Kaiseki is a centuries-old Japanese haute cuisine tradition. The degustation-style meal of roughly 12 courses is meticulously prepared, beautifully plated and punctiliously served in a prescribed order, using only the freshest seasonal ingredients.
Not all high-end multi-course Japanese is kaiseki. The degustation at Richmond’s sushi-focused Minimashima, for example, is an omakase style, in which dishes are chosen –somewhat at random – by the chef. But there’s a formula to kaiseki, and although the order and style may differ depending on the region, a traditional kaiseki will generally begin with appetisers, followed by a soup, sashimi, a few cooked or grilled dishes, a rice course and dessert.
You can experience this traditional Japanese meal at Ishizuka, a new fine diner inside a basement on Bourke Street.
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Owner and chef Tomotaka Ishizuka was the head chef at Crown’s Koko, and he also recently worked for a few months at Kisume, the restaurant that introduced Melbourne to kaiseki last year when it opened The Table at Kuro Kisume.
“All over Japan, from Hokkaido to Tokyo, we serve kaiseki,” says Ishizuka.
His eponymous restaurant has just 16 seats, all around a central counter. The fit-out abides by Japanese minimalist style, but the interior is contemporary; design firm Russell & George transformed the subterranean space into a light and airy cocoon with a huge white dome reminiscent of a Japanese lantern.
Kaiseki is devoutly seasonal, so expect the nightly set menu ($215 per person) to change regularly.
“My fishmonger will always get the best fish for me, so I’ll change the fish for the sashimi course based on what he brings me,” says Ishizuka, as an example.
For now, the 11-course dinner starts with small, artfully plated dishes such as sea urchin and spanner crab, and a boiled black prawn with caviar. A Japanese clear soup (osuimono) comes next; quickly followed by sashimi; and then dishes of grilled red bream, and Wagyu from Mayura Station in South Australia. More dishes – including Ishizuka’s signature dish of simmered duck breast, known as kamo jibuni (simmered courses are a distinguishing feature of the kaga kaiseki style that Ishizuka adheres to) – culminate in a dessert of seasonal fruits.
The drinks list is small but solid, with about 30 wines and 10 sakes curated by ex-Rockpool Bar & Grill and Spice Temple sommelier David Lawler (currently of Comptoir wine bar). Wine matches are available for an additional $110 per person, and a non-alcoholic option cost $55.
Basement B01/139 Bourke Street, Melbourne
(03) 8594 0895
Tue to Sun 5pm–late