Healthy Eating

We're championing fresh food that packs a flavour punch, from salads and vegetable-packed bowls to grains and light desserts.

Subscribe to Gourmet

Subscribe to Australian Gourmet Traveller and receive a free salt and pepper set - offer ends 26 March, 2017

Gourmet digital

Subscribe to Gourmet Traveller for your iPad or Android tablet.

Flour and Stone Recipes

Baker extraordinaire Nadine Ingram of Sydney's Flour and Stone cooks up a sweet storm for Easter, including the much loved bakery's greatest hit.

Fast autumn dinners

Autumn weather signals the arrival of soups, broths, roasts and more hearty meals.

Roasted cauliflower salad with yoghurt dressing and almonds

The cauliflower is roasted until it starts to caramelise, which adds extra depth of flavour to this winning salad. Serve it warm or at room temperature.

Melbournes finest meet Worlds Best

Leading chefs descend on Melbourne in April for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. We asked local hospitality folk who they’d abduct for the day and where they’d take them to show off their city. There may be coffee, there may be culture, but in the end it’s cocktails.

1980s recipes

Australia saw some bold moves in the ’80s, and we’re not just talking hairstyles. Greater cultural references started peppering the menus of our restaurants, and home-grown ingredients won a new appreciation. The dining scene was coming of age and a new band of pioneers led the charge.

New cruises 2017

Cue the Champagne.

Savoury tarts

Will your next baking project be a flaky puff pastry with pumpkin, goat's curd and thyme, or a classic bacon and Stilton tart? As autumn settles in, we're ticking these off one by one.

Labne and pistachio cheesecake

The luscious silky texture of this tangy cheesecake makes it irresistible - the fact it's free of gluten and refined sugar is a bonus. We've topped ours with cherries, but berries would also work well. Start this recipe a day ahead to drain the yoghurt.

Minamishima, Melbourne restaurant review

Koichi Minamishima, Hajime Horiguchi and Randolph Cheung

Koichi Minamishima, Hajime Horiguchi and Randolph Cheung

Yearning for an upmarket sushi bar that transports you straight to the streets of Tokyo? Say konichiwa to Minamishima, a hushed temple of Japanese culture in Melbourne’s backstreets, writes Michael Harden.

Japanophiles are goners. Possibly they'll be smitten as soon as they find the gritty urban Richmond side-street off Bridge Road. Probably once they've spotted the blink-and-you'll-miss-it signage on the front window on the ground floor of a new block of apartments. Certainly by the time they're seated in one of 12 upholstered timber armchairs lining the sushi bar. It's all so swoon-worthily authentic, they'll have signed on before the first course arrives.

But even if you're not one to immediately go weak at the knees at all things Japanese, Minamishima is still a restaurant that's very easy to fall in love with.

It has the integrity and sense of theatre common to all great dining experiences. You know these guys know what they're doing from the moment you're greeted at the door. The sense of anticipation it creates is palpable.

The bar, a minimalist, American-oak beauty, is the room's focal point, backdropped by a wall of grey tiles, their texture animated with arcs of downlight. Stationed behind the bar are three sushi chefs, one of whom owns the restaurant and gives it its name. The chefs have white jackets, white caps, beautiful knives, lidded timber boxes containing seafood treasures, quietly intense concentration.

In front of the sushi bar is a private room and beyond that a softly lit dining room with walls upholstered in charcoal fabric. It's attended by waitstaff decked out in black and white who ferry food from the kitchen via timber doors next to the sushi bar that silently slide open and shut. It's all so ordered, so serene, with just a murmur of background music to soften the silence, that it seems quasi-religious.

A temple of sushi in the backstreets of Richmond. Flock, acolytes! But worshipping here comes with some provisos.

Minamishima is closely modelled on (some might say cloned from) upmarket sushi bars in Tokyo, so those looking to order à la carte, or who would like tempura or sukiyaki as well as raw (or, occasionally, swiftly blowtorched) seafood might want to consider another venue. Here, there are two choices only.

The first - and best - is to eat at the sushi bar.

