Do not neglect the snacks at Kazuki's. They may be an optional add-on to the set-course menus, but it would be foolish to bypass them. Do so, and you'd miss the thin crisp of kipfler potato topped with cultured cream and sea urchin roe. Or a Goolwa pipi, served cool and raw and wearing nothing but a subtle hint of soy and wispy strands of pickled ginger.
The kitchen may well send out a Moreton Bay bug dumpling sitting on pickled cucumbers under a cloud of foamed sake butter as a little extra, but the long crisp of fried nori topped with cod-roe paste, salmon caviar marinated in soy and sake, and light sprinklings of sea-lettuce powder, that's only on the snacks menu. So too a chicken-liver-parfait profiterole filled with a jam made from dried plums cooked in umeshu and dusted with deep-purple plum powder.
Order the snacks.
It's almost shocking to find food of this calibre and price range in this location, a stretch of Lygon Street best known for red gingham tablecloths, giant laminated menus and often boisterous crowds.
Kazuki's serene, elegantly sparse room – tables dressed with meticulously pressed linen, sculptural rice-paper light shades, mustard carpet – and experienced, professional floor staff puts it firmly in fine-dining territory. It's a noticeable, conscious step up from the Kazuki's that's been feeding people in Daylesford for the past seven years. It's also something of a gamble moving it here, given the cheap and cheerful approach of its neighbours.
But for Kazuki and Saori Tsuya, the gamble has paid off, with a restaurant that's landed fully formed and ready for its close-up. The refined setting is ideal for a menu where Kazuki and head chef Anthony Hammel (ex-Pei Modern) marry classic French technique with Japanese ingredients to thrilling effect.
The duck, for example, instantly claims a spot in the league of Melbourne's best. It's a Macedon Ranges bird, dry-aged on the bone for a week. The fat under the skin is rendered beautifully, the skin crackles, the flesh blushes deep pink and the flavour is strong and clean. It's teamed with a radicchio purée, black garlic, blackberries and shiitake mushrooms. The balance and variety of flavours is remarkable. There's also the bonus of duck hearts on the side, which are brushed with teriyaki sauce, grilled on the hibachi and served with house-made furikake.
There's deft work with prawns, too. Skull Island tigers are grilled over wood, slathered with a sake beurre blanc and paired with cos leaves cooked in butter and a scatter of avruga.
The nine-score Sher wagyu is available on all forms of the menu (two- or three-course à la carte, or five- or seven-course tasting) for an additional cost, but fans of the genre shouldn't hesitate. The meat, grilled on the hibachi over red gum and ironbark, is remarkable. It's at once sweet and rich, and made even better by an accompaniment of smoked eel, spring onions, chives and fermented King Brown mushrooms. It's clever, precise cooking, and well balanced.
There's precision in the 20-plus-page drinks list, too. Wine is mostly about artisan labels that steer clear of anything too funky and lean Australian and French. There are solid choices available by the glass, including a 2017 Kostas Rind chardonnay from Bindi and a 2017 Joshua Cooper Pinot Noir from Doug's Vineyard in the Macedon Ranges (the finely honed tannins of the latter make it a good match with the duck). There's two pages of sake, and Japanese whisky fans should flick to the strong collection of blended and single malts from the likes of Suntory and Nikka.
Desserts deliver too. Ice-cream made with sour sake lees arrives on white chocolate ganache studded with squares of caramelised white chocolate and surrounded with fresh and freeze-dried raspberries. Like every other dish at Kazuki's it's presented on textured, earth-toned crockery made by ceramicist Bridget Bodenham. And the flavours are spot on, the contrast of the ingredients – sweet, sour, tart – meaning the dish travels great (and satisfying) distances across the palate.
Kazuki's is one of the most exciting restaurants to open in Melbourne in the last 12 months. The Lygon Street location may seem odd, but beautifully realised dining experiences like this one create their own context. Go and see for yourself.