The best restaurants know that change is the only constant. In the take-no-prisoners jungle that is the modern Melbourne dining scene, it’s either adapt or die.
Well Wabi Sabi Salon has chosen to adapt. They’ve just opened up after the first renovation in 14 years. And to be honest, we hardly recognise the old girl...
Remember the old Japanese temple décor? Yeah that’s gone. The new Wabi Sabi is slicker, more modern. The dark-stained tables have been replaced by Birth-topped communal dining, overhung with long, industrial light rails. The walls are rendered concrete, and there’s a pop of mint green here and there.
The ceilings were always pretty high, but the place feels bigger now. Less brooding. A bit more approachable (maybe that’s just the disco ball and mezzanine DJ bar).
Owners Tamoya and Saori Kawasaki decided to shut Smith Street’s best Japanese restaurant back in April 2018 and revamp everything. Venue, menu, the works.
Meatheads, you might be disappointed. Wabi Sabi Salon is wall-to-wall pesco and vegetarian now, but no less delicious for all that. The old bento boxes are out, but the guys are slinging cute ‘mini bento’ at lunchtime for $12 (the salmon one is our fave).
Some of the old menu staples are still there. The vegan ramen, for one. If you’ve been to Wabi Sabi’s sister venue, Neko Neko, you’ll already know this one.
That’s fine for vegans, but personally we’re fans of the prawn dashi ramen, brewed with prawn heads (and 20 other secret herbs and spices). It’s about as much flavour as you can pack into a single human-sized bowl.
Here’s how to do Wabi Sabi right. Get in early and snag a street table (there’s heaters for winter). Order some warm sake from the expanded drinks menu, and a plate of teishoku (a sort of Japanese set-menu deal). You’ll get a fishy main, some rice, miso and a plate of tasty nibbles to try.
Everything old is new again, and so it goes with Wabi Sabi. They took a risk, changed the formula, and it paid off big time. We can’t wait to see what happens next.
Image credit: Mel Desa