In Japanese mythology, akai ito (red yarn) refers to an invisible red thread connecting those destined to meet, to help each other or to be together. It may twist and turn, but it never breaks. When you enter Akaiito through a large black door on Flinders Lane, the invisible is made visible.
Designed by the Melbourne branch of international interior design firm HBA, the restaurant is full of brooding black marble, dark granite flooring and plush grey banquettes, but these all defer to the luminous red thread installation that twists its way across the ceiling of the dining room before plunging down into the underground bar.
Owner Christine Chen installed the thread herself, though she says picking a heritage-listed building for Akaiito meant around a year of working through council regulations. The result is a harmonious combination of the building’s original bluestone walls with those more modern finishes.
The best way to experience Akaiito is through the omakase (chef’s selection) menu. Nab a spot at one of 18 stools that surround the open kitchen and you’ll first be presented with a wooden box of raw meat, fish and vegetables all destined for your plate, some of which will first make a pit stop at the robata grill.
The menu, by executive chef Winston Zhang, changes every day and can differ for every booking. You might start with miso soup with clams, then a skewered sot-l’y-laisse (a French term for chicken oyster, the two small oval-shaped pieces of meat on either side of the backbone), followed by robata-grilled marron with kombu butter, or some tempura scampi with scampi caviar. Or shiromi (white fish) tartare topped with horseradish cream, finger lime and a hint of tea tree oil.
If you forego the theatrics of the omakase, on the a la carte menu there’s edamame with yukari shiso (salted, powdered dried purple shiso leaves). Next, make your own “tacos” using a square of nori, a Wagyu tartare meatball with a pea-sized drop of smoked egg yolk, sturgeon caviar and a slither of shiitake on top. Then move on to buttery miso-marinated Glacier 51 toothfish, slightly charry from time spent on the robata grill. Tako (octopus) from WA is first massaged with kiwifruit juice to tenderise, then grilled and served in a tidy arrangement with smoked heirloom tomatoes. Don’t miss the fried rice with Wagyu, shiitake and pine nuts, with a popping candy effect courtesy of salty cod roe.
Chen says the dessert of strawberry mousse with honey mascarpone is the most romantic dish on the menu, but proudly touts Melon Variation – it’s her own recipe. Little balls of melon are steeped in melon juice overnight then served in the resulting melon “soup”.
Place a sake order and a small box of handmade cups will be presented for you to choose from. Or there’s a range of Australian, New Zealand and French wine by the glass and bottle. Downstairs in the basement bar, order from the tight cocktail list – the Smoking Gun is made with Laphroaig whisky and a lot of theatrics. Orange peel is torched and dropped into the whisky, Cointreau is added, then the whole thing is smoked in a bell jar using red gum shavings.
For something a little different, book a private meal for up to 12 people in the Tsukiyo Room (tsukiyo is Japanese for “moonlit night”) where artworks are projected onto the table, accompanied by a musical score.
349–351 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
(03) 9620 1343
Mon to Fri 12pm–12am
Sat & Sun 6pm–12am