With cherry blossoms in bloom, the timing couldn’t be better for the opening of Saké Restaurant & Bar on Melbourne’s new stretch of riverside promenade. Nestled into the cavernous façade of the new Hamer Hall and led by Chef extraordinaire Shaun Presland, Saké is ready to serve up its own unique version of contemporary Japanese cuisine.
Boasting a chef’s hat at each of its Sydney and Brisbane incarnations, Saké Melbourne is also brimming with gastronomic talent. Executive chef Presland is joined by head chef Rose Ang and sous chef Paula Lawdorn, an auspicious team with extensive experience in some of the world’s most high-profile restaurants. Manager Enda Cunningham takes it all in his stride, leading a knowledgeable floor team, including saké and shochu sommeliers.
But as seasoned eaters of Japanese fare, what can Saké bring to the table that Melburnians haven’t seen before? “It’s fun!” states Presland, of not only the menu but the atmosphere of the restaurant itself. Despite its prime location and high profile, the ethos behind Saké is to bring a light-heartedness to contemporary Japanese cuisine. From a simply written menu that teaches diners the Japanese words for different varieties of fish, to staff who encourage you swap your chopsticks for a spoon at the end of meal to scoop up those last delicious bites, Saké is an educational and unpretentious experience.
“We’re not trying to be traditionally Japanese, we’re wanting to serve Australian customers something unexpected,” explains Presland. “But you have to know the rules to break the rules,” he warns, harking back to his seven years of training in traditional Japanese cuisine. The east meets west fusion of the Wagyu tartar is one of the chef’s favourites and a perfect example of Saké’s delicate, clean flavours. The simplicity of dishes in Japanese cuisine means the ingredients have nowhere to hide and must therefore be the best quality ingredients possible. This is no truer than in the play of hot and cold in the ocean barramundi on buckwheat and tomato salsa, or the intricate tang of the kingfish jalapeño. Melbourne dumpling connoisseurs are also in for a treat, with a selection of tasty morsels wrapped in fresh steamed pastry.
Another impressive feature of the new restaurant is the open kitchen, a direct extension of the transparency that marks Japanese cooking. “This is the first restaurant where the chef has a better view than the customer,” exclaims Presland. With a vast expanse of west facing windows, customers (and chefs) on the ground or mezzanine floors gain exceptional views across the river to Flinders Street station and the city beyond. Guests who choose to sit around the open kitchen at the sushi bar glean more than an eyeful of the inner workings of the culinary hub.
A variety of seating options – from booths to private dining rooms, bar stools and outdoor tables – mean that each visit to Saké will bring a new experience spatially. Designed by Luchetti Krelle, the interior design meanders through a dark tonal palette that is highlighted by Japanese artwork, handcrafted crockery, an array of saké bottles and what else but an electric cherry blossom tree. Here, menu and design come together in a winning combination that is sure to have Saké blossoming year round.
Saké Restaurant & Bar
Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
(03) 8687 0775
Daily 12-3, 5.30 til late
Bar open from 12 noon til late