The omakase menu runs to 18 courses with 15 pieces of exquisite nigiri bookended by a vegetable course and a broth, and a dessert. The chance to sit ringside watching the chefs is a big part of the appeal here. Koichi Minamishima, the Japanese-born and trained executive chef and owner is familiar from years behind the sushi bar at Kenzan, and Hajime Horiguchi was the head chef at Wasabi in Noosa. The often breathtaking display of knife skills, the mesmerising glisten of brilliant seafood, the precise handcrafted placement and presentation are all the more impressive for the complete lack of flash and dazzle.

The second option is in the dining room and is good for those who need a partial respite from the raw fish. Nigiri sushi still rules but arrives grouped on a platter rather than piece by piece. Three other courses from the kitchen accompany the sushi, perhaps a sliver of grilled mackerel, a chawanmushi studded with crab meat and a morsel of superb wagyu served with grilled root vegetables. It's hardly an inferior option.

This lack of flexibility and choice might seem off-putting, but in this case the total surrender seems more like a release than a constraint. It's quite remarkable how little choice matters when the attention to detail is as meticulous as it is here.

Every stone and ceramic dish with their subtle metallic shimmer and gorgeous texture, all the glass sake jugs, all the intricate handmade cutlery and cast-iron teapots are from Japan, handpicked by chef Minamishima. The vinegar used for the sushi rice, meanwhile, comes from Nagoya (Minamishima's home), and the icing sugar-like "snow salt" that seasons some of the nigiri comes from the seas off the coast of Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture.

This is also a place where a good percentage of the seafood sitting atop the exclusively vinegared rice is sourced from the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.

There might be the amazing torigai, an exotic-looking Japanese cockle that starts off white at one end and gradually shades darker towards a tapered, slightly frilled brown "tail". Slippery and subtly flavoured with ginger and soy, it hails from Aichi prefecture and has a wonderfully chewy texture.

There's also remarkable blue-fin tuna from Nagasaki, cured to a glistening blood-red colour with soy sauce and topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds, with a texture that may have your eyes rolling back in your head. Or superb flounder fin (engawa) from Hokkaido, intricately scored, lightly seared with a blowtorch and wrapped in a thin band of nori. It looks delicately beautiful but packs a gorgeous punch of rich, smoky, oily flavour, the fattiness in the flesh adding a meltingly soft texture to proceedings.

Nigori sake jelly with yuzu granita and sweet pickled baby peach

All of this handpicking of hand-turned vessels and flying in of quality seafood from Japan costs money. The $150-a-head price tag (both at the bar and in the private and dining rooms) could be another obstacle to Minamishima achieving universal adoration. But while the bill is undoubtedly hefty, at no point in a meal here do you question why you're being charged that amount. The value is clear. It's on the plate and in the room - the whole package. And while the folks behind Minamishima would never be crass enough to say "take it or leave it", I am. If you like this sort of stuff and you have the means, there's no reason not to take it, with both hands.

Now that you're resigned to giving the credit card a proper thumping, you might also seriously consider committing to one of the two drink-matching options put together by Minamishima's urbane general manager and sommelier Randolph Cheung (formerly of The Atlantic, Saint Crispin, Flower Drum, Asiana et al).

Cheung's wine list is a lovely, finely tuned collection that takes in rosé from Provence (2013 Château d'Esclans Whispering Angel), Yarra Valley sparkling (2010 Hoddles Creek Blanc de Blancs) and Grüner Veltliner from Austria (2012 Bründlmayer), but his sake list is interesting enough to turn the head of even the most feverishly committed wine fan.

The list is a great addition to the ever-expanding local conversation about the variety and versatility of sake. It also emphatically proves just how well sake and food play together.

It starts with the first course of the sushi bar omakase, a gorgeous selection of summer vegetables - a peeled cherry tomato, a piece of pumpkin faceted like a roughly finished jewel, little batons of eggplant and a small flurry of mustard greens all cured in a mix of dashi, sake, mirin and a little soy.

