Whenever I hear the phrase ‘new izakaya,’ my heart rate automatically jumps 50 bpm, and I will quite literally stop mid-conversation to Google the sh#t out of that mother. Japanese dining has been a passion of mine for a decade and, while the traditional venues hold a dear place in my sake-sodden heart, lately it’s been the modern twists on sushi, soba salads and teriyaki don that have really rocked my chopsticks.
If you’re also a lover of Japanese flavours that will have you day-dreaming of them for days, there’s one Melbourne name that I can’t recommend enough: Ichi Ni Nana.
Run by the same team behind Ichi Ni, St Kilda, and Ichi Ichi Ku, South Yarra, the latest addition to the Ichi empire is situated in Fitzroy’s buzzing 127 Brunswick Street development. The venue itself spans the entirety of the ground floor, including a stunning open-air dining area that’s perfect for kicking back with a cocktail and a group of hungry mates. If you prefer the intimate izakaya experience that’s more akin to Tokyo’s backstreets, the front indoor seating area with a touch of kitsch provides a cosy atmosphere that smacks of an authentic dining den – open sushi kitchen and all.
Of course, a modern Japanese menu is going to have a few surprises alongside the staples, and Ichi Ni Nana’s stand-outs don’t fail to impress. If you’re bonkers about bao, the pork option here is juicy and not too sweet, and the wagyu sliders topped with wasabi slaw and served in a black burger bun are a fantastic Insta-worthy nibble. But onto the main event: A menu that is packed chockfull of incredible salads, don rice bowls, karaage, yakitori and all the sushi you can eat.
Raw fish fiends, you’re definitely going to want to order one of the house sashimi salads – a market fresh medley of salmon, tuna, white fish, scallops and crab served with a delicate green salad that comes beautifully deconstructed and undressed (because don’t you hate it when you can’t control your own salad to dressing ratios!?)
Likewise, the Ichi Ni Nana sashimi platters are presented with an equal attention to detail, with a healthy portion of house-made wasabi. Once you try this stuff, you’ll NEVER go back to that suspicious green goop that comes out of a sachet.
If fish won’t quite fill you up, there are a bevvy of wholesome don rice bowls to choose from. However, the must-order simply has to be the Scallops 5 Ways – a sensational platter of five tender seafood morsels, each dressed in a different Japanese-style seasoning. Expect everything from miso-glaze to yuzu infusions… You’ll be hard-pushed to choose a favourite!
The modern twists creep into the cocktail menu too, where you’ll find traditional ingredients blended into fresh takes on classics. Sip on a Tom Collins via Tokyo by ordering a Kantaro Kollins, which adds sake to the mix. Or ditch the Manhattan in favour of the Hattori Hanzo, a Hibiki and shochu (a sweet potato sake) drink that comes complete with a cherry on top.
While it’s widely believed that Japanese dining is at its best when it’s at its most traditional, the team at Ichi Ni Nana is turning out some brand new show-stoppers in a buzzing venue that has an atmosphere so infectious (and a menu so drool-worthy…), you’ll never want to leave. And, when you do finally tear yourself away from a table full of empty plates and soy-soaked chopsticks, we can guarantee you won’t be saying ‘Sayonara’ for long, Listers.
127 Brunswick Street made our list of Ones To Watch For 2016. Check out who else made the cut here.
Image credit: Brodie Chan for The Urban List