Chris Lucas's elegant new three-level Japanese restaurant on Flinders Lane in Melbourne is a very different beast to the rest of his restaurant stable (Chin Chin, Baby, Kong and Hawker Hall). For one, it takes reservations, so there'll be no perpetual queue snaking around the corner, something that punters coming here to toss back sushi made from live and fresh seafood, or drink a $55 glass of grand cru Burgundy will no doubt appreciate.
Bonito, squid ink and shiso sushi.
The fit-out of the former 1950s office building by architects Wood Marsh also plays against type. Sleek, clean of line, floored in oak and charcoal-hued, Kisumé seems positively monastic compared with the neon-lit pop- and street-art cacophony of Chin Chin. That is until you register the edgy photography on the wall by artists Nobuyoshi Araki and Polly Borland and realise Lucas hasn't changed his tune, just his palette.
The Chablis Bar on level one.
"We wanted to take the simplicity and elegance of traditional Japanese architecture but we didn't want to make it boring," says Lucas. "Sure, there can be beauty in simplicity but it can be boring so we wanted to appeal to a Western palate and add some of our DNA to it, some fun and irreverence. No lanterns. No bonsai trees. It won't be this serene hushed place with everybody bowing. My vision was always of the big New York sushi bars that I always think are really glamorous. But this will be done Melbourne-style."
The deluxe feature box.
If your idea of glamour includes a high-powered team, Kisumé delivers. Lucas has been on a national and international shopping spree to staff his new venture. Early scores were Saké founding chef Shaun Presland as executive chef and wine expert Philip Rich (Prince Wine Store) who directs the restaurant's remarkable wine program. Next up was chef Moon Kyung Soo (late of Mikuni, Singapore) who takes the role as master chef, and is supported by Yosuke and Shimpei Hatanaka, brothers who were previously sushi masters in Tokyo and Kyoto.
Front of house is group sommelier Jonathan Ross, fresh off the boat from New York's Eleven Madison Park, and general manager Markus Tschuschnig, who was food and beverage director at Masa in New York.
"Kisumé is a real high water mark for me, something that I was really committed to so I had no misconceptions about what really needed to be done to get it right," says Lucas. "This is a very sophisticated model so I spent a lot of time and effort getting the right people and that meant going overseas because a lot of the skills I needed just weren't available in Australia."
Sushi master Yosuke Hatanaka (left) and master chef Moon Kyung Soo at the sushi bar.
The main focus of Kisumé will be the sushi bar on the ground floor where you can book an omakase or order à la carte with the chefs serving you across the brass-lined, solid bamboo bar. The decision was made to only use seafood from Australia and New Zealand. Live seafood - prawns from northern NSW, mud crab and rock lobster from Queensland - will be flown in, kept in two purpose-built tanks in Moorabbin and then delivered to Kisumé as it's needed.
The second half of the restaurant sits downstairs in the basement with another kitchen bar dedicated to the "hot menu" (tempura, soups, ramens), though both menus will be available on both floors.
On the top level is the Chablis Bar, a super glam space with four choices of the white Burgundy available by the glass and 60 available by the bottle. There's also a glass-enclosed wine wall for browsing Philip Rich's display of Kisumé's amazing collection of cellared Old and New World wine. Then there's a private room which can be divided in two by dusty pink velvet curtains and, at the end of the space, a semicircular 12-seat omakase bar, a high-end $175-a-head concept that will begin operating by mid-June. Lucas says it will "follow a traditional concept but we don't know what that is yet".
The private room adjacent to the Chablis Bar.
"Converting a nondescript non-restaurant site has been challenging," he says. "It was a narrow building which I liked because it was very Japanese but it was bloody hard work - we had to cut holes through the floors to put the stairs in, had to put all the infrastructure in and when you start to dig up an old 1950s building you end up unearthing lots of surprises. It took about 12 months, which is a long build, and it cost us a lot more than we anticipated, but it's worth it because it's going to be like nothing Melbourne's ever seen before."
Kisumé, 175 Flinders La, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9671 4888, kisume.com.au. Opening May 15 for dinner (including Chablis Bar) and then full service from May 22.