Come March 2017, you may conceivably be able to stand in line for Chin Chin’s fiery Thai food, then spin 180 degrees and be standing in a totally different queue, for sushi.
Chris Lucas, director of The Lucas Group, has bought a new site on Flinders Lane (just 150 metres from Chin Chin) in which he’s started work on an unnamed Japanese diner. “It’ll be traditional in many ways because of the purity of Japanese products and that philosophy, but it’ll have our DNA,” Lucas says. “Cool, sexy, fun, accessible.”
Lucas has had this one on the brain for a long time. Since spending three years in Japan in the ’90s, he’s explored pub food (The Botanical), Thai (Chin Chin), Italian (Baby), Korean (Kong) and Malaysian/Singaporean (Hawker Hall).
“I never had a chef. I couldn’t find a chef,” he says. “If you go to New York or even London, there’s a very large Japanese expat population. As a result, they’ve got a very healthy representation of Japanese restaurants.”
He’s solved the problem with Australian chef Shaun Presland, who started his career in a mythical, Karate Kid-esque manner, learning to cook Japanese food for two years in a quiet village in Yamagata Prefecture. Since then he’s opened Nobu in the Bahamas, and headed up Sushi E and the first Saké, both in Sydney. He even speaks fluent Japanese, which is no doubt handy in dealing with suppliers.
Melbourne’s newest version of Saké is just 200 metres away down Flinders Lane. But any potential rivalry there will be overshadowed by that with Andrew McConnell’s own Japanese restaurant, Supernormal, which is directly across the road from Lucas’s.
Lucas found the three-storey site at the beginning of the year, but didn’t sign the lease until last week. It’ll have a kitchen in the basement and a sushi restaurant on the ground floor. On the top floor, a cocktail bar, private rooms and an omakase (degustation) room are planned. This last section will have a twist. “How it works in Japan is, the chef dictates the menu,” Lucas says. “They source their seafood in the morning, make their menu and then you get what you get. There are no deviations.”
He wants to flip the concept: diners will be able to book ahead and design their own menu (for a commensurate price, no doubt), and drink specially matched wines by renowned wine journalist and educator Philip Rich, who will oversee the sake-heavy list. He’ll be more than just a consultant, too. Lucas says Rich is planning to spend plenty of time on the floor.
It seems Lucas has much to keep him busy on Flinders Lane, and it may be some time until we learn of his plans for his other undeveloped site on Smith Street in Fitzroy, for which no name or direction has been announced.
The Lucas Group’s Japanese restaurant will open at 175 Flinders Lane, Melbourne in March 2017.