You know something's up when a visiting chef requests "local seawater" on his prep list: serious business.
"A friend, Junya, is coming to hang out this winter at Marion for a week," says Andrew McConnell casually. The friend he's talking about is Japanese-born chef Junya Yamasaki, late of London's acclaimed Koya restaurant. But Yamasaki isn't just hanging out at the end of the bar. Kicking off on 21 June, he'll be taking over the Marion kitchen for four days.
Yamasaki opened his Soho udon restaurant in 2010. Up until it closed in 2015, it was renowned for the chef's creative laid-back marriage of Japanese technique with British ingredients (that, and for his preference to use the traditional foot-kneading technique to make noodles). "Junya's way of working spontaneously with the produce available offers a surprise element," says McConnell. "I admire this style of cooking."
The Melbourne restaurateur met Yamasaki a few years ago when he dined at Koya, and the pair hit it off. "I was taken by his humble approach and excited by how he dealt with English produce in his own unique way," he says. "It's how I like to cook myself, allowing the produce to sing."
For the four-day takeover in June, Yamasaki will completely re-write Marion's à la carte menu. While the prep list is already in the works (sustainable seafood, rare breed meats, seawater), exactly what's on the plate will only be finalised after a trip to the markets when the chef touches down in Melbourne.
"I've been cooking venison quite a lot using the same method used to prepare bonito sashimi in Japan - burning rice straw and searing only the surface of the flesh with the direct flame," says Yamasaki. "I want to serve wallaby or kangaroo in the same sashimi form, and I'm very excited to find the matching condiments in Australia such as wild herbs, wild berries or fruits."
There's an intimacy and warm hum to the room at Marion that McConnell believes is sympathetic to Yamasaki's cooking. Although there won't be any udon on the menu, diners will be able to work their way through a selection of smaller snacks and larger share plates, or opt for an omakase and leave the entire spread up to Yamasaki to decide.
"The experience will be fun and thoughtful, not too dissimilar to a Japanese izakaya," says McConnell.
Junya Yamasaki at Marion Wine Bar, 51-53 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, Vic; dinner on Tuesday 21 June to Friday 24 June and lunch on Friday 24 June. For bookings contact (03) 9419 6262 or email@example.com