Fans of Melbourne restaurant Kappo received a blow recently with the news that chef Kentaro Usami would serve his last multi-course meal on 9 June. The chef's exquisitely balanced omakase-style menus were still as popular as ever; the reason for the restaurant's closure is that Usami has been ill and Kappo co-owner Simon Denton wasn't confident he'd find someone with the same exceptional skills to replace him.
The good news is that, from tomorrow, the space will house a winter-long pop-up called Master Den's Poppu Uppu while Denton and his partners, Miyuki Nakahara and Takashi Omi, deliberate on what's next for the Flinders Lane space.
The pop-up is all about nabemono, the cook-at-the-table Japanese hotpot dish that, among its many varieties, includes sukiyaki and shabu-shabu. Denton describes it as "comfort food at its best – fun, unpretentious and full of ritual". It's also a great fit with the long Melbourne winter.
Master Den's menu has three main broth styles that are served with a variety of vegetables, sauces and seasonings, as well as handmade udon noodles. There's shabu-shabu with kombu-flavoured broth and slices of wagyu rump, topside and sirloin, a Hokkaido-style seafood number that starts with miso broth and adds fish, pippies, oysters and mussels, and a mushroom hotpot where silken tofu and a troop of different mushrooms are paired with a kombu and sake broth.
Former GT Sommelier of the Year Raffaele Mastrovincenzo has pulled together a list of original and hotpot-friendly wine that sits alongside some great beer (including new stuff from Tokyo brewery Far Yeast) and a short, sharp range of sake and Japanese whisky.
Kappo's décor remains mostly intact, other than a Master Den wallpaper feature wall, which means you'll be cooking your food at a table, in a private booth or at the central bar. All great options, if a little melancholy for Kappo-philes.
"There are still going to be elements of Kappo in the mix," says Denton. "We weren't quite ready to let that go."
Stay tuned for a more permanent plan for the space.
Master Den's Poppu Uppu, from Wednesday 20 June, Mon-Sat 5pm-10pm. 1 Flinders La, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9639 9500, masterden.com.au