Restaurants

The Verdict | Iki-jime

By James Shackell - 06 Dec 2017


When God closes a bistro, he opens a seafood restaurant.

Yep, after 11 years in the game, 430 Little Collins St is no longer the address of Bistro Vue, Shannon Bennett’s breezy Francophile eatery. Walk through the familiar lobby, up the stairs and—BAM—you find yourself in something very different all together. So long, escargot and Edith Piaf. Hello mod-lighting and tempered hunks of ice.

Welcome to Iki-jime, Bennett’s sexy new seafood bunker.

It’s pretty clear Bennett wanted a clean slate with this revamp. Fans of Bistro Vue will have fun spotting the old girl’s fingerprints, but the atmosphere’s a total backflip. Where before you had big open windows and enough natural light to grow a small vegetable patch, now you’ve got black gauze curtains, dirty mood lighting, muted leather and pockets of shadow, studded with liquid neon. It’s like your Mum traded pastels for black turtlenecks and joined an electro-punk band.

The chunky timber beams are still there, as is the slate-grey zinc bar; they’ve just dialled the brightness way down. Even at 4pm, the atmosphere in here is pure sex. Feels more like 3am on the Lower East Side, or maybe midnight in Shinjuku.

The name Iki-jime (pronounced ‘icky jimmy’) actually refers to an ethical, line-caught fishing technique, hooked fresh from Japan. Bennett gets his fish from Tasmanian-based ‘Codfather’ Mark Eather, an icki jime practitioner, who supplies sustainable seafood for the whole Vue group.

iki-jime-melbourne

The menu itself...well you’d better like fish. Meatheads can’t even hide behind a token rib eye, and that’s a deliberate move. Bennett and Executive Chef Justin James wanted to champion Australian seafood, without distractions. The only real legacy dish is Bistro Vue’s famous tart tatin (given a spin by James—it now comes with Josper-smoked ice-cream and seasonal fruit).

It’s early days to be calling favourites, but the smart money is on the Moreton Bay Bug Tart—a blushing jewel, cupped in saltwater pastry and drizzled in lime vinaigrette. The retro riff on prawn cocktail is also insane—grilled King Prawn tails, fanned in a semi-circle, topped with dehydrated horseradish, cured duck egg yolk and lemon oil.

The bar has its own menu, designed for the fish-loving, post-supper crowd. Little alco-soakers like fried flathead with pickled cucumber on a brioche bun (our new favourite bar snack), or maybe a bowl of salt and pepper whitebait to pick up that Riesling.

Speaking of wine, the cellar must be like the Tardis or something. Page after page after page of vino—enough to keep any oenophile happy for years. The bottles range from Vue De Monde’s own drops from Macedon and the Yarra Valley (a very affordable $12 a glass), all the way to the 1981 Charles Hiedsick champers for $2100 a bottle. Let’s save that one for special occasions...

Cocktails are classic, but come with a bit of theatre. The bar staff keep a massive brick of tempered ice on a special air-cooled, wooden lattice, as if they were saving up for an igloo. Using a hacksaw, chisels, hammers, files and knives, they’ll sculpt you a crystal-clear cube of ice for your Negroni, chipped to order. Nice little flourish, that.

iki-jime

One last tip? Get the gang together and book in the Chef’s Table—a one-off table that’s practically IN the kitchen. Literally, you’re sitting about 2-metres away from Iki-jime’s chefs, with nothing between you and a dozen flashing knives, shooting gusts of flame and (presumably) Head Chef Sam Homan on his best behaviour.

Sure, we’ll miss Bistro Vue. Eleven years is a hell of a stretch in Melbourne’s mayfly restaurant scene. But to be honest, Iki-jime already has us hooked. We’ll be back soon, hungry for more.

Want to learn more about Iki-jime? Check out our Directory

Image credit: Jenna Fahey-White 

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