When we first heard whisper of world-famous Japanese eatery Toko’s new Melbourne restaurant, the Japanophiles amongst us were scouring every source we could to track down a phone number and pre-book our table. Approximately 3.5 minutes of messages to our network of in-the-know Melburnians, and we’d identified the location as Prahran’s Greville Street—one of The Urban List’s favourite foodie hubs for a quick bite to eat (St Edmond’s, Oscar Cooper and Palate are all on the famous south-side stretch). Excited much? You betcha.
The Toko name itself has become something of a cult. With two successful venues in Sydney—Toko restaurant and Tokonoma, a hidden bar serving delicious drinks and incredible Japanese sharing plates—as well as one in Dubai, the restaurant’s cuisine is famous as being a hit with sashimi lovers looking for something a little different. Yes, you’ll find top-notch wafer-thin slices of the most mouth-watering fish here, but you’ll also find some creative twists on the traditional: Think truffle-oil and yuzu dressed kingfish, grilled scallops served with jalapeno garlic and a sake-laced twist on the classic Martini.
The latest Japanese restaurant to open in Melbourne, Toko in Prahran takes the tradition zen-inspired izakaya and gives it a buzzing, modern twist. While the venue’s luxe design takes inspiration from elements of nature and Japanese understated chic, simply step further into its bar areas to find a killer cocktail courtyard and a hidden whisky bar that wouldn’t look out of place in the CBD’s most party-hard laneways, with cocktails of a calibre to match.
But onto the main event—the food. Everything at Toko is make from locally sourced ingredients—Morton Bay bugs sit alongside inside-out maki rolls, robata charcoal grilled meat skewers and delicious raw dishes—which are sourced and prepared by the kitchen’s expertly trained chefs, who are some of the best in the city when it comes to hand-crafting perfectly presented tasting plates. They say we eat with our eyes—Insta-worthy dishes ALWAYS taste better, no?!—and these guys really do deliver dishes that are dressed to impress.
While the 12-course tasting menu lets you try a little of everything and is the perfect solution to avoid that food #fomo that comes with group ordering when dining with a crowd, the plate-by-plate menu includes some stunners that NEED to be on your must-eat list this spring.
The venison carpaccio, served with nashi pear and a light yuzu koshu dressing literally melts in your mouth, leaving a fresh, umami after-taste that’ll have you fighting for the last mouthful. Another stand-out, the house-smoked miso king salmon, served with a sweet miso paste, pickled ginger and fresh lime, is one of the most mouth-watering flavour combos we’ve encountered all year. Seriously, if you’re a seafood person, an order of the salmon, the wild snapper and the kingfish sashimi, and you’ll be soaring towards sashimi heaven in no time.
At Toko Melbourne, the drinks list reflects the cuisine in its fusion of old-world Japanese heritage and new-world inventiveness. The heavily Japanese-focussed whisky bar is one of the best places in the city to jump aboard the latest spirit trend (for an insight into why everyone’s going nuts for Japanese whisky, check out our article, What’s The Deal With Japanese Whisky?), while the sake menu is comprised of over SIXTY different varieties of the tasty rice wine (again, no idea what the fuss is about? Read our Sake 101…). The cocktail menu is doing something different too: Expect Asian fruit flavours muddled with gin and vodka, and some unique twists on classics using Japanese spirits, topped with everything from sashimi skewers (yes, in a cocktail!!) and fairy floss.
We couldn’t leave without trying one of Toko’s desserts and, after a few seconds of deliberation, we settled on two—the chocolate and hazelnut fondant with ice cream, and a coconut cream pannacotta served with citrus. A combination of delicate flavours and unabashed decadence, both were exquisite, topping our flavour and texture charts without question.
While this new-school Japanese restaurant in Melbourne might ruffle a few traditionalists’ feathers, Toko Melbourne is definitely bringing something different to our city’s vibrant dining scene—a challenge which is becoming increasingly difficult in this day and age. Grab your most adventurous food-loving friends, your credit card (street food, this ain’t…) and get ready to welcome this creative south-side new-comer with open arms and empty stomachs.
Image credit: Jenna Fahey-White for The Urban List