’s new outpost in the former Yagiz space in South Yarra, Melburnians can try Yan’s smoky menu for themselves.

The Melbourne kitchen is led by Yagiz’s former head chef, Joel Lee. Kudinar spent a month teaching him and the rest of the kitchen team how to prepare all the dishes on Yan’s Sydney menu.

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“We’re implanting basically the same menu,” Kudinar says. Where there are differences, it’ll be because Melbourne is running past dishes from Sydney that have since left the menu – and vice versa will also occur.

The idea for an Asian smokehouse first came to Kudinar – who doesn’t consider himself a chef, but develops most of Yan’s recipes – in 2016. Playing around, he found that the level of smoke typical of American barbeque clashed with Asian flavours. So instead of smoking for 12 or even 24 hours, durations that are common in the States, recipe components at Yan spend a maximum of two hours in smoke. There’s no smoker either, and the chefs put charcoal and woodchips in a combi oven which is used like a smoke box and never actually turned on.

The team is careful not to overdo it, and smoke is delicately balanced in a similar way that a strong spice like cardamom or clove might be. Only about half the dishes on the menu contain a smoked component, though all flavours are designed to pair well with smoke.

Diners are encouraged to start their meal by peeling smoked king prawns and dipping them in a ginger-shallot sauce. The aim is to infuse the hands with a subtle smokiness and prepare diners for the rest of the evening. This entree is followed by the likes of grilled corn with teriyaki butter, fried tofu with Sichuan pepper and beef short ribs with sansho pepper.

Cocktails are similarly East Asian-inspired. The Yuzu Tom Collins is made with yuzushu (yuzu liqueur), lemon and soda, and the Toki Toki Hayaki! consists of soda, pickled ginger and smoked Toki whisky.

Kudinar confesses to having a sweet tooth and ensures his fellow dessert-lovers are well catered for. Yan’s Hong Kong milk tea layer cake was inspired by Top Chef winner Melissa King’s Hong Kong milk tea tiramisu and puts an Asian twist on an Italian classic. A combination of black tea and milk tea powder is used instead of coffee, and smoked rum gives it a slight alcoholic kick.

Another popular Yan dish is the coconut milk ice-cream. It’s wispily presented in a hollowed-out whole coconut, on a layer of coconut jelly and topped with a generous sprinkling of shaved, toasted coconut. There’s no smoke involved but the dish is unmistakably Yan’s.

Yan
22 Toorak Road, South Yarra
(03) 9821 4758

Hours
Tue to Sat 5.30pm–11pm

yanmelbourne.com.au