During Melbourne’s first lockdown, the name Uminono became synonymous with takeaway sushi boxes, each accompanied by a gold-embossed soy sauce bottle. The boxes found lots of fans, including Aru and Sunda chef Khanh Nguyen, as well as the owner of Prahran cafe St Edmonds, where Uminono popped up for an extended residency with just six seats.
Now Uminono’s doubled its covers, opening a 12-seat omakase restaurant on Chatham Street, 200 metres from St Edmonds.
Normandy-raised chef Arnaud Laidebeur – whose friends call him Nono – is serious about sushi. As a boy, he dreamed of opening a restaurant and spent years building up an impressive culinary resume. Before falling for sushi, Laidebeur graduated from one of France’s top culinary schools, Institut Paul Bocuse, and interned at Michelin starred restaurants.
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He eventually went to Bordeaux and took a summer job working under a master sushi chef from Tokyo. That’s when he discovered a love for the cuisine and took it upon himself to learn everything he possibly could about sushi making.
At Uminono – a combination of umi the Japanese word for “sea” and Leidebeur’s nickname – the chef pays homage to Japanese cuisine while injecting some of his own flourishes. “I put a little twist, but not too much,” he says.
At this new location, the chairs may have doubled, but the number of dishes has more than trebled. Diners can opt for a relatively simple chirashi bowl (a variety of sashimi artfully arranged on lightly flavoured sushi rice), but the flagship experience is the 11-course omakase. It consists of plates like dry-aged kingfish sashimi with lime zest and roasted spring onion oil, Hokkaido scallops with burnt orange gel, New Caledonia paradise prawns with sesame miso, lightly torched Ora King salmon served with crackling skin and kombu salt underneath, and crispy tuna handrolls made with seaweed from Kumamoto. All of which can be paired with sake, champagne, cocktails or wine, which comes mostly from France.
Those who prefer to eat their sushi at home need not worry. The boxes that made Uminono popular are still available to order for pick up in the late afternoon and early evening.
While Leidebeur is living out his childhood dream, that doesn’t mean he’s willing to sacrifice his entire adult life. Unusually for omakase restaurants, Uminono is only open for lunch. “The truth is I’d just like to spend time with my wife at night,” he says. “Maybe we’ll offer dinner in the future, but at the moment, it’s about finding stability for the team.”