Simon Denton closed Verge on the corner of Spring Street and Flinders Lane and, in 2012, opened Japanese bar Hihou upstairs and daytime cafe Nama Nama downstairs, the latter serving nori rolls and bento boxes for breakfast and lunch. Now, two years later in the same space, with the same business partners (Miyuki Nakahara and Takashi Omi), the downstairs level has become Kappo. It is a darker, moodier venue than its previous incarnation (which closed on Ocober 1).
“This was always the intention of the space,” says Denton of the downstairs level, which will operate as an intimate, 25-seater evening restaurant (also doing Friday lunches). “We just weren’t ready for it when we opened Nama Nama,” he says.
For Kappo, Denton has brought on sushi chef Kentaro Usami (previously of Kenzan). Usami, who also consulted on the menu at Izakaya Den and Hihou, brings a “kappo”-style menu to the new venue, which focuses on mountain vegetable cuisine, fish and very little red meat.
A style of Japanese dining – like izakaya or kaiseki – kappo is about over-the-counter food. “It’s about the interaction between the chef and the customer,” says Denton. “In a sense, it’s a bit like a sushi bar, only the one thing you don’t do in kappo is sushi.”
What it will be doing is a five, seven or nine-course chef’s-selection menu, depending on what you’d like to eat. The menu will come with the daily ingredients (all 25–30 of them), which might include anything from sea urchin, salmon roe and wagyu rump cap to yam potato, cherry blossom leaf, candy beetroot and broccoli leaf. Each diner will let the chef know what they do or don’t want included.
“Little things will change here and there depending on the season, but the idea is for it to be a surprise, that’s the fun part of it,” says Denton.
Despite its size, by Japanese standards, Kappo is in fact quite a large kappo-style restaurant. There are 10 seats around the counter, a few smaller tables, and then two little booths behind shoji screens, and a semi-private, glass room with tatami mats, where you will remove you shoes.
With a focus on prime ingredients and presentation, Kappo brings an elegance and gentleness to the food, which can be matched with sakes, whites and light reds.
“It’s very pared-back Japanese,” says Denton. “It’s light and fresh and you feel great after eating it. I really like that.”
Kappo takes bookings. Entry is via the door on Flinders Lane.
31 Spring Street, Melbourne
(03) 9639 9500
Mon to Sat 6pm–10pm