If you’re anything like us, you’re always on the lookout for your next tasty sushi morsel or epic matcha dessert. Which is why, when we heard the news about MONOU, the brand spanking new venue from the team behind South Melbourne’s super-kawaii Japanese café KUU, we hot-footed it down there in search of our latest mouth-watering fix.
MONOU is a tranquil, high-ceilinged Japanese eatery on Park St in South Melbourne, the latest project from husband and wife team Tatusya and Sumire Kawakami. Similar to their first Japanese restaurant, KUU, this place is all about thoughtful design and foodie creativity. However MONOU steps things up a gear into the world of refined Japanese dining, where unique flourishes, rich flavours and A-grade ingredients replace your everyday fare.
You might miss MONOU the first time you drive past. Any more understated and the place would be invisible. White rendered walls, beautiful dark timber furniture, a collection of curios on the wall (empty frames, globes, Japanese books and magazines), and a lazy tulip-bladed fan turning overhead set the scene for a magical dining experience. You half expect to see Basho up by the front window, nursing a sake and writing haikus.
Sumire runs the pass at MONOU, and her light, innovative touch has resulted in a menu that includes old world classics and new world delights. Dishes such as tender wagyu tataki and melt-in-your-mouth tuna sashimi are served with both rich and delicate garnishes — everything from finely sliced chives, to whole cured egg yolks — but the best way to order is to trust Tatsuya’s advice. The house special, seared kobujime scampi with bonito ichiban dashi jelly, is unlike any other seafood dish in Melbourne and is worth the visit alone.
Simple dishes such as warming bowls of Agebitashi (fried seasonal vegetables, resting in a dashi broth) make for the perfect accompaniment, as does the drinks selection, which includes umeshu plum wine, and cold sakes, coffee from 5 Senses, and a selection of top-shelf teas. Our pick has to be the Genmai popcorn tea, served expertly, at the perfect temperature.
If you don’t have the time for a thoughtful and delicate tasting sesh (but seriously, you should make the time), MONOU runs an express lunch menu, including plates of pork loin tonkatsu with rice and veggies and big scoops of matcha ice-cream for afters.
In MONOU, Tatusya and Sumire have created something really special. Strange, delicious and at times, challenging, this hidden gem has leapfrogged straight into the conversation for Best Japanese in Melbourne.
Image credit: Griffin Simm