One of those vibrant dishes that makes you feel virtuous by eating it, the vegetables are accompanied by a cloudy, sparkling sake by producer Dassai that's refreshing and vaguely sherbety. It feels light and cleansing while also adding richness to the match.

Then there's Kirei Shuzo Karakuchi 80 Junmai Nama Genshu, a gorgeously light, whisperingly dry number with a faint floral backbeat that's paired with three different rounds of sushi: local King George whiting served with sesame seeds and baby shiso leaves, garfish topped with grated ginger and minute pieces of spring onion and almost luminescent calamari flavoured with lemon and sprinkled with snow salt. The knife work on the calamari is a marvel. It's scored so precisely that when you put it in your mouth it immediately breaks into lots of tiny pieces - a truly brilliant textural experience.

Rich Naka Shuzo sake, made with some distinct spicy notes, is poured with the arrival of the tuna nigiri. The three separate pieces include the soy-marinated version and two pieces of rich tuna belly from Nagasaki, one served raw, the other seared slightly, which amplifies the fish's beautifully rich fattiness.

The rollcall of sushi also includes Tasmanian salmon roe wrapped in crisp nori, New Zealand scampi teamed with finger lime, and local sea perch with ponzu and radish.

The meal ends with a perfectly clear, sparkling dashi broth containing a cube-shaped calamari and fish cake, followed by an equally refreshing, invigorating dessert of yuzu granita, Nigori sake jelly and half a sweet pickled baby peach. It's gorgeous stuff, made even better by an accompanying elegant sake infused with sour plum.

Minamishima is a beautifully realised restaurant. Dining here feels like an event, whether you're propped up at the sushi bar on your own or ensconced in the private room with seven of your besties. It has the potential to lure a whole new crowd into Japanophilia and Melbourne is very lucky to have it.

4 Lord St, Richmond, Vic, (03) 9429 5180
Open Tue-Sat 6pm-10pm
Prices Omakase menu $150
Vegetarian No
Noise Hushed
Wheelchair access Yes
Plus Melbourne gets a great sushi restaurant.
Minus Seafood imported from Tokyo doesn't come cheap.

4 Lord St, Richmond, Vic, (03) 9429 5180
Open Tue-Sat 6pm-10pm
Prices Omakase menu $150
Vegetarian No
Noise Hushed
Wheelchair access Yes
Plus Melbourne gets a great sushi restaurant.
Minus Seafood imported from Tokyo doesn't come cheap.

Signature Collection

Find out more about the Gourmet Traveller Signature Collection by Robert Gordon Australia, including where to buy it in store and online.

Read More
Recipe collections

Looking for ways to make the most out of seasonal produce? Want to find a recipe perfect for a party? Or just after fresh ideas for dessert? Either way, our recipe collections have you covered.

See more
2017 Restaurant Guide

Our 2017 Restaurant Guide is online, covering over 400 restaurants Australia wide. Never wonder where to dine again.

See more

You might also like...

The dishes that define Melbourne dining in 2016

For our 50th anniversary issue in 2016, we scoured Australia...

Melbourne’s Rosa’s Kitchen has closed

A kitchen fire has forced Rosa Mitchell’s Punch Lane restaur...


David's hums with renewed energy since its transformation t...

Ladro Greville

Overdue a Roman holiday? With its well-groomed, Aperol-swig...

San Telmo

The number of all-male tables at San Telmo is an instant gi...


Unlike the tumbleweed territory of Docklands, there's a sun...

Cafe Di Stasio

Cafe Di Stasio represents the ideal of dining as a particul...


Timelessness. It's not, perhaps, a quality one automaticall...


The elegantly dishevelled Curtin House is a multifaceted ve...


From sourcing to saucing, Michael Bacash marries an intuiti...

Bar Lourinha

Turning 10 has added spring to Bar Lourinha's step. Not tha...


Expect to be seduced by Bellota. This Europhile wine bar's ...

Bistro Gitan

Gitan means gypsy but there's nothing itinerant about the m...


Once upon a time Elwood locals would have to hike across to...

Dainty Sichuan

The Dainty Sichuan fleet continues to expand, but the South...

get the latest news

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.