Morris Jones has been a familiar name on Chapel Street since 2011. When you’re there, you’ll hear it a lot. “Welcome to Morris Jones” is how nearly all guests are greeted.
But now, the name is all that’s familiar. The cavernous, 120-seat restaurant in Windsor has just reopened after a major overhaul of food and fit-out.
The building was erected in 1887 to be a furniture and carpets store. It still has the name of the original owner, Henry Morris Jones, in relief on the facade. In contrast, the Alex Zabotto-Bentley interior is brand new. So new that on the first night of service the smell of paint still lingered. The main marble island bar is blindingly white, the checkered black-and-white floor tiles glint, and while the velvet and leather couches are glossy and plush, the black carpet in the new upstairs bar is so untouched, owner Hayden Burbank calls it “plush-plush”.
Artist David Bromley raided his private collection to fill the walls with 1960s Japanese art – an act that moved Burbank to tears.
The “Cali-Jap” menu by head chef Matthew Butcher is all-new too. He spent five years working in Californian restaurants and recently took Burbank there to experience the food.
“There's so much amazing food, flavours and cooking techniques coming out of LA and San Francisco at the moment,” Burbank says. “We thought combining these easygoing and creative cultures with my absolute favourite cuisine [Japanese] would work amazingly.”
The first half of the extensive, not-so-vegetarian-friendly menu focuses on sushi and seafood, presented either rolled, cut or nigiri, or as a larger raw dish.
Behind the bar there’s a rice cooker next to the garnishes, and among the dozen or so bartenders shaking cocktails there are two sushi chefs.
The tuna otoro nigiri is one of the more popular dishes. The custardy, fatty tuna belly is imported fresh from Japan every two days, cut thick, quickly kissed with a blowtorch flame, then topped with a pinch of scampi caviar. It also comes with a side of liquid nitrogen that’s poured at the table for the full Heston effect. At $28 for two pieces, it’s definitely plush-plush.
“I just love eating raw fish … I really want to teach Melburnians how good tuna is,” Butcher says. The menu focuses on local seafood, but he says the otoro is a necessary exception. “If I could get tuna otoro from South Australia I would, but that [Japanese] product is awesome.”
Also in the raw section is a rose of kingfish slices cured in lemon and lime for precisely 20 minutes, then served with a delicate and faintly floral soy and rose petal dressing.
Butcher’s creative and playful streaks shine in the crab and sea urchin “nachos” – a single puffed chip made of nori (seaweed) and dashi (a stock of kelp and fermented tuna), topped with crab salad, whipped sea urchin and chipotle queso. “[We took] inspiration from the Tex-Mex cheese dip that most Cali locals eat while watching the basketball or football, and we’ve added sea urchin which really elevates the flavour,” Burbank says.
The crab returns in creme fraiche dumplings, each capped with a cube of umeboshi (pickled plum) and sitting in a swirl of neon dill oil and buttery black pepper sauce. The dill alludes to Polish pierogi, while the plum and black pepper ground the dish in Asia.
The chefs are also proud of the Peking-style duck that’s injected with cherry blossom, then cooked over three days.
The cocktails are as elaborate. The Nakatomi Old Fashioned is mixed, smoked in the glass, then de-lidded at the table to inevitable oohs and ahs.
There’s also a strong international wine list, some easy-drinking Japanese draught beers, and four types of Espresso Martini.
163 Chapel Street, Windsor
(03) 9533 2055
Mon to Fri 4pm–1am
Sat & Sun 12pm–1am