It seems like Carlton is having a moment. Kazuki’s is the latest eatery to open in the suburb after Nick Stanton's Leonardo’s Pizza Palace, playful Chinese diner Super Ling, Capitano by the Bar Liberty crew, all-you-can-eat barbeque spot Shinbashi and – technically not open yet but just days away – King & Godfree.
Kazuki’s is by husband and wife team Saori and Kazuki Tsuya, who transported the fine diner to Lygon Street from Daylesford (the old spot is now more casual eatery Sakana). Kazuki, who has spent time at Lake House and France Soir, is executive chef across both restaurants, while chef Anthony Hammel (now-closed Pei Modern, Kazuki’s Daylesford) is behind the pans in Carlton.
Choose from two, three, five or seven courses of thoughtfully crafted but punchy Euro-Japanese plates (only five or seven courses on weekends), most of which home in on a single ingredient gently lifted by a few small accompaniments.
Saori, from Fukuoka in the south of Japan, and Kazuki, from Akita roughly 500 kilometres south of Hokkaido, met in Melbourne almost 20 years ago. Kazuki grew up eating dishes by his mother and grandmother, elements of which he pulls into the refined food here.
“I believe in the philosophy of less is more … The menu is very much guided by the seasons and we aim to present produce that is at its best; produce that can stand alone as a thing of beauty,” says Kazuki.
Most memorable is a tiny bowl holding a Moreton Bay bug dumpling, doused in a buttery sake and ponzu sauce, but there’s also lightly cured kingfish with a white soy and buttermilk dressing, crisp fish skin and pomelo. And a just cooked slab of aged duck with radicchio, blackberry and shiitake. House-made sourdough comes with pitch-black seaweed butter.
There’s the option to add snacks at $5 a piece, too, such as a single raw pipi that arrives in the shell, salty with soy and bright with ginger. Chicken liver is piped into a savoury choux, its richness staved off with a plum and umeshu gel, or try the delicate duck-heart skewers. Everything arrives on beautiful charcoal crockery by ceramicist Bridget Bodenham.
“The Japanese adage ichi-go ichi-e is important to me … every moment shared with others should be acknowledged as a one-of-a-kind experience and cherished,” Kazuki says. “Nothing too complicated or deep, [but] I am just so grateful for someone to travel to my restaurant to try my food.”
The food ethos here is the same as the original, but the design of the new space is a big change for the Tsuyas. The interior of the moody 30-seat dining room is by Design Office (Higher Ground, Congress) and constructed by MIC Projects. Studio Round was in charge of the sleek branding. With its high ceilings, soft grey-blue tones and gentle lighting (giant Hotaru Buoy lanterns by London-based design studio Barber & Osgerby made in Japan, and handmade ceramic wall lamps from Mud) it feels like stepping into a – very zen – friend’s living room.
“I'm so happy with how the space has been reborn,” says Kazuki. “The Japanese influence is not too bold, but it's there and you can feel it.”
The room is relatively unadorned, instead awarded luxurious accents of Japanese elm, leather and granite. The feeling of calm here is a bit of a shock after the intensity of Lygon Street, where refined dining at this level is seldom seen. Kazuki’s is almost completely shielded from the outside world. It’s lovely.
At 22 pages, the wine, sake and spirits list is lengthy, but this room was made for lingering. A few wines by the glass hit the $15 mark, but most international bottles hit loftier heights – a good selection of the list runs well beyond $200. The list covers off some more mainstream producers, as well as some more adventurous and unexpected drops. There’s also sake served in hand-blown sake glasses, and a good Japanese whisky section that ranges from Nikka from the Barrel, to an 18-year Yamazaki single malt from Suntory.
121 Lygon Street, Carlton
(03) 9349 2223
Mon to Sat 12pm–3pm, 6pm–9pm