100 St Kilda Road
I’m always a bit dubious of restaurants in Southbank. There’s something about them that lacks.. soul. But after visiting mod-Japanese restaurant and bar, Sake, I might be pursuaded otherwise.
Executive chef Shaun Presland is well schooled in Japanese cuisine, spending 15 years in his adoptive country training to become a sushi master. He then returned to Sydney to open Sushi-e in The Establishment Hotel, the city’s first raw bar, before heading to Nobu in The Bahamas.
This Sake is the third in the series. The first opened in 2009 after Presland returned to Sydney, recieving one star soon after. The second opened in Brisbane, making Melbourne the third in the trio.
Presland obviously drew on his experience at Nobu when crafting the menu at Sake. Fusion dishes such as sashimi tacos and the kingfish jalapeño have followed him here which is probably just as well considering Melbourne is still in the throes of a love affair with Mexican food. The kingfish, lightly cured in yuzu (citrus) soy and served with jalapeño and coriander is a refreshingly light combination of heat, salt and texture, and an excellent start to any meal ($23.00).
The chirashi salad, also from the sushi & sashimi section of the menu is, for me, the highlight of the menu ($27.00). It’s a wonderful mix of yuzu-dressed sashimi pieces, crunchy salad leaves, noodles, sliced sashimi omelette & flying fish roe, topped with daikon, tsuma & tempura crunch. This aint no limp side salad: it’s packed with flavours and textures that make it a meal on it’s own.
The steamed prawn dumplings are more interesting than they sound ($19.00). Wrapped in rice noodles, these shumai-inspires dumplings served with spicy ponzu are a solid dish, with a unique texture and a kick of heat from the ponzu sauce. But they are, perhaps, a little steep at $19.00 for 6, especially when there are plenty of great dumpling houses around Melbourne.
Given Presland’s title as a sushi master, ordering from the sushi maki section is a must. The salmon avocado maki is textbook delicious ($17.00). Made with fresh salmon on the outside, and avocado, cucumber, and shiso on the inside it’s exactly what you want sushi to be.
But the buta no kakuni – 12 hour braised pork belly, daikon, 64 degree hens egg, truffle oil and spring onion – is all promise with no delivery ($30.00). It’s hard to imagine that anything with so many delicious sounding ingredients could be so bland, but it is. And a surprise too. After so many hits it’s a surprise this dish tanks as hard as it does, but it’s lack of any real flavour and the sharp bitterness of the daikon makes for a dish that could be found dished up in some poor Japanese village in the middle of nowhere where there is a shortage of food. And tastebuds.
But Sake redeems themselves with an impressive dessert platter, which does nothing to convince Western palates that Asian deserts aren’t anything more than a bit, well, average ($38.00). The platter puts a Asian spin on otherwise typically western deserts: green tea and sesame ice creams, chocolate fondant, yuzu citrus tart, and chocolate mousse surround the hero Green tea churros. Combining the Spanish technique of fried dough with the Japenese flavour of green tea, these tiny morsels look more like some sort of tempura battered green vegetable than dessert item. But they work.
While Southbank might not have the reputation as a flavour destination, it’s places like Sake that are looking to change that. Be warned: it’s on the pricey side, but as long as you stay away from the 12 hour pork you can’t go wrong.